For an island with only 200,000 residents, you might be surprised to find out just how many museums we have. None of them are large, but each is focused on its place in history, and is staffed with helpful people who are eager to share their knowledge with you. Check out some of the museums which are Big Island top attractions below!
As the island’s capital, Hilo has the most Big Island museums. Lyman Museum and Mission House is a great place to come and learn about traditional Hawaiian arts and culture. Open Monday through Saturday; call ahead to reserve a guided tour of the Mission House.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is the place for those who are curious about the historical destruction of Hilo by tsunami. Just a few blocks away you’ll find the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center, a perennial hit with the kids. It’s the absolute best place to learn about Papahānaumokuākea, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Monument, a massive ocean wildlife sanctuary. There’s a big aquarium and interactive educational exhibits, along with artwork and many interpretive panels.
Last but not least, ʻImiloa Astronomy Center serves as an incredible bridge between traditional Hawaiian wayfinding culture and modern astronomy. Come here to learn about what the telescopes do on the mountain, and stay for a great planetarium show.
Kona’s standout museum is Huliheʻe Palace, former residence of Hawaiʻi’s royalty. Though only four rooms, they are four of the most magnificently appointed rooms you’ll ever see in your life. See furniture commissioned by a king, a queen’s ukulele, and beautiful artifacts of daily life (like HUGE poi bowls).
For those with antsy children and time to spare at the Kona Airport, consider checking out the Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center. Onizuka was Hawaiʻi’s astronaut aboard the fateful Challenger flight, and this center is built in his honor. See models of the space shuttle, educational films, and hands-on exhibits.
No trip to Volcanoes National Park is complete without a visit to Jaggar Museum at the crater’s rim, but don’t forget to also check out Volcano Art Center, just behind the park Visitors’ Center. It’s filled with amazing art in different media: painting, sculpture, glass, and more. Special hula performances are held outdoors once a month; check their site for details. Volcanoes National Park is certainly one of the most popular tourist attractions in Big Island, Hawaiʻi!
Parker Ranch, the largest ranch in Hawaiʻi, has a long and fascinating history. Visit the two historic homes of Mana Hale and Puʻuopelu on a self-guided tour to learn about ranching in Hawaiʻi and the colorful Parker family. Open Monday through Friday, 8-4.
For anyone interested in the history of sugar plantations and the life and culture connected with them, a great stop is the Heritage Center at NHERC (North Hawaiʻi Education and Research Center). Ask to see the Historic Honokaʻa Exhibit to learn about the lives of the different ethnic groups who migrated to Hawaiʻi to work the sugar fields. Admission is free.
Enjoy your day at the museum, and don’t forget to check out some of the other top Big Island attractions below!