Heading inside might not be at the top of your to-do list in Hawaiʻi, a place full of beautiful scenery and outdoor activities, but Oʻahu’s museums are treasures you won’t want to miss.
1. Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum, often referred to as Hawaiʻi’s Museum, is located in Kalihi a 15-minute drive from Waikīkī. It’s operated by the estate of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, founded after her death in 1889. The museum holds the world’s largest archive of natural history specimens, plants, cultural artifacts, and artworks of Polynesia. It hosts extensive exhibits on Hawaiian culture, contains a planetarium, and is noted for its large entomological (study of insects) collection. Regular public programs are held on its grounds, along with cultural festivals and musical performances.
2. Hawaiʻi State Art Museum
Hawaiʻi State Art Museum (HiSAM) situated in Downtown Honolulu is one of the hidden opportunities to learn about Hawaiʻi’s vibrant arts community. It’s in a Spanish mission-style building built in 1928. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is an architectural reminder of early territorial Hawaiʻi. The galleries inside feature permanent displays of Hawaiian art and temporary exhibitions of work by Hawaiʻi artists. The on-site cafe is the perfect place to grab lunch. Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop, it carries art and fashions made by local artisans.
3. Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site & Archives
Hawaii Mission Houses Historic Site & Archives sit of the site of the original mission led by American Christians from New England. The buildings are some of the oldest in Hawaiʻi featuring a frame-house in New England style and two coral block structures that reflect the evolution of missionaries as they learned about the culture and climate of Hawaiʻi. The museum is a collection of artifacts, documents, and other records of Hawaiʻi’s early missionary period from the 1820-1860s. One of the best collections details the introduction of literacy to the islands, including the printing press.
4. Honolulu Museum of Art
Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA) was founded in the 1920s and houses 50,000+ pieces of art from around the world. It’s best known for its collection of Asian art and features Hawaiian artists alongside famous artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. The on-site Doris Duke Theatre is Hawaiʻi’s largest independent arthouse theatre, a place for screening independent and international films. There’s a lovely al fresco cafe and an eclectic gift shop with an emphasis on the Pacific region. Take a docent-led tour, attend an art class or use the studio space to dabble in a new medium.
5. ʻIolani Palace
ʻIoani Palace was the official residence of Hawaiian royalty from the time of King Kamehameha II through to the last reigning monarch, Queen Liliʻuokalani. Located in Downtown Honolulu, ʻIolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and the only palace on U.S. soil. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen Liliʻuokalani was imprisoned in one of the small upper rooms of the palace. Later, ʻIolani Palace became the territorial capitol and the U.S. military headquarters during World War II. The storied building is accessible for guided tours and the gorgeous grounds are open to the public.
6. King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center
King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center on the first floor Aliʻiolani Hale is an educational institution created to inform visitors about the legal history of Hawaii, from before European arrival to the present. Commissioned by King Kamehameha V, Aliʻiolani Hale was built in 1872 as a courthouse and government building for the Kingdom (the plans were created by an Australian architect and the stones laid by Australian stone masons). The Center offers group and self-guided tours, hosts exhibits and educational programs, and holds re-enactment events.
7. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is housed in World War II-era hangars on Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor. The artifacts on display present the story about America’s involvement in World War II from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway and beyond. There are indoor and outdoor collections including historic and modern aviation and space exhibits. The Fighter Ace 360 Flight Simulators are the hero attraction. Visitors can book tickets to experience the flight simulator, taking the controls to roll, spin, and loop digitally through the skies.
8. Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design is the former estate of heiress Doris Duke. Situated on the slopes of Diamond Head crater, this spectacular mansion celebrates the visual and artistic culture of the Muslim world. It’s a sprawling 1930s-era complex filled with diverse art from North Africa and West and South Asia, including textiles, ceramics, glasswork, and carpentry. It includes commissioned pieces, some 100+ years old, that traveled to Hawaiʻi during Doris’ life as an art collector. Operating now as a public museum, this home is only accessible by reservation via the Honolulu Museum of Art.