If you’re visiting Hawai‘i, take the time to learn a little bit about its history prior to becoming one of the United States. You may be surprised to find that this island state was once a monarchy, home to kings and queens. On O‘ahu, these three stops will enlighten you – and allow you to walk in the footsteps of royalty.
‘Iolani Palace – The only official royal residence in the United States, ‘Iolani Palace – built in the late 1800s – was a modern marvel of its time. Indoor plumbing, electrical lighting, and even a telephone, shortly after its invention made the residence comfortable enough for King Kalakaua, Queen Kapi`olani, and their many important guests. Tours take visitors through the Grand Hall, State Dining Room, and past the regal royal thrones. You’ll also see the imprisonment room, where Queen Lili`uokalani was kept during the United States overthrow of the Hawaiian government. On most Fridays, you can catch the Royal Hawaiian Band from noon to 1 pm on the palace grounds in a free concert. Kama‘aina can take advantage of once a month free admission. 364 South King Street, Corner Of King St. & Richard St.; (808) 522-0822
Photo: Spencer Critchley
Kamehameha Statue – Across from the ‘Iolani Palace, at the Ali‘iolani Hale (the judiciary building) you’ll stand in awe of King Kamehameha, the leader who united the Hawaiian Islands under one rule. This is one of four statues honoring the king. There are two on the Big Island of Hawai‘i and a fourth stands in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, DC. If you happen to be visiting on June 11, King Kamehameha Day in the islands, you’ll see the statues draped with flower lei.
Bishop Museum – In the museum’s Hawaiian Hall, the Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kāhili Room is home to a precious collection of kahili, or feather standards, once belonging to Hawaiian royalty. The family tree detailing the lineage of the Hawaiian monarchy is fascinating and you’ll see photos of many of Hawai‘i’s kings and queens, along with some of their personal effects. 1525 Bernice Street; (808) 847-3511
With the Pacific Ocean lapping at its shores, the island of O‘ahu is the perfect place for discovering a multitude of rainbow-hued tropical fish. Snorkelers will love the chance to get right in the water with the creatures of the deep, and landlubbers can observe the underwater world without getting their feet wet. Visitors will want to check out these popular stops near downtown Honolulu for some fabulous fish watching.
Waikiki Aquarium – Sure to be a hit with kids, favorite sights at the Waikiki Aquarium include a real-life Nemo (technically a Clownfish) and two endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals. At the aquarium, kids come face-to-face with more than 500 species of aquatic animals and plants. Reef sharks? Sea Jellies? You’ll see them here. Not far from Nuka ‘au and Maka onaona – the resident monk seals – the Edge of the Reef outdoor exhibit recreates a profile of habitats you might find along a Hawaiian rocky shoreline. It also features a touch pool where visitors can feel underwater creatures like sea cucumbers and red pencil urchins. Parents with young children will appreciate the wide walkways allowing for easy stroller access.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – This idyllic snorkel spot made the news with President Obama’s recent visit to the island, when he and his family had private use of the facility. Happily, Hanauma Bay is open to all visitors, not just those of the presidential sort. The clear blue water of this sheltered bay is home to myriad fish, including Hawai‘i’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a. If you plan to head out into the water, remember that the underwater wildlife here is protected. Don’t touch or feed any of the fish and refrain from standing on the coral.There is snorkel gear available for rent on the beach if you don’t have your own. Parking here can be limited, so plan to arrive early. If you’d prefer to avoid the hassle, ask your hotel concierge about shuttles or public transportation options – there are several.
The Oceanarium – Located at the Pacific Beach Hotel, the three-story indoor Oceanarium is a 280,000-gallon aquarium featuring more than 70 different species. Viewing the aquarium is free, or dine at the Oceanarium Restaurant for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (consider trying their Pau Hana Friday special, where from 4:30 – 10 pm you can take 25% off the prime rib and crab leg buffet, and indulge in $3 beers). More adventurous types might want to dive in with Snuba – a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving. No certification is necessary, so most anyone can try it. Dives happen every 30 minutes and are scheduled Monday through Saturday.