Iolani Palace and Downtown Capitol District

star star star star star
Oahu, HI
Iolani Palace and Downtown Capitol District
More Like This

Iolani Palace has a strikiing, almost too-ornate look to it, and seems quite strange standing where it does, with asphalt around it. The palace grounds are gorgeous and the best time to sit on the lawn and take it all in is on Fridays at noon when the historic Royal Hawaiian Band plays. Hula dancers are sometimes part of the performance. Beside the palace is the former barracks (shown above) of the monarch's Royal Guard, which looks like a sand-castle in the middle of Honolulu with its architecture like a medieval fort. The views from the lawn east of the barracks are stunning- the mountains and palm trees will wow you. You can take a self-guided or docent-led tour of the palace to see the koa wood staircase and sumptuous interior rooms such as the blue room. Kids under five are not allowed. Strolling the grounds is free.

The palace has a tragic history. The Hawaiian queen, Lili'uokalani was overthrown here by the U.S. governmentn 1893. The palace construction was built around 1882 by King Kalakaua in order to strengthen the prestige of the Hawaiian monarchy. He was a worldy king who had traveled to the U.S. mainland, met with the president, and also negotiated a treaty to sell Hawaiian sugar to the U. S. duty free. In his life he also circumnavigated the globe. He encouraged the preservation of Hawaiian traditions like hula, song, and chant. Hula had been banned by the missionaries decades earlier. After King Kalakaua's death, his sister Queen Lili'uokalani succeeded him and resided officially in the palace. She wrote beautiful songs, as many as 165 in all, including Aloha' Oe. After the overthrow and an attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore her to power, she was imprisoned in the upstairs bedroom of the palace for nearly a year. No visitors were allowed, except one maid, and she spent her days there alone, quilting and composing music. Next, the palace was used as a quarters and capitol building for the new government, all the way until 1969.
The palace looks beautiful lit up at night. The gates with the royal coat of arms are lovely, on South King Street. The palace was designed in the American Florentine style, built in brick and concrete with Italianate towers. East of the palace is the Hawaii State Library. Northwest of the palace is the Hawaii State Art Museum, a Spanish-style building with a great collection of work by artists from Hawaii. South of the palace, across South King Street, is the famous gold-leaf statue of King Kamehameha. It stands in front of Ali'iolani Hale, the home of the Hawaii State Supreme Court. The statue was shipped from Paris in 1883 and lost in a shipwreck. Another statue was made but then the original one was found by natives of the Falkland Islands! So that is why there are two statues; the original stands in Kohala on the Big Island. Read about King Kamehameha with your kids before your trip and Hawaiian history will come alive to them. I adore this book with its beautiful illustrations and fast-paced fight scene: Kamehameha The Boy Who Became a Warrior King
If you cross Punchbowl Street you will come to Honolulu Hale (city hall). Here at Christmas time is a wonderful display of decorations, including an aloha-style Santa and his wife, dipping their toes in the fountain! Kids will LOVE it! The decorations continue almost endlessly on the lawn east of Honolulu Hale and include mini-carnival rides at night. Another magical place to go at Christmas time is the lobby of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Waikiki, where there is the most amazing gingerbread village (see photos here).
The State Capitol building, north of Honolulu Hale is the ugliest building (yes, it was built in the 1960s) but go inside and you will be amazed by the rotunda where tradewinds blow freely and the floor looks like the ocean. Outside find statues of Queen Lili'uokalani as well as Father Damien, the incredibly kind priest who helped victims of leprosy who were exiled to the island of Molokai, until he died of the disease himself.
Just east of Honolulu Hale is the Mission Memorial Building complex, also called City Hall Annex. The missionaries built these structures in the 19th century in red brick and white trim Georgian style. Stand under the giant trees and behold them. You will feel like you're in the South!
Across South King Street from Honolulu Hale is Kawaihao Church. It was built in the early 1840s using coral rock chiseled out by divers. Part of the service is in the Hawaiian language. East of Kawaihao Church is the Mission Houses Museum, where you can see little rooms decorated like in the days of the missionaries- this is fun for older kids. If you need a place to stop and eat lunch, there is a cafe at the museum where you can sit under shade umbrellas and order sandwiches, salads, and plate lunches for around $7 each.
While downtown, I highly recommend relaxing at the Foster Botanical Garden. The trees are amazing, and the orchids and herb garden are pretty.

Continue to directions...

The palace with the skyscrapers of the Central Business District behind.

Iolani Palace with its 88 columns is extremely ornate.

The coronation pavilion beside Iolani Palace.

Grand entrance to Iolani Palace.

Hula dancer and Royal Hawaiian band. Every Friday at noon.

Gorgeous banyan tree near the palace.

Lawns that stretch out forever, by the palace.

It's a shame how they have parking spaces and asphalt directly around the palace. It should be lawns, gardens, fountains, babbling streams...

I love the gate with the royal coat of arms. Looks very European.

The gold-leaf Kamehameha statue with Ali'iolani Hale behind.

Ali'iolani Hale, home to the Hawaii State Supreme Court.

Kawaihao Church, made of coral.

Hawaii State Library, and statue in front.

Christmas in Hawaii at Honolulu Hale- the famous Santa and his wife!

Santa and his wife look relaxed. And the turtle and penguin are having fun.

Honolulu Hale (city hall) is colorful at Christmas time.

Tree with glass Christmas ornaments, outside Honolulu Hale.

Snowmen in Hawaii.

Looks like the South!

Mission Memorial Building (City Hall Annex), built by the missionaries in red brick and white trim Georgian style.

The education building of the City Hall Annex, built by the missionaries and inscribed with the words "Christian Education."


Iolani Palace is located in downtown Honolulu at 364 South King Street, Honolulu HI 96813, between Punchbowl Street and Richards Street. Call (808) 522-0822.
From the H1 Westbound, exit at Vineyard Blvd. Turn left on Punchbowl St. After you cross Beretania Street there are some parking lots on the left. You will need quarters for the parking meters inside.
Tours of Iolani Palace cost $22 if docent-led and $15 if self-guided. Kids aged 5-12 enter for $6. Kids 4 and under enter for free but must be in a palace-provided stroller or a front pack. Basement galleries admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children.
The palace is open from 9-4 Mon-Sat. For docent-led tours, come Tues-Thurs between 9 and 10am, or Fri and Sat between 9 and 11am. For self-guided audio tours, the hours vary greatly each day- check their website. For basement galleries, come anytime from 9:30-3:45. Closed Jan 1, Martin Luther King Jr Day, July 4, Thanksgiving, Dec 25, and Dec 31.
Mission Houses Museum, 553 South King Street, call (808) 447-3910. Hours are Tues-Sat 10-4. Guided tours starting at 11am with last tour at 3pm. Closed Jan 1, July 4, Thanksgiving, and Dec 25. Cost is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for kids and students aged 6 and up.


Click on map for interactive view


Add your comments
star star star star star


Wed, 09 Feb 2011

We had the best time in the princess carriage for the downtown Christmas lights!

star star star star star


Mon, 07 Feb 2011

Nice photos!

Last Updated: Tue, 22 Jun 2021 15:00:07 GMT

Text and Image copyright: © 2006-2024
Copying prohibited. Contact the editor | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram
Blog | The Official Mug | Privacy Settings | About Us