Oahu's Rich History Comes to Life

Sponsored Content: Oahu’s extraordinary array of attractions enables travelers to experience and learn the fascinating history of this island and the Hawaiian archipelago.

The Hawaiian Monarchy
The story of Hawaii’s beloved royal families is woven into the history of Hawaii and told vividly at key attractions on Oahu. 

In Honolulu, opulent and meticulously restored Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaii’s last monarchs, David Kalakaua, who built the Palace in 1882, his wife Kapiolani, and his sister and successor, Liliuokalani. King Kalakaua was the first reigning monarch in Hawaii to travel around the world and he built the palace to enhance the prestige of Hawaii overseas and mark Hawaii’s status as a modern nation. The rich interior features a beautiful koa staircase, dramatic portraits of Hawaiian royalty, ornate furniture, and royal gifts and ornaments from around the world.

A short drive up the beautiful forest-lined Pali Highway from Honolulu leads to Nuuanu Valley and Queen Emma Summer Palace, a summer retreat for the Queen, her husband King Kamekameha IV, and their son during the mid-1800s. This quaint Victorian home is filled with furnishings and artifacts that evoke the life and times of the royal family who came here to escape the summertime heat of Honolulu. 

Pali Highway continues to Nuuanu Pali Lookout, a significant historic site with splendid panoramic vistas of the Windward Coast. This mountain perch is the site of the 1795 battle that resulted in the unification of the Hawaiian Islands under the rule of King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great. 

Directly across from Iolani Palace is a bronze statue of King Kamehameha I. Every year on June 11, Kamehameha Day, the famous Oahu landmark is draped with dozens of 30-foot fresh flower lei in his honor.

Honolulu is also home to Kawaiahao Church, known as the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific.”  The church was dedicated in 1842 and is constructed of some 14,000 coral slabs that change color in the sunlight. Sunday services are conducted in both English and Hawaiian. 

World famed Bishop Museum is intrinsically linked to Hawaii’s royal family. After the death of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop in 1884, her grieving husband Charles Bishop founded the Bishop Museum in her honor, which opened in 1889. Originally created to the princess’ collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal heirlooms, Bishop Museum has expanded significantly and is now the world’s leading institution dedicated to Hawaiian and Pacific island cultures.

The popular resort area of Waikiki was home to Hawaiian rulers starting in the 15th century when Mailikukahi relocated his court from central Oahu to Waikiki because the abundance of fresh water was ideal for agriculture. Several generations later, his descendant Kakuhihewa planted coconuts which grew into Helumoa, a grove of 10,000 trees. After uniting the Hawaiian Islands, King Kamehameha I and his descendant Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop lived at Helumoa, now the site of Royal Hawaiian Center, an elegant retail and dining complex. 

Even surfing has a royal past. This quintessential Hawaiian activity was often called the “sport of kings,” as only alii  (royals) were permitted to surf until the abolition of the kapu (taboos) system in 1819. Hawaiian royals both ruled and rode the waves along what is now Waikiki Beach. 

Visitors can discover the resort area’s past along the self-guided Waikiki Historic Trail, which depicts fascinating facts on more than 20 surfboard markers located throughout the area. 

The Missionary Influence
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, located in Honolulu’s Historic Capitol District, is the leading authority on Protestant missionary history in Hawaii, and is known worldwide as the place where the Hawaiian written language was developed through the collaborative efforts of the missionaries, the alii—the Hawaiian royalty—and the Hawaiian people. The attraction consists of three historic homes that were built in New England and shipped to Oahu in the early part of the 19th century. Two of the structures are the oldest documented houses in Hawaii. The museum possesses the largest collection of Hawaiian language books in the world. 

Hawaii’s Multicultural Diversity
Hawaii is a vibrant multicultural society due in large part to the immigrants from around the world who came to work the plantations starting in the 19th century. In Waipahu, Hawaii’s Plantation Village explores how over 400,000 immigrants lived and worked together and made a lasting impact. This outdoor living history museum recalls life on a Hawaiian sugar plantation in the early 1900s through restored buildings and replicas of plantation structures including the plantation store, infirmary, community bathhouse, and manager’s office. The attraction share the stories of the Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino cultures that mingled and thrive on Oahu today.  

Chinatown, Honolulu’s is both an historic immigrant gateway and a lively trendsetting arts district. The past is present at the traditional food markets, ethnic eateries, lei stands, and Chinese and Japanese temples. The historic and revitalized Hawaii Theatre is a popular venue for live music, theater, and dance. Art galleries, studios, boutiques, restaurants, and bars have made Chinatown a popular shopping, nightlife, and art destination which hosts popular monthly First Friday art and music events.  

World War II
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor and sites across Oahu, catapulting the U.S. into what became World War II. The moving history of Hawaii’s role during World War II and the stories and sacrifices of the men and women who served are the focus at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites which include the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Oklahoma Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

Overlooking Honolulu, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific atop Punchbowl Crater, is the final resting place for nearly 53,000 veterans of 20th century conflicts. The engraved names of 18,094 World War II heroes missing in action are honored in the ten “Courts of the Missing” that flank the monumental staircase.