Iolani Palace and HoMA – Two not-to-miss Attractions on Oahu
While most people associate Oahu with beaches, hikes and Pearl Harbor, there are other spots you should not miss while on the island. These two attractions will provide equal parts culture and history with a little bit of architecture thrown in.
King Kalakaua built Iolani Palace in 1882. It served as home to Hawai’i’s last reigning monarchs. It is a National Historic Landmark and the only royal residence in the United States. I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about the history of Hawaii before it became part of the US. Visiting Iolani Palace helped fill that gap. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893, the building served as the Capitol. Its furnishings were sold off at auctions and were scattered around the world over the years. When the palace restoration began in the 1970s, researchers managed to track down quite a few of the pieces and they are now on display in the palace. I really enjoyed touring this palace. Be sure to book your tour in advance.
Walk around the area around Iolani Palace to view other noteworthy downtown Honolulu buildings. A statue of King Kamehameha is right across the street from Iolani Palace, in front of the Hawai’i State Supreme Court. King Kamehameha united the Hawai’ian islands in 1810 after years of conflict. The statue was sculpted out of bronze by Thomas Gould in Florence. On the Friday closest to June 11 (Kamehameha Day), this statue is ceremoniously draped with wreaths of lei.
The Hawai’i state Capitol is behind Iolani Palace. And down the street you will find Honolulu City Hall, the Hawaii State Library and the historic Kawaiahao church, which is made out of coral.
Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA)
I enjoyed my visit to HoMA way more than I expected. I think I underestimated the museum due to its small size, but in the end found both the permanent and temporary exhibits pretty awesome.
The first thing that caught my eye was the simple Hawaiian style exterior and the numerous courtyards inside, each with its own theme.
I then noticed the giant Jun Kaneko ceramic pieces. I had just seen his work at the Portland Japanese Garden, and I was thrilled to recognize it at HoMA before I even read the plaque.
Jun Kaneko at the Portland Japanese Garden just a few weeks before my Hawaii vist
I next found the permanent collection highlights, which were listed in the museum map I picked up at the entrance. An unexpected treat were the paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. I’ve seen her Clouds at Art Institute of Chicago and her desert-inspired work in New Mexico. Her Hawaii pieces featured here were quite different, yet her style was unmistakable.
I was also delighted to see a couple of Dale Chihuly glass pieces. One of them was in the ceiling above one of the pavilions! His glass garden in Seattle needs to go on your bucket list stat!
Several of the permanent collection highlights were pulled together in a temporary exhibit called Cross Pollination: Flowers Across the Collection. It united a wonderfully diverse arrangement of floral artworks from HoMA’s permanent collection as well as art on loan from SF MOMA. The large Dale Chihuly was in this exhibit, along with these other pieces that struck my fancy.
The anchor exhibit was Awakening by Rebecca Louise Law. The giant installation of dried flowers combined her own recycled botanical materials with newly grown Hawai‘i floral specimens and other found materials gathered and strung with the help of local community groups. The installation occupied two giant rooms and you could smell it before you even entered. No phones were allowed while walking through the installation of flowers. The only place one could take a photo/video was at the end before exiting. It was a beautiful and unique exhibit.
I almost didn’t visit HoMA. I hiked Lanikai Pillbox early that day before work, and the lazies were starting to get to me. I was so glad I didn’t bail and experienced this gem of a museum!