Along the eastern coast of the Big Island lays Hilo, a laidback and local-style town. Overlooking Hilo Bay, Hilo makes a home for a lot of natural beauty and holds a rich history. Hilo is the island's modest and relaxed contrast to Kailua-Kona; it's resisted change and still somewhat resembles old Hawaii. Yet Hilo is a kept secret for foodies; it holds some of the island's best views and unique beaches, multiple fun dive bars and walkable streets lined with historic buildings.
Morning at Honoli'i — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
Swim & Surf
Honoli'i Beach Park is a true Big Island beach, meaning that it makes the best out of a lot of rocks and a little bit of sand. But, Honoli'i is truly beautiful and provides a great experience. The beach is down a rather long flight of steps that weaves down the cliff.
This is mainly a surfing beach, but the river flowing into the ocean, and small beach and picnic areas make it a fun stop for anyone. When the waves are small, the best area to swim is at the river mouth where children have fun playing in the cold water and looking for beach glass. Cold showers, lifeguards and restrooms provide basic amenities.
Namaste — Photo courtesy of Makuahine Pa'i Ki'i
This is a zoo, but it's not just child's play. Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo allows a glimpse of life in a tropical rainforest, making it the only such facility in the United States. More than 80 species of animals call the reserve "home," including Namaste (a rare white Bengal tiger), a huge black boar like the wild ones locals hunt, as well as other native animals and plants. It's free!
Liliuokalani Gardens — Photo courtesy of lawdawn1
See and Do
Nestled out of sight at the start of downtown Hilo on the east side of the Big Island, Banyan Drive is a scenic loop along the ocean offering various sights to see and things to do. Weaving around the Waiakea Peninsula of Hilo Bay, with views of the volcanoes Mauna Keau and Mauna Loa in the distance, the drive is named after the 50-plus Banyan trees that line it. The roots of these eerie hardwood trees reach down through the air and dangle from overhead, giving the banyans a cage-like appearance.
The trees were planted by celebrities like Amelia Earhart, F.D.R. and Fannie Hurst, and most of them date to the 1930s. In the area is also Liliuokalani Park, a heavenly Japanese-style garden inspired park where locals fish, exercise and relax. Also found nearby is Coconut Island, a small island connected to the main island by a man-made bridge. This is a place for local families and visitors to enjoy fun in the sun, swimming and beach time away from the main beaches.
Miyo's restaurant has been serving up great Japanese food for over a decade. You won't find sushi here, but you'll find amazing curries, katsus, salads, udon and soba dishes, and tempura. The portions are good-sized, and you won't leave hungry. There's plenty of vegetarian options on the menu, and lots of fish dishes made with locally caught fish.
The full meals come with miso soup, a small salad and Japanese pickles. Miyo's keeps it sustainable by serving Hilo homemade ice cream for dessert (try the ginger or green tea) and it has always been (and still is) BYOB (bring your own beer or wine).
Miyo's is a favorite for any local and that's why it's usually pretty busy. The low-key restaurant mixes simplicity with elegance, and the brand new building features wooden tables and walls, a kitchen in full view, a fountain and live acoustic music.