History, and Themed Events, Come Alive at Unique Venues in Hawaii

Planners looking for something besides luaus for offsite events and activities should consider one of Hawaii's historical sites. A program at one of these — ranging from royal palaces to coffee plantations — will give attendees an insight into the island's diverse history, featuring kings and queens, sugar-plantation workers and whalers.

In Honolulu, Iolani Palace is now open for upscale private events.

"Bookings are becoming very popular at the palace," said Frank Smith, group marketing manager. "We can handle groups of 20 to 2,500 and can do themes that include a garden party, royal ball and grand luau."

The nation's only royal palace, it was built in 1882 and served as the residence of Hawaii's last reigning royalty, King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. This Italianate building, with staircases and floors made from koa and other native woods, is decorated with portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens, and gifts given to them by leaders from around the world.

Downtown Honolulu's Hawaii Theater, which debuted in 1922 as an entertainment palace and was restored and reopened in 1996, makes a unique venue for performances and award ceremonies. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the theater seats up to 1,400 people.

Maui offers a unique offsite option in the guise of a railroad attraction. Thirty-three industrial railroads once operated in the islands, hauling sugar cane to the mills and workers to and from the fields. The Lahaina and Kaanapali Railroad, popularly known as the Sugar Cane Train, is one of the last still running.

Groups can charter the train for the six-mile ride, and finish it off with an event at the Kaanapali Station, where barbecues and other meals are available for groups of up to 150.

On the waterfront at Lahaina, one of Hawaii's most historical towns and which served as a playground for royalty and magnet for whalers, the Pioneer Inn caters banquets for up to 100 people in its courtyard or up to 50 in Snug Harbor, a restaurant decorated with old whaling photos, turtle shells and models of old whaling ships.

In the middle of Kailua on the Big Island, Hulihe'e Palace, which was built by the island's second governor in 1838 and served as a vacation home to Hawaiian royalty, is now a museum filled with furniture and artifacts. The palace is used for special events and can handle up to 350 people for a banquet or party.

For a different look at life in Hawaii's past, the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, operated by the Kona Historical Society as a working farm, will introduce attendees to the life of rural 1920s Kona.

At the Living History Farm, the farmhouse, outbuildings, bathhouse and coffee mill are furnished in early 20th century style. The museum operates special costumed interpretative tours for up to 50 people at a time and caters cocktail parties on the lawn for up to 100 people.

On Kauai, another look at agricultural life can be experienced at Gay & Robinson, one of two working sugar plantations left in Hawaii. Tours take in the historical village main street with its original street lamps and manager's mansion, as well as the cane fields, where a guide explains the planting and irrigation process.

"Most groups that come here don't see the real Hawaii," said Chris Faye, the plantation's tour supervisor. "It's the story of the many cultures and people who came here to find work."

To get a sense of the elegant lifestyle of the sugar plantation owners, groups can book Kilohana, built by Gaylord Parke Wilcox in 1935 as the grandest and most expensive home ever built on Kauai.

The property includes shops and a carriage house, often turned into a casino/game room during functions. Gaylord's Restaurant can seat up to 150 people for inside banquets, or larger groups of up to 1,000 can be accommodated in the courtyard or surrounding lawns.