Honolulu Airport Cultural Gardens are Hidden Find in Plain Sight

Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport has had a unique garden feature for decades. And they keep improving with new renovations, including beautiful new restrooms that don’t see much foot traffic. The Cultural Gardens at HNL joins a list of 7 top airport gardens in the world that includes Jewel Changi (Singapore), Sky Garden at Incheon (Seoul), and Central Garden at Ben Gurion (Tel Aviv).

Why go: If you’re leaving Hawaii, the gardens are a great spot to get your last dose of Hawaii or have a Zen break from the hubbub of airport travel.

Garden Vibe: Relaxing and virtually unused, which makes no sense. When Jeff was at HNL on Monday, he took the photos below of the gardens; as you see, hardly anyone was there. The garden themes are Chinese, Hawaiian, and Japanese and were created by Richard C. Tongg, for the airport in the early 1960s. They demonstrate the influence of various cultures in Hawaii and have a series of pathways, bridges, stepping stones, and beautiful water features that tie together all three gardens. Waterfalls, koi ponds, and garden ponds add to the relaxing and beautiful ambiance.

Tip: Have a lunch break here. Bring food or buy it at the airport, and eat in this magical setting on a garden bench. There’s a food court above, yet many people don’t venture down to this lush oasis.

Location: Terminal 2 Ticketing Lobby and the E Gates of the airport. It is very close to where you’ll find Southwest Airlines.

Chinese Garden at Honolulu Airport.

The most notable feature is a striking red pavilion with a lovely curved roof created in Hong Kong and then transported to the airport, where it was assembled. An arching bridge represents a span over the seas for world peace. There you’ll find the Koi ponds set amid craggy rocks, bamboo and pine trees, and flowering trees.

Japanese Garden at Honolulu Airport.

Look for the zig-zag bridge representing serenity, with a wood shelter and stone benches for relaxing. Here, colorful carp swim in ponds surrounded by weeping willows and pine trees. If you visit in the evening, you will find stone lanterns beautifully illuminating the garden. Also, enjoy the elevated and commemorative pagoda.

Hawaiian Garden at Honolulu Airport.

Here, lagoons are replete with koi and beautiful water sounds from springs and waterfalls flowing down lava walls. Beautiful tropical plantings and flowers are everywhere. And at night, the garden is torch-lit.

Interisland Terminal’s C. B. Lansing Garden.

The most recent addition was the 1995 C.B. Lansing Garden, built when Terminal 1 opened. It is named in honor of Clarabell Lansing, the Aloha Airlines flight attendant who died on flight 243 in 1988.

Have you been to the Cultural Gardens at HNL? We invite you to share your experience.

All photos © Beat of Hawaii.

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9 thoughts on “Honolulu Airport Cultural Gardens are Hidden Find in Plain Sight”

  1. So I’m wondering if you can access this when you have a connecting SW flight? In March we flew from Kona to HNL for a two hour stopover with SW. We saw nothing that looked like a garden area and any places to purchase food were not open – just snack items in a gift shop area. Not a pleasant stopover to say the least.

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    1. Yes. Southwest now flies out of Terminal 2, generally Gates E3-6. When you head towards the gates, you will cross an open air, covered bridge as you leave the shops, etc. Look down. The gardens are one floor below the bridge. There are elevators and stairs before the bridge.

      1. Just came through HNL last night. Southwest is using Gates E1, E3, E5 and E7 American is currently using gates C2, C3, C4, C5 and C6, and occasionally D2.

        Seems the gate assignments have been in a state of flux for the last few years. AA used to be E8, E9, E10 for decades, but lately have shifted around quite a bit.

        The gardens are still very nice, though it was quite warm and muggy yesterday afternoon. But, it’s a nice view of them from the AA/JL lounge, and they have seating that overlooks the gardens.

        Fortunately, all our flights were completely on time yesterday, which gave us time to relax between connections. But, door to door was 23 hours from upstate NY< so it's still a long haul.

        Mahalo

  2. I have seen this beautiful garden on two occasions. The first was August 7, 1967 while on my way to Vietnam. The second time was September 29, 2010. On neither occasion did I visit the garden but always wished that I had.

  3. The airport gardens are a great place to bird watch. The Hawaiian birds are both unique and colorful and a nice change to the birds seen on the mainland.

  4. I just picked up my neighbor from her trip to Honolulu. She was visiting her daughter there. She had an uneventful trip back to the mainland. She was telling me about how they had set up a video camera at night to take videos of feral pigs there. I guess they found it fascinating. They live somewhere up in the hills in Honolulu.
    Aloha

  5. Our first time to HNL I noticed the gardens and have made it part of the travel experience ever since. Just the idea of a place to wait outdoors gives the mind a rest from the stress of travel.

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  6. I make it a point to walk through the gardens nearly every time I fly through HNL. Yet, for some reason, I’ve not stopped by at night. Mahalo for mentioning the gardens are lit up at night. This gives me one for reason to connect through HNL, though with the DFW-KOA flight not currently available, going through HNL is nearly a requirement.

    The AAdmirals Club overlooks the garden, so even if it’s rainy, I can still get a dose of the gardens.

  7. Hi Guys – An article on the Service Animal relief station (s?) would be of interest. We use the one the in Terminal 1 garden but I don’t know if there are others as we only fly inter-island with her (she has over sixty flights on Hawaiian with us so we know it well). The elevator adjacent to the B gates takes you down there directly. There are also new restrooms on the lower level outside that elevator. Good luck figuring out the faucet/hand dryers.

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