Oahu museums can help make a vacation memorable


While it may be sun, surf and sand that come to mind when planning a visit to Hawaii, Oahu also offers many museums that cater to a broad range of interests. It doesn't take a rainy day to make a museum visit a memorable part of an Oahu itinerary. The following are some of the collections and institutions worth recommending to Oahu-bound travelers.


" The Bishop Museum: Home to one of the foremost collections of Pacific island art in the world, with remarkable examples of temple carvings and featherwork, the Bishop Museum provides a cultural context to a Hawaiian vacation.

Renovation of the main exhibit halls is currently under way, but the halls that remain open still make it a high recommend. The planetarium features shows that deal with Hawaii's skies and astronomical links to Polynesian Hawaii.

The museum is located just off the H-1 freeway in Kalihi, about 20 minutes by car from Waikiki. Museum-operated buses are another option. The Bishop Museum also operates a small museum in the Kalia Tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Admission fee charged.

" Hawaii Army Museum: This beachfront museum in Waikiki documents Hawaii's military history in the concrete bunkers of Battery Randolph. No admission fee is charged, but a contribution is suggested.

" Hawaii State Art Museum: Thanks to mandatory funding of public art from state revenues, the state of Hawaii has built a sophisticated and varied collection of art that is now on display at a restored building across Richards Street from Iolani Palace.

The building opened in the 1920s as the city's YMCA. Admission is free. 

" Hawaii Children's Discovery Center: This is a hands-on fun house for kids under age 12. It is located in Kakaako Waterfront Park, about 15 minutes from Waikiki. Closed Mondays. Admission is charged. There are no food outlets, but there is a picnic area adjacent. 

" Washington Place: The private home of Hawaii's last queen, Liliuokalani, until her death in 1917, Washington Place housed Hawaii's governors until a new official residence was built.

The mansion is a short walk from Iolani Palace. There is only one tour daily, so reservations are a must. Washington Place does not charge an admission fee, but donations to the Washington Place Foundation are welcomed.


" Iolani Palace: Completed in 1881 by King Kalakaua, the restored palace is must-see for anyone with an interest in Hawaiian history. A visit includes docent-led or audio-guided tours.

The palace museum is home to Hawaii's crown jewels and other pieces linked to the royal past. The museum bookstore carries a selection of Hawaiiana titles. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission fee charged.

" Judiciary Museum: Housed in Aliiolanihale, which was built in 1877 under King Kalakaua, the museum building served as the kingdom's legislature and judiciary. The displays are informative and include the building's courthouse. No admission fee.

" Chinatown Museum: Located in the heart of Honolulu's Chinatown section, this small museum tells the story of the immigrants who came and of the fires that twice destroyed much of this part of the city, which remains the bustling heart of downtown Honolulu. Admission fee is charged.

" Hawaii Maritime Center/Falls of Clyde: Adjacent to the Aloha Tower Marketplace, this museum delves into Hawaii's maritime tradition, starting with the Polynesians. The museum takes a look at the whaling (1830 to 1870) and cruise (1900 to 1950) eras.

The Falls of Clyde, a 19th century sailing vessel, is adjacent and allows onboard touring of a high-masted sailing ship. Both venues are operated by the Bishop Museum. Admission is charged.

" Mission Houses Museum: This missionary compound was built between 1820 and 1840 as a home for the first missionaries to reach Hawaii.

A visit includes the home and adjacent printing press, where some of the earliest books in the Hawaiian language were printed for use in the mission schools. The adjacent bookstore and gift shop carries many titles. Admission is charged.  

" Honolulu Academy of Arts:Housed in a classic Territorial Era (1900-1959) building that has been recently expanded, this museum includes masterpieces by Van Gogh and Gauguin, Chinese export goods and the James Michener Collection of Japanese Prints, a small number of which are on display.

The museum also conducts tours of Shangri-La, the Diamond Head estate of heiress Doris Duke, with its collection of Islamic art and beautifully landscaped grounds. Tours are limited to 10 people. The museum has an excellent gift shop and restaurant. Admission fee charged.

" Queen Emma Summer Palace: Located in the cool uplands of Nuuanu Valley, away from the heat of the coastal lowlands, this home, built in the 1840s, was gifted to Emma Rooke. She would later reign as Queen Emma, wife of King Kamehameha IV.

The palace has been a museum since it was donated to the Daughters of Hawaii, a preservation group that maintains and operates it. Admission is charged.

" Hawaii's Plantation Village: Sugar was a mainstay of the island economy for more than a century, from the 1870s to the 1970s.

This museum, a recreated plantation village incorporating restored original structures, is located in suburban Waipahu, about a 35-minute drive west of Waikiki.

The museum offers a glimpse into the lives of the Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Puerto Rican workers who toiled and lived during the heyday of the plantation era. Admission is charged. 

" The Contemporary Museum: Located at the Campbell Estate in the hills overlooking Honolulu, the Contemporary Museum is Hawaii at the artistic cutting edge. As such, it hosts impressive, avant-garde exhibits.

The museum is a 15-minute drive from Waikiki to hillside Makiki, where the museum offers sweeping views of both the city and Diamond Head from its sculpture garden.

The restaurant is recommended for lunch. Admission is charged.

" Pacific Aviation Museum: Just opened in December, this museum is home to restored World War II combat aircraft, a theater, a museum, a restaurant and displays.

The museum is a great add-on to a visit to the Arizona Memorial. Admission fee is charged.

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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