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The 8 Most Fascinating Museums in Hawaii You Won't Want to Miss

Hawaii Museums
by Matador Creators Nov 22, 2023

Hawaii is known for turquoise waters, lush landscapes, and natural beauty. But it’s also known for its vibrant culture, and travelers willing to go beyond the sun-soaked beaches and step away from the swaying palm trees will find a trove of art, history, and heritage on display. The best museums in Hawaii both hold fascinating artifacts and help visitors learn about the islands’ rich cultural and natural histories.

From the ancient stories etched into the stones of the Bishop Museum to the modern expressions of creativity at the Capitol Modern, each of the best museums in Hawaii below are worth a visit — especially on those super-hot and muggy days when you need a break from the tropical heat.

Where to find the best museums in Hawaii

Most of the main museums in Hawaii are centered around Honolulu, the state’s capital city. But the other islands have plenty of places to visit to learn about Hawaiian history and culture, and it’s not unusual for businesses and hotels to have their own collections of Hawaiian artifacts, even though they aren’t official museums.

It’s no secret that Hawaii is a popular vacation destination, so buy your tickets to the museums below in advance whenever possible.

Bishop Museum (Oahu)

best museums in hawaii - bishop museum

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The Bishop Museum is Hawaii’s premier museum dedicated to the history, culture, and natural sciences of the Hawaiian Islands and its Pacific neighbors. It was founded in 1889 in honor of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last royal descendant of the Kamehameha dynasty. The large collection includes a wide array of artifacts, documents, photographs, and specimens, making it a significant repository of knowledge about the Pacific.

Visitors to the Bishop Museum can walk through exhibits on everything from Hawaiian history and culture to the natural sciences. There’s also a planetarium and near-daily events and lectures on topics ranging from the tattoos of the Marquesas Islands (in French Polynesia) to how to navigate by the stars. The building itself is also quite pretty, and there’s a cute on-site cafe, too. You’ll get $2 off tickets if you buy them in advance online.

  • Address: 1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI 96817
  • Costs: Adults are $28.95, seniors are $25.95, and kids are $20.95
  • Hours: Daily, 9 AM-5 PM

Koke’e Natural History Museum (Kauai)

The Koke’e Natural History Museum is in Koke’e State Park at the base of Waimea Canyon. It looks at the natural and cultural history of the canyon, which was inhabited as far back at 400 CE. It has sacred significance to native Hawaiians, which you can learn about at the museum. It also has exhibits on the natural history and flora and fauna of area, with a focus on the area’s impressive biodiversity.

While it may not be one of the biggest museums in Hawaii, it’s worth a stop if you’re visiting Waimea Canyon, especially since admission is free (though it does accept for voluntary donations). It also has a small gift shop and staff who can assist with info on hiking trails and area sightseeing.

  • Address: 3600 Kokee Rd, Kekaha, HI 96752
  • Costs: Free, but donations accepted
  • Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 AM-3 PM. Saturday-Sunday, 10:30 AM-4 PM

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (Oahu)

best museums in hawaii - pearl harbor

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The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is a must-visit attraction for aviation enthusiasts or history buffs. It’s on Ford Island in the heart of Pearl Harbor and delves into both the aviation history of Hawaii and the events surrounding December 7, 1941, now known as Pearl Harbor Day.

The museum features an impressive collection of aircraft, including some that survived the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Exhibits are interactive and modern, ranging from displays on life in the 1940s to the history of flight.

There are actually four Hawaii museums in one here: the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Budget most of the day if you want to visit all four. Note that you need separate reservations to go out to the U.S.S. Arizona, which is managed by the National Park Service.

  • Address: 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Costs: Adults are $89.99, kids are $44.99
  • Hours: Daily, 9 AM-5 PM (the Battleship Missouri Memorial closes at 4 PM)

The Pacific Tsunami Museum (The Big Island)

The islands of Hawaii aren’t immune to tsunamis, and this unique museum preserves the history of Hawaii’s most significant natural disasters. The first recoded tsunami on the islands was in 1812, and there have been many since then, including the deadly tsunami of 1946.

The museum’s collection was based on items salvaged from the remains of 1946’s damage, and today, it’s both a memorial to those who have died and a museum all about the natural phenomenon. The museum’s collections look at the science behind tsunamis, as well as their role and impact on the history of Pacific Ocean nations and islands. It also has exhibits on tsunamis from around the world, along with gripping accounts from survivors and witnesses.

  • Address: 130 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720
  • Costs: Adults $10, kids $5, seniors $7
  • Hours: Daily, 10 AM-4 PM.

Iolani Palace (Oahu)

best museums in hawaii - royal palace

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Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu is one of the state’s most iconic landmarks. Built in 1882, it served as the royal residence for the Hawaiian monarchs and was the official residence of the last reigning monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893.

Today, Iolani Palace is a testament to Hawaii’s royal heritage and a symbol of Hawaiian sovereignty and history. You can choose to take a guided tour or opt for the self-guided tour.

Either way, you’ll walk from room to room, seeing the opulence and history of the Hawaiian monarchy. It’s a must-visit site if you think Hawaii’s entrance to the United States was peaceful and positive. The Hawaiian people had and have a strong culture, and the Iolani Palace museum does an excellent job of ensuring it doesn’t get erased as time goes on.

There are lots of different tickets and tours available, but you need to buy it online in advance. There are no walk-up sales.

  • Address: 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813
  • Costs: Varies, starting at $26.95 for adults and $21.95 for teens
  • Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 AM-4 PM. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Capitol Modern (Oahu)

hawaii oahu art museum

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The Capitol Modern, formerly the Hawaii State Art Museum, often referred to as HiSAM, is a cultural hub in Honolulu. As the official art museum of the state and with more than 130,000 square feet of space, it showcases an impressive collection of both traditional and contemporary art. It’s housed in the historic No. 1 Capitol District Building, a Spanish Mission-style building that originally served as Hawaii’s first hotel.

The museum’s collections encompass a wide range of artwork, including paintings, sculptures, prints, and mixed media, with an emphasis on artists from Hawaii and the broader Pacific region. Since there’s no cost to visit, you can just drop in. Be sure to visit not just the indoor exhibits, but also the sculpture garden. It’s near Iolani Palace, so you can easily visit both on the same day.

  • Address: 250 South Hotel St Second Floor, 250 S Hotel St #5, Honolulu, HI 96813
  • Costs: Free
  • Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 AM-4 PM. Close Sunday.

The Aquarium of Hawaii (Maui)

Although not a traditional museum, the Maui Ocean Center (also called the Aquarium of Hawaii) is a top attraction for those interested in marine life. One of its notable attractions is a 35-foot-long acrylic tunnel visitors can stroll through as sharks swim above their heads. There’s also the 750,000-gallon “Open Ocean tank” and one of the largest displays of live Pacific corals in the world. The aquarium also hosts frequent special events, like behind-the-scenes tours.

This is also one of the best museums in Hawaii if you’re a yogi, as it offers “Aquari-Om Yoga:” a unique yoga class held in front of the huge glass tanks of the Open Ocean exhibit. It doesn’t get more peaceful than that.

Aquarium admission tickets, yoga classes, behind-the-scenes tours, and everything else the aquarium offers should be booked in advance online.

  • Address: 192 Maalaea Rd, Wailuku, HI 96793
  • Costs: Tickets start at $39.95 for adults, $26.95 for kids, and $34.95 seniors. Kids under 4 are free.
  • Hours: Daily, 9 AM-5 PM

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center (The Big Island)

It’s small, but the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center on the island of Hawai’i serves as a central hub for visitors planning to explore the volcanic landscapes of the national park. The visitor center offers a wealth of information about the island’s geological features, volcanic history, and the unique ecosystems shaped by volcanic activity. It holds some of the items and artifacts from the park’s former Jaggar Museum, which was closed permanently due to damage from volcanic activity in 2018.

The welcome center has educational exhibits, interactive displays, and ranger-led programs that delve into the fascinating world of volcanoes, lava flows, and the park’s diverse flora and fauna. It’s also the go-to spot for practical information like trail maps, safety guidelines, and updates on current volcanic activity. There’s also a park store, in case you’re collecting a t-shirt from every park you visit.

  • Address: National Park, 1 Crater Rim Drive, Volcano, HI 96785
  • Costs: Free (though the park has an entry fee)
  • Hours: Daily, 9 AM-5 PM

Where to stay in Hawaii

waikiki beach hotels

Photo: 7Maru/Shutterstock

The first decision to make is what island you want to visit, as the islands aren’t connected by ferries. While it’s easy to fly between them, it’s not really possible to island hop for just a day. So you’ll need to commit to one island at a time.

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