Kilauea Lighthouse

Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse: Spectacular Landmark at Kauai’s Far Northern Tip
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

One of the signal landmarks of the Hawaiian Islands, the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse provides an unforgettable landmark (and seamark) for Kauai’s northernmost margin. This handsome white tower, capped with a red roof, dates to 1913, and though it’s no longer in operation it remains a popular tourist attraction. It also lies within the extraordinary Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a fabulous place to watch seabirds and marine life.

- The Local Expert Team

On May 1, 1913, the Kilauea Point Lighthouse first blazed into operation, providing an essential maritime beacon on the northernmost extremity of Kauai’s mainland. It served many decades in this role before being decommissioned in 1976, but it remains one of the most iconic and popular manmade landmarks on the Garden Isle.

No surprise why a light station might be situated here: Kilauea Point Lighthouse overlooks a vast Pacific skyline from a 180-foot bluff. It’s a spectacular place.

A century to the day after the lighthouse was commissioned, it was officially dedicated to U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who helped secure the funding necessary to restore the structure in the late 2000s and early 2010s. That restoration paid major dividends: The lighthouse’s white tower and red roof and vent ball look mighty spiffy, especially cast against the deep blue of the Pacific.

Occasionally lit for special occasions but no longer rotating, the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens once shot its beam 22 miles out to sea. Besides countless oceangoing vessels, the Kilauea Point Lighthouse aided other crafts across its long history.

Case in point: In 1927, weather caused the pilots performing the very first flight from the U.S. mainland to the Hawaiian Islands to overshoot Oahu, where they planned to land. The flashes from the Kilauea Point Lighthouse clued them into their location in the night darkness, and they were able to circle the beacon until daybreak allowed them to navigate to Oahu.

Open for daily tours and reached via a paved, wheelchair-accessible walkway, the Kilauea Point Lighthouse offers an absolutely knockout view on the far northeastern reach of Kauai. You’ll find restrooms, drinking fountains, and a water-refill station here.

The history and handsomeness of the tower and the vistas alone are worth a visit. But the fact that the lighthouse lies within Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1985 to protect the area’s large seabird colonies, makes it even more so one of Kauai’s must-see spots.

The birdlife here is diverse and highly visible. It includes noisy seabird colonies: Watch for the big Laysan albatrosses, gull-like shearwaters, and handsome, fast-flying red-footed boobies. Utterly gorgeous red and white-tailed tropicbirds take your breath away, while great frigatebirds—dark, long-winged airborne pirates—have an almost sinister look. Male frigatebirds inflate striking red throat sacks visible at long distances. 

In winter, Kilauea Point provides a good vantage to look for Kauai’s seasonally resident humpback whales. The nearshore waters also sometimes turn up sightings of Hawaiian monk seals and green turtles.

Whether you come here for the architecture, the history, the views, or the wildlife—and, really, all of the above provide major draws—the Kilauea Point Lighthouse should absolutely be on your Garden Isle itinerary!

Insider Tips:
-While the tower is open to visitors, you won’t actually be able to go up to the upstairs level and the beacon—just to head off any disappointment for those genuine lighthouse buffs out there.
-Pets aren’t allowed at the lighthouse, so leave Fido behind!