Explore These Free Museums on O‘ahu
O‘ahu has a museum for nearly everything—from art and Hawaiian history to police, fire and fighter jets. The best part? Many are free!
Editor’s Note: This post was initially written in 2017 and updated in 2023. However, some information does change. Please check the museum’s website or call ahead before visiting.
O‘ahu has many free museums, some of which you may never have heard of, including police, fire and military museums. While not all of these informative institutions are free, you can—and should!—take advantage of the free admission days at museums like Bishop Museum and ‘Iolani Palace. Here are the details on the best free museums on O‘ahu. Let the education and exploration begin!
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 ($11 for keiki 4 to 17 years old), but as of Nov. 4, 2022, Bishop Museum is a participant in the Museums for All program, which provides free regular admission for up to four people with the presentation of a SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Plus, when you become a member, you receive free general admission and parking for a year (along with other perks). The fee has also been waived for special annual events in the past, so it’s worth signing up for the newsletter to stay in the know.
Hawai‘i State Art Museum
The Hawai‘i State Art Museum is always free for residents and visitors alike. Keiki can visit the galleries or take a walk through the sculpture garden outside to find Mr. Chickenpants and other friends. HiSAM hosts a variety of special events, including Super Saturday. The family-friendly event happens four times a year, and along with perusing the galleries, you can delight in a full day of free workshops, performances and live music.
No. 1 Capitol District Building, 250 S. Hotel St., second floor, (808) 586-0308, hisam.hawaii.gov
Honolulu Museum of Art
Admission is free for kids 18 years and younger every day at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Plus, admission is free for Hawai‘i residents on Family Sundays, which happen on the third Sunday of each month, and Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea on July 31. Students currently enrolled at any Hawai‘i State University or college also get in for free. And since HoMA is a Blue Star Museum, all active United States Military receive free admission to the museum along with up to five family members from May 20 through September 3.
Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St., (808) 532-8700, honolulumuseum.org
SEE ALSO: Insider’s Guide to Honolulu Museums
Honolulu Fire Museum
Mark your calendar, as the Honolulu Fire Museum is only open on the third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Book the one-hour tour online, and 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. Reserve your space for the tour here.
SEE ALSO: We Tried It! Honolulu Fire Museum
‘Iolani Palace (sometimes free)
Keiki and adults can learn more about the Hawaiian monarchy by visiting ‘Iolani Palace—the only royal palace in the U.S.! Check out Kamaʻāina Sundays, which are free admission days for Hawai‘i residents. Kamaʻāina can get a free tour (available to the first 500 guests on a first-come, first-served basis), and you can also expect family-friendly activities, entertainment and local food vendors.
364 S. King St., (808) 522-0822, iolanipalace.org
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
History buffs or not, everyone should check out Pearl Harbor National Memorial at some point. But since it’s one of the top three heavily visited tourist destinations in Hawai‘i, book ahead or get there early to receive same-day timed tickets to take a ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial. For those with little kids, 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’s FAQ page for a full rundown on bag checks, bathrooms and how to secure tickets.
“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. Favorite displays include those of badges, cockfighting, casino machines and police dogs. There are no hands-on activities, but you can snap photos next to a police motorbike and in front of a huge badge and life-size police mannequins. To schedule a visit, you must complete an online form and reserve a date and time.
801 S. Beretania St., (808) 529-3111, honolulupd.org
U.S. Army Museum of Hawai‘i
Snap a selfie with the tanks outside. Then get inside Battery Randolph, step through an aircraft door and learn more about Hawaiian weapons, the history of the military in Hawai‘i and more.
2161 Kālia Road, (808) 955-9552, hiarmymuseumsoc.org
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.
Schofield Barracks, 745 Wright Ave., Wahiawā, (808) 655-0438, home.army.mil/hawaii