Best Historic Sites in Kauai

Kaua`i's best historic sites range from settlement to the post-contact period and are found island wide

Since Hawaiian first traversed the Pacific generations ago and settled on Kaua`i, the Garden Island has woven a deep history that is still relevant to life on Kaua`i today. Hawaiians continued living on Kaua`i undisturbed for a very long time, using heiaus as sacred temples and utilizing the land for growing food and catching fish in the ocean. When first contact was made by Captain James Cook in historic Waimea Town, it set off a series of events that would forever change all of the islands.

Koloa Town would become the first sugar plantation town in the state, a trend that would spread to each island. Today, home to the first sugar plantation is one of Kaua`i's claim to fame and can still be experienced on the south side. Nearby on the east side in Lihue, Kilohana Plantation offers a window into the past, as the former mansion belonging to a sugar lord serves as home to unique boutiques and other shops. Much of the original decor and furniture can still be found in the house. For a more traditional Hawaiian attraction, stop by the Menehune Fishpond in Lihue. This holds a history rich in legend and myth that say a group of little people called menehune built the pond in one night for a prince and princess.

For historic attractions island wide, 10 Best is pointing you in the best direction to experience an array of different elements of Kaua`i's past. So grab the camera and hit the road to find the best of Kaua`i's history.


Nawiliwili Harbor

Legend has it that an industrious race of small-statured peoples once inhabited the islands, predecessors to the Polynesians who now populate the archipelago. Known as the menehune, they were master craftsmen who could build with great skill and speed. This fish pond was supposedly constructed by them at the request of a prince and princess, who were given the dictate that no one could watch them work. The order was disobeyed, and the menehune fled, leaving the pond to be completed by human workers. The Hawaiian name for the pond, Alekoko, means "rippling blood" and is said to commemorate the menehune washing their hands (cut by lava rock) in the waters. N.B. The fishpond is on private property and is currently overgrown and not easily accessible.

Local Expert tip: Get out at the pull off spot up the road for a photo opportunity.

Read more about Menehune Fishpond →

Koke'e State Park
Photo courtesy of jade eckardt

Just north of Waimea Canyon, inland from the Na Pali Coast, lies this rugged state park, spread across 4345 mountainous acres. Especially popular with nature lovers, the park offers terrific scenery and plenty of outdoor activities, from hiking to pig hunting to trout fishing (with pre-arranged licenses). Temperatures at this elevation are a bit cooler than elsewhere on the island, so you'll want to dress accordingly. Plus, nature trails crisscross the landscape, and camping is available. The park also features a lodge, museum, and visitors center where you can check park conditions before venturing onwards.

Local Expert tip: Bring gear for both hiking and a picnic. You can even sleep up here in a bunk room or tent.

Read more about Koke'e State Park →

This sugar-cane estate, established in 1864, was one of the island's first and has been preserved for the future by original owner George Wilcox's descendants. The lush grounds host several buildings, including the main house, workers' homes, and the cottage that was George's own private domain. Tours of the complex provide a glimpse into the life of the prosperous and include period furnishings and a wide collection of artifacts and accessories. Knowledgeable guides provide fascinating details about the estate's past and its intriguing inhabitants. Tours must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.

Local Expert tip: Make sure to book in advance!

Read more about Grove Farm Homestead →

Kilohana Plantation
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt

In its heyday, this grand, 1930s-era mansion was the focal point of a successful sugar-cane plantation. Today, the Tudor-style, 16000-square-foot home has been restored to its original glory and houses galleries, boutiques, and the historic train. Visitors may wander its halls with their rich detailing and explore the cottages that lie on the estate's grounds. In addition, 22 North gourmet food fit for a locovore, and local artwork and crafts from on-site shops make ideal souvenirs. You'll also find Kauai's only rum distillery and a ceramics shop where you can make your own pottery to ship home.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Kilohana Plantation is the best near port place to pick up locally crafted gifts and souvenirs.

Local Expert tip: Ride the historic train.

Read more about Kilohana Plantation →

Preserved in this museum's collections are the story of Kauai, detailed in artifacts, exhibits, and photographs. Two buildings showcase items from the era preceding Western contact as well as the plantation period. There's also a focus on the influx of various ethnic peoples who came to labor in the fields. Royal garments, native handicrafts, exotic shells, model ships, and documentary images are spread throughout the complex, which also offers guided tours, a cafe, and a gift shop.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: he Kauai Museum is the largest and most elaborate museum on the island.

Local Expert tip: Go at the start of your trip, it will provide you with a deep background to enrich the rest of the vacation.

Read more about Kaua`i Museum →


Koloa has the honor of being Kauai's first town devoted to sugarcane, and its history, which dates from the 1830s, is still evident today. The charming settlement, located in southern Kauai, boasts a wealth of fascinating shops and restaurants, which call to visitors as much as do the remnants of the sugar mill and the Koloa History Center. Wander about, checking out the historic structures, and try to be here for Plantation Days in July, when culture and history are celebrated. The tree tunnel, a stretch of road lined with arching eucalyptus trees, leads into town from the eastern coast.

Local Expert tip: Pop into the Koloa History Center for a thorough background on the historic town.

Read more about Koloa →

Kilauea Lighthouse
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt

Perched on a point high above the sea, this quaint lighthouse (built in 1913) once had the capacity to send a shaft of light 90 miles into the night. These days, its original "clamshell" lens has been replaced by a smaller, less powerful light that local sailors on the North Shore still find quite useful. Views from the point are stunning, and a large contingent of native fauna delights visitors with its presence. Wildlife sanctuaries are located nearby, providing a measure of safety for birds, seals, and other creatures. A visitors center is available as well.

Local Expert tip: Look in the trees over the cove for the tropical sea birds.

Read more about Kilauea Lighthouse →

Kamokila Hawaiian Village

On the very site of an ancient Hawaiian village, this modern-day equivalent has been erected to teach visitors about the islands before Western contact. The compound, lying along the Wailua River, showcases (replicated) homes and community buildings, including those used by the chief and those devoted to storing herbal remedies. Visitors may also catch demonstrations of cloth-making, agriculture, and poi-making and learn about early religion and social interaction. Educational and enlightening for the whole family.

Local Expert tip: Make sure to try of the fruit that grows here.

Read more about Kamokila Hawaiian Village →

Although you'll have to plan ahead to visit this intriguing museum, you should definitely make a point to fit it in to your itinerary. Constructed in 1837 as a home for Christian missionaries, the structure eventually served as the center of a farm for the notable Wilcox family. Its spare, beautiful furnishings and selection of period artifacts and memorabilia provide insight into life in Kauai in the 19th century. You'll also find carefully kept grounds that harken back to past days.

Local Expert tip: Make reservations for a visit.

Read more about Waioli Mission House Museum →

Ka Ulu a Paoa Heiau
Photo courtesy of virtual tourist

In Hawaii's storied past, before language was codified, the most promising, gifted hula dancers gathered at this venerated place at the edge of the sea to refine their art and showcase their skills. The temple's stoneworks were their training ground, where they perfected the means of oral and visual storytelling. The place is still believed to be sacred, and visitors are asked to respect the site. Location and views are singularly beautiful.

Local Expert tip: Think of it as equal importance to Hawaiians as a church to modern people.

Read more about Ka Ulu a Paoa Heiau →


Meet Jade Eckardt

Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and...  More About Jade