During our few days on Oahu, we spent one afternoon exploring some of the historical sites in downtown Honolulu, namely the palace and surrounding area.
We had a car and based on our itinerary, I’m glad we did. It gave us the flexibility to travel all over the island as well as downtown at our own pace, and we didn’t have any difficulty finding or securing parking despite traveling to multiple areas around Honolulu and beyond.
I think it would have been possible for us to get from the resort to downtown via bus, taxi or Uber as well. In any case, once you’re there, many of the major sites are within a couple of blocks from one another, and the area is safe and walkable.
The major landmark on our list was Iolani Palace. According to Visit Hawaii’s website, the palace is:
A national historic landmark and the only official state residence of royalty in the United States. Downtown Honolulu’s Iolani Palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s last two monarchs from 1882 to 1893: King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.
We had to walk around outside for a minute before finding the small building nearby where we could purchase tour tickets. We were there a little early but were able to watch a video with some background about the palace and royal family while we waited.
A small group of people finally started heading toward the palace entrance. We gathered on a few seats outside the doors while a couple of palace employees helped us get set up with our individual headsets and self-guided tours.
Once inside, we were able to adjust our guides as we wandered about the open rooms. My headset kept cutting out so I’m not sure I got the full experience, but I did learn quite a bit about the turmoil that surrounded the final representatives of local royalty.
The palace rooms we were able to see were relatively well furnished. While I enjoyed the fancy dining rooms, throne room and garments and dresses on display, I really loved the interesting book shelves. One office in particular had these book stands in the middle of the room that had a few books on multiple shelves that you could turn. It reminded me of a book rack my friend Katie has/used to have.
One big surprise was learning that Hawaii’s final Queen Liliuokalani wrote the song Aloha ‘Oe, which I’ve known since I was a child. One of the rooms had the sheet music out, and in admitting my surprise to Brian, I learned he had never heard the song!
I was trying to think where I would have learned it, and all I can come up with is Looney Tunes– for some reason I recall Bugs Bunny singing it. I did a quick search and it did appear in a number of Looney Tunes episodes, including the Case of the Missing Hare (1942) and Wackiki Wabbit (1943). That must have been it!
The final rooms were those occupied by the queen, including during her house arrest. When King Kalakaua passed away and his sister Liliuokalani became queen, she attempted to restore the Hawaiian government and local rule. She was met with great resistance by those who wanted to join with the American government and those individuals were eventually successful, overthrowing her reign and keeping her imprisoned at the palace. During her imprisonment, she and her ladies sewed multiple quilted pieces, which were on display. They were beautiful, and I thought my mom would appreciate her skills.
We both enjoyed our tour of the palace– the video ahead of time was informative, and the self-guided tour allowed us to explore the interior rooms at our own pace. After we were done, we spent a little time walking around outside before heading across the street to a few other local sites.
Aliiolani Hale and Kawaiahao Church
Across the street from the palace is Aliiolani Hale, a beautiful old building that used to be the government seat when Hawaii was still a kingdom as well as when it was an independent republic. It’s now used by the Hawaii State Supreme Court.
There’s an interesting statue of King Kamehameha out front that reminded us of the one we saw in the park we visited in Hilo on the Big Island. We walked around the grounds and statue for a little while before heading across the street and down a block to our next destination, the Kawaiahao Church.
Kawaiahao Church, known as the Westminster of Hawaii, was the first Christian church in Hawaii and is now a state and national historic site. We were able to glean some information about its construction from nearby placards, which made it all the more interesting to us.
Here’s an excerpt from the church’s website:
The “Stone Church,” as it came to be known, was in fact not built of stone; but of giant slabs of coral hewn from ocean reefs. These slabs were not easily accessible; and had to be quarried from under water and transported, each weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Natives dove 10 to 20 feet to hand-chisel these pieces from the reef, then raised them to the surface, loaded them into canoes, and ferried them to shore. The physically and spiritually strong hauled some 14,000 of the slabs to their final destination.
I’m not sure what part of the building process is the most incredible– that it’s made of coral, that people had to dive/chisel/transport those coral blocks to the site, or that it’s still in one piece today! I can honestly say it might be one of the most interesting churches I’ve ever visited from a construction and material perspective– and I’ve seen a magnificent church or two during my travels!
While the outside and history were incredible, the church was under construction during our visit so we weren’t allowed inside to see the sanctuary or some of the historical elements of the interior.
I was a little disappointed, but I also understand the need to maintain these incredible old buildings. I can’t count how many times during our travels something has been closed and undergoing repairs. It just means we have to go back again later to see it renovated and in all its glory!
During my research on top places to eat in Honolulu, one restaurant seemed to come up on multiple lists. I made a note that at some point we had to check out The Pig and the Lady in Chinatown.
During our afternoon downtown we decided to swing by for lunch. We found parking right in the center of Chinatown and walked the busy streets past multiple markets and shops and bustling alleyways. There was a healthy mixture of tourists pushing strollers and trying to navigate the sidewalks and locals rushing to and from lunch and work.
We made our way a few blocks over to the unassuming Pig and the Lady and were quickly seated at a small table for two along the two bars. It was well-lit and lively inside–obviously a popular lunch spot. Our waitress was great, and before we knew it we were sipping our drinks and admiring the fun interior design as we perused the menu.
Everything looked good, and we somehow managed to land on sharing a spicy fried chicken appetizer and Vietnamese-style soup and sandwich combo featuring a tasty noodle soup and a delicious pork belly banh mi.
Every single thing was AMAZING– no wonder this place is so highly recommended! You can add me to the list of people singing its praises and know that the next time we’re on Oahu, we’ll likely check out some of the other restaurants operated by the owners.
With so many things to do on Oahu, it was hard to spend as much time as we wanted exploring any one place. However, I’m glad we carved out an afternoon to do a little sightseeing downtown. I enjoyed learning more about Hawaii’s history, and it was easy to hit several historical sites in a few hours without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.