About as touristy as you can get on sleepy Kauai, Kilohana Plantation, the former estate of a sugar baron, now boasts a short train ride through tropical orchards, an upscale alfresco restaurant, the headquarters for Kauai’s only major rum distillery, shopping and a spa, plus a luau complete with fire twirlers. Thanks to a 1980s restoration, the 16,000-square-foot manor house retains much of the structural charm it must have had when Gaylord Parke Wilcox, the head of the Grove Farm sugar plantation, built the Tudor mansion in 1935.
Though history buffs will find a few interior nods to the Hawaii Historic Landmark’s former use—vintage photographs, ornate carpeting, hardwood floors and wainscoting—this is no museum. The home’s bedrooms, sitting rooms and sunrooms now host shops purveying a huge variety of 8island-inspired souvenirs from glassworks to pottery, apparel and jewelry to coconut carvings, confections and spices. The sprawling 104-acre estate, expanded since the Wilcoxes resided there, now includes a sustainable farm boasting crops of coffee, papaya, banana, lychee and vegetables, which bolster the menus of the onsite Gaylord Restaurant and the Mahiko Lounge.
It’s hard to say what attraction is the biggest draw here, but most visitors board mahogany passenger cars to embark on a 40-minute informative tropical train ride and spot some feral pigs, learn about the estate, sample the terroir of Kauai via the Koloa Rum Tasting Room or stay for the highly theatrical evening luau, one of the island’s most popular.
Kilohana Plantation is located at 3-2087 Kaumualii Highway (Highway 50), just south of downtown Lihue. All of the shops are open by 10:30 a.m., though the trains and the Koloa Rum Tasting Room and Company Store open by 9:30 a.m. Train tours are offered five times a day at 10, 11 a.m., noon, 1 and 2 p.m., costing $19 for adults and $14 for children ages 3-12 (tx not included). The luaus run year round on Tuesday and Friday at 4:30 p.m. The $104 adult, $69.95 teen and $39.93 child admissions include a welcoming lei, traditional imu pork dinner, the evening performance and, for adults, an all-you-can-drink mai-tai, beer and wine bar.