Bishop Museum

Top choice museum in Honolulu
Image by John Elk / Getty Images

Hawaii’s version of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, the Bishop Museum showcases a remarkable array of cultural and natural history exhibits. It is often ranked as the finest Polynesian anthropological museum in the world. Founded in 1889 in honor of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of the Kamehameha dynasty, it originally housed only Hawaiian and royal artifacts. These days it honors all of Polynesia and is an unmissable part of Honolulu's cultural fabric.

The main gallery, the Hawaiian Hall, resides inside a dignified three-story Victorian building. The three floors are designed to take visitors on a journey through the different realms of Hawai‘i. On the 1st floor is Kai Akea, which represents the Hawaiian gods, legends, beliefs, and the world of precontact Hawai‘i. One floor up, Wao Kanaka focuses on the importance of the land and nature in daily life. The top floor, Wao Lani, is inhabited by the gods.

The fascinating two-story exhibits inside the adjacent Pacific Hall cover the myriad cultures of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. It shows how the peoples of Oceania are diverse, yet deeply connected, and is filled with cultural treasures such as canoes, woven mats and contemporary artwork. The Picture Gallery features evocative 19th-century paintings depicting Hawaii.

The state-of-the-art, multisensory Richard T Mamiya Science Adventure Center is based on better understanding Hawaii’s environment.

The Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame has photos and memorabilia from outstanding accomplishments by Hawaiian sports legends.

The well-marked Na Ulu Kaiwi‘ula Native Hawaiian Garden features species important to Hawaiian culture, ranging from endemic plants to those such as breadfruit that were brought to Hawaii by Polynesians centuries ago.

The Bishop Museum is also home to Oʻahu’s only planetarium, which has an ever-changing range of shows, including traditional Polynesian methods of wayfaring (navigation). Check the museum website for upcoming shows.

The gift shop sells books on the Pacific not easily found elsewhere, as well as some high-quality Hawaiian art, crafts and souvenirs. There is also a quality cafe, open 10:30am to 3:30pm daily. Check the museum website for special events.

From Waikiki or downtown Honolulu, take bus 2 (the ‘School St/Middle St’ bus) and get off at the intersection of School and Kapālama Sts. Parking is free.