Our Guide: Hawaiian Mission Houses

Take a trip to the 1800s with our six tips to this downtown museum.

Photo: michele aucello

Where: Hawaiian Mission Houses, the site of three restored homes that recall the 19th-century in Honolulu.

Who: A family of four: mom, dad and two kids, ages 8 and 10 years.

When: A Saturday afternoon and a weekday morning.

When our friend Mark Noguchi told us his newest restaurant would be at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, we knew we had to visit. We are glad we did. It had not occurred to us to visit the museum before, but we found the visit to be quite interesting and well worth the stop.

Right across the street from Honolulu Hale, you’ll find the two oldest houses in Hawai‘i. The first house was built on the mainland, disassembled, shipped over and reassembled in the islands. The second was built by missionaries using coral blocks cut from local reefs.

This site is known worldwide as the place where the Hawaiian written language was developed as a collaboration between the missionaries, Hawaiian royalty and the Hawaiian people. You will see a replica of the first printing press that was brought to Hawai‘i.

The main part of the visit is a tour. We walked through the 1821 Mission House, the 1831 Chamberlain House and the Printing Office. The look on the iPad-savvy kids faces when they heard what was involved in printing a page of newsprint was worth the price of admission!

Overall, we found the tour is best for kids 7 years and older. A little preparation will make the trip even more worthwhile. 

Our Tips

1. Do some research before arriving. The tour is an hour long and the kids got a little antsy in the first home. In retrospect, I should have prepped them with a little history of the missionaries so they would have some questions to ask.

2. Expect to spend a little more time at the second house. The kids perked up when they got a chance to see how people really lived back then. They enjoyed seeing the clothes, bedrooms, artifacts and toys. You also have a chance to sit at an actual dining table and tour the period kitchen, cellar and dispensatory where medicine was made.

Photo: Michele Aucello

3. Visit the gift shop. Everything sold inside is made in Hawai‘i, including a cute pop-up postcard that makes a nice souvenir. But the real gem we found in the shop was Diane Ching. She gave us a free map from the Royal Historical Society that showed us more than 45 other areas of interest we could visit around the museum. She also gave us a few tips, including what NOT to miss during the tour and even questions to ask about interesting aspects of the homes.

4. Visit the working pump, but only at the END of the visit. This is another tip from Ching and it’s a good one. The pump is fun for children to work to get water out of the ground. But you will get wet.

5. Get there before 11 a.m. On both our weekday and weekend visits, we found plenty of parking. Also, the café gets busy by noon on weekdays so you might want to stop there first.

6. Check the schedule of special events.  You can download the calendar of events on the museumʻs website. It includes the two free days with keiki activities, details on the Honolulu City Lights dinner and parade watching and theatre performances that include a pūpū and drinks as you watch a performer portray a character from Hawai‘i’s past. 

Hawaiian Mission Houses

  • 553 S. King St.
  • missionhouses.org
  • (808) 447-3910 main number, (808) 447-3923 gift store
  • Hours: Tuesday through Saturday. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are every hour, on the hour, beginning at 11 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m.
  • Prices: Kama‘āina rates are $8 for adults, $6 for students with valid ID, children 5 years and younger are free. Admission is half off for residents on the last Saturday of the month.
  • Parking: Metered parking is available on Kawaiaha‘o Street, Mission Lane, and South Street.