Allerton Garden is one of the prime attractions to see when visiting the island of Kauai. It’s home to some exotic plants and a number of notable water features as well as a lot of local history. It’s also where a lot of big movies have been filmed such as Jurassic Park.
Allerton Gardens offers a number of different tours you can choose from but one of the popular tours is the sunset tour.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the sunset tour so that you know exactly what to expect whenever you arrive.
What is the Allerton Garden Sunset tour?
The Allerton Garden Sunset tour is a special tour of Allerton Garden that takes place in the late afternoon and during sunset.
In total, the tour lasts about three hours and takes you through all of the main garden sites as well as the historic Allerton House where you can enjoy dinner and take in the sunset.
Admission for each adult is $80 and reservations are required. These do sell out so you may want to book in advance.
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Allerton Garden (brief history)
If you’re doing the sunset tour, it helps to have a grasp on the Allerton Garden history because you’ll be encountering a lot of it.
The entire area surrounding present-day Allerton Garden, known as the Lawa’i Valley, was once owned by Queen Emma, the wife of King Kamehameha IV.
She received all of the land in the late 1800s and during that time she resided at least part time in a cottage above the valley.
The Queen spent time planting rose apples, laurel, mangoes, bamboo, and ferns up on the valley cliffs and some of those still exist today.
The McBryde family, who already owned a crap ton of land in Hawaii, eventually purchased the property outright from the Queen’s estate in 1886 and they cultivated sugarcane and rice in different parts of the valley.
In 1899, one of Queen Emma’s cottages was lowered to the valley floor and Alexander McBryde lived in it for several years. During that time he carried on the tradition of planting things in the valley and introduced many palms, gingers, plumerias, and ferns along the beach.
Then about four decades later Robert Allerton entered the picture.
Robert Allerton was the son of an ultra-wealthy Mayflower descendant who had made his fortune in Chicago in livestock, banking, and real estate.
Allerton initially tried to become an artist in Europe but after failing (and throwing his artwork into a fire) he came back to the US and became an avid art collector and patron.
Fascinated by natural landscapes, he created a series of gardens and settings for statues at “The Farms” in Monticello, Illinois.
Eventually, he met his life partner, John Gregg, who he also adopted likely because homosexual relations were so taboo at that time and they needed a sort of “cover.”
The two traveled the world together collecting artwork and getting inspiration for their gardens.
On one trip in 1937, they visited Kauai and were blown away by the Lawa’i Valley.
It only took them one year but they soon purchased the lower portion of the valley and in 1938 moved in to their home which was designed by John.
They carried on the tradition of planting exotic plants in the valley and they also added many statues, fountains, and waterfalls as they expanded the gardens.
The beauty of this place attracted a lot of celebrities and notable figures like Jacqueline Kennedy and Georgia O’Keefe who would come through to visit.
In the 1960s, Robert lobbied for the creation of a national tropical botanical garden and in 1964, the last year of Robert Allerton’s life, the charter was granted to establish the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden, which was later renamed to the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Today, there are multiple National Tropical Botanical Garden sites in Hawaii and the one at Allerton Garden has achieved a lot of notoriety becoming one of the ’50 Places of a Lifetime’ by National Geographic Traveler.
Where is Allerton Garden?
The Allerton Garden visitor center is located on the south side of Kauai at: 4425 Lawai Rd, Koloa, HI 96756.
Be careful about relying on your GPS to take you to the right spot because our GPS took us right past the entrance.
The good news is that there is a pretty big sign indicating that you have arrived at the gardens.
You simply need to enter the gates, park, and then follow yet another sign that will take you to the entrance of the garden where you also find a visitor center and gift shop.
Simply check in at the visitor center and then you’ll be ushered to where you can wait for your tour to begin.
Tip: Bring sunscreen and bug spray because you will be in the sun for a good amount of the tour and bugs can become an issue.
Allerton Garden Sunset experience
Kicking off the tour
There will be a little shaded area for you to wait for your tour to begin and once the time is ready your guide should round everybody up and load you on to the shuttle bus.
You have about a 20 minute drive down to where you will begin the walking portion of the tour and on the way your guide will point out some interesting plants and history about the gardens.
Tip: If you are unable to walk that long you can talk to them about getting assistance with a golf cart.
At first, I have to be honest, I thought our tour guide was a little bit too much for me. If you have the same guide you’ll probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
But after a little while he grew on me and I actually really enjoyed his goofiness and it added to the tour.
Kicking off the walking tour
Your guide will take you through a series of different stops on the tour.
At each stop, you’ll get to learn a little bit about the different plants and water features and ask any questions you might have.
Personally, I’m not a huge plant lover in the sense of caring about every little facet about the plants but I did find it interesting to see so many new things.
Some of the flowers are super beautiful and it’s really cool to see so many plants you’ve never seen before.
Other times, it’s just fun to explore the amazing scenery that the plants provide.
It’s no wonder that some big movies like Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean have chosen this spot for their filming. It’s beautiful at pretty much every corner.
There are a number of interesting water features to check out on the tour as well.
Each of them has a different backstory but they have some cool elements to them especially when it comes to reflections.
I’ll spare you some of the details so that I don’t spoil all the fun but here are a few photos of some of the water features.
Jurassic Park scenes
Checking out some of the different plants and water features was cool but my primary motivation for visiting the gardens was to see the Jurassic Park filming sites since that was our overall mission in Kauai to begin with.
There are a handfull of different scenes that you can check out and I’ll break them down below.
By the way, if you want to see the full list of Jurassic Park sites in Hawaii check out this guide here.
The raptor egg discovery
When Dr. Grant discovers that there are raptor eggs on the island, he is sitting in the massive tree trunks of a Moreton Bay fig tree — a tree that is actually native to Australia.
Your tour guide should be able to point this location out to you if you can’t spot it yourself. But the dead giveaway will be the “eggs” that should be in there when you arrive.
Here’s a look at the movie still:
When Muldoon, Jurassic Park’s game warden, and Ellie are in the jungle and realize that they are being hunted by raptors, that scene takes place among the palm trees in the back of the mermaid water feature.
You come across this directly after the fig trees on the sunset tour but on the standard tour this will be seen right before the fig trees.
When Ellie is running to the maintenance shed, that scene takes place on the other side of the fig trees in an open grassy area.
This will be directly adjacent to the space where the clever girl scene was filmed, which makes sense because the two scenes were related in the movie.
When they first arrive at the island and they start their tour, they are taken by the Dilophosaurus paddock which is that little Sour Patch Kid of a dinosaur that spews out the ink in the movie all over Dennis Nedry (and then feasts on him).
During the scene when they first arrive and drive past the paddock, the dinosaur is MIA but the area included in the paddock is the space next to those fig trees where the eggs were discovered.
In other words, when you’re standing next to the huge fig trees, you are standing in the Dilophosaurus paddock.
I tried to match up the trees but it’s a little bit difficult because the scene was shot from the other side of the Lawa’i Stream. Plus, you never know how much a tree can change in 30 years or what trees may not have made it.
Still, there are a couple of trees that look very similar to the one featured in the movie.
Two more scenes?
I’ve heard from different sources that when the Ford Explorer falls out of the tree and almost smashes Dr. Grant and Timmy that this scene was filmed in one of the fig trees.
This would be the first or third tree that you encounter.
However, I don’t think these trees were used for that scene for a few reasons.
I took a really close look at all of the fig trees but struggled to find roots that lined up with the still below. I didn’t see a single tree with such a wide open space for a car to fall in the roots.
I don’t think that they would use one of the fig trees for that scene considering the damage that a prop car (and all the attached equipment) could do to them.
This was a night scene and most of the night scenes were done in studio.
Finally, if you take a close look at the roots used in the film they don’t really look like the roots found on any of the trees because those tend to be much longer.
I also heard that they filmed some of the scenes when Dr. Grant climbed up the tree with the kids in one the fig trees.
Again, those scenes look like they were done in studio because the tree trunk/branches were wayyy too thick in the movie to be these trees.
Even though a few of these shots were done in studio, you still get to experience at least a handful of sites used in the Jurassic Park movie when you visit these gardens which is really cool.
The Allerton House
Once you finish up with the Jurassic Park sites, you’ll walk along the stream until you get to some of the more historical parts of the tour including the Allerton House.
You’ll be able to go inside and check out all of the rooms and see some original artifacts including photos of Allerton himself. They also have a working bathroom inside.
Hurricanes have wreaked havoc on the structure so it has been rebuilt over the years but it’s still able to maintain a lot of its original look based on photographs and original plans for the house.
It’s pretty cool to think about all the noteworthy individuals who have come through this house including people like Jackie Kennedy.
After you tour the house you can pick up your dinner box which should be marked with your name on it.
You can then choose to eat inside at one of those set tables or you can head outside and eat on the patio which is what we chose to do because it felt so nice outside.
I was a little bit suspect about the dinner because I had seen a couple of reviews that were not exactly a full endorsement of the food.
But despite that, we really enjoyed both the shrimp and the Ahi tuna.
You also get a full selection of juices and water and you can take as many cans or bottles as you need to stay hydrated.
After dinner, you have about 30 minutes to wander about and check out the sandy shores of Lāwaʻi Bay.
Once everyone is done exploring, your guide will round everyone up.
A few people will have the chance to drive one of the golf carts back over to where the shuttle bus will be waiting.
This was a cool opportunity because a couple of the golf carts have Jurassic Park decals on them which was the perfect touch to the tour, especially considering what we were there for.
Once you’re back on the bus, you’ll make a couple of stops to admire the sunset and hopefully it will be a memorable one for you like it was for us.
This tour at Allerton Gardens ended up being one of my favorite attractions in Kauai despite me initially not being super thrilled about visiting a botanical garden.
For any Jurassic Park fan, it would be almost impossible to not enjoy seeing these original sites from such iconic scenes.
And even if you’re not in it for Jurassic Park, it’s still a beautiful setting and interesting to hear about the different plants and history rooted in the space.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.