Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

10 Must-Visit Historic Sites in Kauai

Megan Potter

Kauai is the oldest Hawaiian island by a million year margin. If the soil could speak, it’s stories would fill volumes. The history of Kauai and its people - and Hawaii as a whole - is deep and complex. When you visit these sites you’ll uncover this island’s past, and delve into its culture, leaving you with a deeper appreciation for Kauai and Hawaii.

1. Waimea Canyon State Park

Five Must-See Cultural Spots in Kauai Waimea Canyon

Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is not like anything else you’ll see in Hawaii. Spanning 14 miles and 3,600-feet deep, the canyon makes for an astounding sight. 

You’ll get a mix of red, brown, and green hues paired with scattered waterfalls, often creating rainbows. Take in these incredible views from afar at a scenic lookout or get a closer look by hiking within the park. 

This massive canyon was formed not only by the normal process of erosion, but also a volcano collapse of epic proportions! The massive volcano that collapsed was none other than the one that formed the island itself. This canyon tells the story of Hawaii millions of years ago.

Visit Waimea Canyon on Shaka Guide's Waimea & Na Pali Driving Tour

2. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Five Must-See Cultural Spots in Kauai Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail Bob LinsdellPhoto by Bob Linsdell

This is more than just a trail along Kauai's southern coast. The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail has archaeological and historical significance. In fact, it is the last piece of accessible coastline on Kauai’s south shore that has not been developed. Along the route, you’ll go to Makauwahi Cave - Hawaii's largest limestone cave. While you’re there you can take a free, guided tour (donations welcome) to learn about this site. Please be respectful of the wildlife and flora as you're exploring the trail. 

After you've finished your hike, take Shaka Guide's Poipu & Koloa Town Driving Tour to learn more about the island!

3. Kilauea Lighthouse

Kilauea Lighthouse is now a National Wildlife Refuge, but before it was given this designation, it may have been one of the first sightings for ships traveling from the west. Kauai - the westernmost island of the Hawaiian chain - was often the first landfall for ships traveling across the pacific, meaning they have been greeted by this majestic lighthouse. The refuge sits on a dormant volcano with cliffs next to the ocean, creating a small habitat for endangered species. On a visit to the lighthouse, look out for Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles and humpback whales!

Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse on Shaka Guide's North Shore Kauai Driving Tour.

4. Free Hula Performance

Hula is a traditional Hawaiian dance. Perhaps you’ve seen hula displayed in pop culture, but watching an authentic performance in Hawaii displays the beauty and tradition of this dance. There are a few different legends of how hula came to be, but one things for sure - this dance has withstood the test of time (not without its hardships, however). You can watch a free hula performance in Kauai at various locations throughout the week. Here's more information on free hula shows in Kauai.

5. Wailua River State Park

Five Must-See Cultural Spots in Kauai WailuaWailua Falls


The Wailua Complex of Heiaus is a National Historic Landmark in Wailua River State Park. Heiaus are ancient Hawaiian temples that were built for a variety of purposes. They're significant in Hawaiian culture because they were places of worship. At the Wailua Complex of Heiaus there are four heiaus. These alone would make this a special cultural site, but the complex also has a pu'uhonua, or place of refuge; ancient petroglyphs; a royal birthstone; and a bellstone. 

After learning about Kauai’s past at this historic landmark, visitors can rent a kayak or take a boat ride to discover the rainforest and waterfalls within the park. It's a great way to appreciate Hawaiian history and the island's natural beauty! 

Want to visit these historic Heiaus? This is a stop on our Wailua Valley & Waterfalls Driving Tour!

6. Kauai Coffee Museum

Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ve probably heard of Kona coffee, but have you heard of Kauai Coffee? Kauai Coffee has been around for over two decades! This coffee farm opened in the early 1800s and is the largest producer of coffee in the entire United States with over 4 million trees over 3,000 acres of land. Drop by and check out the Kauai Coffee museum, wander through their fields and learn how coffee is produced!

RELATED: Kauai Coffee: The Largest Coffee Grower in the United States

7. Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park, or “The Russian Fort”

Now, the creation of this fort has an interesting - and long - story. We highly recommend you read it, but to sum it up, the former King of Kauai, King Ka’umu’ali’i and a Russian doctor teamed up in hopes of preventing King Kamehamaha’s rule on the island. The doctor promised the might of the Russian Empire, however, he had no authority to do so. During this time, the military fort was built of lava rock in Waimea, but eventually the partnership unraveled. However, the fort remains and you can see it today! but the fort remains.

What sits there today may look more like a pile of rocks, but the fort was once large - with 20 ft high walls, barracks, an armory, and even officer’s quarters! 

8. Captain Cook Statue in Waimea Town

Captain Cook is an extremely important, yet controversial, character in Hawaiian history. The legacy he left behind still echoes in Hawaii today. So, drop by the quaint Waimea town and take a look at the statue in Captain Cook and learn about his history in Hawaii. 

Hear the whole story on our Waimea and Na Pali Driving Tour!

9. Kauai’s Hindu Monastery

Copyrighted to Himalayan Academy Publications, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii. Licensed for Wikipedia under Creative Commons and requires attribution when reproduced., CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Considered to be one of the most beautiful spots on Kauai, the Hindu monastery on Kauai is a 363-acre monastery, housing a couple dozen monks and some of the most picturesque landscapes and buildings on the island. The temple grounds are open from 9 am to noon, and they ask that you act and dress respectfully - this is a practicing temple, so please be respectful. There is no fee to enter but donations are accepted. 

10. Kaneiolouma Cultural Complex

Located in the center of Poipu, Kaneiolouma is the remains of an entire ancient Hawaiian village that is actively being restored and looked after by a nonprofit. The nonprofit is called the Hui Mālama O Kāneiolouma, and translates to Kāneiolouma Conservation Society. Spanning 13 acres, it contains fishponds, taro fields, an ancient Makahiki arena - all dating back to the 1400s!

If you’re looking for truly ancient Hawaiian culture, check out this cultural complex. There’s a viewing platform from which you can see a lot of the ancient village.

So, are you ready to start learning the history of Kauai? You’ll begin to uncover the island’s unique history at any one of these ten historic spots in Kauai. And, if you want to learn even more about the island, don’t forget to download our Kauai Tour Bundle. Tell us which spots you most want to visit on Facebook or Instagram! 

Visiting Kauai? We have four driving tours on the island! 

kauai tour bundle

When you’re in Hawaii, we ask that you act respectfully towards the locals, land and wildlife. Please pick up your trash; never touch any marine life, plants, or other animals; and avoid spots that are unsafe. Hawaii’s natural resources are precious, and it’s up to all of us to help preserve these resources.

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