The Best Luau on Kauai

Dancers in Grass Costumes at Luau Kalamaku on Kaui, Hawaii

The Best Luau on Kauai

Why a Luau?

You wouldn’t fly to Rome and skip the Coliseum. If you traveled all the way to Japan, it would be weird to skip out on a traditional tea ceremony. If you go to Hawaii and don’t experience a luau…did you even go? Soft white sand and perfect weather are a strong magnet for pleasure-seekers of all kinds, but there are more wonders to explore. One of the best ways to get an authentic Hawaiian experience is with a traditional luau. It’s the perfect way to witness a cultural phenomenon that developed in this gorgeous tropical setting. Get to know the real Hawaii with the perfect Luau experience.

OK…But What Is the Perfect Luau Experience?

In fact, what exactly is a luau? It’s a traditional Hawaiian party that includes a feast with several Hawaiian staples like poi, a hearty paste made of pounded taro root, and fresh fish. There are also dishes that are reserved for only the most special occasions. Hawaiian delicacies include kalua pig prepared in an underground oven called an imu, and a variety of fresh, brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Trust us, you’re going to want a second plate. The feast is accompanied by traditional music and dance. Whichever luau you choose, there will be hula and other types of traditional performance. Many shows culminate in an adrenaline-pumping fire knife dance. The entertainment is hugely important to the overall feel of the experience.

Two Centuries of Delicious History

Royal luau in 1889 with King Kalakaua, Princess Liliuokalani, and Robert Louis Stevenson
Royal luau in 1889 with King Kalakaua, Princess Liliuokalani, and Robert Louis Stevenson

The luau tradition began two hundred years ago, when King Kamehameha II hosted the very first luau as we know it. The ancient religious laws of the time forbade men and women from eating together, even at celebrations. In 1819, just a few months into his reign, the king tossed these restrictions aside, inviting his mom and stepmother to a festive meal accompanied by music and dancing. The people of Hawaii—and savvy visitors—have been celebrating special occasions in this way ever since. Luaus are a rich and beautiful tradition. You definitely don’t want to leave Hawaii wondering what you missed out on.




I’m Convinced, But There Are So Many Luaus! How Do I Choose?

Now that you know what to expect, and have decided to treat yourself to this special event, all that’s left to decide is which luau to choose. And because you’re clearly a smart one, you’re here! We’ve tried them all, so can confidently state which luau we think is the best, based on a set of standard criteria we look at every time we go to one of these parties. That’s right: we’ve sampled every Kauai luau currently operating, and we’re happy to share what we found with you. We rated each luau on a set of crucial factors in order to determine the overall best on the island. These are categories we consider when choosing the best luau:

  • Food
  • Entertainment
  • Audience Participation
  • Bar Experience
  • Location

Based on these factors, we’re happy to report that the Luau Kalamaku is the best luau experience available on Kauai.

Let’s break it down, with the rating for each category:

The Feast: 94%

Feast on delicious island cuisine
Feast on delicious island cuisine

The food served during a luau is a combination of traditional dishes that are mainstays of Hawaiian cuisine and luxurious delicacies which are reserved for the most notable occasions. An authentic luau is the perfect way to make and keep delicious memories of your Kauai vacation. Snap a picture or ten of your plate(s) to immortalize the mouth-watering spread—and make your friends back home insanely jealous. Start your feast with giant platters of mixed delights for you to sample. These include fresh green salad, potato-macaroni salad (an island favorite), tomato seaweed ginger salad, and a mountain of fresh island fruit. Go easy on the appetizers, because you’ll want to have room for everything that follows. Fluffy, flaky, bright purple taro rolls are a must-try. Juicy pineapple chicken and jasmine rice, fresh-caught fish, vegetable chow mein, and mashed purple sweet potatoes are starring members of the dinner cast. The kalua pig is a delicacy that merits a paragraph all its own. Read on!

Kalua pig is one of the traditional foods found at every luau
Kalua pig is one of the traditional foods found at every luau

Kalua pig is cooked in an imu, or underground oven. An imu is a deep fire pit lined with lava rocks. These rocks absorb the heat from the fire at the bottom of the pit, and this is what cooks the food placed on top, wrapped in leaves to create the steamy environment that results in juicy, tender meat and vegetables. Pretty cool, huh? This is an ancient Polynesian secret to incredible flavor and perfect cooking. The word kalua translates to “cooked in an oven in the ground.” Banana leaves and a layer of fragrant Ti leaves serve as a buffer layer that further adds to the distinct kalua flavor. The uncovering ceremony will give you chills—it’s a very special moment that honors the richness of Hawaii’s cultural heritage.

While your dessert may not come from a splendid underground oven, we believe it will wow you all the same. The menu includes haupia ( a traditional Polynesian coconut pudding), banana cream tart, pineapple upside down cake, and delicious rice pudding with rich dark rum sauce. Our compliments to the chef!

The Entertainment 92%

Dancers tell an enchanting story
Dancers tell an enchanting story

This is the big pineapple. The main event. Hold onto your socks, because a luau performance of this caliber may just knock them clean off. The show starts with a torch-lighting ceremony. Then the hula begins! Hula is an ancient performance art that combines chanting or singing with dances designed to enhance the story. Hula was once used to honor the gods worshipped in the area, and was taken so seriously that dancers in training went into seclusion to perfect their craft, so as not to offend the deities with an incorrect step. The movements are sometimes graceful and flowing, and at other times powerful and energetic. The overall effect is completely mesmerizing. At Luau Kalamaku, you watch the tale of the brave Polynesian adventurers who sailed the open ocean to arrive on the pristine shores of the Hawaiian Islands. The dancers are dressed in eye-catching costumes typical of such a performance. The women wear kapa cloth skirts, and the men usually wear a long loincloth in the historical style. Try to contain yourself.

We aren't kidding about the dudes twirling flaming blades
We aren’t kidding about the dudes twirling flaming blades

The show continues with a performance of Fire Dream, a complex technical presentation of thrilling fire knife and poi ball dancing. This is really cool stuff: the dances are performances of intricate choreography—that’s real fire up there! The dance tells a story of an ancient fire goddess, a prince of Kauai, and an enchanted (aren’t they all?) dragon. The fire dancing morphs as she show progresses to include—you guessed it—knives! Picture it: Dudes Twirling Flaming Blades! These skilled professionals make death-defying stunts seem easy as they weave their way through the time-honored steps. You won’t be able to look away.


Audience Participation 75%

Luau Kalamaku is unique in its set design and show planning. The backdrops and set pieces are designed to encourage crowd participation, and include the viewers into the development of the show. Guests who volunteer may be included in a number of fun activities, such as learning to hula, or receiving a quick lesson and being put straight to work on the drums! Every audience member is respected and awarded the level of autonomy and involvement they prefer. Raise your hand when they ask for volunteers, and have some fun learning how to really appreciate the spirit of Hawaii.

The Bar 100%

Go ahead, have a cocktail…or two
Go ahead, have a cocktail…or two

This is where it gets fun! The adult beverages were everything we hoped for and then some. Unlike just about every other luau anywhere, a fully stocked, open bar is included in your luau price! You can enjoy a Mai Tai, a mojito, a rum punch, an ice cold local beer, or whatever beverage tickles your fancy as you get ready to be amazed during the evening’s show. High quality wines and spirits are available, and the skilled bartenders on site are happy to mix any drink to perfection. Be sure to tip them generously! For many guests, a couple of perfectly-crafted cocktails is an important part of enjoying the show, so the quality of the bar offerings is a serious consideration. Our experience at the Luau Kalamaku left absolutely nothing to be desired.




The Location 100%

The luau takes place at the historic and charming Kilohana Plantation, with over a hundred acres of picturesque grassland and plantation holdings. First developed in 1896 as a cattle ranch, the grounds have only been open for public enjoyment since 1986. An elegant 16,000 square foot (!) mansion on the property dates back to 1935, and showcases stunning examples of plantation-era architecture. Over the years, the structure has been lovingly restored to maintain its original glory. It’s worth the time to stroll through the manicured pathways of the estate. Entry to the gracious mansion is free! Take a moment to explore the lovely boutiques and shops inside, all of which are open to the public. The gardens are constantly evolving to reflect new aspects of local beauty in its decoration and planting. Artful contrasts and thoughtful vistas present themselves as you traverse the grounds of the estate.

Optional Train Ride Experience

See the plantation by train!
See the plantation by train!

All aboard the Kauai Plantation Express! You have the chance to see even more, as the train whisks you around the entire perimeter of the 105-acre grounds. The ride takes place in perfect time to be back before the luau festivities get started. Hear the full story of the secrets of the plantation from the fun and knowledgeable conductor and guides. Learn about the fascinating history of the ranch as you chug along among perfect fruit tree rows, tropical wildflower beds, rare hardwood trees, and even some friendly farm animals! There just isn’t a better way to take in the otherworldly beauty of the setting. Hop on the shiny green train and catch the full view the jewel of Kauai before your feast.

Need We Say More?

Listen to the call of the handmade drums! Every true Hawaii vacation should include an authentic luau experience. You can trust us when we say that while every luau is special, Luau Kalamaku comes in head-and-shoulders above the others. The open bar is unparalleled in selection and quality, and the performances are simply the best on Kauai. You’ll remember the ono (delicious), food for years to come.

Don’t settle for a sub-par luau during your hard-earned vacation when the best luau on Kauai is eager to welcome you at Kilohana Plantation!

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