History, Art, and Architecture on Oahu

Known as “The Gathering Place,” Oahu embraces all the peoples who have settled there, from the first Polynesian voyagers to the Japanese immigrants who helped harvest pineapple and sugarcane. Immerse yourself in this rich heritage, which includes America’s only royal palace.

417 South King Street
Known today as the Hawaii Five-O headquarters façade, Aliiolani Hale means “house of the heavenly king” in the Hawaiian language. The building was designed under King Kamehameha V and served as a palace with government offices for the Kingdom of Hawaii until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893 and the Republic of Hawaii was established. Shortly after Hawaii became a US state, the building was renovated. However, as the government grew, various departments moved out of Aliiolani Hale and now the Hawaii State Supreme Court makes use of this historic building along with a museum about the Hawaii judiciary and a law library. In front of the iconic building, there is a statue of King Kamehameha I, who founded the Kingdom of Hawaii.
1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA
The largest museum in Hawaii studies and preserves the history of the islands and the Pacific—for those interested in local culture, it’s a must. The Victorian building originally housed family heirlooms from Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I, including her ancestor’s royal feathered cape. Today the Bishop teems with more than 24 million artifacts, documents, and photos about Hawaii and other Polynesian cultures. Other highlights include everyday items, like combs made from coconut-leaf ribs, and extraordinary ones, like the leiomano (a shark-tooth-studded weapon kept hidden until battle). Don’t miss the 55-foot sperm whale skeleton and other natural-history exhibits, along with a planetarium showing how voyagers navigated the Pacific, guided by the stars.
364 South King Street
The grand koa wood staircase was shining with a new coat of oil as the focal point of the room; it’s beautiful curves lead the eye gently from the second floor down to the first floor. Men and women dressed in ornate gowns and neck-restricting tuxedos floated around the staircase receiving each other with a proper handshake or curtsy. The party was just beginning as horses pulled up to the ultra modern palace depositing people of stature out of their buggies. The year was 1882 in the island nation of Hawaii. Even though I like to live in the present, I couldn’t help but imagine the past as I was led through the Iolani Palace in Oahu. The docent painted a perfect picture of arriving at a ball in the mid 1880’s – the sites, sounds, and even the dinner entries that would be served. After the docent led tour you can have the pleasure of saying the you’ve been in the only palace in America! More Info: Iolani Palace Tour Information: Guided Docent Led Tours – Adults: $20 / Children (5-12) $6. This tour is available from 9:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Audie Tours – Adults: $13 / Children (5-12) $6. This tour is available from Monday through Saturday 11:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Be sure to check the times and costs on the website which will have up to date information and details. Get all of the details including great historical information, information on the restoration, and learn about upcoming events on the Iolani Palace website: www.iolanipalace.org.
327 Lana Ln, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA
Hundreds of local and international artists have gathered each Valentine’s Day week since 2011 to make music, murals, and live installations in Honolulu’s Kakaako district. They also host block parties and panel discussions. Centered on the Lana Lane Studios collective, the event has splashed gorgeous designs all over the neighborhood... and is now expanding out to Guam, Germany, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, the mainland U.S., and beyond. Print or save directions to the art online—http://powwowhawaii.com/mural-map—or just wander the streets, stopping for an Aussie-style coffee and botanical bounty at Paiko, then perhaps stopping by one of the world’s most famous luthiers: Kamaka Ukulele.
Honolulu, HI 96819, USA
This nonprofit perpetuates the art, science, and spirit of traditional Pacific Ocean exploration. It has two wa‘a (voyaging canoes): the modern Hikianalia, which has erased its carbon footprint, and the Hokulea, which proved Polynesians didn’t just drift to Hawaii—they navigated by the stars and other ancient seafaring techniques. Launched in 1975, this lovely vessel helped inspire a cultural revival. Hokulea completed a round-the-world voyage in June 2017, traveling approximately 40,300 nautical miles and visiting 150 ports. She is now sailing the islands, keeping the heritage and ancient wayfinding skills of Hawaii alight, while also sharing a message about sustainability. Check its website to catch up with the crew!
Puu O Mahuka
“The cultural site is home to Pu‘u o Mahuka, Oahu’s largest heiau, or ancient temple. The site has beautiful panoramic views, and you can look out to Waimea Bay, which is cool when the waves are big,” says Hoku Haiku.

The largest temple site on Oahu estimated to be built in the 1600s. Historic site where Hawaiian chiefs prayed and reportedly conducted human sacrifices. It’s still considered to be an important spiritual site today.
4055 Pāpū Cir, Honolulu, HI 96816, USA
If you’re interested in architecture, design, or Islamic art, Doris Duke’s Shangri La is for you! Don’t be fooled by the simple facade; the interior of the home as well as the views from the gardens are spectacular! Islamic art from all over the world (including entire rooms transported from other countries and a Mughal Garden modeled after the Pakistani original) awaits you. The living room opens completely on one side to a lawn overlooking a magnificent ocean view, and the dining room was created to feel like an Islamic tent! Shangri La is a truly unique experience! (Tickets are limited and usually sell out, so be sure to reserve your space in advance).
1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818, United States
Once an oyster-farming backwater, this area was held sacred to the shark goddess Ka‘ahupahau. But it’s forever etched into America’s psyche due to the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on the naval base, which launched the U.S. into WWII’s Pacific theater. Today, more than a million visitors pay their respects annually at the museums and memorials, which include the USS Bowfin, the USS Missouri, and the wreck of the USS Arizona. Buy tickets online to avoid the inevitable long wait. Ford Island also houses the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum here: Historic hangars showcase vintage aircraft like a Japanese Zero and a Curtiss P-40E Warhawk. Plane buffs should add on a $10 combat-simulator flight.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks