Shangri-La, Honolulu

Back in college, I was awarded funding for a three-week travel fellowship to AndalucĂ­a to study the art of the Moorish Empire. I went to Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada. It was an incredible opportunity for me since I wouldn’t have been able to afford a Summer trip to Europe otherwise. Also, it turned out that I vastly overestimated how much lodging would cost. My budget request was $50/day and I ended up spending ~$20, which allowed me to take a side trip to Barcelona with the “bonus money.” I know, I know, that’s a pretty loose definition of “side trip,” but it was awesome! Moorish art and architecture with a big side helping of Gaudi!

That Summer overall was pretty amazing because on my return, I spent 8 (10?) weeks in a lab on-campus earning enough money for my last year of college spending money, which was necessary! Anyway, reflections for another day but definitely an idyllic Summer in Northwest Massachusetts.

All this to say, I have loved Islamic Art for a really long time. Even as a kid, I remember being pretty wowed by Granada, although I am more appreciative as an adult. I first heard about the Shangri-la several years ago during a trip to Oahu. I’ve wanted to go since then, but it takes some planning. It is only open certain days and tickets have to be purchased in advance. Since I was extending my trip for a mini-vacation, one of my top priorities was to finally see it.

I bought my tickets online for a morning tour back in December. The tickets are released quarterly on the first Thursday of September, December, March, and June at 10am HST. They do sell out! How quickly, I do not know since I had set an alarm and logged in shortly after release.

That morning, I went to the Museum, which I walked through before and after the tour. The group loaded onto the mini-bus and drove out to Shangri-la, which is in a beautiful neighborhood east of Diamond Head. The bus ride was quiet and lasted about 15 minutes with minimal traffic.

The Shangri-la foundation is now separate from the HoMA, but they still coordinate closely. The bus let us off in the Courtyard. There was a short-ish, 10 minute intro to the place in the main foyer. The remainder of the time was self-guided.

It’s hard to pick a favorite part, so let me tell you some highlights. I loved the main bedroom wing, because it seemed very clear that the area was a separate sanctuary that would have been closed off during any larger social events hosted by Doris Duke. Also, the marble window insets were made by craftsmen in Agra, India and were the inspiration/focal point for designing the place.

The view from the back lawn was spectacular. I loved the balcony where tables and chairs were set up for foundation workers’ lunch breaks- lucky! There were different rooms decorated exquisitely, both with art and furnishings.

After 80 minutes or so, we made our way back to the courtyard. They offer box water and a small ice cream sandwich. I had the lilikoi one and it was delicious. I fully realize that the snack is to lure visitors out so that we leave!

I wish I could have stayed longer, swanning around as if I were the current owner. It would be very easy to do! The tour group is quite small in number, so it really is a quiet experience where I didn’t feel crowded or jostled walking through the house. There is a small cove beach below that I think can be accessed publicly, but that’s an adventure for another day.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was that the art was a broader Islamic Art collection like the Sackler (boo on that family legacy!) Gallery in DC rather than a strictly Moorish, Alhambra-replica that I thought I would see. There’s no great reason why I thought this, I just did. But it didn’t matter! It was really an exquisite house with incredible art. I loved it and strongly recommend a visit!

4 thoughts on “Shangri-La, Honolulu”

  1. I had no idea this existed, thank you for sharing it with us! I’ve been to Oahu twice, in 2005 and in 2008. I loved it both times. The Banyan trees are pretty amazing! We were in Maui a couple of years ago, and they have a HUGE one that is pretty much an entire city block.

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