Lose Yourself in Islamic Art at Shangri La in Hawaii

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Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Lose Yourself in Islamic Art at Shangri La in Hawaii

As he usually does every Christmas holiday, President Obama chose to come back to his roots here in Hawaii. I always love to hear about where he goes — what kinds of things can impress the President?!

This year, President Obama chose to visit one of my favorite places, Shangri La, Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, located at what used to be the Honolulu home of American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke. It’s one of the most fascinating places you’ll find on Oahu, not only because of the idyllic setting on the ocean, but also because the art housed there is some of the most unique and impressive in Hawaii.

In the late 1930s, Doris Duke built Shangri La in Hawaii on five acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head. The home itself is a work of art, but it’s the art collection inside that’s the most fascinating. Doris Duke collected Islamic Art for nearly 60 years, and visitors are often amazed at the sheer quantity of pieces and collections.

According to the Honolulu Museum of Art website, the first purchases were made in 1935 when Duke was 22, and the last major piece was acquired in 1992, a year before her death. Numbering approximately 2,500 objects, the collection includes works of art from Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Central Asia, India and parts of Southeast Asia. The collection ranges from items of the finest artistic quality, including medieval Persian tilework and painted interiors from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Damascus, to ethnographic objects such as leather saddles and a bedouin-style tent, reflecting Duke’s broad and inclusive sense of aesthetics.

So, now that I’ve whet your appetite, you may be wondering how you can get a glimpse of this incredible collection. Here are the details for booking your reservation:

  • Tours originate at the Honolulu Museum of Art where visitors begin their experience with a tour of the museum’s Arts of the Islamic World Gallery and a ten minute introductory video on the history of Shangri La.
  • Visitors are transported in small groups by shuttle bus to Shangri La for a tour which lasts approximately an hour and a half. Interpretive guides educate as well as entertain as they lead visitors through
    • The entry courtyard, foyer
    • Damascus Room
    • Syrian Room
    • Mughal Suite
    • Central courtyard
    • Living room
    • Mihrab Room
    • Dining room
    • Upper lawn
    • Mughal Garden
  • Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about Islamic art through objects and architectural elements originating from the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, and North Africa. They will also enjoy stunning exterior views of Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean. Upon completion of the tour, visitors return via shuttle to the Honolulu Museum of Art.
  • Book a tour  (transaction fee: $1.50 per ticket).
  • Book a tour by phone: 808-532-3853 (transaction fee: $2 per ticket)
  • Walk-in reservations can be made: Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm Hawai‘i Standard Time.


  • $25 General admission (there are no discounts for seniors, students, military and Honolulu Museum of Art members)
  • Children under the age of 8 are not permitted on the tour.
  • Price includes admission to the Honolulu Museum of Art and its permanent exhibitions.
  • All sales are final. No refunds or exchanges will be made.

Days and hours of operation

  • Tours times: Wednesday-Saturday at 9am, 10:30am, noon and 1:30pm
  • Closed: Sunday-Tuesday

Shangri La in Hawaii is a bit “off the beaten path” for most visitors focused on outdoor activities, such as stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, and parasailing. But, the center is well-worth a detour after a week full of excursions. But, book your reservations early, as the openings fill up fast!

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