Insider’s Guide to Honolulu’s Museums
Hawaii is all about natural splendor, of course, but when you need to beat the heat or escape a rainstorm a museum is the perfect refuge. Luckily, Honolulu is home to some of the best museums around. Check out some of our favorites to walk through Hawaii’s storied past.
The Bishop Museum
Founded in 1889 by businessman and philanthropist Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi, the island’s largest museum hosts a dazzling collection of artifacts related to Hawaii’s natural and human history. Princess Bernice was the last legal heir of the great Kamehameha dynasty and a lifelong defender of indigenous Hawaiian’s rights and welfare, and her widower took up this mantle following her death. He built the Bishop Museum on the campus of the Kamehameha School for native boys to celebrate and remember indigenous heritage.
Today, the museum shares information on Polynesian seafaring, Hawaiian culture and customs, local sea life, and more. Since the early 2000s, management reforms have employed more indigenous curators and directors to ensure that Hawaiian culture is treated with dignity and respect. There’s no place better on the islands to learn about the vibrant culture of native Hawaiians.
The Bishop Museum is open 6 days a week, not including Tuesday, from 9am-5pm.
Be transported back to a time when sugar was king at Hawaii’s Plantation Village. Located 20 minutes west of Honolulu is a well-preserved 19th-century sugar plantation with more than 25 restored and replica buildings. Founded in the 1850s, the plantation fell into disrepair after it ceased sugar production in the 1950s. That all changed in 1973, when the city of Honolulu teamed up with the state of Hawaii to purchase and restore it as an agricultural heritage site.
The buildings and exhibits tell the story of the diverse workforce that drove Hawaii’s sugar industry. Homes show how Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, native Hawaiians, and more lived and labored, and many of the tour guides are descended from sugar workers, adding a personal dimension to the place. The Plantation Village is a touching reminder of the work ethic and resilience of Hawaii’s sugar workers.
Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 9am-2pm. To schedule a guided tour, call 808-677-0110 or email your request to [email protected]
Bet you didn’t know that Hawaii was home to one of the U.S.’s largest collections of Islamic art, did ya? Shangri La is the luxurious former home of heiress and socialite Doris Duke, who spent many winters in Hawaii after building this magical getaway in the 1930s. She amassed an extensive collection of more than 4,000 Islamic and Southeast Asian sculptures, paintings, and more that today form the backbone of Shangri La’s exhibits.
Don’t let Doris Duke’s passion for Islamic art fool you, though—she was a lover of all things Hawaii. She was the first non-Hawaiian woman to take up competitive surfing and trained with Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. Rumor has it that they were a bit more than teacher and student, but you didn’t hear that here.
Tours of Shangri La depart from the Honolulu Museum of Art on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Reservations for the 75-minute excursion are required and can be booked through the Honolulu Museum of Art’s website.
Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
No trip to Honolulu is complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor, the site of Japan’s 1941 surprise attack on the United States Navy. The Visitor Center is the key to understanding the many dimensions of this sprawling site and coming to term with the lasting implications and importance of the event. Three main areas of the center focus on different facets of the attack on Pearl Harbor, giving you a comprehensive glimpse into the past.
Remembrance Circle hosts the anchor of the USS Arizona, a battleship that was sunk during the attack. The ship remains at the bottom of the harbor, while the recovered anchor and nearby memorial are a testament to the brave men and women who lost their lives. Nearby is the Bowfin Submarine Museum, a WWII submarine that is open for you to explore. And the Memorial Theater shows a 23-minute documentary that covers the history of Pearl Harbor.
The Visitor Center is operated by the National Park Service and receives an average of 4,000 visitors a day, and reservations are strongly recommended for the USS Arizona Memorial program. Make reservations for the program at www.recreation.gov. The Visitor Center is open 7 days a week, 7am-5pm and admission is free.
Written by Chris, a local expert guide for Waikiki Crawling. A historian on the lam from the world of academia, Chris enjoys gardening, hiking, and playing at open mic nights after one too many beers. Want to learn more about Honolulu’s hidden history? Join us on an Aloha Pub Crawl!