Doris Duke’s Shangri La & the Honolulu Museum of Art: Hawaii’s Most Undiscovered Gem

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Shangri La is the most “undiscovered hidden gem” on Oahu. Usually when people are asking about hidden gems, they’re expecting me to tell them about some secret slice of beach that only a handful of people know about, but THIS is truly an unexpected surprise. 

Previously the home of socialite Doris Duke, Shangri La now welcomes visitors to see her incredible property including one of the most extensive collections of Islamic art in the US. 

Duke fell in love with the Middle East on her honeymoon and after deciding to build a winter home in Honolulu, she devoted years to the construction of the home and the collection of its decorations. 

The heiress to the American Tobacco fortune had something really special here, and if you have ANY appreciation for art, culture, and beautiful homes then I think this is a must do. 

You should be able to tell from the photos, but just to be clear, this isn’t a “museum” in the sense that it’s rooms of galleries with pieces of art on display. 

The house IS the museum and the “art” is all of the trimmings. The furniture, the decorations, and all of the architectural components are completely dazzling and make for a great experience. 

The setting alone, in the shadows of Diamond Head, is worth showing up for. 

And despite being this sparkling treasure of a spot, it’s surprisingly unknown. I rarely see it on any “573 best and coolest things to do on Oahu” lists. 

Here’s what you need to know…

The property can only be explored via a guided tour from the Honolulu Museum of Art. Tours are offered Thursday through Saturday and you’ll want to book them in advance as they usually sell out pretty quickly. 

Tours are at 9AM, 11AM, 1PM, and 3PM and all tours leave from the Honolulu Museum of Art where you’re shuttled back and forth between Shangri La. 

I did the 9AM tour (which I highly recommend because there’s no a/c at Shangri La) and here’s how the day went:

We arrived at the Honolulu Museum of Art (parking is $5 behind the Honolulu Museum of Art SCHOOL) about 8:45AM and we gathered on benches under the overhang until we were checked in and given our badges/stickers. 

Note: The museum doesn’t open until 10AM so you can’t go inside to go to the restroom before you leave for Shangri La, and there isn’t really anywhere in the area so go before you leave your hotel.

About 9:15 we boarded our shuttle and headed over to Shangri La. The home is located in a compact residential area near Diamond Head and you can only go in and out on the shuttle. 

We arrived about 9:35 and were greeted by the staff. They passed out fans which were nice to have while we were there so I can only assume they become essential later in the day. There are also restrooms near the entrance. 

We all gathered in the entryway to get a brief introduction to the property and the collection. 

One of the interesting distinctions we kept reading and hearing about was exactly what defines “Islamic art.”

From a sign in the foyer…

The term “Islamic art” encompasses a wide range of works created by artists and makers across cultures, geographies and time periods for a variety of religious and secular purposes. While faith in Allah (God) unites more than one billion Muslims worldwide, Muslims speak many different languages, are of many different cultures and live in many different countries. Local traditions figure strongly in Islamic art production Much of the art on display in Shangri La was made by or for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This has led to a diverse, vibrant and ever-evolving set of artistic styles that comprise the arts of the Islamic world. These characteristics can be seen in the making, material, use, and/or form of an object. 

Anecdotally, we heard stories from some of the docents that indicated that certain elements of the home or the collections may be a bit controversial. Since Duke was not Muslim, she was only interested in the art and architecture in a secular way, but some pieces that she acquired have significant religious meaning to Muslims. 

So there’s an element of debate to whether it’s appropriate that some items are in the home and there are also some discrepancies between how she displayed certain pieces in her home and how they would have been featured in a home of practicing Muslims (i.e. certain pieces weren’t placed facing the right direction for prayer, etc.). 

Anyways, we had a little over an hour to walk around the property at our leisure. It’s not a guided tour, but the docents position themselves in different places and give little talks as people come and go from different rooms, but you’re free to come and go as you please. 

After we were finished looking around, we enjoyed water and ice cream sandwiches before loading back on the shuttle and heading back to HoMA. We arrived back at HoMA by 11:10.

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Once we were back at the museum, we spent an hour or so walking through the exhibits. Admission to the art museum is included in the tour price. 

I was surprisingly impressed with the museum. Honolulu is such a cultural crossroads and the museum does a great job representing so many different styles and cultures. 

Besides a nice European Impressionist collection and plenty of Asian and Hawaiian art, my favorite part is the Georgia O’Keefe collection. She’s most known for her work in the American Southwest, but in 1939 she traveled to Hawaii with the Hawaii Pineapple Company (later the Dole Company) to work on a magazine advertising campaign. 

Reserve your tour of Shangri La in advance here.

More Photos of Shangri La

More Photos of the Honolulu Museum of Art


Want to read more posts about Oahu? I’ve got plenty!

My Favorite Things to Do on Oahu // Things to Do in Waikiki // 5 Day Oahu Itinerary // Oahu North Shore Guide // Oahu Windward Coast (Kailua) Guide // Easy Hikes on Oahu

My Favorite Boutique Hotels in Waikiki // Where to Stay on Oahu Besides Waikiki // The Laylow Review

The Best Luaus (and the Worst) on Oahu // Paradise Cove Luau Review // Is the Polynesian Cultural Center Worth It? // Paradise Cove vs Polynesian Cultural Center

Where Locals Eat in Waikiki // Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch // Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art // Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor

Tips for Staying at Aulani // Is Aulani Worth It? // How Many Days to Spend at Aulani // Aulani Character Schedule // Ka Wa’a Luau Review // Things to Do Near Aulani (in Ko Olina) // Where to Eat Near Aulani

Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Go to Oahu

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.