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Cultural Tour of Honolulu (Self Guided), Honolulu

From ancient times, the cultural life of Honolulu has been diverse due to numerous influences. The Hawaiian islands are inhabited by more than seven ethnic groups. Nowadays, Honolulu is full of museums, art galleries and theaters that represent the 200-year history of the island. We invite you to discover the most popular cultural spots in Honolulu on this self-guided tour.
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Cultural Tour of Honolulu Map

Guide Name: Cultural Tour of Honolulu
Guide Location: USA » Honolulu (See other walking tours in Honolulu)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • First Hawaiian Center
  • Kumu Kahua Theatre
  • Nuuanu Gallery At Marks Center
  • Hawaii Theatre Center
  • Hawaii State Art Museum
  • Hawaiian Mission Houses
  • Honolulu Museum of Art
First Hawaiian Center

1) First Hawaiian Center

The First Hawaiian Center is the headquarters of the First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaii's oldest existing bank. This building also has the distinction of being the tallest in Hawaii, and is the home of the Contemporary Arts Museum. This was a source of controversy, since many buildings in Hawaii are much more subtle, and follow the lines of Hawaii's natural landscape. Many Hawaiian residents were concerned about the skyscraper potentially spoiling the Honolulu skyline and overall landscape of Hawaii. The original plans called for a three hundred fifty foot tall building, but the developer attempted to have this amended to four hundred and fifty. As a compromise, the limit was raised to 400 feet, but the finished product was allowed to exceed this by a little under twenty nine feet.

Though the First Hawaiian Center is a modern skyscraper, a lot of effort went into incorporating Hawaii's natural phenomena into the design. Horizontal windows frame the sea, while vertical ones frame the mountains, and the entire building was designed to maximize the use of natural sunlight. The building is triangular, and its exterior is divided into distinctive areas, to help diminish the visual impact of its considerable size. The Contemporary Arts Museum has an airy sixty foot atrium interior is finished in pear and anigre wood, Arabascata marble, and stainless steel.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Kumu Kahua Theatre

2) Kumu Kahua Theatre

The Kumu Kahua Theatre's motto is “Plays about life in Hawaii. Plays by Hawaii's playwrights. Plays for Hawaii's people.” It is a community theater located in downtown Honolulu, and features work by local playwrights, usually featuring Hawaiian themes and stories, acted and directed by some of Hawaii's best actors and directors. Many of the plays use the actors' natural local dialect or accent, or are written in a blended Hawaiian English dialect called pidgin.

The theater was founded in 1971, by students from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, for the purpose of exhibiting locally-created plays. In the beginning, these were mainly experimental works, but the theater focused more on regular plays as it progressed. The group was given non-profit status in 1982, and the Hawaii State Legislature gave it its current home in 1994.

To continue its tradition of Hawaiian plays, written by Hawaiian people, and performed by Hawaiian people, the Kumu Kahua Theatre offers classes in acting and play writing, and sponsors an annual contest to find the best playwrights in Hawaii. Three prizes are awarded- The Hawaii Prize, for plays set in Hawaii, the Pacific Rim Prize, for plays set in the Pacific Rim, and the Resident Prize, for plays of any subject written by Hawaii residents.
Nuuanu Gallery At Marks Center

3) Nuuanu Gallery At Marks Center

Nuuanu Gallery At Marks Center is a popular exhibition and art gallery situated in downtown Honolulu. The goal of the gallery is to transform the historic district with the help of art. Weekly, performances of business organizations and NGOs are held here. Nuuanu Gallery At Marks Center is supported by the Hawaii Arts Alliance.
Hawaii Theatre Center

4) Hawaii Theatre Center

The Hawaii Theatre Center is located near Chinatown in downtown Honolulu. When it was first opened in 1922, it was called “The Pride of the Pacific,” and considered it on the same level as any theatre in San Francisco or New York.

The building itself was designed by Honolulu architects Walter Emory and Marshall Webb, and echoes elements of Neoclassical architecture for the exterior, and Beaux-Arts architecture for the interior. Exterior ornaments include elements of Byzantine, Corinthian, and Moorish designs, while the interior was adorned with Corinthian columns, a gilded dome, marble statues, carpets, silk wall hangings, and a mural by Lionel Walden. One really intriguing feature of the theater was its cooling system- vents under the seats helped to circulate air from an ice storage room located underneath the stage.

During its early years, the theater presented silent films and Vaudeville entertainment. Up to the 1960s, it operated as a movie theater. When the center of entertainment on the island began moving from Honolulu to Waikiki, the theater fell into disrepair, and eventually closed in 1984. Hawaiian citizens wanted to restore and preserve the theater, so they formed the not-for-profit Hawaii Theatre Center, purchased it, and performed extensive renovations. Their efforts were so successful, the Hawaii Theatre was named the “Outstanding Historic Theatre in America” by the League of Historic America Theatres.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Hawaii State Art Museum

5) Hawaii State Art Museum (must see)

The site of the Hawaii State Art Museum (HiSAM) began its life as a hotel. American politicians John Mott-Smith and Charles Coffin Harris convinced the Hawaii legislature to build the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1872, and the hotel was converted to a YMCA in 1917. After that, it was used by the military during WWI. When the building suffered from severe termite damage in 1926, it was torn down, to be replaced by a Spanish mission design by Lincoln Rogers. The current building was completed in 1928.

The museum's exhibits are housed in three galleries. There is a permanent display of Hawaiian art, which portrays Hawaii's mix of cultural and ethnic backgrounds (including Hawaiian, European, and Japanese artistic traditions), and consists of 132 works of art by 105 different artists. These include sculptors Satoru Abe, Bumpei Akaji, Sean K.L. Browne, and Edward M. Brownlee, as well as ceramicists, printmakers, painters, and more. In addition to its permanent exhibit, it also has several temporary exhibits that change regularly.

Fans of the arts will find this facility up there with the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art on the list of top artistic hotspots on the islands. If you are interested, this well laid out and accommodating location is certainly worth spending some time out of the sun for.

Why You Should Visit:
If you like contemporary art, then this museum has a ton; a good complement to the nearby downtown art galleries.
Air-conditioned and with well-maintained restrooms, plus restaurant, so a great rest stop when exploring downtown on a hot day.

The museum has a live show on the first Friday of every month (6pm); a family-friendly entertainment option on an otherwise rowdy night.
On the second Saturday (11am-3pm / Mar-Nov), you may find additional hands-on (often "make-and-take") activities appropriate for children.
Be sure to see the optical illusion art exhibit outside that has the appearance of a pool with water.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am–4pm
Free admission; leave a donation in the box, if you want.
Hawaiian Mission Houses

6) Hawaiian Mission Houses (must see)

The Mission Houses Museum collects and exhibits documents and artifacts relating to Hawaiian history between 1820 and 1863 – the “missionary” period. Today, the museum has over 3,000 Hawaiian, Western, and Pacific artifacts, and more than 12,000 books, manuscripts, original letters, diaries, journals, illustrations and Hawaiian church records.

The Houses themselves are interesting for the way they demonstrate how New England missionaries progressively adapted to their environment. The Oldest Frame House was built from materials shipped down from Boston around 1821. They were precut and premeasured, so they pretty much just needed to be assembled. The funny thing about the Oldest Frame House is the style – it was made with small windows and short eaves, to help it survive Boston winters, which made it odd to use in Hawaii. The Chamberlain House was built in 1831 from local Hawaiian materials, including coral blocks and salvaged lumber from ships. This house has larger windows, and shutters to provide shade, which the Oldest Frame House did not. The Print House was an addition to the Oldest Frame House. Originally a bedroom, the coral block addition later served as the missionaries' print house. Today, the Print House serves as an exhibit to show how the native Hawaiians and New England missionaries developed the first materials printed in native Hawaiian.

Why You Should Visit:
To take a look at life back when the missions were still in service during the plantation days and to learn about the impact of these missionaries on the native Hawaiian culture.
Lots of great events for kids and adults throughout the year, including certain days with free admission, and a well-appointed gift shop.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am–4pm

Guided House Tours:
Tue-Sat: Every hour from 11am; last tour starts at 3pm
Honolulu Museum of Art

7) Honolulu Museum of Art (must see)

The Honolulu Museum of Art is the largest of its kind in the state and has one of the largest single collections of Asian and Pan-Pacific art in the U.S. Since its official opening on April 8, 1927, its collections have grown to more than 50,000 works of art.

The museum has a large collection of Asian art, especially Japanese and Chinese works. Major collections include the Samuel H. Kress collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, American and European paintings and decorative arts, art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, textiles, contemporary art, and a graphics collection of over 23,000 works on paper. Other collections include the James A. Michener collection of ukiyo-e prints and the Hawaiian art collection, which chronicles the history of art in Hawaiʻi.

Docents conduct tours for the public, school groups (pre-school and up), and community organizations. In a program called Tour and Tea, docents lead discussions in the galleries followed by iced tea in the courtyard. An introductory tour called Treasures of the Museum highlights selected works in the permanent collection.

Special tours, focusing on temporary exhibitions often include supplementary materials and activities, some specially designed for children. Theme tours concentrate on a specific country, region, time period, art movement, or groups of artists.

Definitely check out their monthly after-hours event, Art After Dark, which happens every last Friday of the month – a special time when the museum is open late to feature artists and feed museum-goers gourmet food and specialty cocktails.
You can enter free on the 1st Wednesday and 3rd Sunday. Entry to the Museum shop, the café and the Robert Allerton Art Library is always free.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-4:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Honolulu, Hawaii

Create Your Own Walk in Honolulu

Create Your Own Walk in Honolulu

Creating your own self-guided walk in Honolulu is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave Honolulu without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Honolulu, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.8 Km or 3.6 Miles
Business District Self-Guided Tour in Honolulu

Business District Self-Guided Tour in Honolulu

The Central Business District is situated in Honolulu's downtown, between Bishop Street and Fort Street Mall. This area holds most of the subsidiaries of local companies. Also, it's Honolulu's skyscraper district. You can see popular sites, such as Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew and First Hawaiian Center. We invite you to take this self-guided tour and admire the Business District...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.6 Km or 0.4 Miles
Hickam Air Force Base Tour

Hickam Air Force Base Tour

Hickham Air Force Base was opened in 1935 and named after Lieutenant Colonel Horace Meek Hickam. The air force base began operations three years later and in 1941 the first bombers arrived there. In 1980, this site was declared a National Historic Landmark for its high importance during World War II. Today, it is of huge importance in the history of the U.S. Take the Hickam Air Force Base Tour and...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Honolulu's Harbor and Coastline Tour

Honolulu's Harbor and Coastline Tour

Honolulu's Harbor is the main historic seaport of Hawaii. It is called Kulolia or Ke Awa O Kou, by native Hawaiians. It is situated on Mamala Bay and was the area that contributed most to the urbanization of the island. This self-guided tour will take you all the way down from Honolulu's Harbor to the Ala Moana Beach, and along Honolulu's beautiful coastline.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
The Capitol District Tour in Honolulu

The Capitol District Tour in Honolulu

The Capitol District represents a historic area in downtown Honolulu. This civic center includes the biggest majority of governmental buildings at federal, state and city levels. The district is situated among Richards Street, Ward Avenue, Vineyard Boulevard and Nimitz Highway. Some of the largest buildings in the city are located here. Take this walking tour and enjoy the treasures of historic...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Diamond Head Volcano Tour

Diamond Head Volcano Tour

Diamond Head Volcano is perhaps one of the best-known attractions on the island of Oahu. The volcano's rugged cone is seen from almost every part of the island. However, at its base, along the coastal line, are situated a couple of other spectacular sights. Take this walking tour to admire one of the most ancient treasures of Hawaii - Diamond Head.

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.0 Km or 3.7 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

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