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Honolulu’s Must-Visit Museums

  • Post category:Hawaii

Honolulu, the vibrant capital of Hawaii, is a treasure trove of cultural and historical experiences. From world-renowned art collections to significant historical sites, the city’s museums offer a deep dive into the rich tapestry of Hawaiian heritage and beyond. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, history buff, or looking for a family-friendly outing, Honolulu’s diverse array of museums promises an enriching experience for every visitor.

Key Takeaways

  • Honolulu is home to a variety of museums that cater to different interests, from art and history to science and culture.
  • The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum offers an in-depth look at Hawaiian and Pacific cultures, with exhibits like Hawaiian Hall and the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center.
  • The Honolulu Museum of Art showcases a wide range of art collections, including Asian, European, American, and Hawaiian art.
  • Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design provides a unique glimpse into Islamic art and Doris Duke’s architectural legacy.
  • Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center is a must-visit for history enthusiasts, featuring the USS Arizona Memorial and other significant World War II exhibits.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

person taking picture of man wearing brown hat painting

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, also known as the Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, is a significant institution founded in 1889. Charles Reed Bishop established it in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who was the last descendant of the Kamehameha royal family. This historical connection adds a layer of depth to the museum’s cultural significance. Boasting the greatest collection of Hawaiian and Polynesian cultural artifacts and natural-history specimens—better than 25 million items strong—the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum ranks as the biggest museum in Hawai’i and without question one of Honolulu’s top attractions.

Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art, established in 1922, is a cornerstone of the city’s cultural landscape. It houses more than 60,000 works of art spanning the globe, making it the largest institution of its kind in the state. The museum’s mission is to promote and preserve the visual arts of Hawaii and the broader Pacific region while providing an educational and inspiring experience for visitors. Conveniently located near Waikiki beach, it offers a diverse collection that spans various art forms, periods, and cultures.

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

assorted paintings on white painted wall

Islamic Art Collection

The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture and Design showcases an impressive collection of ceramics, textiles, paintings, and other works from the Islamic world. These pieces, amassed by the heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke, hail from a broad geography, including Spain, Morocco, India, and Southeast Asia. Visitors can explore the diverse artistic heritage of the Islamic world in this unique setting.

Doris Duke’s Legacy

Doris Duke’s former home at the foot of Diamond Head now houses the museum. Her passion for Islamic art is evident in the extensive collection and the museum’s partnership with the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Tours, which must be reserved in advance, begin at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Architectural Highlights

The museum itself is one of Honolulu’s most architecturally significant homes. The design reflects a blend of traditional Islamic and modern elements, creating a serene and inspiring environment for visitors. Architectural enthusiasts will appreciate the intricate details and thoughtful design that make Shangri La a must-visit destination.

U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii

people swimming near shore with waves during daytime

The U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii is housed within the historic Battery Randolph at Fort DeRussy Military Reservation, built in 1911 as part of Oahu’s “Ring of Steel” coastal defense system. This museum offers a comprehensive look at Hawaii’s military history, from traditional Hawaiian warfare to modern conflicts like World War II and the Vietnam War. The museum is conveniently located near Waikiki Beach, making it an accessible destination for tourists exploring the city or enjoying the beach.

Hawaiian Children’s Discovery Center

Among the top Honolulu museums for families, the Hawaiian Children’s Discovery Center delights with its well-thought-out, interactive exhibits and event programming. The children’s museum includes such permanent exhibits as Fantastic You (focused on how the human body works), Hawaiian Rainbows (an overview of Hawaii’s history), and Rainforest Adventures (illuminating the importance of tropical rainforests in the Hawaiian Islands and beyond).

Queen Emma Summer Palace (Hanaiakamalama)

The Queen Emma Summer Palace, also known as Hānaiakamalama, was a retreat for Queen Emma of Hawaii, her husband King Kamehameha IV, and their son, Prince Albert Edward, from 1857 to 1885. This historic landmark offers a glimpse into the lives of the Hawaiian royalty during the 19th century. Since 1915, the non-profit Daughters of Hawai’i has preserved and cared for the Queen Emma Summer Palace, which is open to the general public as a museum and holds many royal artifacts and antiques.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center

white sail boats

USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial is a poignant tribute to the 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Visitors can take a boat tour to the memorial, which is built over the remains of the sunken battleship. This site serves as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made and the impact of the attack on the course of World War II.

Exhibit Galleries

The Exhibit Galleries at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center offer an in-depth look at the events leading up to and following the attack. The "Road to War" and "Attack" galleries feature interactive exhibits that provide a comprehensive overview of the historical context and the devastating impact of the attack. These galleries are essential for anyone looking to explore Molokai’s rich history and understand the significance of Pearl Harbor in American history.

Remembrance Circle

The Remembrance Circle is a serene area dedicated to honoring all those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It provides a space for reflection and remembrance, allowing visitors to pay their respects in a tranquil setting. The circle is an integral part of the visitor experience, offering a moment of peace amidst the historical exploration.

Discover the rich history and solemn beauty of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center. Plan your visit today and immerse yourself in the stories of bravery and sacrifice. For more details and to book your trip, visit our website.


Honolulu’s museums offer a rich tapestry of cultural, historical, and artistic experiences that cater to a wide range of interests. From the world-renowned collections at the Honolulu Museum of Art to the deeply historical exhibits at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, each museum provides a unique window into the diverse heritage of Hawaii. Whether you’re an art aficionado, a history buff, or a family looking for an educational outing, Honolulu’s museums promise an enriching experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for the islands’ past and present. Make sure to include these must-visit museums in your itinerary to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and history of Honolulu.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the must-visit museums in Honolulu?

Some of the must-visit museums in Honolulu include the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii, Hawaiian Children’s Discovery Center, Queen Emma Summer Palace, and Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center.

What can I expect to see at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum?

At the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, you can explore Hawaiian Hall, Pacific Hall, and the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, which feature exhibits on Hawaiian culture, Pacific cultures, and interactive science displays.

What types of art are showcased at the Honolulu Museum of Art?

The Honolulu Museum of Art showcases a diverse collection, including Asian art, European and American art, and Hawaiian art. Visitors can enjoy works from various periods and cultures.

What is unique about the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design?

The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design features an impressive collection of Islamic art, highlights Doris Duke’s legacy, and showcases architectural highlights that blend Islamic and Hawaiian influences.

Are there any museums in Honolulu that are suitable for children?

Yes, the Hawaiian Children’s Discovery Center is perfect for children. It features interactive exhibits like Fantastic You, Hawaiian Rainbows, and Rainforest Adventures, providing educational and fun experiences for kids.

What historical exhibits can be found at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center?

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center includes the USS Arizona Memorial, exhibit galleries, and the Remembrance Circle. These exhibits offer insights into the events of World War II and honor those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor.