A thousand tales of love, nature, and family are embedded in Kauai’s colorful culture. Being the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain, Kauai has seen quite an amount of occurrences that its people continue to look back on through stories.
For visitors wanting to get a glimpse of the island’s old days, many small yet charming museums offer windows to Kauai’s past. We’ve made a list of 5 museums worth adding to your island itinerary – each one showing a unique fragment of the Garden Isle’s history.
5 Best Kauai Museums
1. Havaiki Oceanic and Tribal Art
Named after the mythological Polynesian homeland, Havaiki is a small family-owned art gallery and museum situated within the Hanalei Initiative Creative Center. It houses unique tribal art pieces from the island nations of Oceania.
Oceanic Art encompasses art and artifacts created by the indigenous people of the geographic region of Oceania. With art pieces spanning From Hawaii to Polynesia to Micronesia, you’re sure to find a one-of-a-kind piece for your collection at Havaiki.
The gallery features an entire collection of artifacts and art pieces that have been personally gathered by the owners during an 18-year voyage through Oceania. Their art pieces have been shipped to various buyers all over the world for 14 years now.
Each piece in their collection tells the story of the place and its people. Travelers that are looking for an entirely unique art experience should make sure to stop by Havaiki and immerse themselves in the diverse history and culture of Oceania.
2. LightWave Pottery
In many parts of the world, culture is often depicted on pieces of art. In Kauai, an artist based in central Kapaa creates whimsical pieces that excellently portray the colorful Hawaiian way of life.
Dean McRaine established LightWave Pottery to introduce more people to the playful occupation of pottery. We’re listing his studio as a museum because Dean enjoys giving a tour of his workshop and sharing potter’s secrets to curious visitors.
Dean’s work consists of beautifully colored bowls, high fire pots, and containers. It’s worth noting that he places great emphasis on functional ceramic art, so you’re sure to find something that can make its way to your daily life. All of his pieces are handmade and he admits he frequently takes inspiration from Kauai’s beautiful scenery.
If you’re interested in trying your hand at Ceramic Art or purchasing what one customer has called “happiness made solid”, head up to sunny Kapaa and drop by LightWave Pottery. You’ll be delighted to experience how much wonder this quaint and unassuming studio has in store.
3. Kokee Natural History Museum
Located just past mile marker 15 on Highway 550, also known as Koke’e Road, and about a mile past the Koke’e State Park entrance, the Koke’e Natural History Museum is a little gem nestled in between the Waimea and Koke’e State Parks. The museum features exhibits that highlight the natural beauty of Kauai’s culture.
Although the real beauty and history of Kauai begs to be explored in an outdoor setting, the Koke’e Natural History Museum experience is a different kind of joy altogether. Each exhibit tells a story and provides valuable insights into the rich culture and history of Kauai. Travelers and onlookers can witness the 1885 botanical prints by Isabella Sinclair, the first ever book published with colored images of Hawaiian flowering plants.
Visitors can also see and feel samples of wood from the forest trees that can only be found in the Hawaiian Islands. The Koke’e Natural History Museum is a must-see for visitors that stop by Koke’e State Park. Running the museum has been a labor of love, as the facility itself is not funded by the government. Donations are very much appreciated, and visitors may also purchase park souvenirs, books, t-shirts, hiking sticks, and more of their merchandise.
4. Grove Farm Sugar Plantation Museum
Steeped in the island’s rich “sugar-coated” history, the Grove Farm Sugar Plantation Museum in Lihue gives visitors a peek at the island’s past. Hawaii’s booming sugar plantation industry had its origins on Kauai in the late 1800s. Grove Farm is one of the earliest sugar plantations founded in 1864 by George N. Wilcox.
The historic site showcases life during Kauai’s plantation era more than a century ago. Visitors can take a tour all over the property by appointment. The tour includes visiting sites such as the old Wilcox home and the cottage sitting between the tropical gardens, orchards, and rolling lawns, which served as the home for the plantation’s housekeeper. A trip to Kauai wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Grove Farm Sugar Plantation Museum.
5. Kauai Museum
We’re concluding this list with the ever-brilliant Kauai Museum, a two-building museum complex that can take you through the progression of Kauai’s geography, natural history, and ethnological history over the years.
Kauai Museum was officially opened in 1960 through fundraising efforts made by Juliet Rice Wichman and Dora Jane Cole. The building was originally called the William Hyde Rice Building as a tribute to the former governor who was known to collect and publish legends of Hawaiian mythology.
In 1969, a second building was integrated into the complex to create a space for ethnic heritage and art exhibits. This second building is known as the Albert Spencer Wilcox Building. It originally served as a library that was built to honor the late businessman who brought people from all over the world to Kauai with the several sugar plantations he developed.
Today, the Kauai Museum continuously supports local artists by providing them opportunities to hold exhibits. The museum has major shows on Kauai’s cultural heritage each year and has permanent collections dating back to the island’s Plantation Days, early Missionary influence, and the Orient influence on Kauai.
Take Your Pick
The world knows Kauai as a small island gifted with an abundance of natural wonder. With countless spots that can leave one in awe, it’s certainly a place that’s hard not to love.
Hopefully, a trip to one of these museums will show you that much of the island’s charm comes from its wealth of stories, too. Kauai is home to many passionate individuals that invest effort into making sure the island’s beauty, culture, and heritage lives on for many years.
Go visit one museum on this list or see them all – we promise you that a trip to these treasure houses will be an escapade to remember.
5 Must-See Museums in Kauai [Infographic]