Paradise on Earth

September 5, 2014 | By Waikiki Magazine Team

Shangri La, oasis to American heiress Doris Duke, is a living temple of Middle Eastern culture.

Just on the other side of Diamond Head from Waikiki is a uniquely stunning, private oasis retreat—Shangri La—the former home of American heiress Doris Duke (1912-1993). Built between 1936 and 1938, it was Duke’s Honolulu home, designed and decorated in Islamic style with architectural elements and details seen and studied from her extensive travels throughout the Middle East and India. Over 3,500 art and furniture pieces that she collected from Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Span, Syria, Egypt and India fill the 14,000-square-foot main house, as well as the ‘Playhouse,’ a scaled version of the 17th-century Chihul Sutun, a royal pavilion in Isfahan, Iran.



Duke’s connection to Hawai‘i started in August 1935. As the final destination of her worldwide honeymoon tour with husband James Cromwell, Duke fell in love with Hawai‘i’s natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle, and the couple stayed for four more months. She befriended Duke Kahanamoku and his circle of friends and family; she learned to surf, paddle canoes and play Hawaiian music. And after returning back to the mainland, she purchased the Diamond Head property to build a home, a secret paradise retreat reflecting her strong appreciation and respect of Islamic culture, art, traditions and architecture.

The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) with the mission to “promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern art and culture; make this property available to scholars, students and others interested in the furtherance and preservation of Islamic art; and make the premises open to the public” manages the five-acre estate. Shangri La has been open to the public for small reservation-only group tours since 2002. All tours start at the Honolulu Museum of Art. For more information, call 1-866-DUKE-TIX, or go to