Once a royal retreat, today Hulihee Palace is a museum filled with historical treasures from Hawaii’s past.
The palace was built in 1838 under the direction of Big Island Governor John Adams Kuakini. The builders used native lava rock, coral lime mortar, and koa and ohia timbers to create this magnificent two-level structure, which includes an entry hall, parlor, dining room, sitting room, and two bedrooms.
The palace originally served as the home of Governor Kuakini. Upon his death in 1844, it was passed to his adopted son, William Pitt Leleiohoku. Leleiohoku, however, died only a few months later, leaving the palace to his wife, Princess Ruth Keelikolani. During this time, the princess opened the home to Hawaii’s monarchs. Every Hawaiian monarch from Kamehameha III to Queen Liliuokalani spent a good part of each year at Hulihee.
Treasures abound at Hulihee Palace: The second-floor sitting room is filled with traditional Victorian-style furnishings, oriental rugs, and marble statues. The Kuhio Room features a large koa dining table that belonged to the Kalakaua family. The entry hall includes a striking bust of Kalakaua and several redwood pillars that the king acquired in California. The Kuakini Room contains artifacts from pre-Western contact through the Monarchy period. And Princess Ruth’s Bedroom features many of her favorite personal items.
In 1925, the palace was purchased by the Territory of Hawaii and turned over to the Daughters of Hawaii, an organization whose mission is “to perpetuate the memory and spirit of old Hawaii and of historic facts, and to preserve the nomenclature and correct pronunciation of the Hawaiian language.” The Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company sought to purchase the land under the palace to build an oceanfront hotel in Kailua-Kona, but the Daughters refused to give up the property.
Hulihee Palace was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1973.
Hulihee Palace is located at 75-5718 Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. A nominal admission fee is charged. Admission to the palace grounds, the gift shop, and many concerts is free. Museum hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., plan on arriving by 2:30 p.m. to allow time to tour the palace. The museum is closed on major holidays.