Best Family-Friendly Museums in Honolulu

10 Best Family-Friendly Museums in Honolulu to Accent a Vacation

Museums are a vacation classic, and Honolulu has a surprisingly varied selection of them. The concentration of museums are in the heart of Honolulu, making it easy to visit several in one day. When it comes to Honolulu museums, the options range from far past the expected history museum, but of course there's some of those too. From Hawaiian history to a contemporary art and a children's only museum, 10 Best put together a list of the best museums for families in Honolulu, so look no further than this for a guide.

Hawaii's largest and most revered museum is the Bishop Museum. With numerous exhibits (both permanent and rotating), a planetarium that children love, and a maritime center, the museum really does offer something for everyone in the family. A gift shop and restaurant complete the offerings.

Purely for families, the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center is all about children. Several permanent exhibits call this Waikiki venue home, and they even feature rotating exhibits. Interactive stations offer educational fun, and classes and presentations change on a regular basis to mix it up for local and visiting children alike.

To explore the homes of royalty, visit Queen Emma's Summer Palace or Iolani Palace. The former served as the queen's summer get away and the latter was where the overthrow of the monarchy took place. Both feature decor and furniture from the occupants.

And remember, visiting a place the Bishop Museum at the start of a trip will accent the remainder.


USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

Artifacts honoring the military submarine are enormous draws at this facility. In its confines, you'll view photos and posters, scale models, and missile displays. However, the real attraction is the USS "Bowfin" herself, a WWII-era vessel whose crew worked fearlessly to battle enemy threats. Today, visitors can explore her passageways and cramped rooms and imagine life below the waves. A war memorial on park grounds commemorates those 3500+ servicemen who lost their lives during the conflict. A gift shop and food kiosk are available. Children under four are not permitted on the submarine. Located in the heart of Honolulu, blend this locale into a full day of entertainment.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Honoring a vital part of Hawaiian history, this museum offers a complete educational experience.

Jade's expert tip: Adventures in History is a program offering free talks to the public. Check the website for dates.

Read more about USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park →

Waikiki Aquarium
Photo courtesy of Douglas Peebles

This esteemed facility, affiliated with the University of Hawaii, has been in existence since 1904. Set along the Waikiki coastline, it seeks not only to entertain visitors but to educate them and to preserve delicate marine species. Tropical Pacific creatures are its main focus, and coral propagation is a prominent goal. Exhibits on reef life and Hawaiian monk seals are among the foremost displays, and you'll also encounter eels, turtles, sharks, a variety of fish, and the elusive chambered nautilus, a relative of squids and octopi. There's many exhibits that are open ponds and children can stand above and look right into it.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: We'll call it a live museum, and it provides visitors with an amazing experience taking in marine animal exhibits.

Jade's expert tip: Check out the brand new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit.

Read more about Waikiki Aquarium →

Commemorating one of Waikiki's most famous native sons, this bronze statue provides the four-time Olympic athlete an eternal presence on his beloved beach. It may not be a museum, but it is one of the most respected and important attractions to visit and look at. A champion swimmer, Duke also helped spread the popularity of surfing in America and was both a sheriff of Honolulu and a film actor. In fact, his fame accounted for his being named the "Hawaiian Ambassador of Aloha." Although the statue faces inland rather than out to sea, it's often adorned with flower leis by those who remember and appreciate Duke's magnanimous character.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The statue pays homage to one of the most revered and respected icons in Hawaii.

Jade's expert tip: In honor of Duke, take a surf lesson right here at Waikiki Beach.

Read more about Duke Kahanamoku Statue →


Sugar cane plantations changed both Hawaii's landscape and its ethnic makeup, and this recreated village offers a window into its immigrant workers during the early 20th century. Homes replicating those used by the variety of peoples can be visited, as can the array of corollary structures, such as a barbershop, community bathhouse, medical clinic, stores, and a Shinto shrine. Art, antiques, and other period furnishings provide interesting insight, along with photographs, documents, and domestic goods. Each home is set up how different ethnic groups lived, with the decor, staple supplies and holiday decorations specific to each culture and their traditions.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The intriguing village is composed of original plantation homes, each set up how Hawaii's different ethnic groups would have their home.

Jade's expert tip: Guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 10 and 11 a.m., and 12, 1 and 2 p.m.

Read more about Hawaii's Plantation Village →

Maikiki Heights

Occupying a lovely estate in the hills above Honolulu, this wonderful museum takes as its focus art created since 1940. It also places an emphasis on Hawaiian artists. A variety of media and of aesthetic styles is presented, and you'll find both permanent and traveling exhibits. Among the artists whose works are displayed are Jim Dine, Andres Serrano, Andy Warhol, Josef Albers, Robert Motherwell, and Jasper Johns. A cafe and gift shop are available as well. The museum is now part of the Honolulu Museum of Art. At one point it was the only museum in the state of Hawaii devoted exclusively to contemporary art. The Contemporary Museum had two locations, one in residential Honolulu at the historic Spalding House, and downtown Honolulu at First Hawaiian Center. Free to the public every third Thursday of each month.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: With the most extensive collection of contemporary art on the island, the museum offers a large collection of work from famous and respected artists.

Jade's expert tip: The museum is free to the public every third Thursday of each month.

Read more about Contemporary Museum →

Commemorating the service men who laid down their lives during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this memorial is a sobering experience for visitors. Prefaced by onshore exhibits and a video remembrance of the attack, tours also include a ride to the sunken battleship in the harbor, where 1177 men still lie entombed in the ship's remains. In the visitors' center, a gift shop and food services are available. Visitors are advised to arrive early in order to be assured of tickets. Located at the island's center in Pearl City, Pearl Harbor usually takes up a full day to experience all it has to offer.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Children and adult history buffs alike love going aboard a ship and exploring the museum.

Jade's expert tip: Get there early because lines get long.

Read more about World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument →

Built in the early 1880s, this graceful Italian Renaissance structure is America's only royal palace and was home to Hawaii's last two rulers. When American businessmen overthrew the monarchy, they used the palace as the capitol until 1969; after it was vacated by the state government, restoration was begun. These days, three of the building's four floors are open to tours, and visitors can glimpse the ornate throne room, koa-wood staircase, and a wealth of plasterwork and elaborate furnishings. Amazing jewels and artifacts are available for viewing in the Galleries. Guided tours are not open to children under 5 (they are allowed in the Gallery tour).

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: This is the original palace that royalty called home until the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Jade's expert tip: Visit at the start of your trip, it can enhance the remainder with the cultural background you'll gain.

Read more about 'Iolani Palace →

Queen Emma's Summer Palace
Photo courtesy of daughters of hawaii

Set in the Nuuanu Valley, this simple frame house, distinguished by a colonnade, was inherited by Queen Emma (wife of Kamehameha IV) from her uncle, John Young II. A respite from the city to the south, the home was a Victorian showplace that has since been restored to its 19th-century beauty. Surrounded by lovely gardens, the palace now boasts many of its original furnishings and accessories, including a collection of royal artifacts. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places. Experiencing the palace takes only a few hours, leaving plenty of time in the day for other activities in Honolulu.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Queen Emma's personal summer home opens its doors to offer a trip back in time and a window into a queen's life.

Jade's expert tip: Call in advance to book a guided tour.

Read more about Queen Emma's Summer Palace →

Located in Honolulu, the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center provides an interactive, participatory learning environment designed to inspire the young and "young-at-heart." They offer unique methods of of learning and discovery in an environment that encourages children to use their senses of touch, sight, hearing and smell to gain a better understanding of the world around them. Along with various exhibits and rotating classes and group fun, there's programs like Art in the Park, a drop-in art program every Wednesday from 11a.m. to noon. In this program children explore a variety of art media through three open-ended art activities that encourage them to nurture their creative spirit. The love of reading is also introduced here during the center's fun and educational story times. Every Thursday from 10:30 to 11 a.m. in Lynne's Library children are able to enter another world through books.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Offering interactive programs as well as museum like exhibits, the center is all about fun for children.

Jade's expert tip: Look for parking on the street behind the center.

Read more about Hawaii Children's Discovery Center →

Since its founding in 1889 as a repository for Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop's family artifacts, this museum has ascended to become the state's premiere institution for documenting the area's cultural and natural histories. Today, its holdings include fantastic collections of archaeological and anthropological items, which preserve the Pacific region's wide-ranging cultures. Millions of items chart the history of these islands in a variety of exhibits and multimedia displays. The Hawaiian Gallery offers a trip back in time. There is a restaurant and gift shop on site, making the property suitable for a full days experience. The facility also includes a planetarium.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Bishop Museum is Honolulu's largest and most elaborate museum, and has a wide array of exhibits.

Jade's expert tip: Make sure you don't the shell collection room, it's amazing.

Read more about Bishop Museum →


Meet Jade Eckardt

Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and...  More About Jade