Founded in 1889 and named after the last descendant of King Kamehameha I, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is the largest museum in the state and is world-renowned for its collections of artifacts from Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Many of these collections are housed in the museum's Pacific Hall, which is celebrating a grand reopening Sept. 21, 2013. Artifacts on display include ceremonial objects, clothing, musical instruments, tools, household items, weapons, and canoes. These artifacts come from many distinct cultures spanning the Pacific Ocean — from the Native Hawaiians and Tahitians in the east, to the Fijians and Aboriginal Australians in the west, and everyone in between.
More collections can be found in the Hawaiian Hall. The building itself is a well-preserved piece of history, with its three stories of beautiful Victorian-era hardwood staircases and railings. The first thing you will probably notice is the life-size replica of a sperm whale (and some smaller marine mammals) suspended from the ceiling. On the ground level in the center of the hall, you'll find a large-scale model of a hale pile (grass house), a traditional Native Hawaiian house.
Ever wonder what King Kamehameha I looked like? And if Kamehameha II, III, IV, or V bore any family resemblance? Head to the adjoining Kahili Room, which displays historical portraits from the long line of ali'i (Native Hawaiian kings, queens, princes, and princesses). The room also houses some of the Hawaiian royal family's personal belongings and ceremonial objects. In an adjacent building, Paki Hall, sports fans will enjoy the small but unique Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, featuring photos and memorabilia commemorating the Hawaiian Islands' most accomplished athletes throughout history.
Besides these permanent collections, the Bishop also has special changing exhibits. Fans of vintage clothing will love the current exhibit "HI Fashion: The Legacy of Alfred Shaheen," commemorating the Honolulu-based designer and businessman who created the iconic Hawaiian Bombshell Dress, and helped make men's aloha shirts a part of mainstream fashion. Past special exhibits have included "Facing Mars" (an exploration of what it would be like to travel to and live on Mars), "Creatures of the Abyss" (a look at rarely seen deep-sea marine life), and "Surfing" (featuring archival photographs and a collection of historic surfboards).
If you have kids, or you're more interested in science than history, head straight to the Science Adventure Center, a newer building dedicated to hands-on, interactive exhibits aimed at children (and the young at heart). Turn a crank to make a huge model volcano spew gas and molten lava, or see living examples of Hawaii's diverse sea life in large aquariums. Be sure to catch one of the two daily lava-melting demonstrations (25 minutes each) in the center's Hot Spot Theater.
Much of the Science Adventure Center houses changing exhibits. Currently, there's an encore presentation of "Live Through Time," featuring life-size animatronic dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals. Past exhibits have included "Sesame Street Presents: The Body" (an exploration of the inner workings of the human body) and "Xtreme Bugs" (an up-close look at insects). Opening Oct. 5, 2013, is the traveling exhibit "Upcoming: Lego Travel Adventure," in which visitors will be able to create their own miniature Lego vehicles capable of traveling on land, by sea, or in the air.
Kids and science fans will also enjoy the museum's planetarium, located near the museum's entrance. Make sure you attend one of the planetarium's six daily shows (free with admission), which range from 25–45 minutes each.
You can easily spend several hours at the Bishop. If and when hunger should strike, the museum's onsite Café Pulama serves salads, sandwiches, snacks, and beverages in a casual indoor-outdoor setting. (Their panini sandwiches are particularly good!) Or pack your own edibles and have a picnic on the sprawling Great Lawn in the middle of the museum's campus, which also serves as a perfect place for little ones to run and play.
The Bishop Museum is just 6 miles from Waikiki. To take TheBus: Get on the #2 "School St./Middle St." bus. Get off at the intersection of School Street and Kapalama Street. Cross School Street and walk down Kapalama Street. Turn right at Bernice Street. You will see the museum on the left side of Bernice Street.
Address: 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, HI 96817
Phone: (808) 847-3511
Parking: Free and easy (a rarity in Honolulu!) — there's a large lot directly in front of the museum entrance.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and December 25.
Admission: Adults $19.95, Seniors (age 65+) $16.95, Juniors (ages 4-12) $14.95. Children ages 3 and under are free, as are Bishop Museum Members. Discounts are also available for kama'aina (residents), military members, and their guests.