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Touring Doris Duke’s Shangri La

Who knew that you could escape to the Middle East for a few hours from a quiet nestled home on the gentle slope of Diamond Head on the island of Oahu, Hawaii? Well, you can, and it’s via a tour of American heiress Doris Duke’s property, Shangri La.

Doris Duke was the only child of tobacco tycoon, James Buchanan Duke, who was also one of the original benefactors of Duke University. At the young age of 12, she was coined the title “richest girl in the world”. She later went on to marry James Cromwell, which is what the famed swimming spot just underneath her estate was named after. The couple took a year-long honeymoon and during that time, Duke fell in love with travel and art; more specifically Islamic decor and architecture. Upon her first visit to Hawaii, it was love at first sight, so she decided to build a home and fill it with her favorite pieces from her collections throughout her travels.

Located not-so-surreptitiously in Diamond Head’s wealthiest area of Black Point, Doris Duke’s estate is 14,000 square feet and spans five acres. And to think, she considered this her little “beach cottage”! Duke spent winters in this home, and though she did not live here permanently, this is the home that houses all her beloved collections from her travels around the world; some of which she installed by hand herself.

Doris Duke’s home is open to the public for guided tours, which begins five miles North of the estate at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Here you check in, board a mini bus, and get shuttled 15 minutes to this jewel in the Kahala area. A guide meets you upon arrival, and tours last 90 minutes.

As of 2017, photography is now allowed on the grounds and in the home, which is exciting because it’s such a stunning space and should be shared!

Reservations often book up several weeks in advance, so if you’re visiting Oahu, go online prior to arrival to make your reservation! Admission to the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Spalding House are included when you purchase the tour.

Ms. Duke’s estate has now been turned into a center for Islamic art, and it feels as though you are stepping out of Hawaii and into Morocco. Here is the ceiling of the entryway from the main door. 


The estate took two years, $1.4 million, and over 150 workers to complete. Duke was a hands-on home owner and often participated in the assembly and decoration of her beloved pieces. The “blue room” was one of my favorites.



Just wait until you see the outside cabana area! Can you imagine the parties she hosted here? On the right hand photo below is her guest house, where workers were housed during the installation of certain pieces in her home.

She was very fond of horticulture and had several gardens. The photo on the bottom left reminded me of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, which is exactly the look she was going for.

The estate is situated right on the ocean, so the sound of lapping waves and palm trees swaying in the mauka breeze are a soothing background lullaby. The area in the below photos is a popular fishing spot as well as a favorite swimming cove amongst locals. We call this place “Cromwell’s” after Ms. Duke’s first husband. The wall was recently fenced off to prevent people from jumping into the shallow waters and injuring themselves.

I can just imagine reading a book outside on a hammock with this view…


Upon completion of the tour, the shuttle bus will return you to the Honolulu Museum of Art, and you can wander around the museum for as long as you’d like. I also recommend visiting the Spalding House afterwards, which is nestled atop Tantalus Hill overlooking the city of Honolulu. The grounds are peaceful and feel like something straight out of the Garden of Eden. The house is quite small, so don’t expect a lavish museum, but there are some interesting pieces inside. Admission to the Spalding House comes free with the tour, so be sure to keep your sticker. If you’re a visitor staying in Waikiki, a free shuttle service is provided to both the museum as well as the Spalding House.

For more information or to book your tour to visit Doris Duke’s Shangri La, click here.

*Tip for Hawaii locals* – every Saturday of each month, kama’aina (local Hawaii residents) can visit for free on a first-come-first served basis. You must fill out a request form and present your local ID upon arrival. Note that due to popularity, it may take several weeks or months for your name to be selected.


Doris Duke's Shangri La


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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Janine Nissa
    March 14, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    Those mosaics are incredible!

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