Free Fun in Honolulu: Visit These 12 Museums For Free with Your Family

Honolulu has a museum for everything from art and natural history to police, fire and fighter jets. Here we’ve listed when your family can visit each for free, so mark your calendars!

 

Photo: Courtesy of Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Editor’s Note: This post was initially written in 2017 and was updated in 2021. However, some information does change. So please check the website or call ahead of visiting.

 

O‘ahu has many museums that are free all the time, some of which you may never have heard of, including a police, fire and two military museums. Bishop Museum, Shangri La, ‘Iolani Palace and many more also offer free admission days. So, make sure not to miss these special opportunities! Also, check out our “Free Fun” guides to 12 educational and cultural activities10 outdoor adventures and keiki eat free deals.

 

1. Honolulu Museum of Art 

The museum offers free admission for kids 18 years and younger every day. All Hawaiʻi residents also get in free on Friday evenings, 4 to 9 p.m. But, we suggest families take advantage of both free admission and hands-on keiki activities on the third Sunday of each month. The event, which was typically crowded in pre-pandemic years has shifted to virtual programs, a downloadable gallery hunt and contests for families to engage in as they visit during specific time slots to reduce the number of people at the museum. One bright spot in the change is that now you can do the scavenger hunt and other activities any day of the week.

Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St., (808) 532-8700, honolulumuseum.org

 

2. Hawai‘i State Art Museum 

The “I Love Art” room is temporarily closed (the hands-on exploration with blocks, puzzles, magnetic tiles, a felt board and magnetic bulletin board, PVC pipes, books and stations are off-limits as part of enhanced safety measures) but the museum is still always free. Keiki can visit the galleries or take a walk through the sculpture garden outside to find Mr. Chickenpants and other friends.

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. No. 1 Capitol District Building, 250 S. Hotel St., second floor, (808) 586-0308, sfca.hawaii.gov/hisam-events

 


SEE ALSO: Insider’s Guide to Honolulu Museums


3. Police Museum 

“You’re under arrest!” For kids who like to play cops and robbers, this museum shows them how it’s done in the real world. When we visited, Officer Fatu showed a police recruit video and described the stars on his uniform and the tools on his belt. The kids’ favorite displays were of badges, cockfighting, casino machines and police dogs. We learned that all of Hawai‘i’s police German Shepherds come from Germany. The only downside is that there are no hands-on activities. But, you can snap photos next to a police motorbike and in front of a huge badge and two life-size police mannequins. Walk-ins are welcome or you can book a tour for groups of 7 to 25 people.

Tip: Ask for Officer Fatu—he made the tour fun and interesting and online reviewers agree he’s great.

Monday to Friday, except state holidays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 801 S. Beretania St., (808) 529-3111, honolulupd.org

 

Honolulu Fire Museum. Photo: Laura Dornbush

4. Honolulu Fire Museum  

Note: The Honolulu Fire Museum is closed for now because of the pandemic. We’ll let you know when it reopens.

Mark your calendar as this museum is only open once a month. Book a one-hour tour online or turn up and try to join one. You’ll get to see inside a former station and learn from a real fire fighter about the Honolulu Fire Department’s formation under the Hawaiian Monarchy and how it has evolved over the years. You can also see – but not touch – the fire trucks that responded to the Pearl Harbor attacks. The museum is in the process of creating family-friendly interactive exhibits and a “fun zone.” Reserve your space for the tour online, call or email hfdedcr@honolulu.gov for the latest updates.

Every third Saturday of the month, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., 620 South St., enter parking lot at 555 Queen St., (808) 723-7168, honolulu.gov/hfd/communityrelations

 


For a local toddler playgroup’s impression of the museum, read “We Tried It! Honolulu Fire Museum.”


 

Photo: Courtesy of Bishop Museum

5. Bishop Museum (sometimes free) 

Watch rock melt into molten lava, learn about the gods of ancient Hawai‘i and see the constellations overhead in the planetarium. Admission is usually about $15 for kama‘āina, but the fee has been waived for three special annual events in the past. At Healthy Kids Day and KidsFest you’ll also find booths, fitness activities and giveaways. Our tips for those days are: Bring Hawaiʻi State or military ID for free entry, arrive a half hour before the event starts to make sure you get a parking spot on site (for $5) or nearby and hit the planetarium first, before it gets crowded. No visit would be complete without seeing the lava demo, hands-on Hawaiian tools and child-oriented visiting exhibit in Castle Memorial Hall.

  • Hawai‘i Pacific Health’s annual KidFest was canceled in 2020 and 2021. We’ll let you know if it returns.
  • Admission is also typically free on or around Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s birthday on Dec. 19.

1525 Bernice St., (808) 847-3511, bishopmuseum.org

 


SEE ALSO: Our Guide: Bishop Museum


6. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (free once a year) 

Every September you have one chance to see this aviation museum for free. Step inside two battle-scarred hangers and you’ll find 48 aircraft, including the “Flying Tiger” and the “Swamp Ghost,” which spent 30 years in a New Guinea marsh. Free admission is for Museum Day Live, sponsored by Smithsonian Magazine in September. Get your ticket to admit two people for free a few months before at smithsonianmag.com/museumday.

Historic Ford Island, 319 Lexington Blvd., (808) 441-1000, pacificaviationmuseum.org

 

7. Pearl Harbor National Memorial 

Aspiring historians can set foot right where the Pearl Harbor attacks took place 75 years ago. Experience the “Road to War” and the “Attack” through personal memorabilia, photographs and artifacts. Book ahead or get there early to receive same-day timed tickets to take a ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial. If you have a little one, be aware that strollers are not allowed on the ferry and that you will need to watch a 23-minute documentary about the war before boarding. Visit the website for a full rundown on bag checks, bathrooms and how to secure tickets.

Daily, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last tour of the USS Arizona Memorial ends at 3 p.m.), 1 Arizona Memorial Place, (808) 422-3399, nps.gov/valr

 

8. U.S. Army Museum of Hawai‘i

Snap a selfie with the tanks outside. Then, step inside Battery Randolph, step through an aircraft door and learn more about Hawaiian weapons, the history of the military in Hawai‘i and more.

Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 2161 Kālia Road, (808) 955-9552, hiarmymuseumsoc.org. Parking is validated at the Fort DeRussy facilities. $2 for the first hour, $1.25 each additional hour. 

 

9. Tropic Lightning Museum 

Learn about the harsh conditions U.S. Army soldiers faced when Schofield Barracks was first created. Follow the 25th Infantry Division into battles across the Pacific and take photos with a “Sherman” tank and a few other displays outside. Make sure you have a valid U.S. ID and your car paperwork with you as you enter Lyman Gate.

Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Schofield Barracks, 745 Wright Ave., Wahiawā, (808) 655-0438, home.army.mil/hawaii/index.php/tropic-lightning-museum  

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hawaiian Mission Houses

 

10. Hawaiian Mission Houses (sometimes free) 

Visit during free Family Day Open House events and, in addition to touring the historic homes, your keiki can play Hawaiian games, craft candles and make pretend pills in a 19th century medicine dispensatory. The events, which were typically held in April and September, were put on pause in 2020. We’ll let you know when it returns.

553 S. King St., (808) 531-0481, missionhouses.org

 

11. ‘Iolani Palace (sometimes free) 

Keiki interested in the Hawaiian monarchy will appreciate visiting this palace. The monthly free admission days for kama‘āina were put on hold on 2020, but were usually held on the second Sunday of each month.

364 S. King St., (808) 522-0822, iolanipalace.org

 

12. Shangri La (sometimes free) 

Kids must be at least 8 years old to visit this intricately designed former home of millionaire heiress Doris Duke. The 1.5-hour tour will show you Islamic Art and Middle Eastern cultural treasures. It’s very popular, so call ahead to find out when registration opens. The tours were paused during 2020 but is slated to return later in 2021. In the past, it was free for kama’āina and military the first Saturday of each month.

Tours meet at the Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St. Call (808) 535-1875, honolulumuseum.org/4915-shangrilakamaainatours


Did we miss anything? Let us know about other free fun opportunities by emailing info@honolulufamily.com.