Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, known simply as the Bishop Museum is the largest museum in the state of Hawaii. It is the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific. It’s primary purpose is to represent and serve the interests of Native Hawaiians.
The Bishop is recognized worldwide for its cultural collections, research projects, consulting services, and public educational programs. The collections include millions of objects, documents, and photographs about Hawai‘i and other Pacific island cultures.
Royal family jewelry, crowns, and other heirlooms showcase the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi. Native Hawaiian Items on display include, weapons, feather cloaks, and outrigger canoes, to name just a few.
The museum also has one of the largest natural history specimen collections in the world exceeding 24 million objects. This includes the third-largest entomological (insect) collection in the country and the largest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts in the world.
Who was Bernice Pauahi Bishop?
Bishop Museum is named for Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop (1831-1884), great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I. She was the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family.
Kamehameha V (King Lot Kapuāiwa) was a lifelong bachelor. An hour before his death in 1872, he asked Bernice Pauahi Bishop to take the throne, but she declined. Instead, William Charles Lunalilo was elected. Two more monarchs followed, King David Kalākaua aka “The Merrie Monarch” and Queen Lili`uokalani, before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.
During her lifetime, Princess Pauahi witnessed the rapid decline of the Hawaiian population, and along with it a loss of Hawaiian language, culture, and traditions. Believing that education was key to the survival of the Hawaiian people, Princess Pauahi bequeathed her entire estate to create Kamehameha Schools.
Today, the Princess’s endowment funds a statewide educational system at 30 preschool sites and three K-12 campuses on Hawai‘i, Maui and O‘ahu; along with a broad range of community outreach programs.
The Bishop Museum was founded after her death in 1889 by her husband, Charles Reed Bishop to honor his late wife. Over time, the museum has greatly expanded to include an extensive collection of Hawaiian objects, royal family heirlooms, personal and scientific papers, genealogical records, and memorabilia.
Charles Bishop built the Polynesian and Hawaiian Halls on the grounds of the original Kamehameha School for Boys. The Museum and School shared a campus in the Kapālama district in Honolulu, where the museum sits today. In 1940, a new larger school complex was constructed mauka (towards the mountains) of the museum on nearby on Kamehameha Heights.
Princess Pauahi is interred at Mauna ʻAla (Royal Mausoleum State Monument) in Honolulu. It is the final resting place of Hawaii’s two prominent royal families: the Kamehameha Dynasty and the Kalākaua Dynasty.
About Bishop Museum
With its extensive programs, impressive collections, and permanent and rotation exhibitions, the museum is a favorite for visitors and residents. There’s always something new to see.
Architecture of Bishop Museum
The architecture of Bishop Museum alone is worth the visit. Hawaiian Hall and adjacent Polynesian Hall were built in 1889 in the popular Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style of the time. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hawaiian Hall was extensively renovated from 2006-2013.
The Bishop Museum grounds consist of several other structures: the Castle Memorial Building, Paki Hall, Hale Waʻa, Atherton Hālau, the J. Watumull Planetarium, cafe and gift shop, and Hawaiian garden. Bishop Museum buildings, lawns, and courtyards are available for special events. These venue spaces are unique settings for private or corporate functions, from sit-down dinners and receptions to cocktail parties, galas, or lectures and workshops. More info: https://www.bishopmuseum.org/facility-rentals/
Bishop Museum programs & exhibits
The permanent exhibits take you on a journey through the history of Hawai’i, including Polynesian migrations and wayfinding, cultural beliefs and traditions, daily life in ancient Hawaii, important historical events, and much more.
Rotating exhibits taker a deeper dive into artifacts from the collections and millions of stories across hundreds of years of Hawaiian history.
From 2016-2026, the Bishop Museum will champion a decade of strategic transformation. The museum is re-energizing and re-investing in its mission to inspire the local community and visitors through the exploration and celebration of the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.
Listed below and on our calendar, we highlight some of the upcoming programs and exhibits at Bishop Museum.
Tatau: Marks of Polynesia November 13, 2021 – July 4, 2022
Bishop Museum understands that storytelling comes in many forms, whether through the spoken word, visual symbolism, musical performance, or other medium. Tattooing has long been held as not just a practice in art but also a way to tell stories through art, through the intimate painting of one’s body.
Sāmoa’s tatau is one of the world’s most distinct tattoo traditions. It is an indigenous art form dating back 2,000 years, and has played a pivotal role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture. In Sāmoa, tufuga tā tatau (master tattoo artists) are granted high status in society and acquiring tatau is considered a powerful affirmation of national identity, particularly for young men, for whom it is an important rite of passage.
The exhibition “Tatau: Marks of Polynesia” is an opportunity to learn what tatau signifies in Samoan culture, and how it helps Samoans and other Polynesians living abroad stay connected to their identity and heritage. This exhibition showcases the work of traditional tatau masters alongside that of younger practitioners and artists who are adopting tatau’s motifs and styles for new media and art forms.
Bishop Museum is Open Daily from 9 am – 5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas Day.
More info: Tatau – Bishop Museum
Visiting Bishop Museum
The Bishop Museum is located in near downtown Honolulu at the juncture of the H-1 freeway and Likelike Highway. It is open every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Admission in 2021 is by timed ticket entry for all guests.
- Address: Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, HI 96817.
- Hours: open daily 9AM – 5PM. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
- Parking: parking is available in the museum parking lot for a modest fee. Payment kiosks accept credit cards only. Kiosks are located in front of the main entrance and in the upper parking lot.
- General admission: $24.95. Kama‘āina/military: $14.95. Members: FREE.
- Café: Open daily, offering a variety of Hawaiian specialties including plates, poke bowls, sandwiches, sweet treats, and snacks.
- Online learning resources: https://www.bishopmuseum.org/online-learning-center/
- Website: https://www.bishopmuseum.org/
How to get free and discount admission to Bishop Museum
There are a number of ways to save on admission tickets to the Bishop Museum:
Join Bishop Museum. Annual membership begins at $70/individual. Pays for itself in five visits or less, and is tax deductible. Benefits include free admission and parking, shopping discounts in the gift shop and café, special invitations, a free e-newsletter, and other benefits. More info: https://www.bishopmuseum.org/membership/
Volunteer at Bishop Museum. As an active, long-term volunteer at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, you will have access to a number of benefits, including free admission and parking, discounts in the gift shop and café, guest passes, and other benefits. More info: https://www.bishopmuseum.org/volunteer/
Kama‘āina or military discount. Admission is $14.95 with valid identification.
Groupon discount. Search Groupon for a discount on General Admission to Bishop Museum : https://www.groupon.com/deals/the-bishop-museum
Go Oahu Pass. Purchase a 3-, 5-, or 7-day pass ($82-$342 per person) and save up to 55% on admission fees when visiting several attractions on O’ahu. Go Oahu Card | Oahu Attractions Pass (gocity.com)