Culture + Style

Take a Break From Oahu’s Beaches to Explore Hawaii’s Rich Culture and History

See firsthand how Hawaii’s royal family lived at Iolani Palace. (Photo: Alamy)

Think of Hawaii, and sugary-sand beaches and tropical breezes come to mind. But the 50th U.S. state has a fascinating history that’s worth taking a beach break to explore. From royal intrigue to missionary zeal, add a little culture to your vacation at these sites on the island of Oahu.

Fit for a King

Hawaii’s royal family took up residence in Iolani Palace in Honolulu in 1882. At the time, its design was cutting edge, with indoor plumbing and electric chandeliers. Not only regal, the palace was also the scene of political drama. Queen Liliuokalani (Hawaii’s last monarch and only queen) was overthrown and imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom.

Today, you can take a guided or self-guided tour of the palace (including the Imprisonment Room) and its consecrated grounds to view artifacts that once belonged to the royal family. The grounds include a royal burial mound that for forty years entombed kings, consorts and chiefs of Hawaii. Watch out for signs marked “Kapu” which means “forbidden,” but more importantly, “sacred.”

Hawaii Inside and Out

Make a new friend at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. (Photo: Alamy)

For a broader view of this region of the world, visit the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. With over a million objects relating to Hawaiian and South Pacific cultural life and natural history, the Honolulu museum dates to 1889. It was founded to honor a Hawaiian royal wife, and its collection includes some of the family’s heirlooms as well as everyday objects like carved canoes and woven mats.

Fans of volcanology can immerse themselves in displays about the islands’ volcanoes, plus, the Bishop Museum also features exhibits on Hawaiian legends to help non-natives understand cultural customs.

On a Mission

Learn about the impact of missionaries on Hawaii’s culture at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives. (Photo: Alamy)

Speaking of non-natives, the arrival of missionaries forms a significant part of the region’s history. The first American Protestant missionaries arrived in 1820 and carried on for more than 40 years. You can gain a better understanding of their impact at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives.

Among the pieces of history housed here is the Frame House, the islands’ oldest wooden structure – precut pieces were shipped in 1820 from Boston all the way around the Cape of Good Hope.Among the 3,000 other objects on display at this historic site are original diaries and letters. Reading from them gives a fascinating insight into the early days of interaction between Hawaiians and newcomers. No doubt, new arrivals’ fascination with these islands remains today. Take a little time away from the gorgeous beaches to see other facets of the culture of Hawaii.