On our family vacations, we like to do all sorts of things from hiking, exploring, and biking, to swimming, caving, and snorkeling. We also like to visit state parks, national parks, historical places and sites of interests, museums, and galleries. We like to have fun, get some exercise, and learn new things.
We also like to rest and relax and just hang out, which is why we adopted the “one on/one off” vacation schedule. This means that we plan every other day of our vacations with adventuring, exploring, and activities — these are the days we’re on the go all day. The between days are rest and relax days, where we do something easy and light in the mornings, then just swim and play and relax all afternoon. And we almost always make sure the last day is a rest and relax day.
Visiting the historic Hulihe’e Palace museum was on my list of things to do in and around Kona, and we were already in the area because of our Hula Daddy, Mountain Thunder, and Kona Joe coffee tours, so it worked out perfectly for us to stop by. Plus, just a block from Hulihe’e Palace is Holy Donuts, with large, delicious, creatively flavored and decorated donuts!
Hulihe’e Palace History
Hulihe’e Palace, located in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is the former vacation home of Hawaiian royalty. The palace was originally built by High Chief John Adams Kuakini, Governor of the island of Hawaii during the Kingdom of Hawaii. The home was completed in 1838 a year after Kuakini finished building Moku’aikaua Church, the first stone church on the island of Hawaii. The palace was built by foreign seamen using native lava rock, coral lime mortar, and koa and ‘ōhi’a wood. Hulihe’e was Kuakini’s primary residence.
Throughout history, the oceanfront palace has changed hands numerous times, and at one point, even the name of the palace was changed:
- When Kuakini died in 1844, he left the Palace to his adopted son William Pitt Leleiohoku, the son of Prime Minister William Pitt Kalanimoku.
- Leleiohoku willed the palace to his wife, Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani, half-sister to Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. While it became her primary home, she preferred to sleep in a grass hut on the grounds. She invited all of the reigning monarchs to vacation at Hulihe’e, from Kamehameha III to Lili’uokalani.
- When Princess Ruth passed away in 1883, she had no surviving children, so her property was left to her cousin Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop who died the following year.
- It sold to King David Kalākaua who renamed the palace Hikulani Hale, meaning House of the Seventh ruler, as he was the seventh monarch of the monarchy that began with King Kamehameha I. In 1885, King Kalākaua had the palace extensively renovated. The exterior was stuccoed and the interior plastered. Decorative ceiling crown and gold leaf picture moldings were added, as well as crystal chandeliers and redwood pillars in the entry.
- In 1899, Queen Kapi’olani, the widow of King Kalākaua, passed away and the palace was inherited by her nephews, Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole and Prince David Kawānanakoa.
- In 1914, the property was sold to Mrs. Bathsheba Allen who died one month later.
- In 1925, Hulihe’e was purchased as the request of the Daughters of Hawaii, a group dedicated to preserving the cultural legacy of the Hawaiian Islands, by the Territory of Hawaii to save it from possible hotel development. It was then leased to the Daughters of Hawaii to be operated and maintained as a museum.
- In 1973 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Visiting Hulihe’e Palace in Kona
Today Hulihe’e Palace is a museum showcasing Victorian artifacts from the era of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi’olani. Hulihe’e Palace consists of six large graciously appointed rooms, including an entry hall, parlor, dining room, a second floor sitting room, and two bedrooms, two large inviting oceanfront lanai, and lovely grounds. It features beautiful koa wood furniture, ornaments, portraits, tapa, feather work, Hawaiian quilts and artifacts from Hawaii’s royal past. One Sunday out of the month, the Hulihe’e Palace features An Afternoon at Hulihe’e Palace, a cultural day with hālau hula. Bring your whole family and celebrate Hawaiian culture on the lawn of the Palace.
When we arrived, we were surprised that no shoes are allowed! I was a bit grossed out and we almost skipped the museum, but we were right there, so Brian and Carter skipped it and relaxed on a bench in the gardens, while Natalie and I toured the palace. There was a $10 entrance fee for me, Natalie was free, and we were given a tri-fold brochure that told us all about the artifacts and items on display in each room of the Palace.
The furniture, ornately carved by masters of the craft, is quite impressive, especially considering the lack of machine equipment available at the time. We loved seeing the old portraits, clothes, and dresses, the jewelry and dishware, and the tools and weapons. While the museum is small, it is beautifully arranged. Even though it is packed with historic items, furniture, and artifacts from 19th century Hawaiian royalty, it doesn’t feel cluttered or crowded — it feels like you’re walking through someone’s home and provides a glimpse into what it was like to live as Hawaiian royalty.
Before leaving we also walked around the gorgeous, meticulously cared for grounds and gardens, checked out the man-made fish pond, and visited the gift shop.
Know Before You Go
- Hulihe’e Palace is located at 75-5718 Ali’i Drive, Kailua Kona, Hawaii 96740. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and closed all major holidays.
- Brian and Carter skipped this small museum and waited for Natalie and I outside. The entrance fee for me was $10 and Natalie was free.
- Visitors are not allowed to wear shoes in this museum. Prepare to go barefoot!
- Because the Palace was built in the nineteenth century, access may not be available for visitors who have difficulties climbing stairs, but you can ahead though to make alternative arrangements.
- There is a small gift shop onsite with beautiful Hawaiian gifts and treasures, including some gorgeous wooden boxes.