One of the major tourist attractions on the Hawaiian island of Kauai is the stunning Waimea Canyon that is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific“. You can read about my visit to Waimea Canyon at the below link:
Everyone that visits the canyon has to pass through the small town of Waimea tucked on the island’s West Coast:
The town of Waimea has a population of less than 2,000 people, but this is enough people to easily make it the largest town on this side of the island. Here is a view of Waimea from the hills above the town:
Across the seas from Waimea the Forbidden Island Niihau can be seen looming in the distance:
Despite being one of the biggest towns on the island and being in proximity to a major tourist attraction, the town itself is not a big tourist attraction itself. This is because Waimea is a community where a lot of long-time locals and native Hawaiians live. So it is a town based around supporting a local community and not the tourist industry like Poipu on the South Shore is. However, this does not mean that Waimea doesn’t have interesting things to check out. Historically Waimea is actually a pretty significant location in Hawaii which becomes quite evident when driving through town where visitors can see this statue of the famed British explorer Captain James Cook:
Here is a closer look at the Captain James Cook Monument in Waimea’s Hofgaard Park, which also serves as the town square:
The statue of Captain Cook in Waimea is a replica of the original statue that was crafted by Sir John Tweed in Whitby, England which was Cook’s hometown. Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii at Waimea back in 1778 which made him the first recorded European to set foot on Hawaii. This fact causes locals to joke that Waimea is “Hawaii’s original visitor destination“. The fact that a large number of Hawaiians were already living in Waimea also means that the locals have probably lived in the area for many decades prior to Cook’s landing. Since it sits at the mouth of the Waimea River that provides fresh water and ample flat land to farm Waimea would have been an ideal location for the Hawaiians to settle. The name Waimea is Hawaiian for “red muddy water” which is an appropriate description for the river because of the reddish color it can sometimes have after heavy rains cut away at the red volcanic dirt above the city and drains into the river.
From the town square a number of old false front buildings that give downtown an Old West feel can be seen that to this day continue to house local businesses:
One of the most prominent local businesses that can be seen is the First Hawaiian Bank building that was built in back in 1929:
Further into town some buildings that were built in the art deco style such as the Waimea Theater that was built in 1938 can be seen:
This Hawaiian Church in Waimea showcases some more beautiful architecture that can be seen in town:
From the town square my wife and I walked through the downtown section of Waimea that features mostly just local businesses and restaurants. There are a few tourists shops that can be seen that mostly sell Kauai’s famous red dirt shirts and other clothing items:
Another major structure that can be seen in town is the remains of this old mill where the lot is often used to host flea markets at today:
My favorite restaurant in Waimea which is located on the north side of town is the Shrimp Station:
Here are two of my favorite dishes, the chili shrimp with rice:
And the coconut shrimp served over fries:
The Shrimp Station has a lot of other shrimp plates to try out, but it is a great place to grab a tasty and quick lunch in Waimea.
Here is a local power tip for everyone. If you want a great low cost lunch go to the Ishihara Market on the south side of town near the Waimea River:
Inside the market they make a number of rice bowls, sushi plates, meat dishes, and other local specialties that can be found at the back of the market. Get there before 1:00 PM though because by then just about everything is bought up because this place is very popular with the locals.
Finally here is the very northern edge of Waimea where the volcanic cliffs that lead to the stunning Waimea Canyon can be seen:
Like I said before Waimea is not a must see destination on Kauai, but it is a place to grab something to eat and do some quick shopping after trips to Waimea Canyon. There are also a few other interesting sites to see in the area such as the Menehune Ditch and Fort Elizabeth that are both located right outside of town. Waimea may not be on everyone’s list of places to check out on Kauai, but for me that was what I liked about Waimea; it felt more like a town than a tourist trap that other places in Hawaii can feel like.