Waimea might seem too sleepy of a town for a proper visit. But looks can be deceiving as this charming westside locale on Kaua‘i is well worth a stop. Its rich history alone is enough to cause pause—this is where Captain Cook first stepped foot on the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1770s and a statue in commemoration of the famed British explorer sits in the middle of town.

The community’s dedication to its rich heritage has not gone unnoticed. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has included this west side town on its short list of a dozen U.S. destinations that have “lovingly” preserved their communities.

From the Mountains to the Ocean

Prior to European settlers arriving here, however, Waimea was inhabited by natives who used an ahupua‘a system to sustain life, a distinct division of land that applies natural resources like water to grow crops from mauka (the mountains) to makai (the sea). Since then, the land has been cultivated in a number of different ways from plantation company crops like sugarcane to the more recent growth of genetically modified seeds.

Relax and Meander Awhile

What you can’t help but notice in this paniolo (cowboy) inspired town besides the vast tracks of undeveloped land, is the abundant concentration of red dirt Kaua‘i is famous for. Buildings are permanently stained red from the famous soil. Still, that doesn’t deter some 2,000 residents from calling this place home.

While not many people may live here plenty travel through to gain access to the town’s most famous treasure, Waimea Canyon. Just remember, this isn’t a place to simply breeze by on your way to exploring all that Kaua‘i’s wilderness has to offer in Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e State Parks. This is the perfect spot to relax and meander.

Taking in the Sights and Flavors of Waimea

One way to learn more about the area is through “Historic Waimea Walking Tours,” offered by the West Kaua‘i Visitor Center (808-332-1332) every Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Or if you only have a few moments to spend, at least grab a picnic to go at Ishihara Market where you can try local flavors such as ahi poke (raw fish salad) or cool off after a long hike with an acai bowl from G’s Juicebar or a tropical treat from JoJo’s Shave Ice.

Definitely don’t pass this town by. Its laid-back atmosphere will have you either kicking up your heels, reaching for an ice-cold beer at Wrangler’s Steakhouse, or savoring the historic allure and charming small businesses that help give Waimea its one-of-a-kind charisma.

Nearby Accommodations: Waimea Plantation Cottages

For a truly unique and authentic Hawaiian experience, enjoy a stay at Waimea Plantation Cottages. These quaint cottages are re-developed plantation homes from the Island’s agricultural era when sugar cane farming was the primary industry. Guests enjoy this relaxing and serene oceanfront experience, which is unlike any other in all of the Hawaiian Islands.