Top 10 Must-See Historical Places in Hawaii

by | Jul 12, 2023

Searching for the best historical places in Hawaii?

You’re not alone, I’ve been there too, and something that stuck with me is the fact that Hawaii is home to one of the most important archaeological sites, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

This article promises to be a comprehensive guide unveiling top historical sites in Hawaii. Now, let’s embark on an exciting journey through time!

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Key Takeaways

  • Hawaii is home to various historical sites that offer a unique blend of indigenous Hawaiian and colonial influences.
  • Some must-visit historical sites in Hawaii include Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Iolani Palace.
  • These sites provide opportunities to learn about important historical events, such as World War II, the volcanic activity that shaped the islands, and the former royal residence of Hawaii.

Overview of Historic Sites in Hawaii

Hawaii is steeped in rich history and culture, making it a treasure trove for travelers interested in delving deep into its past. Its historical sites are true testaments to the islands’ unique blend of indigenous Hawaiian and colonial influences.

From sacred temples (heiaus) like Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau that once served as places of worship for ancient Hawaiians to iconic modern landmarks such as Pearl Harbor National Memorial – a significant site from World War II, Hawaii offers an eclectic mix of historical sites.

The best part about exploring these places is witnessing first-hand how their stories intersect with spectacular natural beauty. Take, for example, the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – one of the most important archaeological sites in Hawaii surrounded by untamed wilderness and remarkable petroglyphs depicting Hawaiian deities.

Or consider the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, which provides insight into Islamic traditions and allows you to enjoy unbeatable views over Diamond Head and Pacific Ocean vistas!

So if your bucket list adventure guide includes time-traveling experiences, prepare yourself for an unforgettable journey through some must-visit Historic Sites In Hawaii.

Top 10 Must-See Historical Places in Hawaii

Experience the solemnity and historical significance of Pearl Harbor National Memorial, marvel at the volcanic wonders of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, soak in the breathtaking sunrise views from Haleakala National Park – these are just a few of the must-visit historical sites in Hawaii.

1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

A journey to Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the enchanting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, an iconic centerpiece in your Hawaii tourism adventure.

historical places in hawaii volcanoes national park

This remarkable historic site allows you to step into ancient times and explore the fascinating Hawaiian temples nestled amidst lush vegetation, pristine beaches, and awe-inspiring sea cliffs.

This is one of the most exhilarating outdoor activities in Hawaii.

Watch where Mother Nature flexes her muscle – live magma lighting up Halema’uma’u Crater under an ink-dark sky. The park is home to active volcanoes that have distinctly sculpted the landscape of these beautiful islands.

Stroll across expansive fields of lava uncovering captivating formations that tell riveting tales of geological processes over millions of years. Although the Jagger Museum may now be closed due to seismic activity in 2018, don’t let it dampen your spirit; there’s still plenty left for every nature lover here at this epic park on your Hawaii bucket list adventure guide!

2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Exploring Hawaii’s historic sites can be a truly memorable experience. The Pearl Harbor National Memorial sits prominently at the top of this list for many visitors.

As an active military base and home to four unique attractions, it offers a profound look into World War II history that is both educational and emotionally impactful.

historical places in hawaii - pearl harbor

Stepping foot onto Pearl Harbor transports you back in time to 1941, when the destructive attack resulted in significant casualties and decimated the US Pacific fleet.

The iconic USS Arizona Memorial is undeniably a highlight of your visit.

Accessible via boat ride, this solemn landmark serves as a powerful tribute honoring fallen soldiers while educating visitors about these world-changing events.

Across from the harbor, immersive exhibit galleries beckon with captivating historical narratives intertwined with personal stories of those involved in these tragic events.

With its remembrance circle, memorial theater, and comprehensive bookstore housing extensive literature on WWII history – Pearl Harbor National Memorial ensures that each visitor leaves enriched with knowledge about one of America’s most pivotal moments.

Remember to explore other landmarks within the park. For example, interpretive wayside exhibits for more insights into this significant part of history.

3. Haleakala National Park

One of the must-visit historical sites in Hawaii is Haleakala National Park. It’s located on the island of Maui and covers over 30,000 acres of stunning natural beauty.

The park offers two main areas to explore: the crater and the more tropical side near Hana, providing a diverse range of landscapes to enjoy.

If you’re up for a hike, head to Haleakala Crater which offers breathtaking views and unique geological formations. You can also explore the Pipiwai Trail which leads you through enchanting bamboo forests to majestic Waimoku Falls.

Don’t forget your camera! Aside from its natural wonders, Haleakala is home to native Hawaiian plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world.

So prepare for an unforgettable adventure as you immerse yourself in this rich cultural and natural history while exploring one of Hawaii’s most iconic destinations.

4. Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace is an absolute must-visit when you come to Hawaii. As the former official royal residence of Hawaii, it holds a significant place in history.

historical places in hawaii iolani palace

Located on Oahu and built-in 1882, this place served as the home to Hawaiian monarchs until the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.

This historic site is a beautiful yet somber reminder of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Today, Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and an important symbol of Hawaiian national identity. When you visit, you can choose between guided tours led by knowledgeable docents or self-led audio tours that provide fascinating insights into its rich past.

Specialty tours are also available, offering unique perspectives on Hawaii’s royal connections and more.

For fans of television history, you might recognize Iolani Palace from its appearances on shows like the original Hawaii Five-O series!

So make sure to add this iconic historical site to your itinerary when exploring Honolulu – it’s truly a captivating experience for any traveler interested in delving into Hawaii’s cultural heritage.

5. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

One of Hawaii’s most historical sites is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This solemn and peaceful cemetery is a tribute to American military personnel who sacrificed their lives during World War II.

With over 53,000 graves, it is a powerful symbol of remembrance and honor. The cemetery features several monuments and memorials, including one dedicated to the USS Arizona.

Walking through its well-maintained grounds, surrounded by lush greenery, you’ll feel a sense of reverence for those who selflessly served their country.

It’s an essential part of America’s history and heritage, offering visitors an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made by brave men and women.

6. Historic Aloha Tower

One of the must-visit historical sites in Hawaii is the iconic Aloha Tower in Honolulu. Built in 1926, this towering structure stands at a height of 184 feet and served as a lighthouse for ships entering the Honolulu Harbor until 1975.

historical places in hawaii aloha tower

With its rich maritime history, Aloha Tower played a vital role in connecting the island to the rest of the world.

Today, it has become a beloved landmark and symbol of Aloha. Visitors can explore various retail shops, restaurants, and observation decks offering breathtaking views of both the harbor and the city skyline.

Surrounding the tower is the vibrant Aloha Tower Marketplace where you can shop for local crafts and enjoy live entertainment – truly immersing yourself in Hawaiian culture.

Visiting Historic Aloha Tower is an opportunity to step back in time and appreciate Hawaii’s important maritime heritage.

7. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

One of the most fascinating historical sites in Hawaii is Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. This park preserves and interprets the cultural and historical resources of the Honokohau Settlement, offering visitors a unique glimpse into ancient Hawaiian traditions.

historical places in hawaii puuhonua

As you explore this incredible park, you’ll encounter sacred temples, ancient fishponds, and petroglyphs. The natural beauty of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is just as mesmerizing, with its lush tropical vegetation, pristine beaches, and dramatic sea cliffs.

This place truly captures the essence of “pu’uhonua,” meaning a place of refuge in Hawaiian culture. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone interested in immersing themselves in Hawaii’s rich heritage.

8. Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau

One of Hawaii’s top 10 must-visit historical sites is Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau.

This ancient Hawaiian temple, located on the island of Oahu, holds incredible significance and dates back to the 17th century.

The heiau is dedicated to the war god Kuka’ilimoku and other Hawaiian gods and goddesses, making it a sacred site for spiritual worship and cultural practices.

As you explore this remarkable place, you’ll be amazed by its massive basalt stones. Stacked without mortar, these impressive walls, platforms, and altars serve as gathering spaces for religious ceremonies and social events.

Surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau offers a picturesque setting for connecting with Hawaii’s rich history and experiencing the architectural expertise of ancient Hawaiians.

9. Kalaupapa National Historical Park

One of the absolutely must-visit historical sites in Hawaii is Kalaupapa National Historical Park. This park holds immense significance as it commemorates the forced exile of people with leprosy to the Kalaupapa Peninsula.

Established in 1866, this settlement served as a place of isolation for those affected by leprosy.

Today, visitors can explore historic buildings, churches, and cemeteries that provide a glimpse into the lives and struggles of those who lived here.

Besides its historical importance, Kalaupapa National Historical Park offers breathtaking natural beauty with stunning cliffs and ocean views.

It’s an incredible place to pay tribute to those who endured their hardships here and serves as a reminder of resilience during challenging times.

10. Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

One of the most unique and captivating historical sites in Hawaii is the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design. As a traveler to Hawaii, you simply cannot miss the opportunity to explore this hidden gem.

The museum is dedicated to promoting understanding and appreciation of Islamic art and culture, housing an impressive collection of over 3,500 objects spanning more than 1,400 years. One highlight includes the stunning Damascus Room, a meticulously restored 18th-century Syrian architectural masterpiece.

It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience that will transport you to another world as you immerse yourself in the rich history and beauty of Islamic art right here in Hawaii.

Additional Noteworthy Historical Sites in Hawaii

Other noteworthy historical sites in Hawaii include the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Waimea Valley, Kealakekua Bay, Kilohana Plantation Estate, The Painted Church, Valley of the Temples, Queen Emma Summer Palace, Old Lahaina Courthouse, Pu’ukohola Heiau, and Lahaina Jodo Mission.

Battleship Missouri Memorial

One historical site in Hawaii that you definitely don’t want to miss is the Battleship Missouri Memorial. This incredible battleship played a significant role in World War II, specifically as the site where Japan surrendered to the Allied forces.

Stepping aboard this legendary ship is like stepping back in time, immersing yourself in history. You can explore its massive decks and learn about the pivotal moments that shaped our world today.

Make sure to join one of their free tours, where knowledgeable guides will regale you with fascinating stories and insider facts about this iconic vessel. Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about significant events of the past, visiting the Battleship Missouri Memorial is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley is a stunning historical site located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. As you explore this enchanting place, you’ll be transported back in time to ancient Hawaiian culture and traditions.

historical places in hawaii waimea valley

The valley is home to an awe-inspiring botanical garden with over 5,000 species of plants, including rare and endangered ones.

Its captivating natural beauty is complemented by numerous archaeological sites that offer a glimpse into the area’s rich history.

One notable highlight of Waimea Valley is its sacred waterfall, which has been revered for centuries as a place of spiritual significance. You can take a refreshing dip in the pool beneath the falls or enjoy the tranquil ambiance while learning about their cultural importance.

Waimea Valley offers various educational programs and demonstrations on hula dancing, lei-making, and other cultural arts for those interested in learning more about traditional Hawaiian practices.

Here you’ll find one of the best luaus in Hawaii; Toa Luau

Kealakekua Bay

One historical site that should not be missed in Hawaii is Kealakekua Bay.

This beautiful bay is steeped in history and offers a unique opportunity for travelers to explore the area’s natural beauty while learning about its significant past.

It was here that British explorer Captain James Cook first set foot on the island of Hawaii in 1779, and it’s also where he met his tragic end just a few weeks later.

Today, visitors can take a boat tour to see the spot where Cook was killed, as well as snorkel or kayak in the crystal-clear waters of the bay.

The surrounding area is lush with tropical vegetation, making it ideal for hiking and exploring nature trails. With its rich history and stunning natural surroundings, Kealakekua Bay truly offers something special for every Hawaii traveler.

Kilohana Plantation Estate

Kilohana Plantation Estate is a hidden gem in Hawaii that offers an enchanting experience. You’ll be captivated by the estate’s lush greenery and beautiful grounds as soon as you arrive.

One of the highlights is Gaylord’s restaurant, where I had one of the most inviting dining experiences on the island. While there may be a crowd for the rum tasting, don’t worry – head over to the Sweet Shop and treat yourself to some delicious Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramels.

Trust me, they’re worth it! Kilohana Plantation Estate is definitely a place to add to your must-visit list when exploring historical sites in Hawaii.

The Painted Church

One of the hidden gems among Hawaii’s historical sites is The Painted Church. This beautiful little church holds a lot of history, with its walls adorned with vibrant paintings on the inside.

historical places in hawaii painted church

Stepping into this sacred space feels like entering a different time altogether. What sets The Painted Church apart is that it is associated with additional noteworthy historical sites in Hawaii, making it a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

Immerse yourself in the rich historical heritage and soak up the beauty of this remarkable place during your trip to Hawaii.

Valley of the Temples

One of the most fascinating historical sites in Hawaii is the Valley of the Temples. This sacred place holds great significance in Hawaiian culture and offers a captivating glimpse into their ancient traditions.

historical places in hawaii byodo in temple

As you enter this lush valley, you’ll be greeted by a serene atmosphere surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

The Valley of the Temples has several remarkable temples, each with a unique story and architectural style.

One notable temple is the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan that stands as a symbol of peace and tranquility. Another must-visit site is the breathtaking La’ie Hawaii Temple, which showcases intricate details and exquisite craftsmanship.

Queen Emma Summer Palace

One historical site that shouldn’t be missed during your visit to Hawaii is the Queen Emma Summer Palace. This charming estate offers a glimpse into the life of Hawaiian royalty, as it was once the summer retreat for Queen Emma herself.

As you explore the palace, you’ll be treated to an array of artifacts and exhibits that showcase Hawaii’s rich history and culture. Each piece tells a story of a bygone era, from beautiful koa wood furniture to intricate feather capes.

And if you’re lucky, you might even catch a traditional hula performance on the palace grounds. So make sure to add Queen Emma Summer Palace to your itinerary for an unforgettable experience steeped in Hawaiian heritage.

Old Lahaina Courthouse

I love exploring historical sites in Hawaii, and one that stands out is the Old Lahaina Courthouse. This charming building has a rich history dating back to the mid-19th century when it served as the seat of government for Maui.

historical places in hawaii lahaina courthouse

Today, it’s a fascinating museum that offers a glimpse into Hawaii’s past.

Inside, you’ll find exhibits on Hawaiian history, culture, and artwork that showcase the unique heritage of this beautiful island.

As you strolled through its halls, you’ll get to imagine what life was like during those early days in Lahaina. It’s truly an enriching experience that I highly recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about Hawaii’s captivating past.

Pu’ukohola Heiau

One of Hawaii’s most fascinating historical sites is Pu’ukohola Heiau, an ancient temple dedicated to the war god Kuka’ilimoku.

Located on the Big Island, this sacred site was built by King Kamehameha I in the late 18th century.

As you explore Pu’ukohola Heiau, you’ll be awestruck by its massive basalt stones stacked without mortar, creating impressive walls, platforms, and altars.

This temple played a crucial role in Hawaiian history as it served for religious ceremonies, offerings, sacrifices, and even political and social gatherings.

It’s a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii and a must-visit for anyone interested in experiencing its ancient past.


1. What are some famous historical sites in Hawaii?

Some famous historical sites in Hawaii include Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, Iolani Palace, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and the Bishop Museum.

2. Can I visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial?

Yes, visitors can tour Pearl Harbor and visit the USS Arizona Memorial. It is a significant historical site that commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

3. Are there any ancient Hawaiian temples or ruins to explore?

Yes, there are several ancient Hawaiian temples or ruins known as heiaus scattered throughout Hawaii. These sacred places provide glimpses into the rich cultural history of Hawaiians and offer unique insights into their spiritual practices.

4. Is it necessary to book tickets in advance for visiting historical sites in Hawaii?

It is recommended to book tickets in advance for popular historical sites like Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace to secure your preferred visitation date and time. This helps ensure you don’t miss out on these historically significant attractions during your trip to Hawaii.

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Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy, owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel, is a certified Hawaii destination expert from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. He actively participates in the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau as a member and has a strong educational background focused on local culture and sustainability. As the host of “Hawaii’s Best Travel,” a top-30 US travel podcast, Bryan combines his years of experience with valuable insights. He connects with a broad online community, reaching nearly half a million people, and offers a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.