HOME > Chowhound > Hawaii >


Kauai Luau?

My family is going to Kauai the week of Feb 23-Mar 2 and wants to attend a luau. Obviously there are several to chose from, but we really want to get to one that is more authentic and cultural rather than a touristy show. Any suggestions? A church or local fundraiser would be great. (We also have one VEGAN in the group)


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I would fire up the news reader and point it toward soc.culture.hawaii. Post your question there and hope that "Auntie Maria" sees it and responds. She is the cultural spokesperson for the island of Kaua`i and knows almost everything (from either a cultural or musical standpoint), that occurs. You might even put "<PING> Auntie Maria" (without the "s) in the Subject Line Header. I have not attended any on Kaua`i, so cannot offer advice. The few that I have seen appear to be the standard commercial/touristy version, such as the one at the Sheraton Kaua`i Resort. It appeared to be nice (viewed from my lanai), but we dined off the property, so we missed most of the show, etc. Cannot comment on the food, though it appeared that they did have a crowd and copious amounts of spread on the tables. Anyway, Auntie Maria can give you all the recs. and will know of family/local ones. As for the vegan, not sure what might be on the menu, besides poi.


    1. I am going in March and also looking for an authentic-as-possible experience - if you receive any info from Auntie Maria please share! TIA

      2 Replies
      1. re: brokergal

        Since the OP did not post to the Usenet news group, I just posted to soc.culture.hawaii, so I should have an answer rather quickly, as Auntie Maria is very good about answering a PING. It might not be in time to help the OP, but I also asked for any URL that might prove valuable for this info in the future. I'll post the responses ASAP.


        1. re: Bill Hunt

          OK, this is "hot off the press," from Auntie Maria on the beautiful island of Kaua`i:

          "All of the regularly-scheduled lu`au on Kaua`i are geared for the
          tourist crowd -- and tend to be filled with music and dance from
          throughout Polynesia, as opposed to only representing the music
          and dances of Hawai`i. Some will argue that because Hawai`i is
          a melting pot (true), the dances of Tahiti, Samoa, etc. should be
          included at every professional lu`au. But I long to find a lu`au
          which focuses exclusively on the rich history and traditions of
          the kanaka maoli -- the native Hawaiians.

          But that's just me...

          So the only difference remaining between all the lu`au here on
          Kaua`i, is the food and the price. Prices tend to be the same
          for all lu`au; the larger the hotel, the pricier the lu`au. So
          Smith's Tropical Garden (alongside the Wailua River near Kapa`a),
          is probably the lu`au with the lowest price. Food offerings at
          a lu`au are pretty standard -- and I've yet to find a professional
          lu`au with bad food. Unfortunately, vegans and vegetarians will
          have difficulty with the lu`au food -- but there's always steamed
          rice (white), poi, steamed taro, veggies and salad.

          You mention the possibility of attending a lu`au hosted by a
          church, canoe club, etc. These are the REAL lu`au -- hosted by,
          and given _for_, island residents. Lucky the island visitor who
          happens on one of these!! Check the event calendar of any island
          newspaper for a local kine lu`au. The season for those -- because
          they are usually held outdoors -- tends to be March/April through
          Sept/Oct. While the professional lu`au charge $60-$100 per person,
          a local lu`au will typically run under $20. Visitors are always
          welcome -- and quickly made to feel part of the `ohana (family).
          Come as you are -- no fancy attire required!"
          Auntie Maria

          I hope that this info helps those, who are heading to Kaua`i for a vacation and would like to take in a lu`au. I had hoped that she might have a URL for "local" events, but then, maybe a little research will yield such a site. I correspond with a gent in Hawai`i, who does have a site, and maybe he can offer a space for the organizations, that might host such events. If he has, or wishes to add such a service, I'll post a link, though only in the thought of great lu`au food, since that is what we're here for.


        1. Really agree with Bill. Was on Kauai a few years ago and my mom wanted to go to a lu`au. We went to one and it was, quite frankly, awful. It was sad and it seemed more like a Las Vegas act than a lu`au. Just went to the Old Lahaina Lu`au on Maui again and it's always wonderful. I hope you are able to find a local one. It would be worth your search!

          1 Reply
          1. re: HeatherFL

            The Old Lahaina is one of only two (other than the one at Polynesian Cultural Center), that I have ever attended. It was very nice and intimate. The other was a special production for an international sales meeting at Sea Life Park (probably crew from PCC), and it was spectacular, but more like a well-polished LV extravaganza. Good, but over-the-top. Of these, the only one that I could give a rec. for, would be Old Lahaina, so I'm glad to see that it's still going and is enjoyable.

            Just as a casual observer (looking down on the event), the one at the Sheraton Kaua`i looked tired, with the performers just going through the motions.


          2. Thanks for the good input. We did go to Hiva Pacifika (sp?) at the ResortQuest Hotel. It was definitely geared toward tourists. The price was decent at $50/person with the advanced internet deal. The meat was very tasty! The rest of the food was good as well. The vegans of the group were able to get show passes only and "exit stage left" when the meat was presented, and come back later. They picnicked on the beach by the hotel. The music was decent, and the dancing was entertaining. Several times they would bring people from the audience on stage to hula, which although funny, wasn't the show we were looking for. All-in-all, it was a fun show, good food. We did enjoy ourselves and that's what counts. It certainly wasn't the authentic feel we were looking for though, definitely for the tourist. Another side note, my wife and I stayed a few nights on the big island and from our hotel room one night we overheard the beginning of the luau at the Royal Kona Resort. The music was better, and they seemed to explain more about the meaning and the process of cooking, etc... The setting was not as pleasing, since they were just by the pool, then again that's right by the ocean too.

            1 Reply
            1. re: p_ster

              Thank you for the update and review. I am not at all familiar with the ResortQuest Hotel, so this is a new one, for me.

              For music and dance, I strongly recommend the Maka`hina [SP?] Festival, held on the North Shore of O`ahu in early October. It is a weekend-long contest of hula and very entertaining. I have attended it at Waimea Falls Park, but the site might have moved. The Aloha Festival, which is held across several Islands about the same time, is great for the music, the culture and just the experience. http://www.gohawaii.com/ normally has a list of the sites and the events. Also, the Usenet NG, soc.culture.hawaii has listings of many more local events on most Islands.

              Glad that the food was OK, as that is why we're all here, and that the vegans were satisfied. In another thread on lu`au, several gave a nod to the Old Lahiana Lu`au on Maui. I had been many years back, and it was quite good. The best food, that I have had at a lu`au has been a special event at Sea Life Park, but it was arranged for an international sales meeting, and I do not know who catered it - my guess is that it was the Polynesian Cultural Center, as most of the entertainment was from there, but it was head-n-shoulders above the lu`au at the Cultural Center, as far as the food goes.

              Something to think about next trip - Alan Wong (O`ahu and Big Island) did a "New Wave Lu`au," last Sept. at his Pineapple Room, Ala Moana Center. It was over-the-top, regarding food. Little music, and less dancing, but the food was great - maybe 40 courses! If you are heading back to the Islands, you might want to check in with the AW Web site, http://www.alanwongs.com/, to see if he's doing it again.


            2. I've been to a number of luaus over the years, including several large hotel efforts, the ever popular Smith's boat tour and luau on Kauai, and even the luau at Kona Village on the Big Island. While Kona Village wins the food prize hands down, a very close second food wise, and probably first place in charm and entertainment, was the luau at Kilohana Plantation, just outside of Lihue on Kauai. The food was a cut above most places, including the big hotels, and while served chaffing dish style, nonetheless didn't come off as standard buffet fare. The dishes, save for the traditionally prepared pork, supposedly comes from Gaylord's which is there at Kilohana. What is nice about the entertainment is that most of the performers are kids from the local high schools and community college, so you have a real amateur enthusiasm and spirit of fun that is often lacking in more professional productions. There are some Vegas/tourist aspects (the tour of the dances of the South Seas, fire dancers, audience participation etc), but as an admittedly jaded luau veteran, I have to confess I enjoyed it. Also, before the luau there is a tent pitched on the grounds where you can wander around various stations where local folk are demonstarting various arts & crafts. (When we went last year one of my daughters had a long conversation with the palm frond weaver about his troubles finding young people on the island willing to take the substantial time it takes to learn some of the more intricate patterns that you can basically only absorb by watching someone else doing it -- very interesting.)

              Not cheap by any means -- I think it was in the $60 per person range for adults -- but as I mentioned, considering the quality of the food (plus unlimted passable Mai Tai's) and pleasant entertainment, a fairly good value. We're heading back to Kauai in a couple of weeks and the family has insisted we go back to the Kilohana luau, and I don't find myself resisting much. (Though I might prefer trying Gaylord's proper -- I've never managed to eat there, despite havning hit most of the other standard spots in the area.) All in all, a fun time.

              6 Replies
              1. re: BHAppeal

                Thank you for the informative report. Though we have done Gaylord's and have toured the Kilohana Plantation (just last Sept.), I did not know about their lu`au.

                For me, US$60/person is a very fair price, especially considering that the food is good and that one has the opportunity to interact with the artisans.

                This should prove helpful to those considering a lu`au on Kaua`i.

                1. re: BHAppeal

                  Are there any luau's on the North Shore? I am going to be staying on Kauai from Wed - Tues, and staying on the N. Shore Fri - Tues. The Kilohana Plantation looks good but it looks like they only do luau's on Tues and Thu, and I'm not sure if I can make it.

                  1. re: Hapa Dude

                    An unfortunate update -- on arriving on Kauai I've found that Kilohana is no longer doing the luau. Instead they refer you to the Sheraton's Sunset Luau -- with a 10% discount if you say you were referred by the folks at Kilohana. Oh well, I suppose we'll try the Sheraton luau. I last went to it 20 years ago, so I imagine it has changed a little bit, though the setting, right on the beach, was always a knock-out.

                    A side note for Hunt -- Just got back from Brennecke's which has always been good for drinks, a nice view and very basic, but generally well prepared, broiled local fish. Had Whahoo tonight that was a bit over cooked, not ruined, but starting to tip into dry end so to speak. My wife had ginger and cilantro encrusted opah, and it was similarly over cooked. In your last Kauai report you noted you kept running into fish that was a bit over-cooked. Hope this isn't a trend....

                    1. re: BHAppeal

                      A final update -- went to the Sheraton Sunset Luau on Kauai and it was good, but not great. Entertainment was slicker than the Kilohana, much more tired and Vegas like save for a few Kilohana teenage holdovers and the fire dancer. Food ranged from good to very good -- the traditional luau pork had an excellent flavor and the teriyaki beef, while a little tough, nonetheless had very good flavor and was freshly grilled throughout the evening. Fish and chicken dishes were okay, but didn't stand out. Basically a hotel buffet, albeit a fairly good one, in a tropical setting. Drinks from the open bar were basic, and not terribly good. (The Mai-Tai wasn't even a mix -- just pineapple juice and cheap dark rum.) At $75 per person it certainly isn't cheap, but the food is passable and if you somehow "must" see a luau on Kauai you could do worse -- the ocean side setting is pleasant and really makes up for a lot.

                      1. re: BHAppeal

                        Mahalo for the update. We "did" the Sheraton lu`au, when last there. It was a tad different, as our lanai was overlooking the festival, so we were not there, but instead sipping a fine Montrachet on our balcony, overlooking the event. We dined at Plantation Gardens that night, which was OK, but headed back to our room to see the end of the lu`au below and the remainder of the Montrachet. Seemed like a nice, albeit typical commercial lu`au. Seemed that the actual attendees enjoyed themselves. Hey, it's more about the fun for the family, than the food.

                        I'd love to see Alan Wong cater a lu`au (did his "New Wave Lu`au some years back), with great Island food. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that it would fly with the tourists, who have a preconception of what a lu`au should be. I doubt that a great one would draw the necessary crowds and be able to pay the bills. Still, there is hoping...

                        Thanks for the updates, as the lu`au question comes up so very often, and most of us do not have a lot of really useful CH experience for recs.



                      2. re: BHAppeal

                        It seems the Gaylords/Kilohana luau is back on. We're on Kauai now, and I noticed the sign when we drove past. Unfortunately, we'd already attended the luau at Smith's before I noticed this. Smith's was fun, but the food was not much to write home about. I thought the pork was pretty good, but nothing much else to speak of.

                        Here's the web link to the Luau at Gaylords/Kilohana:

                  2. I think that most people recommend Smith's tropical luau. I have been lots of luaus now and I personally liked the Hyatt's. The halau who performs at the luau has some older dancers, and they seem to be better dancers due to their maturity.

                    Smith's luau has an amazing setting and is less expensive.

                    If you want to go to something more local you could try going to the Post Office to get a list of activities. Either on Tuesday or Wednesday I always receive a weekly newsletter (forget what its called) and it lists all of the weekly events. If you PO workers do not have extra to give out to you, there will probably be a ton of them in the trash! Then you will have an idea of whats going on around the island.

                    1. I have to recommend the luau at the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. Not normally a fan of big hotels/resorts, especially for these types of events that should be more of a real experienece than an over produced show, but we fiance and I were really impressed with the Hyatt's. The food was great and the show was awesome. And you can't beat the gorgeous garden they hold it in - it's right on the beach too! Just make sure you attend when they have it outside, I think the experience would really suffer if it was moved inside one of the banquet rooms due to weather.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: SarahM

                        Thank you for the input. We dined at several spots in the Grand Hyatt, and they did seem concerned about trying to do things right. Glad to hear that they are taking their lu`au seriously, as there is a dearth of this. As I have no experience, I cannot add anything, except a big mahalo for the info.


                      2. Sorry I didn't see this post earlier. But I'll provide my input for those in search of Kauai luaus on future trips.

                        The Smith Family Luau at Wailua is well advertised and may be convenient for many. Yet everything about this luau is mediocre. Somehow, they are still able to routinely pack in over 400 people at each luau. Not one I'd recommend.

                        As others have noted, seek fundraising luaus. Definitely a great deal, plenty good fun and food. Just last week I saw two advertised in Kapa'a so they aren't that hard to find.

                        1. If you'd like an original Hawaiian experience you should attempt to attend a blessing...I attended a blessing yesterday at the opening ceremony for a festival on the Big Island and it was very nice and authentic...bonne chance

                          1. Yet another update here. The Kilohana/Gaylord's luau has transformed into what they themselves descibe as a "Las Vegas style show." The food remains excellent, the show is fine, if over produced, and the price hefty -- $98 for adults, teens $65 and kids I think are $45. The show and dinner are held in a permanent pavillion, with Tuesday open for general booking, and various other dates on a hit and miss basis since they generally cater to cruise ships docking in the harbor. They still have the pre-show demonstartion areas for palm frond weaving, Hawaiian games, dancing and the like, but with a few more stands selling local merchandise sprinkled in. Better than most hotel luaus, but still far from traditional. Sounds like tracking down a local fund-raiser is the way to go.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: BHAppeal

                              Mahalo for the report on Kilohana. They have alwasy struck me as a class act. Glad that they are trying.

                              I usually recommend the real "local" events, and looking in the local notices section of the classifieds. I like the idea of hitting the Post Office for fliers too.

                              For the right blend of great food and local entertainment with a strong historical base, I'd spend 3x the price listed - maybe not every trip, but often enough to experience it several times.