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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Kainaliu is the first town you encounter to the south heading upcountry from Kailua town. In addition to a ribbon of funky old stores, coffee bars, and bistros, a handful of new galleries and shops have sprung up in the last few years. Browse around Oshima's, established in 1926, and Kimura's, founded in 1927, to find fabrics and Japanese goods beyond tourist trinkets, then pop into a local café for everything from burgers to authentic Italian. Peek into the 1932-vintage Aloha Theatre, where community-theater actors might be practicing a Broadway revue.
Part Hawaiian cultural center, part astronomy museum, the Imiloa Astronomy Center provides an educational and cultural complement to the research being conducted atop Mauna Kea. Although visitors are welcome at Mauna Kea, its primary function is as a research center—not observatory, museum, or education center. Those roles have been taken on by Imiloa in a big way. With its interactive exhibits, full-dome planetarium shows, and regularly scheduled talks and events, the center is a must-see for anyone interested in the stars, the planets, or Hawaiian culture and history. The center, five minutes from downtown Hilo, also provides an important link between the scientific research being conducted at Mauna Kea and its history as a sacred mountain for the Hawaiian people. Admission includes one planetarium show. The lunch buffet at the adjoining Sky Garden Cafe is popular. www.imiloahawaii.org. COST: $17.50. OPEN: Tues.--Sun. 9--5.
Stop here to admire the dark koa interior and the unusual wooden calabashes hanging from the ceiling. Be careful not to walk in while a service is in progress, as the front entry of this church, which was established in 1832 and rebuilt in 1857, is behind the pulpit.
A lovely two-story oceanfront home surrounded by jewel green grass and elegant coco palms and fronted by an elaborate wrought-iron gate, Hulihee Palace is one of only three royal palaces in America (the other two are in Honolulu on Oahu). The royal residence was built by Governor John Adams Kuakini in 1838, a year after he completed Mokuaikaua Church. During the 1880s it served as King David Kalakaua's summer palace. Originally built of lava, it features vintage koa furniture, weaving, portraits, tapa cloth, feather work, Hawaiian quilts, and more. The palace is on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by the Daughters of Hawaii, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the culture and royal heritage of the Islands. www.daughtersofhawaii.org. COST: $6 for adults, $4 for seniors, $1 for children under 18. OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 10--3:15.
Honomu did not die when sugar did. Its sugar-plantation past is reflected in the wooden boardwalks and metal-roofed buildings of this tiny town, which borders Akaka Falls State Park. It's fun to poke through old dusty shops filled with little treasures, check out homemade baked goods, or browse the local art at one of the fine galleries.
A quaint, cliffside village fronting the ocean, Honokaa Town was built in the 1920s and 1930s by Japanese and Chinese workers who quit the nearby plantations to start businesses that supported the sugar economy. The intact historic character of the buildings, bucolic setting, and friendlness of the residents all give visitors a nice reason to stop and stroll. Cool antique shops, a few interesting galleries, and good cafés abound. Most restaurants close by 8 pm. www.honokaa.org.
Hugging the hillside along the Kona Coast, the artsy village of Holualoa is 3 miles up winding Hualalai Road from Kailua-Kona. Galleries here feature all types of artists—from painters, woodworkers, and jewelers to gourd-makers and potters—working in their studios in back and selling their wares up front. Formerly the exclusive domain of coffee plantations, Holualoa still has quite a few coffee farms offering free tours and cups of joe. www.holualoahawaii.com.
With all the buzz about Kona coffee, it's easy to forget that coffee is produced throughout the rest of the island as well. The Hilo Coffee Mill is a pleasant reminder of that fact. In addition to farming their own coffee on-site, the Mill has partnered with several local small coffee farmers in East Hawaii in an effort to put the region on the world's coffee map. You can sample the efforts of the farmers, as well as tour the mill and watch the roasters in action. www.hilocoffeemill.com. COST: Free. OPEN: Mon.--Sat. 7--4.
The Hilo Downtown Improvement Association provides an excellent and free self-guided walking tour to downtown Hilo. The tour includes historical information, a map, and directions to 18 historic sites. You can download it from their Web site or pick it up in person at their downtown Hilo office. www.downtownhilo.com. OPEN: Weekdays 8--4:30.
Near the birthplace of King Kamehameha, these North Kohala towns thrived during the plantation days, once bustling with hotels, saloons, and theaters—even a railroad. They took a hit when "Big Sugar" left the island, but both towns are blossoming once again today, thanks to strong local communities, tourism, and an influx of artists keen on honoring the towns' past. Lovingly restored vintage buildings house fun and funky shops, galleries, and eateries.
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