Tours are a great way to get the behind the scenes stories of a place.

The stories that make a place come alive. And the docent makes all the difference. Willie Moore (former Attorney General for the State in the 1950s) made our time at the Iolani Palace in Honolulu extra special.

Docent Willie Moore

Docent Willie Moore


The Palace is situated directly across from the headquarters of the TV show, “Hawaii Five-0,” which is really the Aliiolani Hale building, housing the state’s supreme court. When you arrive, don’t skip the short film that conveys details about Hawaii and the construction of the building. It gets you in the proper perspective for the tour. The palace was started in 1879 and took until 1882 to be completed. King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani were the first residents in this elaborate home.

Io is a high-flying Hawaiian hawk and lani refers to royal. Perfect name for such a sumptuous palace showing off intricate ceilings and hand carved wood throughout.

History of the monarchy

The King’s sister was named Queen Liliuokalani upon his passing. Her reign was short-lived due to an overthrow of the monarchy. Loyal followers tried to reinstate her and failed. The effort led to her being arrested, jailed in an upstairs bedroom for five years and eventually moved from the Palace to her private home.

The King was an innovator as well as being a man who liked to spend money. The home obtained every modern convenience as they became available: a telephone, elaborate indoor bathrooms, gas lights soon followed by electricity. Although air conditioning has since been installed, I was intrigued to learn that the palace was fully designed to take advantage of airflow, so it would have gotten cooling breezes.

Here’s a tip: the names of the rooms match the colors of them! The Gold Room, The Blue Room, The Red Room…don’t you love simplicity? When you’re in the corner rooms, take special note to peer into the corners and when you return outside, look up—there are rooms tucked into each of those spaces. I wanted to sneak in, sit down, and soak it all in.

News that makes me cringe is when these opulent, historic homes get ravaged.

In this case, it was the Provisional Government dismantling the treasures inside and eliminating anything not usable by them. Then the government moved in, occupying the site for many years. Willie Moore said he used to come here for meetings and admired the setting. After the government vacated in the late sixties, the Palace started to undergo renovations.

Fortunate for us.

Much of the original ornate furniture came from the A.H. Davenport Company of Boston. It’s remarkable that they have been able to locate and re-install many of the original belongings, furniture, and artwork of the home. On the website is a list of objects still missing—wouldn’t it be grand to locate them all?

Getting to the Iolani Palace:

Reservations can be booked online and check-in is a simple process. Tickets are $21.75 for an adult and well worth the price with tours lasting 90 minutes. We were extra lucky that Willie stretched it a bit longer than that.

Parking is tricky so make sure you read the signs wherever you choose to leave the car. Try opting for the private parking garage at Alii Place. At $3/first two hours, it’s pretty reasonable and will give you time to tour and walk the vast grounds a bit.

There is a virtual tour on the website, which will give you an overview of the palace, but sadly does not provide any details about what rooms you’re seeing. Still, this alone can easily entice you to visit.


See Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West