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The Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum — Honolulu, Hawaii

by Suzanne Fluhr on April 18, 2014 · 60 comments

Ships of Oceania, Pacific Hall, Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum

Updated September 12, 2018.

Mr. Excitement and I managed to visit Honolulu three times before we made finally our way to the Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum, Hawaii’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. In retrospect, it should have been one of the first places we visited.

The museum was established in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, the wealthy American born husband of Princess Bernice Pauhi who was descended from the Hawaiian royal family. In an unusual love match for the time, the Princess defied her parents to marry Bishop in 1850.

In my travels, I have always found that educating myself about the history of a place enhances and enriches my understanding of and appreciation for what I am seeing and experiencing. Our 50th state has a rich natural, cultural and political history quite distinct from the other 49.

The main building of the Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, containing Hawaii Hall and Pacific Hall.

The main building of the Bishop Museum, containing Hawaiian Hall and Pacific Hall.

During a visit to the Bishop Museum, your first stop should be the third floor in Hawaiian Hall, in the main building which was constructed in 1889. Hawaiian Hall was restored to its original splendor in 2009 and is an attractive three story atrium surrounded by polished wood exhibit cases. On this top floor, the visitor is taken through the history of Hawaii’s monarchy which lasted from 1810 until it was overthrown in 1893, in what basically was a coup d’etat aided and abetted by Americans. (At the time, President Grover Cleveland surprisingly candidly described it as an “act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States….”).

Just as learning something about Irish history leads to an understanding of the Irish antipathy towards Great Britain, the Hawaiian history I learned at the Bishop Museum at least in part explains the present day nativist Hawaiian movement.

Hawaii Hall, Main Building, Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum

Hawaiian Hall, Main Building, Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum

The second floor exhibits in Hawaiian Hall explain the traditional daily lives of the native Hawaiians. The first floor artifacts tell the story of the spiritual life of Hawaiians before European contact. We spent over an hour absorbing Hawaiian Hall. The main building also contains Pacific Hall which is dedicated to an exploration of the history and lives of peoples who inhabit the other Pacific islands of Oceania.

Ships of Oceania, Pacific Hall, Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum

Models of water craft used by Pacific Islanders to travel vast distances.

There are daily performances of Hawaiian story telling and hula at the museum.

Upon entering the museum grounds, we were given a copy of the day’s events, including planetarium shows, demonstrations of volcanic activity, and performances. Indeed, our first activity at the museum was a planetarium session about the night sky over Honolulu.

The Bishop Museum also has a Science Adventure Center, containing interactive exhibits dedicated to an exploration of the fascinating world of Hawaii’s natural environment. A tiny small botanical garden at the museum contains some native plants, but botanical exploration is probably best left for a visit to the nearby Foster Botanical Garden.

Breadfruit tree, botanical garden, Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum

Breadfruit tree, Bishop Museum botanical garden

White hibiscus, Botanical Garden, Bishop Museum

White hibiscus, Botanical Garden, Bishop Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

We easily spent three hours at the museum and probably could have spent more time had I not been still somewhat in recovery mode from my hospital detour the previous week.

As with most museums these days, the Bishop Museum’s exit is through the gift shop which, in addition to the de rigueur refrigerator magnets, also had some high quality crafts priced beyond what Mr. and Mrs. Excitement were looking to spend.

Hawaii, to be sure, is all about sun, sand, waves, water sports and beautiful scenery, but it is also about so much more. I recommend a visit to the Bishop Museum early in your visit to Honolulu as it will deepen your understanding of and appreciation for what you see and experience during your visit. 

Should you go?:  With an entrance fee of almost $20 for adults as of this writing, this is a pricey museum. (There are discounted rates available for children, seniors and the military). However, depending on your interest level in the natural and cultural history of Hawaii, you can spend a good chunk of a day at the Bishop Museum. The museum has a cafe about which I’ve read mixed reviews. We shared a Mediterranean wrap sandwich which we found more than edible.

Getting there: Taking a taxi to and from Waikiki to this museum will set you back a good $50.00. There is a parking lot if you have your own wheels and it is accessible on “The Bus”—Honolulu’s aptly named public transportation system. Consult the Bishop Museum’s comprehensive website for additional and updated information. At present, the museum is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  It is closed on Tuesdays and on Christmas Day.

If you have visited the Bishop Museum, what was your impression? Can you recommend any similar museums in other places?

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

Carole Terwilliger Meyers April 18, 2014 at 6:06 pm

I LOVE this museum! It’s been quite a few years since I was there, so I enjoyed this re-visit with you. We took The Bus and enjoyed the additional bonus of meeting some locals.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 18, 2014 at 8:41 pm

I really wish we had discovered it sooner and, frankly, we could use another trip there.

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Patti Morrow April 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm

I like to know get to know a bit about the history of places I visit, too. I can understand why it took a few visits before you explored the Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum. It sounds quite interesting, but having to compete with all there is to do and see in Honolulu — in fact, the whole island since it’s so small — can be a challenge. It definitely seems worth an afternoon, though.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 18, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Thanks for your comment, Patti. I think I was forgetting to take into account that our 3 prior visits to Honolulu were for days, not months.

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Irene S. Levine April 18, 2014 at 6:24 pm

It must be hard to visit an indoor spot when the outside is so beautiful!
Is it public or private? Quite pricey for a museum~

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 18, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Good question, Irene. I’m virtually certain it’s a non – profit run by the Bishop trust which is still responsible for a lot of philanthropy on Oahu.

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santafetraveler April 18, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Like Hawaii, New Mexico has a very distinct cultural history. I would love the Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 19, 2014 at 2:38 am

Billie, come to think of it, the Bishop Museum reminds me somewhat of the New Mexico museum in Santa Fe.

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Michelle April 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm

It sounds like a nice place to visit. I love Hawaii, but I will NEVER call it inexpensive. I usually do rent a car for a very reasonable price, but not sure I would in Honolulu since there is more traffic. Thank you for the information.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 19, 2014 at 2:41 am

We have been living in Honolulu for 2 and a half months now and we only rent a car if we are exploring somewhere outside of Honolulu. We’ve been told that Honolulu has the second worst traffic in the country after L.A. As you mentioned, gas is also more expensive here than on the mainland.

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Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) April 19, 2014 at 8:19 am

Oh my! I’m embarrassed and sad that in my many trips to Hawaii I never visited the Bishop Museum! I missed a gem, so I thank you for sharing this with me!

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Suzanne Fluhr April 19, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Oh well, Jacquie. Now you have an excuse to return to Paradise 😉 (not that one is needed.)

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noel April 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

It is a beautiful museum steeped in history, culture and artifacts – I love visiting this amazing institution.

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Suzanne Fluhr April 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Noel, as a resident of the Big Island, you have a much better appreciation than most for the scope of cultural and natural history covered in the Bishop Museum.

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Donna Janke April 19, 2014 at 10:43 am

This sounds like an interesting museum. I love to go to museums that highlight information about the history and culture if the place. I’ve not been to Hawaii and in all the things I’ve read about it, museums have never come up. Thanks for letting us know about this.

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Suzanne Fluhr April 19, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Donna, if you do have the chance to visit Honolulu, I hope you’ll be able to add this museum to your list of “must see’s”. As I mentioned, I believe it is best seen early in your visit as it will help put into context so much of what you will see.

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Roz Warren April 19, 2014 at 11:49 am

Yikes! It costs as much as MOMA. But it sounds like fun.

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Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it April 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I would love spending the day there. Unfortunately “my” Mr. Excitement grumbles when I drag him to museums, since there aren’t enough places for him to sit down.

We had an amazing time at the Polynesian Cultural Center which is more entertainment than museum, but gave an insight in all the island ways of life.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 20, 2014 at 10:17 pm

My Mr. Excitement and I have worked out that the way for us to visit museums together is to agree to meet somewhere at a certain time so we can each go through the exhibits at our own pace. I tend to want to read every.word. He — not so much.

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Suzanne Fluhr April 19, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Roz, Hawaii is not an inexpensive place to vacation nor to live in — starting with the air fare to get here.

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Claudia Schmidt April 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

I’ve never been to Hawaii, but have always dreamed about it. When I do get there, I’ll want to make a visit to this museum as I too, like to visit historical sites when I travel and it seems so interesting. You’re so lucky to have gone several times!

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Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) April 20, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Claudia, I hope you do make it to Hawaii some day. There’s lots to see and learn about. Oh, and did I mention is beautiful? 🙂

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Marilyn Jones April 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

It really sounds like an interesting and must-see museum. I used to always visit museums and lately I’ve slacked off. Your article points out that I should get back into the habit!

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Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) April 20, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Marilyn. I need to remind myself that the local historical museum is a good stop close to the beginning of a trip.

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Sand In My Suitcase April 20, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Thanks for enlightening us about this museum. On our visits to Honolulu, we’ve enjoyed shopping, the Pearl Harbor memorial, a hike up Diamond Head, and walking the beach. But not this museum. Looks like we should plan on it the next time :-).

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Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) April 20, 2014 at 9:31 pm

It sounds like you hit many of the “must do’s” on Oahu. We still have to climb Diamond Head! !

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Susan Cooper April 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I have yet to visit this museum. actually I have yet to visit the island that the museum resides. I always seen to find myself on Maui. I so love history have read a great deal about Hawaii and it’s past so I know I would great enjoy this museum and the experience it would offer. Being a gardener and lover of all thing that grow the small botanical garden would definitely draw me in as well. 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 21, 2014 at 12:32 am

Susan, I can understand why you’re drawn to Maui, but if you make it to Oahu, the Bishop Museum should be a stop. You would also enjoy the nearby Foster Botanical Garden.

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Lois Alter Mark April 20, 2014 at 11:25 pm

This sounds like a fascinating museum but it’s so hard to imagine being in Hawaii and actually spending enough time indoors to make the admission price worthwhile!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 21, 2014 at 3:55 am

There are rainy days even in “Paradise”. Perfect for your visit to the Bishop Museum!

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Nancy D. Brown April 20, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Hawaii has so much natural and cultural history to offer; this museum sounds like it is worth a visit.

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Laurie Hurley April 21, 2014 at 12:47 am

I’ve never been. But $20 seems inexpensive compared to what we paid at museums in New York! Looks beautiful and, I agree, knowing the history of a destination by visiting the museums are a wonderful way to learn more about where you are!

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Tim April 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

I absolutely agree with you. Learning the history of a place, well at least a basic understanding of it, enhances everything. Knowing what you are experiencing is part and parcel of why we travel so why not know as much as you can. Your trip to Hawaii sounds great and you seem to have been having a brilliant time. Look forward to your next one Suzanne.

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Tuhin April 21, 2014 at 1:41 am

The museum is so clean and well maintained! The water crafts models seem to reflect the bygone era! Looks nice!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 21, 2014 at 3:59 am

Tuhin, it is amazing how far the Pacific Islanders traveled in their boats—across over a thousand miles of the Pacific Ocean.

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Catarina April 21, 2014 at 6:07 am

Sounds like The Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum is worth visiting. If I ever do to Hawaii I will definitely visit it.

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Lenie April 21, 2014 at 6:09 am

Hi Suzanne
The closest I’ve ever come to Hawaii is through a book, but its a place that has always fascinated me. The historical background you gave added more to my knowledge about this gorgeous place. Right or wrong, I tend to get wrapped up in the romance of Hawaii.
Thanks for sharing.
Lenie

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Sandy April 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

Not sure I will ever make it to Hawaii, just so expensive there! It was fun ‘walking’ through the museum with you, and always nice to learn something about another culture.

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Edward Reid April 21, 2014 at 11:33 am

We are very much alike because I too, love to visit museums and learn about people of other areas. I now live in Miami, Florida but I am not a native. With so much to do here in Miami there is not a lot of historical references. I did find History Miami and learned a great deal about my new home. It is small but the caretakers have done an excellent job creating educational exhibits.

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A.K.ANdrew April 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, and this museum looks absolutely fantastic. What a gorgeous hall – beautiful wood. I have this – obviously false – notion of Hawaii having little in the way of cultural activities, so this post was very insightful. Thanks so much

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Maddy Fluhr April 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm

The old European “contact” conundrum. As we know, US and European “contact” can be hazardous to your “cultural health”. I’m glad there is a museum to document the history and I actually think I was there many years ago. Colonial Williamsburg would be a good place for exploring some U.S. History – haven’t been there in so many years. Loved Monticello – I really enjoy any museum that fosters a feeling of living history.

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Patricia Weber April 21, 2014 at 6:35 pm

My husband and I have been to Hawaii about 3 times but never thought about museum visits. Usually there for business conferences or just soaking up the lovely weather. We’ve been to many classic car museums and more and $20 seems about average from our travels.

Thanks for the terrific pics.

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Debbie April 22, 2014 at 12:11 am

Hi Suzanne; Trying once more, as the commenting problem seems to be resolved, (I hope). I wouldn’t hesitate to spend $20.00 on a museum or any other type of tour. It looks really interesting and life is short. Who knows if you’ll ever go there again? Hawaii is on my bucket list as well. 🙂 Cheers!

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Christina April 22, 2014 at 3:00 am

I also like learning about the history and culture of places I visit. And I enjoy older buildings. If I’m lucky enough to make it back to Hawaii, I’ll have to make a visit.

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Paul Graham April 22, 2014 at 11:07 am

Hi Suzanne. Thanks for another interesting perspective on Hawaii. We cant fully appreciate the present without some understanding of the past and this is helpful to that purpose

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Arleen April 22, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Suzanne- It is interesting as many times I have been to Waikiki I have never been to the Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum. I used to go to Hawaii alot when I lived on the west coast. Living on the east coast now, it is a long plane ride so I am not sure when I will get back. I do love Hawaii.

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Kire Sdyor April 23, 2014 at 6:19 am

Love the pictures. As a fan of museums I could see myself spending the day. Getting there 4 hours before my wife, pointing out the 3 things that would hold her interest, and telling her not to expect me for dinner. Hawaii someday.

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Welli April 23, 2014 at 7:10 am

Well since have not done a Hawaii trip yet, this is a definate must visit. Love the Hall photo there, that rich wooden finish. I am sure the performancesare also a great way to absorb the cultural heritage of what the museum represents.

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Jay April 23, 2014 at 7:34 am

I wish i had know about this museum years ago when i went there for work. I spent my time doing mostly outdoors site seeing and fishing, Oh and i got lost and stumbled upon the set for the tv show Lost. Thank you for sharing this since my wife had never been we will probably go next year and since she likes visiting museums you may have just earned me more brownie points

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Suki F April 23, 2014 at 11:18 pm

It looks like a place where I would have a lot of fun. I will add it to the list of places to visit in Hawaii. Thanks for sharing!

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Jason B April 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The museum looks pretty nice. It looks like its worth the $20.

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Michele Harvey April 24, 2014 at 4:54 pm

A beautiful museum in a beautiful part of the world. You did a wonderful job describing the museum and your photos are lovely. I was in Hawaii once years ago and during that visit, most of my time was not my own. I had one free day which was mostly spent at the beach. If I return to Hawaii, I will definitely visit this museum. Thank you.

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Crystal Ross April 24, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I have been to Honolulu for my honeymoon. It was a blast. However, I never made it to that museum. it looks interesting and if I ever go back i will have to check it out. Thanks for the article. =)

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andleeb April 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm

I do not know if I can ever visit Honolulu. But i am always fond of such places even with that price , if ever I got a chance I will visit this museum.
I have heard a lot about Honolulu and its beauty.
I really loved the photos and it is good to see botanical garden to know about local plants.
I enjoyed visiting with you through this post.

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Lisa Richardson April 26, 2014 at 10:31 am

Love the other side of Hawaii! Local cultural exploration does lead to better understanding.
You are preserving a bit of Hawaiian heritage through sharing your observations and paying the admission fee.

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Dana Relyea Ross April 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Hello, I found your article on the Bishop Museum to be very well written and educational. My mother’s family are direct descendents of the Royal Hawaiian family. My mother (Belle Reid, her twin sister, Cathleen, and their younger sister, Charlotte Reid) lived on their family home Fort Dawson. Their great of great great grandfather was presented with a pocket watch from Abraham Lincoln which is at Bishop Museum. My mother got to hold the pocket watch at one time. I would love to see it one day. I lived on the big island and Honolulu many times in my lifetime. Most of my cousins still reside on the islands.

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Carol Kamaile May 10, 2014 at 1:18 am

Information for you water craft/canoe lovers (see picture at beginning of Bishop Museum article}, check out the Hokulea website and see our famous double hulled sailing canoe that sailed to Tahiti in 1976 navigating only by the stars, ocean/swell directions, etc by master navigator Mau Pialug

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Debra Yearwood May 10, 2014 at 3:30 am

I was taken aback about the price of the museum. I guess I’ve gotten spoilt living in a capital city. 🙂 I think its a great idea going to the museum first and getting a handle on the history and culture. Its so easy to over look the real place and get caught up in the tourist adventure.

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Kirt Butler April 26, 2018 at 2:02 pm

I truly enjoyed my visit to this museum but why is the exterior of this stately old estate eroding and in disrepair. For the cost of the entry fee this estate should be better maintained and cherished.

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