Historic Honolulu

The Waikiki you see today bears no resemblance to the Waikiki of yesteryear, a place of vast taro fields extending from the ocean to deep into Manoa Valley, dotted with numerous fish ponds and gardens tended by thousands of people. This picture of old Waikiki can be recaptured by following the emerging Waikiki Historic Trail  (, a meandering 2-mile walk with 20 bronze surfboard markers (standing 6 ft., 5 in. tall—you can’t miss (em), complete with descriptions and archival photos of the historic sites. The markers note everything from Waikiki’s ancient fishponds to the history of the Ala Wai Canal. The trail begins at Kuhio Beach and ends at the King Kalakaua statue, at the intersection of Kuhio and Kalakaua avenues.

 Pearl Harbor Visitor Center: Getting Tickets

The USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin and Submarine Museum, USS Missouri Memorial, and Pacific Aviation Museum are all accessed via the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Park here and purchase tickets for all the exhibits. (Entry to the USS Arizona Memorial is free, but you still must get a ticket. Better yet, for the USS Arizona, reserve your spot at to avoid a long wait.) Shuttle buses will deliver you to the sites within Pearl Harbor.

Walking Tour: Historic Honolulu

GETTING THERE:         From Waikiki, take Ala Moana Boulevard in the Ewa direction. Ala Moana Boulevard ends at Nimitz Highway. Turn right on the next street on your right (Alakea St.). Park in the garage across from St. Andrew's Church after you cross Beretania Street. Bus: 2, 13, 19, or 20.

START & FINISH:          St. Andrew’s Church, Beretania and Alakea streets.

TIME:                              2 to 3 hours, depending on how long you linger in museums.

BEST TIMES:                 Wednesday through Saturday, daytime, when the Iolani Palace has tours.

The 1800s were a turbulent time in Hawaii. By the end of the 1790s, Kamehameha the Great had united all the islands. Foreigners then began arriving by ship—first explorers, then merchants, and then, in 1820, missionaries. The rulers of Hawaii were hard-pressed to keep up. By 1840, it was clear that the capital had shifted from Lahaina, where the Kingdom of Hawaii was actually centered, to Honolulu, where the majority of commerce and trade was taking place. In 1848, the Great Mahele (division) enabled commoners and, eventually, foreigners to own crown land, and in two generations, more than 80 percent of all private lands had shifted to foreign ownership. With the introduction of sugar as a crop, the foreigners prospered, and in time they put more and more pressures on the government.

By 1872, the monarchy had run through the Kamehameha line and, in 1873, David Kalakaua was elected to the throne. Known as the “Merrie Monarch,” Kalakaua redefined the monarchy by going on a world tour, building Iolani Palace, having a European-style coronation, and throwing extravagant parties. By the end of the 1800s, however, the foreign sugar growers and merchants had become extremely powerful in Hawaii. With the assistance of the U.S. Marines, they orchestrated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, in 1893. The United States declared Hawaii a territory in 1898.

    You can witness the remnants of these turbulent years in just a few short blocks.

Cross the street from the garage and venture back to 1858 when you enter:

1     St. Andrew’s Church

The Hawaiian monarchs were greatly influenced by the royals in Europe. When King Kamehameha IV saw the grandeur of the Church of England, he decided to build his own cathedral. He and Queen Emma founded the Anglican Church of Hawaii in 1858. The king didn’t live to see the church completed, however; he died on St. Andrew’s Day, 4 years before King Kamehameha V oversaw the laying of the cornerstone in 1867. The church was named St. Andrew’s in honor of King Kamehameha IV’s death. This French-Gothic structure was shipped in pieces from England. Even if you aren’t fond of visiting churches, you have to see the floor-to-eaves, hand-blown stained-glass window that faces the setting sun. In the glass is a mural of Rev. Thomas Staley (the first bishop in Hawaii), King Kamehameha IV, and Queen Emma. Services are conducted in English and Hawaiian. On Sundays at 8am the Hawaiian Choir sings Hawaiian hymns, and at 10:30am the Cathedral Choir, in existence for 150 years, performs.

Next, walk down Beretania Street in the Diamond Head direction to the gates of:

2     Washington Place

This was the former home of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last queen. For 80 years after her death, it served as the governor’s house, until a new home was built on the property in 2002 and the historic residence was opened to the public. Tours are held Thursdays at 10am by reservation only. They’re free; call tel. 808/586-0248 ( at least 2 days in advance to reserve. The Greek Revival–style home, built in 1842 by a U.S. sea captain named John Dominis, got its name from the U.S. ambassador who once stayed here and told so many stories about George Washington that people starting calling the home Washington Place. The sea captain’s son married a beautiful Hawaiian princess, Lydia Kapaakea, who later became Queen Liliuokalani. When the queen was overthrown by U.S. businessmen in 1893, she moved out of Iolani Palace and into Washington Place, where she lived until her death in 1917. On the left side of the building, near the sidewalk, is a plaque inscribed with the words to one of the most popular songs written by Queen Liliuokalani, “Aloha Oe” (“Farewell to Thee”).

Cross the street and walk to the front of the Hawaii State Capitol, where you’ll find the:

3     Father Damien Statue

The people of Hawaii have never forgotten the sacrifice this Belgian priest made to help the sufferers of leprosy when he volunteered to work with them in exile on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai. After 16 years of service, Father Damien himself died of leprosy, at the age of 49. The statue is frequently draped in leis in recognition of Father Damien’s humanitarian work.

Behind the Father Damien Statue is the:

4     Hawaii State Capitol

Here’s where Hawaii’s state legislators work from mid-January to the end of April every year. This is not your typical white-domed structure, but rather a building symbolic of Hawaii. Unfortunately, it symbolizes more of Hawaii than the architect and the state legislature probably bargained for. The building’s unusual design has palm tree–shaped pillars, two cone-shaped chambers (representing volcanoes) for the legislative bodies, and, in the inner courtyard, a 600,000-tile mosaic of the sea (Aquarius) created by a local artist. A reflecting pool (representing the sea) surrounds the entire structure. Like a lot of things in Hawaii, it was a great idea, but no one considered the logistics. The reflecting pond draws brackish water, which rusts the hardware; when it rains, water pours into the rotunda, dampening government business; and the Aquarius floor mosaic was so damaged by the elements that it became a hazard. In the 1990s, the circa-1969 building underwent renovations. It’s open today, and you are welcome to go into the rotunda and see the woven hangings and murals at the entrance; pick up a self-guided-tour brochure at the governor’s office on the fourth floor. The public is also welcome to observe the state government in action during legislative sessions (

Walk down Richards Street toward the ocean and stop at:

5     Iolani Palace

Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. to have not one but two royal palaces: one in Kona, where the royals went during the summer, and Iolani Palace (iolani means “royal hawk”). Don’t miss the opportunity to see this grande dame of historic buildings. Guided tours are $22 adults, $6 children 5 to 12; self-guided audio tours are $15 adults, $6 children 5 to 12; and basement gallery tours are $7 adults, $3 children 5 to 12. It’s open Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 4pm and closed Sunday; call tel. 808/522-0832 ( to reserve in advance, as spots are limited.

   In ancient times, a heiau (temple) stood in this area. When it became clear to King Kamehameha III that the capital should be transferred from Lahaina to Honolulu, he moved to a modest building here in 1845. The construction of the palace was begun in 1879 by King David Kalakaua; it was finished 3 years later at a cost of $350,000. The king spared no expense: You can still see the glass and iron work imported from San Francisco, and the palace had all the modern conveniences for its time. Electric lights were installed 4 years before the White House had them, and every bedroom had its own full bathroom with hot and cold running water, copper-lined tub, flush toilet, and bidet. The king had a telephone line from the palace to his boathouse on the water a year after Alexander Graham Bell introduced it to the world.

   It was also in this palace that Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown and placed under house arrest for 9 months. Later, the territorial and then the state government used the palace until it outgrew it. When the legislature left in 1968, the palace was in shambles. It has since undergone a $7-million overhaul to restore it to its former glory.

After you visit the palace, spend some time on the:

6     Iolani Palace Grounds

You can wander around the grounds at no charge. The ticket window to the palace and the gift shop are in the former barracks of the Royal Household Guards. The domed pavilion on the grounds was originally built as a Coronation Stand by King Kalakaua (9 years after he took the throne, he decided to have a formal European-style coronation ceremony where he crowned himself and his queen, Kapiolani). Later he used it as a Royal Bandstand for concerts (King Kalakaua, along with Henri Berger, the first Royal Hawaiian Bandmaster, wrote “Hawaii Pono’i,” the state anthem). Today the Royal Bandstand is still used for concerts by the Royal Hawaiian Band.

From the palace grounds, turn in the Ewa direction, cross Richards Street, and walk to the corner of Richards and Hotel streets to the:

7     Hawaii State Art Museum

Opened in 2002, the Hawaii State Art Museum is housed in the original Royal Hawaiian hotel, built in 1872 during the reign of King Kamehameha V. Most of the art displayed in the 300-piece collection was created by local artists. The pieces were purchased by the state, thanks to a 1967 law that says that 1 percent of the cost of state buildings will be used to acquire works of art. Nearly 5 decades later, the state has amassed almost 6,000 pieces.

Walk makai down Richards Street and turn left (toward Diamond Head) on South King Street to the:

8     King Kamehameha Statue

At the juncture of King, Merchant, and Mililani streets stands a replica of the man who united the Hawaiian Islands. The striking black-and-gold bronze statue is magnificent. Try to see the statue on June 11 (King Kamehameha Day), when it is covered with leis in honor of Hawaii’s favorite son.

   The statue of Kamehameha I was cast by Thomas Gould in 1880 in Paris. However, it was lost at sea somewhere near the Falkland Islands. Subsequently, the insurance money was used to pay for a second statue, but in the meantime, the original statue was recovered. The original was eventually sent to the town of Kapaau on the Big Island, the birthplace of Kamehameha, and the second statue was placed in Honolulu in 1883, as part of King David Kalakaua’s coronation ceremony.

Right behind the King Kamehameha Statue is:

9     Aliiolani Hale

The name translates to “House of Heavenly Kings.” This distinctive building, with a clock tower, now houses the Supreme Court of Hawaii and the Judiciary History Center. King Kamehameha V originally wanted to build a palace here and commissioned the Australian architect Thomas Rowe in 1872. However, it ended up as the first major government building for the Hawaiian monarchy. Kamehameha V didn’t live to see it completed, and King David Kalakaua dedicated the building in 1874. Ironically, less than 20 years later, on January 17, 1893, Stanford Dole, backed by other prominent sugar planters, stood on the steps to this building and proclaimed the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the establishment of a provisional government. Self-guided tours are available Monday through Friday from 7:45am to 4:30pm; admission is free.

Walk toward Diamond Head on King Street; at the corner of King and Punchbowl, stop in at the:

10    Kawaiahao Church

When the missionaries came to Hawaii, the first thing they did was build churches. Four thatched-grass churches (one measured 54[ts]22 ft. and could seat 300 people on lauhala mats; the last thatched church held 4,500 people) had been built on this site through 1837, before Rev. Hiram Bingham began building what he considered a “real” church: a New England–style congregational structure with Gothic influences. Between 1837 and 1842, the construction of the church required some 14,000 giant coral slabs (some weighing more than 1,000 pounds). Hawaiian divers ravaged the reefs, digging out huge chunks of coral and causing irreparable environmental damage.

   Kawaiahao is Hawaii’s oldest church and has been the site of numerous historic events, such as a speech made by King Kamehameha III in 1843, an excerpt from which became Hawaii’s state motto (“Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono,” which translates as “The life of the land is preserved in righteousness”).

   The church is open Monday through Saturday 8am to 4pm; you’ll find it to be very cool in temperature. Don’t sit in the back pews marked with kahili feathers and velvet cushions; they are still reserved for the descendants of royalty. Sunday service (in English and Hawaiian) is at 9am.

Cross the street, and you’ll see the:

11    Hawaiian Mission Houses

On the corner of King and Kawaiahao streets stand the original buildings of the Sandwich Islands Mission Headquarters: the Frame House (built in 1821), the Chamberlain House (1831), and the Printing Office (1841). The complex is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm; admission is $10 adults, $8 seniors and military personnel, and $6 students and children 6 and older. The tours are often led by descendants of the original missionaries to Hawaii. For information, go to

   Believe it or not, the missionaries brought their own prefab house along with them when they came around Cape Horn from Boston in 1819. The Frame House was designed for New England winters and had small windows (it must have been stiflingly hot inside). Finished in 1821 (the interior frame was left behind and didn’t arrive until Christmas 1820), it is Hawaii’s oldest wooden structure. The Chamberlain House, built in 1831, was used by the missionaries as a storehouse.

   The missionaries believed that the best way to spread the Lord’s message to the Hawaiians was to learn their language, and then to print literature for them to read. So it was the missionaries who gave the Hawaiians a written language. The Printing House on the grounds was where the lead-type Ramage press (brought from New England, of course) was used to print the Hawaiian Bible.

Cross King Street and walk in the Ewa direction to the corner of Punchbowl and King to:

12    Honolulu Hale

The Honolulu City Hall, built in 1927, was designed by Honolulu’s most famous architect, C. W. Dickey. His Spanish Mission–style building has an open-air courtyard, which is used for art exhibits and concerts. It’s open Monday through Friday.

Cross Punchbowl Street and walk mauka to the:

13    State Library

Anything you want to know about Hawaii and the Pacific can be found here, the main branch of the state’s library system. Located in a restored historic building, it has an open garden courtyard in the middle, great for stopping for a rest on your walk.

Head mauka up Punchbowl to the corner of Punchbowl and Beretania streets, where you’ll see:

14    Kalanimoku

A beautiful name, “Ship of Heaven,” has been given to this dour state office building. Here you can get information from the Department of Land and Natural Resources on hiking and camping in state parks.

Retrace your steps in the Ewa direction down Beretania to Alakea back to the parking garage.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.