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From their crystal chandeliers to displays of crowns and capes, Hawaii palaces give visitors a look at how the other half lived in the islands during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Through painstaking restoration and dedicated research, historians and Hawaii devotees have made sure that these three official residences remain intact, and that their treasured collections reflect this fascinating era in Hawaiian history.
Here’s a peek at the state’s trio of extraordinary palaces-turned-museums, all of which provide visitors with a unique glimpse into the lives of Hawaii’s royal families.
Governor John Adams Kuakini built this Hawaii Island gem in 1838 and lived there until his death in 1844. During the subsequent decades that Princess Ruth Keelikolani — great granddaughter of King Kamehameha I — lived there, she turned it into a favorite vacation getaway for various members of the alii (Hawaiian royalty). Contemporary visitors can peruse objects that were part of everyday life for kings and queens, such as crystal chandeliers, elegant Hawaiian quilts and furnishings made of island koa wood. Free monthly Sunday afternoon concerts fill Hulihee Palace’s grounds with live music and enchanting hula. Open Tuesday through Saturday, the handsome two-story structure is located on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. Admission is $5 per adult and $1 per child ages 17 and under.
When it opened in 1882, this regal residence made a major statement about Hawaii’s status as a modern nation through innovations such as indoor plumbing, electric lighting and the recently-invented telephone. Today, tours of the downtown Honolulu gem whisk visitors back to the years of Hawaii’s last two monarchs, King David Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, who was deposed by a provisional government in 1893 and later imprisoned in the palace for eight months. The basement gallery includes treasures from the royal collection, including the Hawaiian crown jewels, historic photographs and an exhibit on the restoration of the palace. It’s open Monday through Saturday with guided tours for $21.75 per adult and $6 for children ages 5-12. Self-led audio tours cost $14.75 per adult and $6 per child.
Queen Emma Summer Palace
Named after the wife of King Kamehameha IV, this serene oasis is located five miles from Honolulu in the cooler highlands of Oahu. During the middle of the 19th century, the royal family retreated there from the heat of the city and demands of court life. Sporting Greek Revival architecture, the house frame and siding were cut in Boston and shipped to Hawaii in 1848 around Cape Horn. Known in Hawaiian as Hanaiakamalama (Southern Cross), the palace features a great collection of Queen Emma’s belongings, furnishings, artifacts and memorabilia as well as lovely gardens of tropical trees and flowers. Admission is $6 per adult and $1 per child ages 17 and younger. Each October it hosts a special event with arts, crafts, food and music — a day fit for a queen.
Queen Emma Summer Palacewww.daughtersofhawaii.org