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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Oahu—where Honolulu and Waikiki are—is the third-largest Hawaiian Island and has 75% of the state's population. Honolulu is the perfect place to experience the state's indigenous culture, the hundred years of immigration that resulted in today's blended society, and the tradition of aloha. The museums and historic and cultural sites will ground you, at least a bit, in Hawaii's history. The widest range of restaurants as well as the best nightlife in the Islands is here, too.
Locals bring picnics and grab one of the 6,000 "grass seats" (lawn seating) for music under the stars (there are actual seats, as well). Concerts are held May 1 to Labor Day, with a few winter dates, weather permitting. Check newspaper entertainment sections to see who is performing. www.blaisdellcenter.com.
In the exclusive Makiki Heights neighborhood, just minutes from downtown Honolulu, the Spalding House houses collections of modern art dating from 1940. Situated in the 3.5-acre Alice Cooke Spalding home and estate (built in 1925), the museum boasts ever-changing exhibitions as well as a peaceful sculpture garden with breathtaking views of Diamond Head and Waikiki. A fun gift shop features jewelry and other art by local artists. The Contemporary Café is popular with locals for lunch. It recently merged with the Honolulu Academy of Arts to become the Honolulu Museum of Art, so a single admission gets you into both museums. www.honolulumuseum.org. COST: $10. OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 10--4, Sun. noon--4.
The determined Hawaii missionaries arrived in 1820, gaining royal favor and influencing every aspect of island life. Their descendants became leaders in government and business. You can walk through their original dwellings, including Hawaii's oldest wooden structure, a white-frame house that was prefabricated in New England and shipped around the Horn. Certain areas of the museum may be seen only on a one-hour guided tour. Costumed docents give an excellent picture of what mission life was like. Rotating displays showcase such arts as Hawaiian quilting, portraits, even toys. www.missionhouses.org. COST: $10. OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 10--4; guided tours hourly 11--3.
Victorian-style Kapiolani Bandstand, which was originally built in the late 1890s, is Kapiolani Park's stage for community entertainment and concerts. The nation's only city-sponsored band, the Royal Hawaiian Band, performs free concerts on Sunday afternoon. Local newspapers list event information.
Paying tribute to the Big Island chieftain who united all the warring Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom at the turn of the 18th century, this statue, which stands with one arm outstretched in welcome, is one of three originally cast in Paris, France, by American sculptor T. R. Gould. The original statue, lost at sea and replaced by this one, was eventually salvaged and is now in Kapaau, on the Big Island, near the king's birthplace. Each year on the king's birthday, June 11, the more famous copy is draped in fresh lei that reach lengths of 18 feet and longer. A parade proceeds past the statue, and Hawaiian civic clubs, the women in hats and impressive long holoku dresses and the men in sashes and cummerbunds, pay honor to the leader whose name means "The Lonely One."
Originally built around the collection of a Honolulu matron who donated much of her estate to the museum, the academy is housed in a maze of courtyards, cloistered walkways, and quiet, low-ceilinged spaces. There's an impressive permanent collection that includes Hiroshige's ukiyo-e Japanese prints, donated by James Michener; Italian Renaissance paintings; and American and European art. The newer Luce Pavilion complex, nicely incorporated into the more traditional architecture of the place, has a traveling-exhibit gallery, a Hawaiian gallery, an excellent café, and a gift shop. The Doris Duke Theatre screens art films. This is also the jumping-off place for tours of Doris Duke's estate, Shangri-La (these tours are very much in demand and should be reserved far in advance). Call or check the website for special exhibits, concerts, and films. www.honolulumuseum.org. COST: $10; free 1st Wed. and 3rd Sun. of month; tours of Shangri-La $25 (includes transportation). OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 10--4:30, Sun. 1--5; Shangri-La tours Wed.--Sat. 8:30--1:30 by reservation only.
Starting in the 1800s, immigrants seeking work on the sugar plantations came to these islands like so many waves against the shore. At this living museum 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu, visit authentically furnished buildings, original and replicated, that re-create and pay tribute to the plantation era. See a Chinese social hall; a Japanese shrine, sumo ring, and saimin stand; a dental office; and historic homes. The village is open for guided tours only. www.hawaiiplantationvillage.org. COST: $13. OPEN: Tours on the hr, Mon.--Sat. 10--2.
Opened in 1922, this theater earned rave reviews for its neoclassical design, with Corinthian columns, marble statues, and plush carpeting and drapery. Nicknamed the "Pride of the Pacific," the facility was rescued from demolition in the early 1980s and underwent a $30 million renovation. Listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places, it has become the centerpiece of revitalization efforts of Honolulu's downtown area. The 1,200-seat venue hosts concerts, theatrical productions, dance performances, and film screenings. www.hawaiitheatre.com. COST: $10. OPEN: 1-hr guided tours Tues. 11 am (when there's no performance).
Hawaii was one of the first states in the nation to legislate that a portion of the taxes paid on commercial building projects be set aside for the purchase of artwork. A few years ago, the state purchased an ornate period-style building (built to house the headquarters of a prominent developer) and dedicated 12,000 square feet on the second floor to the art of Hawaii in all its ethnic diversity. The Diamond Head Gallery features new acquisitions and thematic shows from the State Art Collection and the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. The Ewa Gallery houses more than 150 works documenting Hawaii's visual-arts history since becoming a state in 1959. Also included are a sculpture gallery, a gift shop, and educational meeting rooms. Check for occasional evening events. www.hawaii.gov/sfca. COST: Free. OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 10--4.