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It isn’t exactly the nation’s capital or Philadelphia that you’ll be touring here. In the first place, most of Hawaii’s history is oral – passed along from generation to generation and only recently committed to book and electronic recording.
Hawaii has been a state for just 50 years. Almost half the country was alive when Hawaii became a state.
Our monuments are natural ones. In contrast to the Washington Monument, the Seattle Space Needle, the St. Louis Arch and Independence Hall, we offer Diamond Head, Haleakala, the Na Pali Coast and Kilauea Volcano.
But there is a Historic Honolulu to see. It’s more than worthwhile, and it doesn’t take very long to cover – half a day should do it.
The area is on the Waikiki side of Downtown Honolulu. A good place to start is at the statue of Kamehameha, on King Street across from Iolani Palace. It’s a favorite photographic attraction, commemorating King Kamehameha I, who was the warrior who united (some would say conquered) all the islands. The statue is draped with dozens of 30-foot lei in June to celebrate his birthday, which is a state holiday.
Across the street, Iolani Palace is the only royal residence in the United States. It was built in 1822 by King David Kalakaua and was last occupied in 1893 by Queen Lilioukalani, who was deposed. The grounds are pleasant and welcoming, and inside tours can be arranged during which you can witness the furnishings and amenities that prevailed at the time.
In the same area, the Hawaii State Capitol is worth a look, if only for its non-traditional architectural approach. The Hawaii State Art Museum is a beautiful and rewarding stop, and, on the other side of the palace, Honolulu Hale (City Hall) and Kawaiahao Church are eye-catching landmarks.
The Mission Houses, next to the church, were the original headquarters of the Sandwich Islands Mission, are the oldest structures in Honolulu and provide a link to an era of significant cultural change in the islands. Built between 1821 and 1841, the three mission houses that make up the Mission Houses Museum served as homes and workplaces for the first Christian missionaries to travel to the Hawaiian Islands. The Frame House was shipped around Cape Horn from Boston in 1820 and is the oldest wood house in Hawaii. The Chamberlain House, built of coral blocks, was both a family home and storehouse for mission supplies. The third building today functions as the Printing Office. A working replica of the first printing press to be brought to Hawaii is demonstrated there on a regular basis.
You might consider beginning or finishing your tour of the area at Aloha Tower Marketplace. Aloha Tower once was the tallest structure in the islands and served as a welcoming beacon to the visitors who first reached island shores on luxurious passenger liners. The marketplace features lots of unique shops with international labels, Hawaii-made fashions and crafts, some great restaurants and free attractions – right on the water.
It’s not the most exciting history you’ll ever re-live, but it is unique and enjoyable.