Honolulu is the capital and biggest city in the state of Hawaii. Found on the southeast coast of Oahu, the city serves as the gateway to the island state of Hawaii. Its location in the Pacific Ocean also makes it one of the world’s most famous tropical destinations; the Hawaiian capital is known for its pristine beaches, rich culture, and interesting landmarks and attractions.
While most people come to Honolulu to experience its world-renowned beaches and warm weather, there are plenty of other things to do in the city. Why not browse the stores in Honolulu or take advantage of the free things to do? One of the more underrated Honolulu activities is museum hopping. The Hawaiian capital is home to an interesting collection of museums that are all unique in their own ways.
Arriving via Honolulu Airport or by cruise ship? Whether you enjoy history and art or science, there is definitely a museum in Honolulu that will pique your interest. To help you plan for your upcoming trip, check out this list of the best museums in Honolulu. Note that some museums do not allow guests to carry oversized bags. To avoid any inconvenience, find a Bounce luggage locker in Honolulu and stow your belongings there before carrying on with your museum visit.
Honolulu Museum of Art
Located at 900 South Beretania Street in the downtown area, the Honolulu Museum of Art is one of the top museums in the city and a must-visit when in the Hawaiian capital. Formerly known as the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the art museum is home to an impressive collection of over 50,000 works hailing from different parts of the globe – from Italian Renaissance paintings and Japanese woodblock prints to American textiles and European decorative art.
One of the most prized collections that can be found at the Honolulu Museum of Art is its Hawaiian art selection, which gives an insight into the history and significance of art in the islands, as well as the museum’s collection of paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. The art museum is undoubtedly one of the best attractions in the city and one you shouldn’t miss during your visit.
Located just a short distance from the city center at 1525 Bernice St, the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, or simply the Bishop Museum, is one of the largest and oldest museums in Honolulu. Founded in 1889, the museum is home to an extensive collection of Polynesian artifacts that were once owned by the family of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
Today, the Bishop Museum is the premier institution that documents the rich history and culture of Hawaii and other regions in the Pacific. Apart from its impressive permanent collection, the museum is also home to a library filled with newspapers, books, magazines, and other documents that are related to the Pacific. There is also the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium, which features exhibitions and educational programs about navigation in Hawaii.
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
A short shuttle drive to Ford Island (319 Lexington Blvd) will take you to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, one of the most popular Honolulu museums and among the top military museums in all of Hawaii. Formerly known as the Pacific Aviation Museum, this facility is the best place in the city to learn about the history of the Pearl Harbor bombing as well as other major historical events such as the Battle of Midway.
At the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, guests can check out a wide range of artifacts related to aviation, including actual aircraft models used during wars. Some of the highlights at the museum include the F-86 Sabre, the B-25 Mitchell bomber, and the Japanese Zero fighter. You can also “fly” your own airplane using the museum’s interactive flight simulator, allowing you to get a feel of how it is to become a WWII pilot. Additionally, the museum hosts numerous events throughout the year to help educate the local community.
John Young Museum of Art
Found inside the University of Hawaii campus at Krauss Hall, 2500 Dole St, the John Young Museum of Art boasts a rich collection of art from a variety of regions, including Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. A must-see for art lovers, the museum has several galleries featuring regional artworks such as paintings, sculptures, stoneware, and ceramics.
Among the highlights at the art museum include Ban Chiang pottery, Neolithic pottery jars dating back to 3000 B.C., a Sue stoneware flask, and Mashiko stoneware. Moreover, the museum hosts workshops for artists and is home to a research library with an extensive collection of texts.
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design
Head to 4055 Pāpū Cir in Honolulu. The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design is one of the most unique and interesting museums in Honolulu. The museum is housed inside the former residence of Doris Duke, an American Heiress who built a home in Honolulu during the ‘30s. On her honeymoon trip, Doris Duke became fascinated with Middle Eastern aesthetics, which led her to start collecting art from the region.
Today, the Shangri La Museum boasts one of the most impressive collections of artifacts from the Islamic world. The collection includes pieces such as art, textiles, furniture, ceramics, and décor from countries like Morocco, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. The museum’s exterior also has a lovely garden that features Hawaiian native plants with Islamic cultural elements.
US Army Museum of Hawaii
Housed inside a former weapons battery on the Fort DeRussy Military Reservation, the US Army Museum of Hawaii is a historic museum that documents the history of the Hawaiian military from its beginnings until present day, with an emphasis on World War I and the Vietnam War.
The military museum is home to an impressive collection of military paraphernalia and artifacts, such as weapons, armor pieces, small arms, missile displays, and even an actual model of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter. In addition, the US Army Museum of Hawaii also hosts an exhibition that commemorates recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. If you want to take a souvenir home, the museum also has a gift shop that sells military-themed souvenirs and items. 2131 Kālia Rd, Honolulu is the address.
Established in 1882, the Iolani Palace once served as the royal residence of Hawaiian rulers across different dynasties spanning from 1845 to 1893. Located in downtown Honolulu, the royal palace was eventually designated as a National Historic Landmark, was restored extensively, and opened as a public museum. Interested? Make your way to 364 S King St and an intriguing time of exploration.
The Iolani Palace offers guided tours of the museum, which allows guests to learn about the rich and eventful history of the lives of Hawaiian royalty, how they lived, the fancy clothes they wore, and the palace’s role in major historic events such as the Second World War. The tour also brings you to the different sections of the palace, including the grand hall, the private suites, the throne room, and the infamous room wherein the queen was held during a coup in 1885.
Hawaii Children's Discovery Center
Suitable for kids and kids at heart, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center is a family-friendly museum that aims to “inspire children to dream big dreams”. Situated near the Kaka’ako Waterfront Park at 111 Ohe St, just a short distance from the city center, the museum boasts specially curated interactive exhibits that cater to all interests and age groups.
Aside from its range of fun and immersive exhibitions, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center also hosts numerous themed programs, including STEM-centered labs and Discovery Camps.
Hawaii State Art Museum
One of the most prominent Honolulu Museums, the Hawaii State Art Museum, or simply HiSAM, is a public art museum located in the downtown area at 250 South Hotel St Second Floor. Housed inside the No. 1 Capitol Building District, the HiSAM is composed of three galleries that feature rotating exhibitions; the works featured at the museum are primarily created by artists that have some connection to Hawaii.
Some of the renowned artists whose works have been featured at the HiSAM include sculptors Satoru Abe, Sean K.L. Brown, and Bumpei Akaji and ceramicists Jun Kaleko and David Kuraoka. Apart from its temporary exhibitions, the HiSAM also has a permanent collection of Hawaiian art; this collection is made up of 132 works by 105 different artists and reflects a mix of the cultural and ethnic traditions of Hawaii. The museum also houses other amenities such as the Sculpture Garden and a lecture and activity room.
Queen Emma Summer Palace
Located just a short drive from the city center to 2913 Pali Hwy, the Queen Emma Summer Palace, also known as Hānaiakamalama, is a museum and historic landmark and one of the most interesting attractions to visit in Honolulu. From 1857 to 1885, the palace served as a holiday retreat for Queen Emma of Hawaii and her husband, King Kamehameha IV. After her death, the residence was bought by the Kingdom of Hawaii and eventually acquired by the Daughters of Hawaii organization.
Today, the Queen Emma Summer Palace functions as a museum that showcases the possessions of Queen Emma and her family, with items such as a royal coat of arms, a baby cradle, and a grand piano. A guided tour of the palace will take you through the different rooms, including the Main Bedroom, the Cloak Room, and the Center Hall.
The royal palace also has numerous exhibits that display some interesting artifacts that were part of Queen Emma’s history, including a tiger claw necklace, a stereopticon given by Napoleon II, and a silver christening vessel gifted by Queen Victoria. As you go through the palace, you will likely encounter some portraits of historical figures, such as Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and John Young II.
What are the best free museums in Honolulu?
Honolulu is home to some amazing museums, some of which are even free to enter! Some of the best Honolulu Museums that do not charge entrance include the Hawaii State Art Museum, the John Young Museum of Art, the US Army Museum of Hawaii, the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center, and the Police Museum.
Additionally, some of the city’s most popular museums can be accessed for free on certain days. For instance, the Honolulu Museum of Art has free admission every third Sunday of the month while the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has free admission during Museum Day Live, which normally falls in September.
Which are the best museums in downtown Honolulu?
As the heart of Honolulu, the downtown area is home to some of the city’s most prominent attractions, including the most recognizable museums. Among the museums that can be found within the city center are the Honolulu Museum of Art, Iolani Palace, the Hawaii State Art Museum, and the Bishop Museum.
Are there any cheap museums in Honolulu?
The term “cheap” may mean different things as budgets can vary from one traveler to another. However, there are a number of museums in Honolulu with entry fees of no more than $20, including the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Queen Emma Summer Palace, and the Hawaii Children's Discovery Centre.
See the fantastic museums in Honolulu
Honolulu might be known best for its pristine beaches but the world-class museums found in the city are definitely worth checking out. If you are planning to visit the Hawaiian capital soon, you should make plans to visit the abovementioned museums. In doing so, you get to learn more about Hawaii’s rich and colorful history and immerse yourself in the local culture.