The top museums in Honolulu

By: Brian Berusch

April 12, 2016

It’s easy to spend your entire holiday in Honolulu soaking up the sunshine on stunning Hawaiian beaches and surfing the island’s world famous waves. But there’s a wealth of history and culture to discover here, too. Here are some of the best museums in Honolulu to visit on your next trip.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Easily accessible (just a few blocks off H-1 highway) and housing the largest collection of Polynesian artefacts in the world, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is commonly regarded as one of the most important museums in Honolulu. In the mid 1800s, Charles Reed Bishop married into Hawaiian royalty. After his wife’s passing, he wanted to construct a safe house for the royal family heirlooms that were bestowed upon them, thereby protecting the Kamehameha legacy during a time of great upheaval. The collection continues to grow today, with a “vault” of artefacts that visitors can sign up to see, or, have select pieces pulled by Bishop Museum curators, who will show via private appointment.

Alternatively, you can visit Hawaiian Hall and learn about the cultural and ecological history of The Hawaiian Islands; kids will enjoy the ultra modern Science Adventure Center, complete with glow in the dark tunnels, tidal wave recreations and other interactive exhibits, while the planetarium offers visitors a glimpse into the celestial navigations of early Hawaiian settlers in the 13th century, who arrived via canoe.

The top museums in Honolulu
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum © Tor Johnson for HTA

Iolani Palace

The only royal palace on U.S. soil, Iolani Palace is situated right in the centre of downtown Honolulu and was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii, beginning with the Kamehameha dynasty (Kamehameha III took up residence in 1845, followed by Kamehameha IV and V). It was the site of the American overthrow in 1893, which sequestered Queen Liliuokalani on house arrest and essentially ended Hawaiian rule. On the grounds, rooms can be toured inside the palace and visitors can also see a sacred burial chamber, as well as various events that take place on the sprawling lawn. This includes weekly lunch hour concerts by the Royal Hawaiian Band, who have been performing continuously since 1863.

Mission Houses Museum

Just down the street from Iolani Palace on South King Street sit some of the oldest homes in the Hawaiian Islands, as built by the first Missionaries that arrived here. Known as the Hawaiian Mission Houses, they date to 1821, some houses having been transported from as far as Boston while others were built as meeting houses, with coral reef foundations cut right out of the ocean floor. The history is fascinating, with rooms housing the first printing press to arrive anywhere in the Pacific region, to meetings between Hawaiian royalty and religious Missionaries, who aimed to meld their teachings into Hawaiian life.

The top museums in Honolulu
The Iolani Palace gate © Tor Johnson for HTA

Pacific Aviation Museum

Located at Pearl Harbor, at the Pacific Aviation Museum visitors can walk through and learn about the fighter and carrier planes that navigated missions across the globe since the dawn of aerial aviation. Dozens of restored original planes are on view, with naval experts on hand to share insightful history and technical information about the exhibits. See a seaplane that survived the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, visit a combat flight simulator, and even grab a snack at the adjoining cafe.

Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

In the 1940s, heiress and bon vivant Doris Duke built a spectacular mansion on a grassy, ocean-fronting hillside in the stylish Kahala neighbourhood, just beyond Waikiki. There, she rubbed elbows and imbibed with many community leaders of the era, hosting glamorous fetes and surfing in the waters in front of the home. She also fell in love with Islamic and Arabic art, frequently traveling the globe to bring her prized treasures home. Each found a place at Shangri-La: from window treatments and rugs to furniture, dishware, tiles and fixtures. Duke amassed one of the largest collections of Islamic art in North America before her passing, much of it now on display. One of the most unusual museums in Honolulu, Shangri-la is an intriguing place to visit.

The top museums in Honolulu
The Iolani Palace © Tor Johnson for HTA


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Have you visited any of these museums in Honolulu? Have we missed any of your favourites off our list? Let us know in the comments section below.

Brian Berusch

Brian Berusch

Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.

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