Wall Street Journal contributor, Julia Flynn Siler spent months in the islands researching her book, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure, a story of Hawaii told through its last queen, Liliuokalani. Siler shares with us the highlights of her time in the islands and activities she would recommend to her friends and family.
I fell in love with downtown Honolulu, where the Hawaii State Archives are located within a stone’s throw of Iolani Palace and the state legislature. It has a rich mix of historically significant buildings and great hole-in-the-wall places to get the island’s famous plate lunches, and quite a bit of hidden luxe in its private clubs and corporate headquarters. It’s such an exotic mix of cultures, with Chinatown abutting its cluster of high-rise office buildings, to the mighty Kawaiahao Church, built from coral stone and adorned with portraits of the kingdom’s rulers. A short walk past the gravestones is the Mission Houses Museum, with its friendly café. Honolulu has got so much history packed into such a small area that I think it’s a great choice of a place to visit for a family or couple where one person loves history and the other prefers to relax in a beach chairs.
To do! She spent months pouring through yellowed letters, diary entries, and others materials in archives, mainly in Honolulu. Her digging took her on some wonderful adventures, including a private tour of Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on U.S. soil where Liliuokalani was placed under house arrest before her trial and eventual forced abdication as well as Washington Place, which is now the Governor’s mansion in Honolulu.
Iolani Palace is located at 364 South King Street in Honolulu; opt for a guided tour for $20 or an audio tour for $12, iolani palace.org. Public tours of Washington Place, at 320 South Beretania Street in Honolulu, are available, 808.586.0248, washingtonplace foundation.org.
I sang with the choir in Kawaiahao, the first Christian church built on Oahu, took hula lessons, sampled kava, a mouth-numbing drink made from the awa plant, out of a coconut shell, and was invited inside the private home of one of the descendants of the sugar kings of Hawaii, who showed me medals and other gifts given by the last king of Hawaii to her great-grandfather.
Kawaiahao Church, located at 957 Punchbowl Street in Honolulu, is open for self-guided tours; be sure to call ahead to make sure it will be open, kawaiahao.org. The Royal Hawaiian Center, at 2201 Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, offers free hula lessons every Tuesday at 11 a.m. and every Thursday at 4 p.m., royalhawaiiancenter.com. Sample kava at Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, 3045 Monsarrat Avenue, Suite 5, in Honolulu, 808.732.8744
And my all-time favorite hotel on Oahu is the Halekulani, or “House Befitting Heaven.” Staying there is very expensive, but a drink at its House Without A Key at sunset, with exquisite hula and music from a half-century ago, is magical.
Halekulani is an oceanfront hotel at 2199 Kalia Road in Waikiki with rooms starting at $465, halekulani.com.