The Kauai Museum in Lihue is hands-down the best way to explore the rich and significant history of the unique island of Kauai. Plan on spending a couple of hours enjoying the many exhibits on Hawaiian culture, watching demonstrations, or simply taking in the stories of the past.
Rather than focusing on broad Hawaiian history, the Kauai Museum specializes in the history of Kauai and neighboring Niihau specifically. A majority of the exhibits and attractions revolve around King Kaumuali’i, the last reigning king of Kauai and Niihau. Kauai Museum is committed to keeping his memory alive.
The building that houses the museum, the Albert Spencer Wilcox Building, is a piece of history in itself. Constructed of concrete and native lava rock in the early 1900s, the structure was originally the first public library on the island and was established as the Kauai Museum in 1960.
Don’t miss marveling at the intricate ʻahuʻula, or feathered cloak worn by ancient Hawaiian royalty, inside the main gallery exhibit—in this case, a replica of one worn by King Kaumuali’i. While 160 of these cloaks remain preserved in museums around the world, none of the ones worn by Kauai’s King Kaumuali’i survived since his reign. The ‘ahu’ula at the Kauai museum was designed by a team of historians to closely mimic that which was worn by the prominent ruler.
Other notable displays include the large stone poi pounders, which were tools used exclusively for turning kalo (taro root) into poi, an important food for Native Hawaiians. These particular poi pounders are unique to the islands of Kauai and Niihau, as the style hasn’t been found on any other islands. The job of pounding poi was usually reserved for men on the other islands, but historians believe that these specific tools were made especially for women.
A display of carved ipu (gourds) from Niihau are also a highlight of the museum. Make sure to check out the preserved makaloa mats as well—the mats were used to show status among chiefs, and the art form of making them has since been lost through time.
See the artifacts from the 1824 shipwreck at Hanalei Bay of the Ha’aheo o Hawai’i, also known as Cleopatra’s Barge, the royal yacht of King Liholiho (Also known as Kamehameha II, son of Kamehameha I). King Kamehameha II used the ship to abduct Kauai’s King Kaumuali’i in 1821. More than two centuries after it wrecked, Smithsonian archaeologists excavated the Hanalei Bay site and delivered rare artifacts to the museum.
One of the newest exhibits celebrates the surfing culture of Kauai with an exploration of Duke Kahanamoku, an actual winning surfboard from world champion Andy Irons, and a custom-made wetsuit from Kauai’s pro surfer Bethany Hamilton.
The interior walls of the museum are covered in original paintings depicting important events in Kauai’s history.
How to Visit
The Kauai Museum is a great place to begin your vacation on the Garden Isle. Located less than two miles from the Kauai Airport, it will take about five minutes to get there from the rental car offices.
Guided tours are available at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, lasting for one hour. On Mondays, catch some expert-led discussions about traditional Polynesian navigation and local stories about the famous Cleopatra’s Barge ship.
On Saturdays, call ahead to reserve a spot at a coconut weaving workshop or a demonstration on Hawaiian throw-net making. Or enjoy live music inside the museum’s courtyard at 1 p.m.
Check the museum’s online event calendar to help plan your trip.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sundays.
The museum is closed for the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
Admission Prices: Entry is free for children under 7, and costs $15 for adults. The museum also offers discounts for students and seniors.
Address: 4428 Rice Street, Lihue, Hawaii 96766
Phone: (808) 245-6931
Comprising 22,000 square feet, the Kauai Museum definitely isn’t huge, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality and charm. Stepping inside this local museum is the perfect way to learn about the sights and sounds you’ll be experiencing while you travel throughout the island.
Your admission ticket is good for seven days after purchase. That means you can come and go as you please throughout your vacation if you run out of time on the first day.
If you’d like to keep the nostalgia alive after you leave, stop by Hamura Saimin stand right down the street for a hot bowl of classic hand-made noodles. It’s been a local favorite for close to 70 years.