AIA Honolulu Architectural Walking Tour

Walking tours are a smart way to get oriented to a city or area. An added bonus is if the tour hits one of your interests. The AIA Honolulu chapter’s walking tours did that for me — architecture. The tour guide, Frank Haines, is an architect, author, preservationist and a legend in Hawai’i. So, credit card in hand, I booked the tour.

The AIA Honolulu office is in a bright, downtown corner office. We knocked and were greeted by an older gentleman, who was not Frank. (I had seen his photo online.) Frank was on vacation, and I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t get our tour guide’s name. After waiting for the other 2 members of our group, we were off.

For clarification, the tour is an exteriors tour of about 20 buildings. You don’t get to enter the buildings. But there is still much to see. The variety of architecture in a relatively small area is remarkable. From simple missionary houses to palaces, the architecture tells the tale of Hawai’i’s history and development.

exterior of iolani palace, honolulu

The ‘Iolani Palace, home of Hawaiian royalty, is a major stop on the walking tour. You can book a separate tour through the Palace website and go inside. The timed audio tour was very worthwhile. Sad, but worthwhile.

Hawaii state capitol palm tree shaped pillars

The Hawai’i State Capitol is a wonder. Completed in 1969 in the International style, the pillars are shaped like palm trees…

pools of water surrounding hawaii state capitol

surrounded by reflecting pools like the water that surrounds the islands.

hawaii capitol open roof

The courtyard reveals a cone-shaped opening, echoing the volcanoes that created the islands.

lava rock pillar, hawaii capitol

Lava rock covers large pillars


and a gorgeous mosaic of Italian tile entitled Aquarius by Tadashi Sato (recently restored) is centered under the cone.

St. Andrew's cathedral with flowers

For something completely different, the lovely St. Andrew’s Cathedral was readying for an event and assembling floral arrangements. As the church was open, we were permitted to go inside.

Hawaiian royalty depicted in stained glass

The stained glass throughout is stunning. John Wallis is the artist.


You watched Hawaii Five-O, right? Here’s the iconic Ali’iolani Hale, a judiciary building.


And the restored Hawai’i Theatre’s marquee is dedicated to Jack Lord!


You can’t have a downtown without a little brutalism.

Speaking of brutal, then my camera died. But fortunately, I purchased the $5 booklet by AIA Honolulu by Frank Haines, so I have that.

That’s nice. Sooo, should I go? If you are interested in architecture or history and like getting out and about, this is the tour for you. I was a bit disappointed that Haines wasn’t our guide, but this is an interesting tour regardless. It will be hot and humid, but there are a few indoor stops to cool off a bit. The 2-1/2 hours go quickly, but it would be a long tour for small children.

I’m smitten. Tell me more. On the tour, you will see the YWCA Building, designed by Julia Morgan, architect of Hearst Castle.

Location AIA Honolulu Center for Architecture, 828 Fort Street Mall, Suite 100 in Honolulu. The tour starts at 9am and you’ll be done around 11:30. City buses bound for downtown can get you there.

Cost $15, purchased in advance here. If there aren’t at least 4 on the tour, it may be cancelled, but they are very organized and will send you email notifications.

Tip According to my math, Haines should be about 94 now. Not sure how much longer he’ll be wanting to do the tour, so if you’d like the man who wrote the book on downtown Honolulu architecture as your guide, reserve today!

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