Hawaii: Side trips in paradise

LA Times | Travel

For the Green Thumb Crowd Foster Botanical Garden: Home to Hawaii's largest collection of tropical plants, it took root in 1853 when a German botanist planted some trees, including the island's first banyans. The 14-acre garden's orchids are famous; its oddities include a palm that bears 50-p...

By Beverly Beyette // 04.22.09

For the Green Thumb Crowd

Foster Botanical Garden: Home to Hawaii's largest collection of tropical plants, it took root in 1853 when a German botanist planted some trees, including the island's first banyans. The 14-acre garden's orchids are famous; its oddities include a palm that bears 50-pound coconuts. It's an oasis in the city, with sun-dappled paths and shaded glens. Alas, the birds can't quite drown out the freeway roar. The huge Bo tree was a gift to Mary Foster, an ardent Buddhist who willed the garden to the city. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5, including an optional tour at 1 p.m. daily except Sundays. 50 N. Vineyard Blvd., Honolulu;(808) 522-7065, www.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/fbg.htm

Liliuokalani Botanical Garden: Once part of Foster Garden, but now separated by the H-1 freeway, this 7-acre garden is a work in progress. Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, liked to picnic here -- and so do locals. You can too. There's a footbridge across a rushing stream fed by a waterfall, and a shaded lawn with tables. Try to ignore the ugly apartment building abutting the gardens. Free, but very limited, parking. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 123 N. Kuakini St., Honolulu; (808) 522-7060, www.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/#liliuokalani

Lyon Arboretum: Visitors to this 200-acre rain forest deep in the Manoa Valley are warned right off, "You're going back to nature now, and therein lies the adventure." (Translation: Beware of wasps, falling branches) My first thought: Thank heavens Hawaii has no snakes. A research unit of the University of Hawaii, the Lyon's mission is to preserve endangered native flora. There's a children's garden and a world-class palm collection. Scenic walking trails can be wet and slippery. $5 donation. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays until 3 p.m. Guided tours by reservation. 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu; (808) 988-0456, www.hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum

Museums You May Have Missed:

Mission Houses Museum: See how the missionaries lived and worked from the establishment of the Sandwich Islands Mission in 1820 until the period ended in 1863. The three original buildings can be visited only by guided tour. Visitors see a replica of the press on which the Bible was printed in Hawaiian and a dormitory for island girls being westernized. And they learn that Hawaii was not an altogether welcoming place for early missionaries. (For starters, Hawaiian chiefs resented their bans on prostitution, gambling and drinking). Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., $10. 553 S. King St., Honolulu; (808) 447-3910, www.missionhouses.org

Hawaii Army Museum : Much more interesting than it sounds, this museum chronicles the military history of the Pacific from early Hawaiian warfare through Vietnam. Weapons on display include a shark tooth club and an 18th century British flintlock pistol (one of the firearms introduced to Hawaii by Capt. James Cook). Exhibits include a Cobra attack helicopter and a Japanese light tank. World War II-era music plays as visitors peruse photos of victory gardens, bond drives and V-J Day. Pick up a Spam cookbook in the gift shop. Open 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Free. Ft. DeRussy, Waikiki; (808) 955-9552, www.hiarmymuseumsoc.org

Hawaii Maritime Center: A giant skeleton of a humpback whale hovers overhead in this interactive museum that traces Hawaii's maritime legacy from migration of the ancient Polynesians through the whaling era, the surfing boom and the days of the luxurious transpacific ocean liners. Those tattoos of pinups that WWII servicemen came home with? Blame it on the Polynesians, who introduced skin art to the islands. I loved the re-creation of the Sailor Jerry tattoo parlor, which used to be nearby. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $8.50, including audio guide. Pier 7, Honolulu; (808) 599-3810, www.bishopmuseum.org/hmc

Hawaii State Art Museum : Opened in 2002 in a graceful 1928 Spanish mission-style building that was formerly a YMCA, the museum has three galleries spotlighting state-owned works by artists with Hawaiian roots. The day I visited the theme was "Artists and Social Consciousness" and the art made statements about such controversial subjects as a landscape-altering Oahu freeway and the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1898. The cafe, Downtown@theHiSAM, is a delightful lunch stop. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. 250 S. Hotel St., Honolulu;(808) 586-0900, www.state.hi.us/sfca

The Contemporary Museum: Art from 1940 to the present is the focus of this museum high in the hills on the site of a historic 1925 estate. Visitors enter through cast bronze doors by the late L.A. sculptor Robert Graham. Permanent exhibits include a David Hockney opera set. A tranquil garden with great views of Diamond Head beckons one to "come and sit"; centuries-old trees shade the Japanese stroll garden. There's a pleasant cafe for lunch and a decidedly quirky gift shop that's worth a look. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4. $8. 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, Honolulu; (808) 526-1322, www.tcmhi.org

For Turtle Lovers

On the North Shore at Laniakea (Turtle Beach): Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) can be seen swimming or basking ashore if the surf's not too high. On the day I stopped, a big fellow was sunning himself, protected from harassment by volunteers from the nonprofit Malama na Honu (Protect the Turtles), who are on-site daily. Some turtles have been tagged and named (Brutus, Sapphire and the like) in an ongoing project to learn more about this endangered species and protect the animals from their predators: large tiger sharks and irresponsible fishermen. www.malamanahonu.org