Best things to do in Honolulu’s Downtown district from historic to cool attractions
Downtown Honolulu is the seat of the business district of the city but is also the center of the historic and cultural part of the city with so many important treasures to visit when you have the time to delve into Hawaii’s historic past.
The important cultural treasures are all centered here starting with the iconic and impressive Iolani Palace, Washington Square, Ali’iolani Hale, the King Kamehameha statue, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and so many other historic treasures all centered around downtown. You’ll also find amazing museums like the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Hawaii State Museum of Art all in the central downtown area to explore and visit.
History of downtown Honolulu
All of these historic buildings in downtown Honolulu were part of the economic and governmental rule of Hawaii since the early time frame of Hawaiian Royalty living in this historic area. You will find the seat of the states governmental body centered at the State Capital Building, Honolulu Hale or the City Hall, Ali’iolani Hale or the State Supreme court and Washington Place the governor’s mansion or the previous home of the last queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani.
Downtown Honolulu is broken into four districts comprising of Chinatown, the waterfront area, Historic Capital district and the Central Business District.
Top attractions and places to visit in Downtown Honolulu
Depending on your time frame you can easily spend the day or even a few days exploring this area to see all the cultural treasures, museums and places of interest within the downtown central district. Most of the important buildings are located in the Honolulu Capital Historic District and are fascinating to visit.
The only royal palace located in the United States, Iolani Palace has been the home to Hawaiian royalty for many decades and then converted into a living museum for all visitors to enjoy and see what the palace grounds and interiors where like in their hey day with its authentic collection of furniture, collectibles and even recreated costumes made from that time period.
Exploring the magnificent interiors of Iolani Palace
King Kamehameha Statue
This historic statue of the first king of Hawaii is impressive and fronts a gorgeous Neo-Classical building called Ali’iolani Hale which is now the State Judicial Building of the Hawaii Supreme Court. Creating a striking presence to the landscape the statue of the first king is revered and on his birthday a lei draping ceremony is held there in his honor. It is a popular stop for capturing photographs of the statue that symbolizes the historic district of downtown and Hawaii in general.
An Italian Rensaissance styled building that was built originally as a royal palace and then converted into administration center for the Hawaiian government. Afterwards Ali’iolani Hale was then turned into a judicial building housing the Hawaiian Supreme Court.
Tip – You can sign up for tours of the building at certain times each month on their calendar here for more details.
The regal mansion is where the current governor resides but it was officially the home of Hawaiian nobility and the last queen of Hawaii, Liliu’okalani, who lived there until she passed away. This stately home is located right next to St. Andrew’s Cathedral
Tours are given in the public areas of this historic home and you can check the website here for details on visiting time frames and making a reservation to visit the official home.
State Capital Building
The Hawaii State capital building is a contemporary design located behind the Iolani Palace and houses the executive and legislative branches of the state comprised of the Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives. The governor and Lieutenant governor also have their offices in this building.
The modern designed building coined as Hawaii International Architecture in the Bauhaus style is unique compared to capital buildings in the nation. Many natural elements are found or represented in the structure including a tiled reflecting pool that represents the ocean, cone shaped legislative chambers representing volcanoes, and the columns around the perimeter represents coconut trees. Built in an open air style with an open central courtyard that allows the elements of sun, wind, rain to enter the atrium area.
Hawaii State Art Museum
Located in a Hacienda styled building which houses two levels of the State art museum which showcases artists from Hawaii and work that carries Hawaiian themes covering culture, history, lifestyle and current topics and inter-island focused works. There is an outdoor garden area with sculpture that also features local artists from each island.
The museum maintains a huge permanent collection but also cycles through new shows and relevant issues that covers Hawaii’s ever changing environment through photographs, painting, mixed media and digital presentation.
Located on the waterfront, the Aloha Tower was built in 1926 and was the official greeting place for passengers arriving by ship to the islands and was once the tallest building in the state. The complex is now housing a variety of shops and restaurants and you can climb up to the observation areas for views of the surrounding area.
One of the largest Chinatowns in the downtown area, Chinatown still maintains its charms, restaurants and busy shops and outdoor mall complex. The older part of Chinatown with historic buildings have turned into more tourist driven attractions with art galleries and boutique stores along with the iconic Hawaii theater which hosts a variety of top entertainers and events regularly at this performance center.
Located across from Iolani Palace this congregational church along with the Mission houses close by comprise the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site, which was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Constructed between the reigns of Kamehameha II and III, the church was built between 1836 to 1842 from coral rock and is designed in the New England style of missionary churches of Hawaii. Originally the national church for the Hawaiian Kingdom, it is now the oldest Christian churches in Hawaii.
Hawaii Mission Houses Historic site of Honolulu
A complex of mission homes with the oldest western style building in Hawaii called Ka Hale Lā’au, or the old Mission House or The Frame House. Built in 1821, the home was made for the missionaries that mde this the first seat of the Sandwich Islands Missions.
The historic site comprises of three buildings and an archival collection that represents the Hawaiian Mission Houses historic site and archives.
A thatched home replica at the Mission Homes complex
St. Andrew’s Cathedral
Originally this was the seat of the Anglican church of Hawaii and is now the home of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii. Inspired to create a church in the Anglican tradition, King Kamehameha IV and continued with his successor Kamehameha V who laid the cornerstone.
Built in a French Gothic architectural style, the cathedral was prefabricated and built in England and shipped to Hawaii including the stain glass pieces. The complex was added to the National Register of HIstoric places in Oahu in 1973.
Downtown City Hall in the historic district is nice to see if you’re already in the downtown area. The place is very popular during the holidays with large Christmas displays on the outside and gorgeous Christmas tree themed designs around the interior complex.
The official office of the mayor of Honolulu for the city and county. The building is built in a Spanish Colonial revival style and is located in the historic downtown district of Honolulu
Just a short drive from the downtown district is an old industrial area of Honolulu called Kaka’ako. It has become more gentrified and trendy with the signature street art that is predominant all over the neighborhood. There are so many fun brew pubs, public events and gatherings and Salt which is an uber trendy hang out spot with food, galleries, shopping and fun hangout spots in this outdoor mall. You’ll love hanging out at Salt and checking out all the amazing street art in the area.
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Where to stay in Downtown Honolulu
There are some hotels in the downtown Honolulu area that cater to the business center and the different districts around downtown. Check out these top reviewed accommodations here for current prices and availability.
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This post shares all the important cultural treasures in the downtown area worth visiting along with museums, monuments and other historic buildings representing Honolulu’s past and present.
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