Exploring the beautiful botanical gardens in Kauai turned out to be one of our favorite activities on the Garden Island.
In fact, if trying to choose between Kauai or Maui, one of the delightful differences between them is that the island of Kauai literally blooms with gardens.
You’ll find stunning botanical gardens on both the North Shore and the South Shore.
They showcase a magnificent variety of tropical plants and flowers. (One even invites you to learn all about chocolate and do a chocolate tasting too. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…)
So when planning your Hawaiian island trip, be sure your Kauai itinerary includes a visit to one or more of the following gardens!
You’ll love every petal and leaf on display.
Best botanical gardens in Kauai
1) Allerton Garden, Kauai
We’re going to start with our favorite Kauai garden – the Allerton Garden.
Named one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime” to see by National Geographic Traveler, it’s a garden masterpiece – a whimsical combination of outdoor garden “rooms,” sculptures, water features and exotic plants.
You’ll also enjoy the grove of golden bamboo gently swaying in the breeze, the cut-flower garden and the tropical heliconias (lobster claws), ginger and orchids.
Spreading out over 80 acres, the Allerton botanical garden is found cradled between rugged cliffs in the secluded Lawai Valley. It snuggles up to its bigger sister, the McBryde Garden (covered below in #2)
(Together, the Allerton and Mcbryde gardens are sometimes referred to as the Poipu botanical gardens, as they’re located less than a 10-minute drive from Poipu on Kauai’s South Shore, a popular area to stay on the island.)
At the Allerton Garden, you can also view the towering Moreton Bay Figs that were featured in the Jurassic Park movie.
Remember the enormous exposed buttress roots that hid the raptor eggs in the movie?
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.
We’ve strolled through some of the world’s most gorgeous gardens. And we can say without hesitation that Kauai’s Allerton Garden is right up there with the best.
Visiting Allerton Garden
Part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) collection, the Allerton Garden can only be visited on a guided tour.
For example, the NTBG offers this popular and informative 2½-hour small-group guided tour.
A variety of other Allerton Garden tours are also offered, and you can book your reservation online.
You might like the “Allerton by Fire” tour. Here, your guided botanical tour is followed by a luau dinner, which is accompanied by live music, Polynesian dancing and a fire performer.
There’s also a 3-hour Allerton Garden sunset tour, with dinner at the private Allerton Estate House.
All tours leave from the South Shore Visitors Center. A short narrated tram ride takes you into the gardens.
2) McBryde Garden, Kauai
Also part of the NTBG, 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 at the McBryde Garden.
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.
So touring the McBryde gardens is an eye-opener, in more ways than one!
McBryde Garden tours
You have the option to view the McBryde Garden at your own pace (self-guided) – see this day pass, which includes the return tram ride.
If you want to do a guided tour of McBryde Garden, you can only do so in conjunction with a tour of the Allerton Garden.
For example, there’s a 2½-hour “Best of Both Worlds” tour, as well as a twilight tour of both the McBryde and Allerton gardens.
3) Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Located on the North Shore of Kauai, the Limahuli Garden is the third National Tropical Botanical Garden in 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
If you choose to go on your own, 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.
Guided tours with the garden’s docent are also offered. They’re 2½ hours long.
The Limahuli botanical garden is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.
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 plus a man and a boy sitting on a giant fish with 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 Kai 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 (youths 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
The Na ‘Aina Kai garden is open Monday to Friday. It’s closed on the weekends.
For hours, tour reservations and more info, see here.
5) Princeville Botanical Gardens
The Princeville Botanical Gardens are also 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
You can only visit the Princeville garden on a guided tour.
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.
For more information about this combined Princeville garden and Princeville chocolate tour, see here.
About the National Tropical Botanical Garden
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 McBryde Garden (#2) became the first garden in the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) collection.
The Allerton Garden (#1) also later became part of the NTBG.
Limahuli Garden (see #3) is the third garden in the collection.
(The other two NTBG gardens are Kahanu Garden in Maui and The Kampong in Coconut Grove, Florida.)
Tips for having a blooming good time on Kauai garden tours
1) Book ahead
In the high winter season, especially, tours get snapped up quicker than you’d think. You can usually cancel up to 24 hours ahead, giving you flexibility and peace of mind.
2) Use mosquito spray
Lush canopies, cool shadows and trickling water = a haven for little biting things. Don’t give bugs a chance. Protect yourself with a trusty bug spray.
3) Dress for protection
To dodge those pesky mosquitoes, think light loose clothing. Slip into airy long-sleeved tops and long pants in neutral colors.
4) Prepare for rain
It’s Kauai, and a surprise shower is part of the charm.
Tours go on, come rain or shine. So stash a rain jacket in your backpack or bag, and don’t fuss about every drizzle and drop.
5) Wear comfortable shoes
You’ll be walking on uneven ground, so be sure to wear comfy walking shoes.
That wraps up our guide on the botanical gardens of Kauai!
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 when you’re ready to take a break from the island’s beaches – they’re well worth visiting!
Have you enjoyed any Kauai botanical garden tours?
Do you have a favorite garden? Let us know in the Comments below… You can also read comments from other readers.
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Photo credits: 1, 5 to 9, 11, 12 Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase