The Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden may be an unconventional duo.
But these botanical gardens in Kauai fit very naturally, thank you very much, on Hawaii’s lush garden island.
We’re not green thumbs. But exploring these gardens turned out to be one of our favorite things to do in Kauai!
There are three other gardens on Kauai you’ll also love. (At one, you learn all about chocolate and do a chocolate tasting too. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…)
When planning your Hawaiian island trip, be sure your itinerary includes a visit to one or more of these beautiful botanical gardens!
Botanical gardens in Kauai
Contents: 5 Best Kauai botanical gardens
History: McBryde and Allerton gardens
4) Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
One of the delightful differences between Kauai and Maui is that the island of Kauai literally blooms with botanical gardens.
The Allerton and McBryde gardens are nestled between rugged cliffs in the secluded Lawai Valley, a 5-minute drive from Poipu on the south side of Kauai. (They’re sometimes referred to as the Poipu botanical gardens.)
Together, these two neighboring Kauai gardens encompass some 280 acres of land.
They showcase a magnificent variety of tropical plants.
We love visiting gardens – and we’ve strolled through some of the world’s most beautiful gardens.
In Victoria where we live, we take out-of-town company to Victoria gardens like the world-famous Butchart Gardens. We walk most days through the Government House Gardens near our house too.
So when given the chance to explore the Allerton McBryde gardens on our last visit to the Kauai island, we signed up.
And we’re so glad we did!
Let’s find out more about these and other beautiful botanical gardens on Kauai…
McBryde and Allerton: Garden history
There are several fun Hawaii facts associated with these botanical gardens on Kauai.
Guided visits share a bit of their quirky history.
The Allerton Garden was once a favored retreat of Hawaii’s Queen Emma in the late 1800s.
A sugar plantation magnate, she loved to plant rose apples, mangoes, bamboo and bougainvillea on the valley cliffs (you can still see some of these plants today).
The McBryde family (who owned a large section of agricultural land nearby) bought the property from her, conveying the lower valley to Alexander McBryde in 1899.
Alexander moved one of Queen Emma’s cottages to the valley floor, and lived in it for many years.
He also planted ferns, plumeria and palms in beachside gardens.
The Allertons, who were world travelers and wealthy philanthropists, bought the property from Alexander in 1938.
Robert Allerton, an artist, and his adopted son John Gregg Allerton, an architect, then set about creating a unique garden with outdoor “rooms.”
These garden rooms feature walls of plants, European statuary, fountains, gravity-fed pools and cascading waterfalls.
Later, Jacqueline Kennedy enjoyed visiting the Allertons’ garden estate – in part, rumor has it, because the Allertons had an impressive collection of ballet slippers!
1) Allerton Garden, Kauai
Today, the Allerton botanical garden covers an 80-acre area.
Named one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime” to see by National Geographic Traveler, it’s a garden masterpiece – a whimsical combination of garden rooms, sculptures, water features and exotic plants.
Enjoy the grove of golden bamboo gently swaying in the breeze, the cut-flower garden and the tropical heliconias, ginger and orchids.
You can also view the garden’s towering Moreton Bay Figs that were featured in the Jurassic Park movie.
Remember the enormous exposed buttress roots that hid the raptor eggs?
These trees are now a favorite spot for visitor photo-ops.
Fittingly, best-selling author Michael Crichton (who wrote the Jurassic Park book) once married in the gardens too.
2) McBryde Garden, Kauai
Before Robert Allerton died, he donated money to buy the McBryde property beside the Allerton Garden.
Initially called the Lawai Garden, that property was renamed the McBryde Garden in 2000 as a result of generous donations by the McBryde family.
It became the first garden in the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) collection.
About the NTBG:
The NTBG is a Hawaii-based, not-for-profit organization.
Through scientific research, habitat restoration and education, their mission is to discover, study and share knowledge about the world’s tropical plants and to preserve native Hawaiian flora for future generations.
The Allerton Garden (#1) also later became part of the NTBG.
Limahuli Garden (see #3 below) is the third garden in the collection.
(The other two NTBG gardens are Kahanu Garden in Maui and The Kampong in Coconut Grove, Florida.)
The 200-acre McBryde botanical gardens have a more scientific focus than the Allerton Garden.
They’re a veritable Noah’s Ark for plant conservation, a living laboratory for protecting endangered tropical plant species from around the world from extinction (in particular, endemic Hawaiian plants) and for growing Hawaiian fruits like breadfruit.
This includes 27 “canoe plants” that the early Polynesians brought with them in their voyaging canoes to Hawaii to sow for food, medicine and shelter.
Even world hunger is tackled.
Breadfruit, for example, is an important fruit grown in Hawaii.
Thousands of breadfruits originating here have been shipped to developing countries, with information on how to grow the trees for food.
Kauai botanical garden tours: Allerton McBryde
Several guided tours are offered.
You can do just an Allerton Garden tour (which can only be visited on a guided tour). For example, this popular 2½-hour small-group tour offered by the NTBG is offered three times a day.
(There’s also an Allerton Garden sunset tour.)
Or you can choose a tour of both gardens, like the 2½-hour “Best of Both Worlds Garden Tour.” (There’s also a twilight tour of both gardens.)
Tours leave from the South Shore Visitors Center. A short, narrated tram ride takes you into the gardens.
You also have the option to view the McBryde Garden at your own pace (self-guided) – see this day pass, which includes the return tram ride.
Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Our take: Touring the Allerton and McBryde gardens is an eye-opener in more ways than one. Together, they’re two of the best botanical gardens in Kauai – indeed, they’re among the best botanical gardens in Hawaii!
Details: For more information on these Kauai garden tours, see the NTBG website here.
3) Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Limahuli Garden, the third Kauai botanical garden in the NTBG collection, is located on the North Shore of Kauai.
Part of the 985-acre Limahuli Preserve, the garden is a 17-acre terraced garden with taro fields and other native Hawaiian plants.
The garden is well laid out, and it’s easy to follow the trail to the top of the lava rock terraces. Signs identify the various exotic plants, and at the top, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Kauai’s mountains.
We haven’t had a chance yet to personally tour Limahuli Garden.
Just another reason to revisit Kauai in future, right?
Limahuli Garden tours:
Tours are self-guided, and you’re given an excellent booklet to follow as you walk through the gardens.
The total walk takes about 1½ hours on a gravel path and lava steps, with some uneven terrain and an elevation gain of 200 feet.
Details: For more information and to make reservations, see here.
4) Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Garden
After retiring to Kauai in 1982, Joyce and Ed Doty began creating one of the most eclectic gardens on Kauai.
They then donated the entire gardens to a not-for-profit foundation in 1999. In 2000, the Dotys were ready to open the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens to the public – as part garden tour and part art exhibit.
There’s lots to see here. Na Aina Kai means “Lands By the Sea” – and these gardens comprise 240 acres hugging the coast on the island’s North Shore.
The garden part includes a hardwood plantation, formal gardens with a lagoon and plunging waterfalls, a shower tree park with flowering hibiscus and a Japanese teahouse, a miniature ahupua’a portraying an ancient Hawaiian village, a recreation of a Navajo compound and more.
On the art side, art buffs will be entranced by the 200 or so fanciful bronze sculptures scattered throughout the gardens.
One of the largest collections of bronze sculptures in the United States, they include life-size figures of people, like a family reading a book on a bench and a man and a boy sitting on a giant fish, sports a tree trunk for a tail.
Other sculptures depict bears, a flock of birds flying from the lagoon and a pensive frog in a pond.
Children are drawn to the treehouse right out of the Swiss Family Robinson book and a poinciana maze.
Na Aina Botanical Garden tours:
Several tours are offered on different days of the week, including the following:
- Ride – A 3-hour riding tour on a covered open-air cart (must be 13 or older)
- Stroll – Guided 1½-hour walking tour
- Beach walk – A moderate nature hike that takes you from the formal gardens through a wild forest down to Kaluakai Beach (the path is moderately sloped with rope handrails in steeper areas)
- Self-guided walking tour of the formal gardens and sculpture park
Details: For tour reservations, see here.
5) Princeville Botanical Gardens
The Princeville Botanical Gardens are tucked away on Kauai’s North Shore.
What started as a personal hobby for Bill and Lucinda Robertson more than 20 years ago has now blossomed into a full-time passion.
The Robertsons fought back the jungle, removed invasive plant species and created a family-operated botanical garden with a diverse collection of plants, trees and flowers.
Like the McBryde gardens (#2 above), the Princeville gardens showcase many healthy food plants and native and “canoe” species of the Hawaiian islands.
They’re home to groves of fruit trees buzzing with honey bees, endangered and exotic flowers, medicinal plants, and coffee and cacao trees.
Princeville Botanical Gardens tours:
A 3-hour guided tour takes you through the gardens and working fruit orchards, where you get to taste samples of the garden’s honey, fresh fruit and organic dark chocolate.
At the end, there’s a 30-minute interactive session where you learn more about cacao, watch chocolatiers at work and, yes, taste more chocolate!
Tours go rain or shine. Walking sticks, bug spray and umbrellas are offered at the start. (We recommend taking a walking stick as the trail can be a bit slippery if wet.)
Note that there are some slopes and stairs you need to climb.
Details: For more information about this combined Princeville garden and Princeville chocolate tour, see here.
Kauai is a garden paradise
The garden isle is a place of great natural beauty.
As refuges for rare plants, sacred flowers, delicious fruit trees, native flora and canoe plants that can help feed the world, the botanical gardens have a special place on Kauai.
They’re some of the most beautiful places on Kauai – and they’re well worth visiting!
Where to stay? See our reviews of the best hotels and resorts in Kauai
Have you toured any of these botanical gardens in Kauai?
Do you have a favorite? Let us know in the Comments below…
Our top travel tips and resources
Here are our favorite travel resources:
Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)
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Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out GetYourGuide and Viator.
Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.
Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more.
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Photo credits: 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14 Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase
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Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
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Sunday 14th of February 2021
We've been members of NTBG since 2005. We've toured the Kauai gardens many times. On our last trip in October 2019 we spent a day pulling weeds at Limahuli. We also love Kahanu Garden in Hana on Maui. A sacred place. Thanks for this article.
Janice and George
Sunday 14th of February 2021
Oh that's a wonderful thing to do -- "voluntouring" by pulling weeds. Some exercise, fresh air, gardens -- and knowing you're doing one more bit to help our planet :-).
We'll bookmark the Kahanu Garden in Maui for our next visit there. We've driven to Hana and stayed there, but don't recall visiting those gardens.
Thanks for sharing!
Sunday 9th of October 2016
Such a lovely garden, don't you just love the tropical plants! We visited the Botanical Tropical garden on the Big Island and it was magnificent, I couldn't get enough of it ;)
Janice and George
Monday 10th of October 2016
Hawaii certainly has the right weather for sustaining beautiful tropical gardens, that's for sure :-).
Tuesday 8th of July 2014
Lovely garden! I especially love the huge fig tree. Simply gorgeous!
Wednesday 25th of June 2014
Gorgeous gardens!! I will definitely have to visit it one day! I love the vivid colors of tropical flowers. Your photos are lovely. I didn't know about breadfruits being shipped overseas. That's great. I look forward to seeing these gardens up close and personal! :-)
Janice and George
Wednesday 25th of June 2014
If you love gardens, you'll love Kauai. The whole island is one big garden :-).
Friday 7th of February 2014
What is the name of the huge trees with the gigantic roots?
Janice and George
Friday 7th of February 2014
Hi Dottie, Those trees are quite marvellous aren't they? They're called Moreton Bay Figs. :-)