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Museums



Visiting a museum is always a unique experience, as each one has its own distinct characteristics, style, and of course, content. Museum subjects vary greatly from city to city, and can range from firefighter's museums to fine art, to sports. If you need help making a selection, our 10Best list highlights the top spots to visit in Big Island.


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Lyman Mission House and Museum


When David and Sarah Lyman finished their Big Island home in 1839, it was one of the island's most unique. The house's architecture is a masterpiece of juxtaposition – the Lymans used hand-hewn, local koa wood to build the New England-style home. (The tin for the roof, it should be noted, was imported from Great Britain.) Over the years, the home received a variety of famous guests, including Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. Today, the place is a history museum and celebrates missionary life in Hawaii with interactive exhibits, original furniture, tools, and the Lymans' personal effects.

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Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center


This informative facility is located just a few miles north of Kailua-Kona – at Keahole-Kona International Airport, to be exact. What the museum lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quality, and first-rate exhibits feature model rockets, moon orbitals, space shuttles, moon rocks, and a working gravity well. The museum is named after Big Island native Ellison Onizuka, one of the astronauts who perished in the 1986 Challenger accident.

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Volcano National Park
Volcano Art Center


Founded in 1974, VAC is dedicated to preserving – and promoting worldwide awareness of – the Hawaiian Islands' rich artistic history. The center hosts a variety of monthly exhibits and art sales that showcase paintings, wood sculptures, baskets, jewelry, and Polynesian-influenced masks. The exhibition gallery is located in the historic Volcano House Hotel, which dates to 1877.

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Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site


Constructed in the late 18th century, this coastal temple was intended as an offering to the war god Kukai'ilimoku from King Kamehameha the Great. The entire island community took part in the building process, as recorded by British sailor John Young. Kamehameha subsequently established a monarchy that lasted 83 years and that united the Hawaiian Islands. Now a National Historic Site, the park invites visitors to tour the temple and enjoy fishing, hiking, water sports, and wildlife viewing.

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Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park


In times of yore, those in trouble – women, thieves, and escaped prisoners trying to evade capture – could find safe haven within the walls of this sacred burial ground, wherein lie the remains of Keawe, forefather of the legendary King Kamehameha I. Furthermore, priests who maintained the grounds would absolve offenders of any wrongdoing, allowing them to leave free of reprisal. Today, the pu`uhonua and some 180 acres of royal koi ponds, temple bases, and village sites surrounding it are protected by the National Park Service.

Read more about Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park →


Jaggar Museum at Volcano National Park
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt


As one of the busiest locations in the park, the Jaggar Museum is a hot spot with intriguing displays to view. The museum is all about volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists in the past to study the volcano, working seismographs, and an exhibit of clothing and gear from scientists who got a bit too close to lava. There is also a gift shop with books, videos, cds, maps, and other special items for sale. The Museum has large windows which affords a sheltered view of the caldera and main crater, Halema`uma`u, when weather is inclement. The overlook outside the building offers an incredible view of the volcano with interpretive displays about Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes. The US Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is adjoining the Jaggar Museum, but is not open to the public.

Read more about Jaggar Museum at Volcano National Park →


Parker Ranch


Parker Ranch, one of America's oldest and largest ranches, was founded in 1847. Island visitors eagerly venture here to find out about paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) and to see what ranch life is like in paradise. Guests may opt to tour Parker's historic homes, where they can view heirloom art and furnishings and learn about the ranch's long history. Horseback and ATV tours are available, along with cattle country tours that expose the workings of the ranch and the beauty of the local landscape. Visiting the ranch is really visiting a part of the island's history that helped form it and bring it where it is today.

Recommended for Museums because: Parker ranch is one of America's oldest and largest ranches and offers adventure tours and country tours.

Local Expert tip: Visit Parker Ranch when crossing from one side of the island to another.

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Mo'okini Heiau


This three-story stone temple, erected more than 1500 years ago, stands as one of the oldest structures in the state. Built to honor Ku (the Hawaiian god of war), it was the setting for countless rituals and observances, including human sacrifices and prayer vigils. As expected, the temple is steeped in legend, and many of them feature Kamehameha I, who was born near this site in the 1750s and who sought spiritual guidance here before setting out on his quest to unite the islands. The road to the temple is rough, so hiking from Highway 270 or riding in a 4X4 is suggested. The temple is now part of the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument.

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Englishman Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived on the Big Island around 1850 and, soon after, purchased a parcel of land in Kalukalu. On his farm, he raised cattle and grew everything from pumpkins and coffee to tobacco and corn. The only standing reminder of Greenwell's legacy is a stone-walled general store, which now houses a museum chock full of historic photos and artifacts. This rustic structure dates from the 1870s and was the community gathering place for several years. The Society also offers walking tours of the historic Uchida coffee farm and the village of Kailua – call ahead for reservations.

Read more about Kona Historical Society Museum & Greenwell Store →


Pacific Tsunami Museum


On the east coast of the United States, hurricane season runs from June to November, and coastal residents keep track of weather systems while meteorologists chart low and high pressure systems. In Paradise, however, the seasonal threat of tsunamis is something islanders live with daily. In fact, the Big Island's largest town was almost completely leveled by tsunamis on May 23, 1960. This museum dedicates itself to educating locals and visitors about this threat via oral history programs, pictorial displays, and scientific exhibits.

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