1. ‘Iolani Palace
An excellent place to begin a walking tour of historic Honolulu is at the ʻIolani Palace. ʻIolani Palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s last two monarchs – King Kalakaua, who built the Palace in 1882, and his sister and successor, Queen Liliʻuokalani.
The ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu is the only royal palace located in the United States.
Neglected after the overthrow of the monarchy, restoration began in the 1970s through efforts of many concerned individuals. Restoration and preservation continues, and, as a result, today’s visitors to the palace can enjoy an ongoing historic restoration and learn much about Hawaiian history and culture.
Tickets for all tours are obtained at the nearby ʻIolani Barracks.
ʻIolani Palace is located in the Capitol District of downtown Honolulu at the corner of King and Richards Streets at 364 South King Street, Honolulu. There is limited metered parking on the grounds and on nearby streets.
Parking is also available at numerous lots downtown and at the Aloha Tower Marketplace. The best was to reach downtown from Waikiki is on The Bus, Oʻahu’s public transportation system.
A docent-guided tour costs $27 for an adult. Children/Youth (5-12) pay $6. No children under 5 are admitted. Tours are offered every 15 minutes Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
A 60 minute self-guided, pre-recorded audio costs $20 for an adult. Children/Youth (5-12) pay $6. These tours are available on Mondays from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 pm, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m, and Fridays from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
2. ‘Iolani Barracks
On the northwest lawn of the ʻIolani Palace grounds sits the castle-like ʻIolani Barracks.
ʻIolani Barracks was originally built in 1870-71 on the land where the Hawaii State Capitol building now sits. It was designed to house the royal palace and royal tomb guards.
German architect Theodore Hececk designed the Barracks as well as the new Royal Mausoleum in Nuʻuanu Valley off of the Pali Highway. The building is made of coral blocks and intended to look like a medieval castle.
When constructed ʻIolani Barracks contained a kitchen, mess hall, dispensary, living quarters and prison lockup. Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the Royal Guard was disbanded.
ʻIolani Barracks was then used for different purposes at different times, including use as headquarters for the National Guard of Hawaii, a temporary shelter for refugees of the 1899 Chinatown fire, a government office building, and even a storage facility.
When plans were completed to construct the State Capitol Building, it was decided to move the Barracks to its present location on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace. The building was dismantled block by block and reconstructed in 1965.
ʻIolani Barracks now houses The Palace Gift Shop, ticket office, video theatre, and membership office. The Palace Gift Shop is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
3. Coronation Stand and Pavilion
The large gazebo located on the southwest lawn of the ʻIolani Palace grounds is the Coronation Stand or Coronation Pavilion. It was built for the February 12, 1883 coronation of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani. It was moved to this location from its original site near the King Street steps of ʻIolani Palace.
The Royal Hawaiian Band regularly gives concerts near the Coronation Pavilion. It has also been used for the inauguration of the Governors of the State of Hawaii. On many afternoons you will find Hawaiian music artists performing on the grounds nearby.
4. King Kamehameha I Statue
Walking towards King Street from the front of ʻIolani Palace, you will see the large statue of King Kamehameha I across the street.
King David Kalākaua commissioned a statue of Kamehameha I in 1878. At the time a kahuna (priest) is said to have commented that the statue would only feel at home if it rested in the lands of Kamehameha’s birth.
Thomas Gould, an American sculptor living in Italy was commissioned to do a sculpture. He used John Baker, a part Hawaiian and friend of Kalākaua, as his model. Gould was paid $10,000 and his sculpture was sent to Paris for bronzing. It was then put on a ship bound for Hawaii, but the ship sank off the Falkland Islands. It was thought that the statue was lost forever.
With money collected from insurance a new statue was commissioned and that statue arrived in Honolulu in 1883. It stands in front of Aliʻiolani Hale, the Hawaii Supreme Court Building on King Street. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Honolulu. Twice a year, on May Day and for Kamehameha Day on June 11, it is adorned with leis.
Within weeks of the arrival of the new statue, the original statue also arrived in Honolulu, having been salvaged and located in a junk yard in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The English captain that had found it sold it to King Kalākaua. Remembering the prophecy of the old kahuna, the original statue was send to the town of Kapaʻau, near Kamehameha’s birthplace on the Big Island of Hawaii where it stands today.
5. Ali’iolani Hale
Sitting directly behind the statue of King Kamehameha I is a building known as Aliʻiolani Hale. Hale in Hawaiian means “house” and Aliʻiolani literally means “a chief known unto the heavens.” This is a “secret” name given to King Kamehameha V at birth.
It was Kamehameha V who commissioned the construction of this building which he originally intended to be his palace. The building was completed after the death of Kamehameha V under the reign of David Kalākaua who had plans to build his own palace across the street. Kalākaua named the building Aliʻiolani Hale in honor of the late king.
Following the completion of construction in 1874, the building was used as the headquarters for the Hawaiian government and home to the Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court. It was in this building that the Provisional Government officially overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.
Today Aliʻiolani Hale is home to Hawaii’s Supreme Court and State Law Library. There is also a Judiciary History Center on the first floor.
Aliʻiolani Hale is well worth a stop. It was in one of the conference rooms of the building that several scenes from ABC’s Lost was filmed such as the scene where Claire meets the prospective adoptive parents of her baby and where Michael and his wife meet with their attorneys over their divorce terms.
6. U.S. Post Office, Custom House, and Court House
Located to the right of Aliʻiolani Hale (as you face the building) and across Mililani Street is the U.S. Post Office/Customs House/Court House. As you may guess, the building has been used for numerous purposes since its construction was completed in 1922.
This three-story Spanish colonial revival building was initially used to house U.S. Federal Government offices and the Customs House in Hawaii. A new and larger building was built for Federal Government in the 1980’s and the building was sold to the U.S. Post Office.
In 2002 the State of Hawaii reached a deal for Par Development LLC, an affiliate of Denver-based RSD Corp., to buy the building from the U.S. Postal Service for $7 million, restore it, bring the interior up to standards and then sell 120,000 square feet of the 160,000-square-foot property to the state for $32.5 million. The U.S. Postal Service then bought back the rest of the improved space for $1.
The historic building has been renamed and is now officially the King David Kalākaua Building. David Kalākaua was king from 1874 until his death in 1891 but also served as Honolulu’s postmaster from 1863 until 1865.
7. Kawaiaha’o Church and Mission Cemetery
From the front of the King David Kalākaua Building, take a right on King Street and carefully cross busy Punchbowl Street. On the southeast corner of King and Punchbowl sits the grounds of Kawaiahaʻo Church.
As you enter the church grounds you will notice a small structure to your right surrounded by a wrought iron fence. This is the mausoleum of King William Lunalilo.
Upon the death of King Kamehameha V on December 11, 1872 there was no direct heir to the throne, so the Hawaii Legislature met to choose a new monarch. Prince William Lunalilo, a descendant of a half brother of Kamehameha I, was selected to be the new king.
Lunalilo never married and after a little over a year as king he died of consumption, leaving his estate to needy Hawaiians. There is a widely held belief that he was poisoned. Prior to his death he asked his father to bury him on the grounds of Kawaiahaʻo Church with his people rather than with the other royalty of Hawaii at the new Royal Mausoleum in Nuʻuanu.
The current church was designed by Hiram Bingham, the first missionary on Oʻahu. The church was completed in 1842 in a New England style of architecture. It is constructed of coral slabs quarried from reefs offshore of Oʻahu and carried to the site by parishioners. The interior was made from wood cut in the nearby Koʻolau Mountains. The interior was remodeled in the 1920’s due to wood rot.
Kawaiahaʻo Church was dedicated in 1842. It is known as the “Mother” Protestant Church in Hawaii. Numerous members of Hawaii’s royalty have worshiped in the church and the royal boxes remain at the rear of the church.
The church’s name Kawaiaha’o in Hawaiian means “fresh water pool of Haʻo.” Haʻo was an ancient queen of Oʻahu and it is said that on this site a spring existed in which she took ceremonial baths of purification. A reconstructed spring sits on the north side of the church.
Behind the church sits the peaceful Mission Cemetery where the remains of many of Hawaii’s early missionaries, political and economic leaders are buried. The names on the gravestones are a virtual “who’s who” of Hawaiian history.
8. Mission Houses Museum
As you exit the rear of the grounds of Kawaiahaʻo Church, cross over Kawaiahaʻo Street. The small buildings you see across the street are the Mission Houses complex and include three original structures dating back to the 1830’s.
It is here where Hiram Bingham and the rest of his company including a farmer, printer, two teachers, wives and children were given land to build thatched houses for their stay in Hawaii. Years later, King Kamehameha III allowed the missionaries to build more permanent, western style houses.
The structures on the property include the Hale Laʻāu which was the home in which the first missionary Hiram Bingham, surgeon and later physician Dr. Gerrit Judd, printer Elisha Loomis and their families all lived. Gerrit Judd became a trusted adviser and finance minister to King Kamehameha III.
The Ka Hale Paʻi was the printing house where Americans and Hawaiians created the Hawaiian alphabet in order to produce books and other printed items. The Ka Hale Kamalani or the Chamberlain House was the home of the Chamberlain family and was also used as a storehouse for mission goods.
The newer buildings on the site include a museum, auditorium and gift shop. The Mission Houses are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours of the houses and print shop are offered at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. General admission is $10, Hawaii residents, members of the military, and senior citizens pay $8, students (6 years – college) pay $6