Downtown Honolulu: Insider’s Hawaii

I have yet to go through everyone’s responses to the Reader Survey (which you can still fill out for the chance to win an Aloha box by the way) but something I saw quite consistently was that y’all love reading about life in Hawaii. Well, today you’re in luck because I have quite the photo-rich post for y’all about one of my favorite places to sight-see on island–downtown Honolulu. If you’re looking to learn more about the culture and history of Hawaii, taking a self-guided walking tour of the downtown Honolulu is a great place to start.

Taking a self-guided tour of downtown Honolulu is the best way to get an up and personal look at the culture and history of Oahu.

Where to Go:Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu

IOLANI PALACE

Acclaimed as the only royal palace on US soil, Iolani Palace served as the royal residence from its completion in 1882 to the overthrow of the Hawaiian royalty in 1893. Queen Liliʻuokalani was imprisoned in a small room on the upper floor of the palace for nine months and, on the guided tour, you can actually see the quilt she made during her imprisonment.

Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu

After the demise of the monarchy, Iolani Palace served as a territorial capitol building and military headquarters during World War II before becoming a museum in the 1960s.

Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu

There are guided tours and self-led audio tours available through the palace. We’ve actually visited the Palace on both a weekday and a Sunday and, although the inside of the palace is closed to visitors on weekends, I loved being able to tour the grounds and enjoy the beautifully ornate architecture of the building without a lot of tourists (believe this place gets pretty packed on week days).

Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu

Where: the corner of King Street and Richards Street in the Capitol District of Honolulu
When: 9 am-4 pm Mondays through Saturday (excluding holidays)
Admission: adult tickets are $21.75 each sold through the ticket office on the Palace Grounds
More Info: www.iolanipalace.org

THE HAWAII STATE CAPITOL

Hawaii state capital in HonoluluMost state capitol buildings are modeled off the US capitol building but not this one–this one is pure Hawaii. Literally because the architecture is symbolic for natural elements of Hawaii.Hawaii state capital in Honolulu

The first thing you notice is that the building is completely open air with the central rotunda area open to the sky. The reflection pool that surrounds the building represents the Pacific, the two cone-shaped chambers mimics the volcanoes that created the islands, and the 8 columns on each side of the album, built to look like royal palm trees, represent the 8 main islands of Hawaii.Hawaii state capital in Honolulu

Aside from the architecture, there are three statues outside of the building that are worth noting.Queen Liliokalani statue Hawaii state capital in Honolulu

The Queen Liliʻuokalani Statue in the Capitol Mall was dedicated in 1982. Queen Lili’uokalani was the last monarch and only female reigning queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii. During the last year or so of living here, I’ve become very interested in Hawaiian culture and Queen Lili’uokalani is the one that intrigues me the most. She seemed extremely in-tune with her people and a very intelligent well-rounded woman.

Even after her forced (some say illegal) abdication, she campaigned for her people through visits to the mainland and started a trust to help orphaned children. She was Hawaii’s first native female author and was an accomplished composer.

Replica of the Liberty Bell Hawaii state capital in HonoluluOn the Beretania Street entrance of the capital stands an exact replica of the Liberty Bell given by the President and Congress in 1950. It stands as a symbol of freedom, democracy, and friendship between the mainland and the islands.

Father Damien Hawaii state capital in HonoluluThe most prominent statue on the Capitol grounds is the Saint Damien of Moloka’i statue. The island of Molaka’i was historically a leper colony—Father Damien, a Catholic priest from Belgium, dedicated his life to helping those in the colony. After 16 years of serving leprosy patients, Father Damien died of the disease himself; the statue was erected in 1969 and the father was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Interesting fact, Damien is the patron saint of outcasts and those with HIV and AIDS.

Where:415 South Beretania Street

Kawaiahaʻo Church (the Stone Church)

The Stone Church in Downtown HonoluluKnown as Hawaii’s Westminster Abbey, Kawaiahaʻo Church was constructed between 1836 and 1842 and is one of the oldest standing Christian places of worship on the islands (the oldest being a church on the Big Island). More than 14,000 thousand-pound slabs of coral rock were hand-quarried by Hawaiian divers to construct this church.

The Stone Church in Downtown HonoluluTruly one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen, Kawaiaha’o was the place of worship for most Hawaiian royalty and is now adorned with 21 portraits of Hawaiian royalty. It was named from the Hawaiian phrase Ka wai a Haʻor the water of Haʻo because of the spring and freshwater pool on the grounds in the care of the High Chieftess Haʻo.

The Stone Church in Downtown Honolulu

A wedding was in progress when we visited the church so we only got to see a little of the inside but we had such fun exploring the cemetery behind the church. Since I was a young girl, I’ve always been interested in the stories behind history so putting me in a historical cemetery is like putting a kid in a candy shop….yes, I’m aware that might sound weird to some people.

The Stone Church in Downtown HonoluluThis particular monument dedicated to Reverend James Kekela especially caught our eye. Reverend Kekela was the first Hawaiian Christian minister and was ordained in 1849. He ministered to the Marquesas Islands (a group of islands in French Polynesia) for 49 years and was rewarded in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln for rescuing an American sailor from cannibals.

I definitely recommend giving the Stone Church and its cemetery a visit if you’re visiting downtown.

Where: 957 Punchbowl Street
Worship: 9am Sunday Worship Service
More Info: www.kawaiahao.org

King Kamehameha the First in Ali’iolani Hale

Aliʻiolani HaleAliʻiolani Hale, meaning House of Heavenly Kings, is the home of the Hawaii Supreme Court and was finished in 1874. You may recognize the building if you watch the TV series, Hawaii Five-0, as it’s used for the exterior shots of the task force’s headquarters.

In front of Ali’iolani Hale is the King Kamehameha statue. The statue was erected in honor of the founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii, King Kamehameha I who unified the islands during his reign from 1795-1819. This is actually the second replica that was sent to the islands–the first was shipwrecked and then found around the Falkland Islands. It now stands at King Kamehameha’s birthplace on the Big Island.

King Kamehameha V in HonoluluYou can also visit the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center for an in-depth look at Hawaii’s legal history.

Where: 417 S King St
When: 8 am-4:30 pm Mondays through Friday (excluding holidays)
Admission: free
More Info: www.jhchawaii.net

Wow that was a long post, wasn’t it?! I hope you all enjoyed a glimpse of Hawaii’s history and, if you’re planning a trip to Oahu, definitely plan some time to explore downtown Honolulu.

LET’S CHAT!
Is there a historical district in your town?
Tell me about something culturally or historically significant that you’ve explored.

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  • Awesome write up!! You can take pics inside the palace, just no flash photography. I had to think about my past visits and I was like wait, I’ve taken pictures every time. Loving this Hawai’i Diaries series!

    • Thanks Malia–that means a bunch coming from you! I’ll be sure to change that in my post–I thought it was a little weird to have no photography at all so that totally makes sense!

  • These are such cool places! I love learning about the history of places I visit which works well because Mac hates just laying on the beach.

    • Well that definitely works out well! Love that you guys like exploring & learning together, Lisa. 🙂

  • Very interesting! I’ve always wanted to visit the palace! We tend to stay out of Honolulu, but we definitely have to see these things before we leave.

    • You guys definitely need to check it out before you leave! We also try to avoid Honolulu (holy moly traffic) but this was definitely worth it!

  • Wow talk about blast from the past. I haven’t been to any of these places since I was really little. I need to visit your list next time I’m home.

    • Aw that’s so cool–I’d forgotten that you’re from here, Joslin! There’s so much history here–I’m glad we got to explore it. 🙂

  • I’ll keep these in mind for my next trip back!

    • They’re definitely worth a visit, Emilie!

  • Jen

    Love it! I can’t wait to go to the palace.

    • It’s so gorgeous and rich in history–definitely worth a visit!!