There’s no doubt about it: whether you call the Aloha State home or are planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, the Hawaiian Islands are notoriously expensive. And while we would love to spend all of our time outdoors lounging on Hawaii’s best beaches, hitting the trails, and soaking up as much sunshine as possible, sometimes the rain forces us inside for the afternoon. For some totally free fun, consider checking out any of these under the radar museums.
1. Tropic Lightning Museum
Located on Oahu’s U.S. Army Base, Schofield Barracks, the Tropic Lightning Museum is dedicated to the proud achievements of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, nicknamed "Tropic Lightning." Activated in 1941, the 25th served in World War II, the occupation of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Admission is free, but you’ll need either a military ID or to obtain a visitors pass through the Lyman gate.
361 Waianae Ave., Schofield Barracks, HI 96857
2. Hawaii State Art Museum
Operated by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, this little-known art museum is home to three unique galleries. Here you will find ever-changing exhibitions and an "Art in Public Places Collection" that features more than 6,000 works of arts, with new pieces and artists added every year. If you want to experience great art without the cost or time commitment of visiting the Honolulu Museum of Art, this is the place to go.
250 South Hotel St., Second Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813
3. Mokupapapa Discovery Center
Housed inside a renovated century-old building in downtown Hilo, this educational facility is focused on teaching visitors all about the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, particularly, the remote coral reef system that spans the northwestern island that most people will never see in person. Exhibits at the free museum include a 3,500-gallon saltwater aquarium, the sounds of Hawaiian chants and seabirds, interactive displays, a giant mural by local artist Layne Luna, and a life-size Hawaiian monk seal exhibit.
76 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI 96720
4. Honolulu Fire Museum
Though only open the third Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., this unique museum is perfect for keiki interested in becoming firefighters or anyone hoping to learn more about the decorated history of the Honolulu Fire Department. The historic station was built in 1928 and is truly fascinating. Admission is always free, but reservations are required.
620 South St., Honolulu, HI 96813
5. Lahaina Heritage Museum
Located within the old Lahaina courthouse, which dates back to 1859, this unique museum focuses on the rich and varied history of the Hawaiian Islands, and the city of Lahaina, in particular. Learn all about ancient Hawaii, the Hawaiian monarchy, the whaling and plantation industries, missionaries, and tourism. After all, Lahaina played a significant role in the development of the Kingdom, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaii.
648 Wharf St., Lahaina, HI 96761
6. U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii
This unique museum is housed within Battery Randolph, a former coastal artillery battery, in the heart of Waikiki at the Fort DeRussy Military Installation. Guests will learn about the military history of pre-Imperial Hawaii and the post-annexation history of U.S. Army warfare in the Pacific — from World War II to Vietnam and Korea. You’ll find armor, an AH-1 Cobra helicopter, and small arms as well as the battery itself.
2131 Kalia Rd., Honolulu, HI 96815
7. Kokee Natural History Museum
This modest museum at the base of Waimea Canyon is free, though a donation of $1 per person is encouraged. Visitors will learn about native birds and plants in addition to the history of Kauai’s earliest wilderness parks. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., stop by for maps and trail guides of the park as well as souvenirs and gift shop goodies.
3600 Kokee Rd., Kekaha, HI 96752
8. Honolulu Police Museum
Showcasing the evolution of law enforcement from the pre-Cook era to the present and beyond, the Honolulu Police Museum is fascinating, especially for those interested or with a background in) law enforcement. Check out a variety of vintage photographs as well as 50-year-old polygraph machines, breathalyzers, forensic kits, and police motorcycles at this one-of-a-kind free museum.
801 S Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96813
What is your favorite Hawaii museum? Share your must-visits with us in the comments below!