Hawaii Museums Travel

Best museums to visit in Oahu, Hawaii

Hawaii Plantation Village

While Hawaii is best known for its iconic beaches, it also has such a rich and diverse cultural heritage. You can deepen your understanding and appreciation of the local culture by visiting some of the best Hawaiian museums located on the island of Oahu.

Oahu is home to a wide range of museums, ranging from history and culture to art and military museums. Most of them are located in or at a short distance from the capital, Honolulu, but there are also others for which you will need to drive (Pearl Harbour, for example).

Here is a list of the best museums to visit in Oahu, Hawaii:

1. Iolani Palace 

royal decor at the Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace was the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs, Queen Liliuokalani and King Kalakaua, and it served as a royal residence from 1882 to 1893 when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. The museum consists of two floors that you can visit with a self-guided tour, or you can take one of the specialty tours, which are held depending on the time of the year.

On the first floor, you can see the public reception areas – the Grand Hall, State Dining Room, Blue Room, and Throne Room, while on the second one, there are the private suites of the palace: King’s and Queen’s Rooms, and Music Room. The most interesting space of the museum is the Imprisonment Room, also located on the second floor. This was the room where Queen Liliuokalani was held prisoner for eight months after the government overthrow. After visiting the museum, walk around the palace grounds. There are concerts happening here from time to time, and it’s such a beautiful place to relax on a sunny Hawaiian afternoon.

Find out more about the Iolani Palace.

2. Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum

If you truly want to explore Hawaii’s natural, cultural, and historical heritage in every detail, Bishop Museum is the best museum to visit. The museum offers a large variety of exhibits and attractions that showcase the rich tradition that lies behind not only these beautiful islands but also the other Polynesian populations.

Some of the highlights of what you can see at the museum are the Hawaiian Hall – the museum’s main exhibit hall, featuring extensive displays of Hawaiian culture, history, and artifacts. It includes a large collection of royal Hawaiian regalia, featherwork, traditional canoes, ancient Hawaiian tools, and the Pacific Hall – this exhibit explores the cultural and natural diversity of the Pacific Islands. It showcases artifacts, art, and cultural objects from Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, providing insights into the people and traditions of these regions.

Additionally, the Bishop Museum hosts special events, lectures, and workshops throughout the year, so it’s worth checking their schedule for any unique offerings during your visit.

Find out more about the Bishop Museum.

READ MORE: 12 Museums to Visit in Berlin

3. Honolulu Museum of Art

Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art, established in 1927, is Hawaiʻi’s largest fine arts museum. It houses an impressive permanent collection of over 38,000 artworks representing diverse cultures worldwide. The museum also hosts Doris Duke Theater, Hawaii’s largest independent arthouse theater, which plays an impressive collection of independent films. Another attraction is taking a guided tour to Shangri-La, Doris Duke’s residence, which showcases over 3,000 Islamic art pieces. These guided tours are in high demand, so book a tour in advance.

Find out more about the Honolulu Museum of Art.

4. Shangri-La Palace

People visiting the Shangri-La Museum.

Shangri-La was the former residence of the American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke, an avid art collector and traveler. Now a museum of Islamic art, culture, and design, Shangri-La has over 3,000 art objects on display, and it offers a rare opportunity to explore and appreciate the beauty, diversity, and historical significance of Islamic art. The architecture of Shangri-La is a work of art in itself. Designated by Marion Sims Wyeth, the residence seamlessly blends Islamic, Persian, and Mughal architectural elements. The intricately decorated spaces, lush gardens, and breathtaking ocean views make for a visually captivating experience. 

Tours of Shangri La begin and end at the Honolulu Museum of Art Thursday through Saturday at 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm.

Find out more about Shangri-La Palace.

5. Queen Emma Summer Palace

Purple dress in Queen Emma Museum

The palace was once the summer retreat for Queen Emma, his husband, King Kamehameha IV, and their son, Pince Albert Edward. This was the place where the royal family used to come to escape the excessive Hawaiian summer heat. The palace itself is a stunning example of mid-19th century Hawaiian architecture. The traditional Hawaiian design elements, intricate woodwork, and authentic furnishings provide a glimpse into the elegance and grandeur of the era.

Find out more about Queen Emma Summer Palace.

READ MORE: Aloha State Eats – Local Specialties to Try in Hawaii

6. Hawaii’s Plantation Village

Hawaii Plantation Village

The Plantation Village is a living museum that preserves the history of the sugar industry, which played a crucial role in shaping Hawaii’s economy and society. The village is set in a former sugar plantation, providing an authentic backdrop for visitors to immerse themselves in the plantation lifestyle. The preserved buildings, artifacts, and exhibits offer a glimpse into the daily life of the workers, allowing you to step back in time and imagine what it was like to live and work on a plantation.

The museum also tells the story of Hawaii’s many cultures: Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Okinawan, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican. It’s a good place for families and children to explore and learn more about this period in Hawaiian history. When you plan your visit here, consider the weather too, because this is mostly an outside museum and it can get very hot outdoors in the middle of the day.

Find out more about Hawaii’s Plantation Village.

7. Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is one of the most significant sites in American history; the museum serves as a memorial to the thousands of lives lost during the attack that took place on December 7, 1941, which led to the United States’ entry into World War II. One of the museum’s highlights is the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken battleship. The museum covers a relatively big area, and it’s mostly outdoors, so plan to spend here at least a couple of hours, if not half a day.

Find out more about Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

8. Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site

Mission Houses

Visiting these preserved houses will allow you to step back in the Missionary era of Hawaiian history. This is where the American Protestant missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in the early 19th century lived. You can explore the houses and the surrounding gardens, learn more about the daily lives of the missionaries, and discover the cultural exchange that took place between the Americans and the Hawaiians.

Find out more about Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site.

Have you visited one (or more) of these museums? Which was your favorite? 

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