For lovers of Hawaiian history and culture, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu qualifies as a “must” visit. Not only is it the largest museum in the state—since its inception in 1889, it’s acquired nearly 25 million items that tell the story of Hawaii and Polynesia—it’s also widely regarded as the premier natural and cultural history institution in the entire Pacific region.
Charles Reed Bishop founded the museum in 1889 in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. The museum was built on the original grounds of Kamehameha Schools, which was established by the princess to educate Hawaii’s children. The museum was meant to augment their education and help develop greater pride in their heritage.
Today, a visit to the museum should include a tour of Hawaiian Hall, which houses Hawaiian treasures as well as unique artifacts of the American, European and Asian immigrant cultures. The entire three-floor exhibit is housed inside a magnificent 19th-century Victorian-style building. The Polynesian Hall, meanwhile, features two floors of exhibits representing the peoples of cultures all across Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. And the Natural History Hall spotlights Hawaii’s rich natural environment, including rare endemic birds and insects.
A more recent addition to the museum is the Castle Building, which houses traveling hands-on exhibits geared for families. Past subjects have included robotics, ocean life, space exploration, dinosaurs, insects and even chocolate!
In addition, the museum’s state-of-the-art Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium offers a wide variety of astronomy-related programs for the general public.
No doubt, the Bishop Museum today continues to live up to its ambitious mission statement: “Our mission is to record, preserve and tell the stories of Hawaii and the Pacific, inspiring our guests to embrace and experience our natural and cultural world.”
The Bishop Museum is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed on Christmas Day). Guided tours and cultural demonstrations are held daily.