Hawaii enjoys a history unlike any other U.S. state. With its Polynesian beginnings and royal past, Hawaii’s rich cultural history can be seen from the majestic Iolani Palace to the sugar cane fields and underground cooking pits used for centuries. To get a real taste of what Hawaii is all about on your holiday, visit these top cultural attractions.
1. Kilohana Plantation, Kauai
One of the best places to experience Hawaii’s rich culture is at Kauai Plantation. Once a sugar plantation, visitors can ride the vintage train around the 14 hectare gardens where native Hawaiian fruit and plants grow. A mesmerising luau dinner follows. Witness the native torch lighting and view the underground oven before feasting on traditional Polynesian cuisine. After dinner, traditional instruments, hula dancers and Hawaiian music tell the story of the Tahitian migration to Hawaii in a riveting stage show.
Ki’i (tiki) at Hale O Keawe Heiau, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, previously an ancient Hawaiian religious sanctuary. Image: Getty
2. Washington Place, Oahu
A Greek Revival mansion built in 1847, Washington Place was the location of Queen Liliuokalani’s arrest during the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. From 1922 to 2002, the home served as the governor’s mansion for the U.S. territorial, and then state government. A museum today, Washington Place tells the story not only of Queen Liliuokalani’s life, but of Honolulu and its history.
3. Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu
Immerse yourself in Hawaiian and Polynesian culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu’s north shore. Recreated Polynesian villages are authentically presented and form the backdrop for a complete Hawaii experience. History presenters demonstrate the traditional way of making arts and crafts before the main event, the luau dinner and evening show. Visitors can also stroll through the 17 hectares of lush tropical lands.
4. Iolani Palace, Oahu
The royal residence of King Kamehameha and his descendants, Iolani Palace has been beautifully restored to reflect what 19th century life was like for the royal family. Hawaii is the only U.S. state with a royal pedigree, which makes Iolani the country’s only royal palace. Located in downtown Honolulu, the palace is open for tours. An informational audio guide takes visitors on a tour through the entire mansion, including the throne room.
Iolani Palace is recognised as the spiritual and multicultural epicentre of Hawaii. Image: Getty
Containing the world’s largest collection of Polynesian art and artefacts, the Bishop Museum is also known as the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The large stone building was built in 1899 and is now on the National Register for Historic Places. The museum preserves and exhibits its many historical artefacts in order to highlight the history of Polynesian culture, the Hawaiian royal family, and Hawaii itself.
6. Hawaii State Art Museum
Showcasing mostly local art works of historical nature, Hawaii State Art Museum includes paintings, ceramics, textiles, photography and glass sculpture in its permanent collection. Built in the early 1900s, the museum sits on the site of Hawaii’s first hotel and it itself an historic landmark. The museum also holds temporary exhibits which highlight modern local artists. Entry to the museum is always free.
7. Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, Maui
Hawaii has for centuries been a major grower of sugar cane and producer of sugar. This museum tells the story of Hawaiian sugar cane plantations and the influence the crop has had on Maui and its economy, its development and its ethnic make-up. Located in what was once the home of the sugar mill manager, the museum showcases historical photographs, artefacts and even 19th century equipment, including a restored locomotive.
8. Hana Cultural Center, Maui
The Hana Cultural Center takes visitors back in time, to a Maui where stone implements, fish nets and poi boards were used to hunt, fish, work and prepare meals. The cultural centre devotes itself to the preservation and exhibition of Maui’s traditional way of life with tools, photos and artefacts on display. The gift shop sells locally made crafts.
9. Old Lahaina Luau, Maui
This Maui luau is one of the most popular in Hawaii. Located on Maui’s beautiful west coast, the luau seats over 400 guests, but its intimate feel and personalised service are what make the event so special. The menu consists of many traditional Hawaiian dishes and desserts, such as pulled pork wrapped in taro leaf, taro, sweet potato and fresh seafood. The evening is capped off with traditional song and dance.
Tiki torches light the way as the luau, traditional Hawaiian party or feast, continues into the night. Image: Getty
10. Annual Waikiki Hoolaulea
This year, the 64th annual Waikiki Hoolaulea takes place on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Billed as Hawaii’s largest block party, the event showcases Hawaiian music, food, crafts, and even flower leis. Both a cultural event and local party, visitors are sure to feel the welcoming Hawaiian spirit at this event. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, September 17, 2016.