‘Iolani Palace: The Official Residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani

Located on the aptly named King Street, ‘Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the United States that served as the residence of a ruling monarch. The Palace was the home of both King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani. On December 29, 1962, ‘Iolani Palace was officially recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

The back of the Palace grounds is where you begin the tour. Photo by Marvin Chandra.
The front of the Palace grounds faces King Street. Photo by Marvin Chandra.
A corner perspective. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

I had never paid a visit to ‘Iolani Palace, this was surprising considering that I have lived in Hawaii my entire life. The Palace is opened Mondays thru Saturdays from 9am to 5pm. They offer both docent lead tours as well as self-guided audio or non-audio tours. With this in mind, Joel, Marvin and I set out to visit to this historical landmark. The original plan was for me to meet Joel and Marvin at the Palace. I was planning to just walk over since I work just a few blocks away at Queen’s Medical Center. However, I was running a bit behind schedule and instead had Joel pick me up. Marvin took TheBus from Sinclair Circle at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He also kept track of his journey using his fancy new Garmin GPSMAP 62S Handheld GPS Navigator (1). We all met at the Palace grounds at around 1:45 pm and decided to purchase the self-lead audio tour. It might have been better to do the docent-led tour, however, those are only done from 9am to 10am (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and 9am to 11:15am (Wednesdays and Fridays).

After you purchase your tickets, you are led to the first floor veranda located in the back of the Palace. Here you are given your audio devices and little booties to cover your shoes while exploring the Palace grounds (understandably OCDish). After a debriefing, the tour began at the Grand Hall inside of the Palace.

The first thing that caught my eye was the rather large koa staircase. Hanging above is a large chandelier. Interestingly, ‘Iolani Palace had electricity before both the White House and Buckingham Palace. King Kalakaua was a fan of the latest technology of the time and so electricity was built into the Palace. On the walls of the Grand Hall you will see royal portraits of each of the Hawaiian monarchs. Facing the staircase and to the left is the Blue Room. The Blue Room was my favorite room of the Palace. The colors in this room were bold and the portraits that hung were very large and somewhat intimidating. From the Blue Room, you can see directly into the State Dining Room. As I starred into the dining room, I could only imagine King Kalakaua merrily mingling with various dignitaries and statesmen.

The Grand Hall and Grand Staircase built out of Koa. Photo is an official postcard from Iolani Palace.
This is the blue room which is adjacent to the State Dining Room. Photo is an official postcard from Iolani Palace.

To the right of the koa staircase is the extravagant Throne Room. This is the largest room in the Palace and where King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani and later Queen Lili’uokalani held diplomatic receptions and state balls. Here they also entertained guests from all walks of life. It is said that King Kalākaua and his wife disliked sitting on the thrones and would instead choose to stand in front one them when meeting guests.

After our tour of the First Floor, we made our way up to the Second Floor private living quarters. To the left and right of the Upper Hall are the private bedrooms of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani. Arguably, the most moving room in the entire Palace is Queen Lili’uokalani’s Imprisonment Room. This is the room that the Queen was forced to live in after being dethroned and the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrown. This was very simple, furnished with a very basic white bedframe, a wooden trunk and armoire, and a desk. The Queens was said to have spent her time composing music in this room. She is known to have composed The Queen’s Prayer while imprisoned here. While here, the Queens also hand-crafted an elaborate quilt made of her own clothing. Queen Lili’uokalani was imprisoned in this room for eight months (2).

I thought that the self-led audio tour of the Palace was good, although a docent led tour might have been better. I was a bit bummed that Palace does not allow any type of photography or video filming. With that in mind, Marvin was able to snap a few photos of the Palace from the outside. I’ve also provided a few photos of the interior of the Palace taken from official postcards uploaded by other resources (3).

‘Iolani Palace Tips:

  • For the Guided Tour, a discount rate of $15 is offered for Kamaaina and Military visitors with proper identification.
  • On Kamaaina Sunday, generally the first Sunday of the month, free admission is offered to local residents.

Explorers: Marvin Chandra, Coty Gonzales, and Joel Sabugo.

The State Dining Room. Photo is an official postcard from Iolani Palace.
The very ornate and regal Iolani Palace Throne Room. Photo is an official postcard from Iolani Palace.
A Victorian style quilt by Queen Lili’uokalani. Photo is an official postcard from Iolani Palace.

Directions: ‘Iolani Palace is located on the corner of King Street and Richards Street. On King Street, you will make a left into Likelike Mall which is located between ‘Iolani Palace and the Hawai’i State Library. If you are coming from Waikiki, you can catch TheBus by jumping on the “#2 School Street-Middle Street” On Kuhio Avenue heading away from Diamond Head. You will ride the bus to the stop at Hotel and Alakea streets. From there, walk back towards Waikiki about half a block to the Palace grounds.

Ioloani Palace
364 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

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After the Palace tour, we headed down a few blocks to my favorite hot dog joint on the island, Hank’s Haute Dogs. This hole-in-the-wall features some of the most amazing hot dogs that I’ve tasted. They have daily specials that include alligator, rabbit, and lobster. On this day, we had the Andouille Dog (Coty), Fat Boy (Marvin), and Bratwurst (Joel). Tip: the fries paired with the garlic aioli sauce is pure win. Extra Tip: If they have the french fries deep fried in duck fat, do not hesitate to order it.

1. These are 3D maps generated by Marvin’s new Garmin GPSMAP 62S Handheld GPS Navigator of his path from Sinclair Library to ‘Iolani Palace (via TheBus) and from ‘Iolani Palace to Hank’s Haute Dogs (via Joel’s non-minivan 4Runner).

2. Queen Lili‘uokalani was released on parole on September 6, 1896 but was forbidden from leaving the island of Oahu. She was later placed under house arrest for a year and lived at her private home, Washington Place. In 1896 the Republic of Hawaii gave Lili’uokalani a full pardon and restored her civil rights.

3. Postcard photo credit to the A Note of Friendship blog and Flickr member Striderv.

By Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

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