Top 9 Oahu Museums

Oahu's rich heritage, notable history, and unique landscape are the foundation for a multitude of museums and attractions on the island. From historic World War II sights to premier art and culture displays, Oahu offers the best in education and entertainment. Check out the top 10 Oahu museums to get started on your Hawaiian escapade.

1. USS Arizona Memorial

The most visited attraction in Hawaii is this somber memorial to commemorate those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship Arizona, where most of the 1,177-member crew died on December 7, 1941. The memorial features an excellent audio tour that brings to life the stories behind this American tragedy. Be sure to check out the new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, renovated in 2010, and the new book store that offers exclusive books and souvenirs.

2. Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC)

Experience the true culture of Polynesia for a day as you make your way around this celebrated cultural center. The PCC provides the most comprehensive way to explore the culture of the many Pacific islands through 8 re-created island villages and interactive exhibits. Cracking coconuts, starting fires, and learning how to fire knife dance are just a few of the many activities to choose from. The PCC is also home to the famed Rainbows of Paradise canoe pageant and the award-winning Ali'I Lu'au dinner. Don't miss the "Ha Breath of Life" show, an ancient Hawaiian story performed by over 100 cast members.

3. Bishop Museum

Hawaii's largest museum is also one of the top natural history museums in the Pacific. The Bishop Museum features 5 separate buildings, all included in admission. Visit the planetarium to see "Explorers of Polynesia" which shows how sailors navigated Tahiti using the stars as their guide or explore the 3 spiritual and physical realms of the Hawaiian people at Hawaiian Hall. Check out the active volcano display in the Science Adventure Center, one of the museum's most popular interactive exhibits. There are endless opportunities to discover the rich history and culture of the Hawaiian Islands at this legendary museum.

4. Battleship Missouri Memorial

This ship is most famous for being the place where Japan officially surrendered to the United States, marking the end of World War II. However, the Battleship Missouri also served through the Korean War and Gulf War, endowing it with a powerful historic account to share. You can choose to take a self-guided tour or 1 of 3 guided tours aboard the "Mighty Mo." Stand on the Surrender Deck, the official site of the end of the Second World War as you reflect upon the legacy of the United States. Even if you aren't a history buff or part of a military family, this vessel will leave you riveted.

5. Iolani Palace

Discover a time when royalty reigned at this meticulously restored palace that housed the last 2 monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Iolani Palace, home to King Kalakaua and his successor Queen Lilioukalani in the late 1800s, is the architectural embodiment of opulence. The palace features a collection of recovered artifacts that were lost or stolen during the overthrow of the government in 1893. You'll have access to all of the main rooms and halls, including the Grand Hall and the King and Queen's private suites. Before you leave this royal, historic site, make sure to check out the gift shop for some unique Palace souvenirs.

6. Hawaii's Plantation Village

Experience the lives of Hawaii's plantation workers at this outdoor museum in historic Waipahu. You'll get an intimate view of how Hawaii's plantations have contributed to the islands' ethnic heritage through furnished homes, community structures, plantation-era architecture, and small guided tours. Many guides offer personal stories of their ancestries, which bring the experience to life. Feel the warm and inviting atmosphere of the community while learning about its rich and diverse history.

7. The Contemporary Museum (TCM)

The only museum in the state of Hawaii solely dedicated to contemporary art, TCM proudly collects and preserves art from the 1940's to the present. The Contemporary Museum offers interaction with art and artists in a unique Island setting through innovative exhibitions and educational programs. One of the museum's finest features is the 5-acre garden area set on a sloping hillside. The garden houses renowned sculptures and hundreds of tropical plants. This museum is a creative paradise for any art-lover.

8. Japanese Cultural Center

The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii strives to share the history, heritage, and culture, of Japanese Americans in Hawaii through galleries and exhibitions. The Center features a Community and Historical Gallery, Resource Center, Kenshikan martial arts dojo, Seikoan Japanese teahouse, and Gift Shop. You'll discover the history of karate in Hawaii, learn about the art of Japanese tattooing, and see traditional woodblock prints. Don't forget to stop by the one-of-a-kind gift shop for unique collectibles like kimono, Japanese dolls, and tea sets.

9. The Pacific Aviation Museum

One of the top aviation attractions in the nation, this museum on Ford Island occupies World War II hangars that were bombed during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. History comes to life at this moving attraction that houses an aircraft collection totaling over 20 planes. You can even experience what it feels like to defend the skies like a real WWII pilot in one of the combat flight simulators. For added entertainment, visit the Laniakea Cafe, an island-themed restaurant imitating a pilot's club on the island as it would have been in the 1940s. This museum provides full access to the aviation experience of the Second World War while honoring and preserving its history.


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