Located only 15 minutes south of Kona International Airport, historic Kailua Village is a vibrant seaside town that's nestled in the heart of the Kona Coast. This one-time sleepy fishing village and retreat for Hawaiian royalty has become a booming hub of the island’s west side. A stroll down Ali‘i Drive (the main street along the waterfront) reveals souvenir shops, tour desks, open-air bars and restaurants. Historical sites within walking distance of Ali‘i Drive include Mokuaikaua Church, built entirely of lava and coral; Hulihe‘e Palace, once a summer retreat for Hawaiian royalty; and Ahu‘ena Heiau, a temple built by King Kamehameha I. The waters off Kailua-Kona are famous for sport fishing, and you can see marlin and swordfish being weighed at nearby Honokōhau Marina and Small Boat Harbor.
For more than a century, sugar was king along the fertile Hāmākua Coast. Today, despite the industry’s demise in the late 1990s, Honoka‘a, the biggest small town along this coast, remains a living testament to the plantation era. Economic changes have not diminished Honoka‘a’s historical integrity. While some visitors consider Honoka‘a no more than a getaway to Waipi‘o Valley, it’s worth exploring this National Historic Site. On Mamane Street, the Honoka‘a People’s Theater has been showing movies since the late ’30s. A more-than-80-year-old hardware store and century-old Buddhist Temple add their luster to the town, and down the road, Tex Drive-In is a local institution. Learn more about the area’s plantation days at Laupahoehoe Train Museum, or book an excursion into Waipi‘o Valley.
On a clear day in Hilo, the seasonal snow-capped summit of Mauna Kea stands in stark contrast to the azure blue waves that break crisply in Hilo Bay. Receiving an average of 140 inches of rain per year, Hilo offers abundant foliage and waterfalls. The Hilo Farmers Market, with more than a hundred vendors, is renowned for its regional produce, local color and celebration of island wares. Mom-and-pop stores are tucked among educational and historical gems. The Pacific Tsunami Museum documents the tidal waves that devastated Hilo in 1946 and 1960, and the Lyman Mission House & Museum highlights the natural and cultural history of Hawai‘i.
Home of the fiery goddess Pele, Kīlauea Volcano has been creating new land while alternately devouring homes and roads since it erupted in 1983, with now 32 years of continued activity. As one of the most popular attractions among the Hawaiian Islands, thousands have seen its fiery glowing displays and walked through its otherworldly sulfuric clouds. The main lava pit, or caldera, is easily accessible by car on the Chain of Craters Road. The dynamic flow of lava constantly changes, so call or stop by the Kīlauea Visitor Center first to get the latest flow reports and lava viewing tips. 808.985.6000, nps.gov/havo
The short tip that sticks out on the top left portion of Hawai‘i Island may not look like much on a typical map but the view, once you’ve driven up that coast, along Highway 270, at the end is a rewarding panoramic vision of Pololū Valley. Formed in its entirety by the Pololū stream, the valley cups a deep upside-down triangular shape on the side of the Kohala Mountain.This dramatic view of Hawai‘i Island’s northeastern coastline boasts verdant cliffs, which flanks a remote and peaceful black sand beach. Be careful if you make your way down the steep hike to the shoreline as the currents can become very strong. Swimming is highly discouraged for safety reasons.
This is paniolo (cowboy) country where rolling pastures are mystically shrouded with the upcountry mists. While Waimea is the town’s older name, Kamuela came into use in the early 20th century, when the postal service needed to distinguish this town from other names throughout Hawai‘i. The postmaster’s name, Samuel, was adopted in its Hawaiian form, and Waimea acquired its nickname: Kamuela. Parker Ranch, one of the oldest and largest cattle ranches in the country, is a Waimea signature, and so is Mauna Kea, its summit and observatory everywhere in view from the town.
Located near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, the town of Pāhoa has traditionally been an obligatory stop on the way to the Lava Tree State Monument or Kalapana. But Pāhoa has come into its own as a haven for artists and those seeking a rural lifestyle. Quaint and eclectic, with a sense of old Hawai‘i, this plantation town is lined with bistros, galleries, health food stores and craft shops. On Main Street, the wooden boardwalks and storefronts date back at least 100 years and have been reinvented into casual-chic businesses. In the past, the area around Pāhoa was timber and later sugarcane land, but today there are many nurseries located here growing anthuriums and an abundance of papayas.