Our Family-Friendly Guide to the Honolulu Museum of Art
7 tips to making the most of the museum for kids of all ages.
The Honolulu Museum of Art on Beretania Street is like a child’s training ground for politeness and patience. “Use indoor voices and walking feet.” “We must wait 15 more minutes for grandma to finish reading all the labels in this exhibit.” And for tots, “Don’t play with the statue’s head!”
Who can blame kids for their enthusiasm? The museum is a labyrinth of rooms and courtyards waiting to be discovered. The souvenir shop is a treasure trove of goodies. And the museum’s collections comprise 50,000 items spanning five millennia. Whoa, that’s older than grandma!
It’s never too early to introduce kids of all ages to the Honolulu Museum of Art—because the experience isn’t just about the art. Little ones will delight in the courtyards and animal sculptures. Older children will appreciate the museum’s impact on world history and geography.
But kids are kids. And the museum is a sprawling compound requiring walking feet. If grownups lack an action plan, the family will be bored.
1. Go on free-admission days; but purchase the annual membership if you plan frequent visits.
Canvassing the entire museum in one day will tire out your family. Split your visit into a couple of days if possible. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, and free for kids 17 and under. If you plan to visit more than twice, the $25 annual membership price per adult is worth the investment. The museum also waives admission fees the first Wednesday and third Sunday of every month. And active-duty military families receive free admission this year from June 2 to Sept. 6.
2. Carry a map of the museum; but don’t consult it at every turn.
The layout of the building can be confusing for first-timers. Think of it as a giant rectangle. Enter the main door, and turn left for the Asian and Islamic World exhibits, or turn right for the modern and European exhibits. Contemporary and Hawaiian art rooms are straight ahead (behind the central courtyard). And the second floor houses the American and Pacific collections.
3. Visit the permanent exhibits; but don’t expect to canvass them in one day.
The museum houses 32 galleries, including temporary collections. As you tour each room, look out for these highlights: Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints; a wall of ceremonial masks in the Indonesian room; an enormous Nandi (bull) head from India; three-dimensional displays in the Contemporary Art room; and impressionist art by Monet.
4. Use the galleries to play games and talk with your kids; but research the collections ahead of time.
A quiet art museum is the perfect venue for thought-provoking conversation with teens or a hushed game of “I Spy” with toddlers. Take preschoolers to the European Art galleries to search for paintings of animals or fruit. Talk about the history of surfing while in the Arts of Hawaii room with elementary-school children. Visit the Arts of the Islamic World with teenager to discuss the Islamic militants’ destruction of ancient ruins in Iraq and Syria. Use the sculptures in The Body gallery to have The Big Talk—just kidding. Whatever you do, please read up on the exhibits before you enter. Warning: Some content might be too provocative.
5. Spend time outdoors; but beware of hazards.
Located throughout the building are five beautifully themed courtyards, each with its own charm. Bear with us here as we sound like chopper parents: Keep an eye on your kids! The Mediterranean and Chinese courtyards have water fountains and a pond with uneven stepping-stones. The Kīna‘u and Central courtyards have stairs and drop-offs that are potentially hazardous to wandering tots and inattentive kids. Same goes for the waterfall and long flight of stairs across from the Art Café.
6. Buy snacks at the Coffee Bar; but skip the Art Café if you’re on a budget.
The museum doesn’t allow guests to bring outside food, however, there are two dining venues on site. Head to the Coffee Bar in the Palm Courtyard for cookies, scones, Waialua Soda and Ono Pops. For heartier salads, sandwiches and pastas, dine at the Art Café. The latter doesn’t have a children’s menu, by the way. At the suggestion of our server, we ordered an off-the-menu dish for our child—penne with butter and sprinkled cheese ($9.50). She only ate three bites. The grownups at our table enjoyed their Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches ($13.95) and Half Turkey Sandwiches ($10.50 each).
7. Visit the Art Shop; but don’t treat it like a free-for-all playground.
In the middle of the museum and across from the café is an Art Shop with a wonderful selection of children’s art supplies and books you won’t find anywhere else on O‘ahu. Warning: Strategize this part of your visit, as some kids might not want to tour the rest of the museum after walking into this store. We finally bribed our art-loving daughter out the door with $20 specialty crayons. Thank goodness, she still adores them.
Honolulu Museum of Art Details
- 900 S. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96814
- (808) 532-8700
- Price: $10 for adults, free for children 17 years and younger. Admission includes same-day entry to Spalding House.
- Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Sunday, 1–5 p.m. Closed on Mondays, New Year’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Parking: Metered parking is available on Kīna‘u or Beretania streets, or pay $5 at the lot behind the Honolulu Museum of Art School located at 1111 Victoria St. Enter the lot from Beretania Street.