Doris Duke’s Shangri La | Oahu, Hawaii

If you’ve been around awhile, you know there’s nothing I love more than a little bit of history. When we first moved to Oahu, Dane took me to visit Doris Duke’s Shangri La, touted one of the largest collections of Islamic Art in the world. I was kind of like…what? But I went along with it. It has become, without a doubt, one of my top ten on all of Oahu.

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Shangri La is the former home of heiress Doris Duke that was built in 1937. Inspired by her world travels, mostly to the Middle East during her honeymoon, Doris Duke’s Shangri La now serves as a portal into the past and is filled to the brim with art, history and, most of all, inspiration.
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You can visit Doris Duke’s Shangri La by making a reservation through the Honolulu Museum of Art. Word to the wise: book early! Tours fill up very quickly and with all the restoration projects they are doing throughout the property, they are currently pretty limited. Learn more about Shangri La, the history and making a reservation here. I recommend wearing something light and breezy (no central AC for Doris!) and comfortable shoes as it’s a walking tour.

Though photography is only permitted outdoors, I recommend bringing along your phone or DSLR to grab some snaps outside! Trust me when I tell you that Doris left no detail undone! She might be my soul sister from another decade, because she made it her goal to have every area of her home look pretty for all of her guests. See also: no unsightly door hinges! She had them covered with ornate artwork. Like I said, no detail was left undone. Her eye for design was truly remarkable!
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The property itself sits right near Diamondhead, as you can tell from some of the spectacular backyard views. You are taken on a short bus from the Honolulu Museum of Art to Shangri La, where you get off the bus and walk directly into Doris’ entry courtyard, followed by her Mughal Garden (pictured below).

“The Mughal Garden is Shangri La’s microcosm of the royal gardens found throughout the Indian subcontinent. During her 1935 honeymoon travels in India, Doris Duke (1912–93) was exposed to the expansive and sumptuous gardens of the high Mughal period, particularly those built in the cities of Agra, Delhi and Lahore during the reigns of the “great” Mughal emperors Akbar (r. 1556–1605), Jahangir (r. 1605–27), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58). These gardens typically included small marble pavilions with cusped arches and inlaid floral surfaces; brickwork pathways with geometric designs; long water channels with lotus-shaped fountain heads; marble water cascades with niches known as chinikhana (Persian: porcelain house); and geometric planting beds (parterres) with scented trees and colorful flowers.”Doris Duke_ShangriLa_Honolulu_Hawaii_Communikait

Below is the Mughal Suite, also known as Doris’ bedroom. She fell in love with the Taj Mahal when she visited it on her honeymoon and had an entire  bedroom suite, bathroom and dressing room designed to resemble the crisp white marble and inlaid jewels.

“The history of the Mughal Suite underscores the importance of travel and patronage in the evolution of Shangri La. It was during her honeymoon trip that Duke first fell in love with Mughal architecture—and by extension Islamic art in general (the honeymoon also included brief visits to Jordan and Egypt).”Doris Duke_ShangriLa_Honolulu_Hawaii_Communikait

What’s so amazing to me is that from the outside, Doris’ home looks completely unassuming. They say that was 100% intentional.

“Visitors to Shangri La descend a long driveway shielded by dense foliage and first encounter the main house from within an open-air space known variously as the entry or banyan courtyard (the latter in homage to a large banyan tree that shades the paved space). The south (oceanside) and west (Diamond Head) sides of the courtyard are punctuated by two large whitewashed façades, each with a similar front door. The low-lying façade on the south leads into the foyer of the main house, while the taller example on the west leads into the Mughal Garden, which stretches from east to west along an upper terrace. The rest of the 4.9-acre property is steadily terraced downward, and the visitors’ experience is marked by increased proximity to the ocean. The simplicity of the main house’s façade may be surprising. There are, however, signs that one is about to enter a property that is partially inspired by Islamic architecture and that preserves a large collection of Islamic art. Like façades found in the maze-like old cities (medinas) of the Arab world, Shangri La’s façade is plain, unassuming and betrays little of what lies within, thus ensuring privacy and protection from the bustling world beyond.”

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The detailing shown above is on an outdoor wall, if you can believe it. And that is just a tiny glimpse of what the inside of the home is like. Everywhere we turned there was something new and exciting to look at – a shrine Doris had flown from the end of the Earth, a centuries-old pot she decorated with — I was in awe. I think what I love so much about Shangri La is that it’s a peek inside Doris’ life and how she truly loved all of the items she collected.

She didn’t believe in putting things behind glass like a museum, she decorated and enjoyed all the antiques and amazing finds she collected. For example, she loved to collect centuries old pottery from the Middle East (we are talking like old, old, super old stuff worth millions) and had them all out on display in her living room. Doris also had enormous German Shepherds who, as you can imagine, loved to sniff and explore all over the house. Instead of locking them away, she just built glass doors into our living room that rose up (with the flick of a switch) just high enough so that the dogs could not reach the pottery. I mean – she really thought of everything.

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The tour is $25 per person, or $22 for folks local to Hawaii and I can honestly say – SPEND THE MONEY! We took my mom and she absolutely agreed – between the art, views, culture and history…Doris Duke’s Shangri La cannot be missed!

Doris Duke_ShangriLa_Honolulu_Hawaii_Communikait Have you ever visited Shangri La? I dream about living there! 😉

March 31, 2017


  • There seriously aren’t even words for how stunning this is. I love all the colors and patterns. What an adventure!

    Meg, Borrowed Heaven

    • Kait

      I wish I could put into words how amazing it is! The inside is even dreamier with open air entryways and bright colors. It is a magical place!

  • Jen

    This is absolutely amazing! You always visit the coolest places.

    • Kait

      If you guys come back, you have to go! I think it’s so neat – even if you just want to simply take in the pretty ocean views and see all the colors. The amazing history fascinates me to no end!

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