The Best Guide to Museum Hopping in Honolulu

Honolulu is the capital city and biggest city in the U.S. state of Hawaii and is one of the most famous holiday destinations in the United States. With its tropical climate and array of white-sand beaches, locals and tourists from all over the world fly to Honolulu to enjoy all that it has to offer. While many come to the Hawaiian capital with the beach in mind, museum hopping in Honolulu is increasingly becoming a top activity.

Hawwaii Oahu

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With its rich and colourful past, Hawaii has a good amount of museums that cover varying subjects. A lot of these museums can be found in the capital. From history and culture to local and international art, these top Honolulu museums are worth visiting for when you grow tired of the beach. 

(Note: Most museums found on this list prohibit guests from carrying oversized bags, suitcases, and luggage inside. To avoid any inconvenience during your visit, look for a Honolulu luggage locker where you can store your items.)

Top Museums to Visit in Honolulu

#1 Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Pearl Harbor Museum in Hawaii

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The Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark is one of the top tourist destinations in Honolulu because of its important role in world history. One of the museums housed within the complex is the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, a non-profit museum located in the historic Fort Island. 

The museum has on display a collection of model aircraft and planes that were actually used during World War II, such as the B-25 Mitchell bomber, the Japanese Zero fighter, and the F-86 Sabre. Visitors can also use the combat flight simulators to experience “flying” an aircraft as a WWII pilot.

#2 The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum 

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, also known simply as the Bishop Museum, is a museum dedicated to sharing Hawaiian history and culture. Established in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, the museum was named after Bishop’s wife and Hawaiian royal family member, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. 

The facility houses the world’s biggest collection of Polynesian cultural artefacts, with over 1.3 million individual pieces related to Hawaiian and Pacific Islander culture. Additionally, the museum has the largest natural history specimen collection in the world, with its insect collection being the third biggest in the United States. 

#3 Honolulu Museum of Art

Located in the downtown area, the Honolulu Museum of Art is one of the city’s top art institutions and a definite must-visit for art enthusiasts. Founded in 1922, the museum houses a permanent collection of over 50,000 pieces of Pan-Pacific and Asian art – one of the largest collections of its kind in the United States. 

The Honolulu Museum of Art also has nearly 18,000 works of American and European art, including paintings, sculptures, textiles, and decorative arts. Some of the highlights of this collection are paintings by renowned artists such as Monet, Picasso, Rodin, Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Georgia O’Keefe. The museum also regularly hosts events such as art education, workshops, and art lending programs.

#4 U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii

Set inside a former coastal weapon and artillery battery, the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii educates about the state’s military history as well as the U.S. Army operations in the Asia-Pacific. The exhibits found within the museum offer visual and audio guides that bring several events and conflicts to life, including Hawaii’s presence in encounters at Vietnam, Korea, and Pearl Harbor, to name a few. 

Aside from the audio-visual experience, the museum also has on display numerous military hardware such as guns, tanks, and feudal weapons traditionally used in Hawaii. One of the highlights at the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii is the Gallery of Heroes, a section in the museum meant to honour individuals who have received distinguished accolades such as the Medal of Honour.

#5 Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Undoubtedly one of Honolulu’s most unique and interesting museums is the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, or simply Shangri La. Located near the famous Diamond Head State Monument, the museum is housed inside the former seasonal residence of American tobacco heiress Doris Duke, who developed an interest in Islamic and Middle Eastern art and aesthetics during her honeymoon in 1935. 

The museum’s construction began in 1936 and was completed in 1938; over the next six decades, Doris Duke collected and collected various pieces and artworks from places like Morocco, Egypt, India, Syria, and Turkey to fill up the space. Eventually, she collected more than 4,000 individual items such as ceramics, textiles, and mosaics. In 2002, the Shangri La was opened to the public and transformed into a museum that offers guided tours. 

#6 USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park 

harbor boat similar to those used during the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

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One of the attractions found in Pearl Harbor is the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, a historic World War II vessel that has been transformed into a museum and tourist attraction. The museum was erected in honour of the 52 U.S. subs and their respective crewmen that were destroyed and lost during the war. 

The museum is filled with various war artefacts such as submarine bells, missiles, battle flags, and more; they also give an insight into what life was like for the sailors inside the submarine. But undoubtedly the highlight of the museum is the vessel itself. The USS Bowfin played a vital role in the war as it helped destroy over 40 Japanese vessels during that period. 

#7 Hawaii State Art Museum (HISAM)

Situated in downtown Honolulu, just across from the State Capitol and Iolani Palace, is the Hawaii State Arte Museum (HISAM). Housed in a Spanish Mission-style building, HISAM is a public art museum that is dedicated to sharing and interpreting Hawaii’s art and culture. The exhibitions displayed here are specifically curated from the Art in Public Places Collection as well as works by artists who are connected to Hawaii.

Apart from its displays and exhibitions, HISAM also provides educational tools for students, teachers, and visitors and talks about topics that are of interest to the local communities. At present, there are four galleries, a 70-seat multi-purpose room, a sculpture garden, and a volunteer resource centre at HISAM.

In need of more help to plan your trip? Check out the sources below.

Have you visited Honolulu? What museums would you recommend that others should visit? Perhaps you have visited Hawaii and would like to highlight other places to visit.

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Museum hopping in Honolulu. Where you should be visiting when you head to Hawaii via @tbookjunkie

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