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Hawai‘i’s Best Historical and Cultural Sites

Pu'ukohola Heiau was the last large heiau built before the dissolution of the Hawaiian religious system.
Pu’ukohola Heiau was the last large heiau built before the dissolution of the Hawaiian religious system. Photo © JustyCinMD, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

To truly experience Hawai‘i, you need to understand its people and place in the modern world. Hawai‘i’s relatively short history has been tumultuous and prosperous, war-torn yet rich. Its museums, historic sites, and artifacts all have compelling stories to tell.

O‘ahu

‘Iolani Palace

The only royal residence in the United States, this grand and regal palace was the official home of the monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom. Tours cover the lavishly furnished basement and the first and second floors.

Historic Chinatown

Chinatown’s historic buildings are home to a vibrant mix of cuisine, culture, art, and nightlife. The only way to experience it all is to park the car and set out on foot, block by block.

Honolulu Museum of Art

O‘ahu’s premier fine art museum has amassed a collection including 50,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years and featuring Asian, African, American, European, and Oceanic artifacts. There is also a theater, and its sister museum Spalding House in Makiki Heights holds a modern art collection. The entry fee is good for both museums on a same-day visit.

Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum is the premier natural history museum in the Pacific and the largest museum in the state of Hawai‘i. It has seasonal rotating exhibits and an extensive collection of cultural artifacts from peoples across the Pacific.

Pearl Harbor Historic Sites

One of the most heavily visited areas in Hawai‘i, this historic site includes free tours of the USS Arizona Memorial and paid tours of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. All are part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Kaua‘i

Kilauea Lighthouse

Stop for both educational and photo opportunities at the Kilauea Lighthouse and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kaua‘i’s north shore.

Limahuli Botanical Garden

Check out the preserved wetland taro terraces and native plants at Limahuli Botanical Garden. A self-guided tour weaves through the gorgeous, vibrant green grounds.

Kilohana Plantation

This sprawling sugar plantation is home to a perfectly preserved mansion built in the 1930s. Browse the home and its many original pieces of decor, explore the beautiful grounds, and enjoy a historical train ride.

Wailua River Sacred Sites

Along the banks of the Wailua River are many cultural sites, including the heiau where the Hawaiian royalty were born and a site that may have witnessed human sacrifice. Wander the Kamokila Hawaiian Village, which showcases traditional Hawaiian life.

Maui

Pi‘ilanihale Heiau

Inside of Hana’s Kahanu Garden, this towering, 50-foot tall heiau is the largest remaining in the state of Hawaii. The stone platforms encompass an area the size of two professional football fields.

Bailey House Museum

Step inside this one-time missionary home to get a glimpse into 19th-century Maui. This museum houses ancient Hawaiian artifacts, a surfboard ridden by Duke Kahanamoku, and one of the best bookstores for Hawaiian themed literature.

Moloka‘i

Kalaupapa Peninsula

At one time, a visit to Kalaupapa was a death sentence. Today, go to this remote peninsula to learn about the struggles of Hawai‘i’s leprosy patients and Father Damien, the man who gave everything to save them.

Lana‘i

Lana‘i Culture and Heritage Center

This small, informative cultural center in the heart of Lana‘i City traces Lana‘i’s history from its original inhabitants through its era as the world’s largest pineapple plantation.

The Big Island

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

Kealakekua Bay was the site of the first significant and sustained contact between Hawaiians and Europeans. While it started off well, the relationship deteriorated, ending in the death of many Hawaiians, Captain James Cook, and several of his crewmembers. A white obelisk memorial marks the spot where Cook fell.

Pu‘ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

As part of a prophecy, Kamehameha I was told to build a temple to the war god Ku. Sitting high on the hill overlooking Kawaihae Harbor, this commanding stone structure was the last large heiau built before the dissolution of the Hawaiian religious system.

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument

Two remarkable sites are drawn together in this state monument. The Kamehameha ‘Akahi ‘Aina Hanau marks the spot where Hawai‘i’s most well known historical figure was born. Much, much older is Mo‘okini Luakini Heiau, a sacrificial temple, one of the oldest heiau on the island.

Laupahoehoe Train Museum

You can’t miss this Big Island museum—there is a full-size train car on the side of the road. The museum houses an impressive photo archive of the Big Island in the early 20th century.

Historical Kailua

King Kamehameha lived his last years at Kamakahonu Beach, using Ahu‘ena Heiau for governing purposes. Later rulers built Hulihe‘e Palace, an escape from the affairs of state in Honolulu. Land was given to the first missionaries to put up Moku‘aikaua Church across the street from the palace.


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