Global climate models and analyses of instrumental datasets provide a wide range of scenarios for future tropical Pacific climate change, limiting the accuracy of regional climate projections. Coral records provide continuous reconstructions of tropical Pacific climate trends that are difficult to quantify using the short, sparse instrumental datasets available from the tropical Pacific. Here, we present coral-based reconstructions of late 20th century sea-surface temperature and salinity trends from several islands in the central tropical Pacific. The coral data reveal warming trends that increase towards the equator, implying a decrease in equatorial upwelling in the last decades. Seawater freshening trends on the southern edge of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone suggest a strengthening and/or an equatorward shift of the convergence zone. Together, the new coral records support a late 20th century trend towards “El Niño-like” conditions in the tropical Pacific, in line with the majority of coupled global climate model projections.