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Hilo has a lot more to offer than just rain

Portland, OR
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Hilo has a lot more to offer than just rain

I found this old Honolulu Advertiser article, and thought I would share it:

Hilo has a lot more to offer than just rain

By Wanda A. Adams

Advertiser Travel Editor

You know you're in Hilo when ...

As the airplane touches down, you hear someone say in a wondering tone, "Hey! It's not raining!"

You stop off at KTA store and notice that not only is there a rack of umbrellas out front for you to use in ferrying groceries to your car, but they provide plastic bags in which you are politely asked to encase your wet umbrella, to prevent puddles on the floor and possible falls.

You buy an umbrella and actually use it several times in the course of a weekend.

Rain stories aside, you also know you're in Hilo when ...

It takes an hour to shop for a few groceries because you keep coming across 'onolicious grinds you can't find in Honolulu: cookies and breads and smoked fish and locally made kamaboko and unusual varieties of bananas and fruits you can't name.

The hotel's not fancy but the aloha seems really genuine, and you see more locals than visitors in the hallways and at the restaurant.

The hula, even when it's not Merrie Monarch weekend, is really well done.

There are flowers absolutely everywhere: anthuriums in colors you've never seen before, kahili ginger in banks and groves and bunches all along the side of the roads, orchids crowding greenhouses and dripping from the counters of businesses you visit.

They still have those old-fashioned political rallies and the sign-wavers tend to be old men sitting on the backs of their pickup trucks, who seem to actually know half the people they're waving at.

You feel like maybe you're getting a taste of the Hawai'i your grandma or your mom and dad talk about.

Hilo-side gets a bad rap. They say it rains all the time. They say there's nothing to do. They say there are no good places to stay.

But that perception is changing, which bodes well for the area's economy but means that, if you want to get a taste of old-style Hilo, you better hele on over soon.

For Merrie Monarch, if you must. But that crowded weekend isn't the best time to savor this charming bayside city. Better to come when things are quieter and you don't have to wait in line for a seat in a restaurant, or stay in your second-choice hotel or B&B because the one you want is booked.

One thing to know: Both airlines appear to have reduced the number of flights to Hilo recently; everybody we talked to in Hilo was buzzing about it. Even booking one week out, I couldn't get a return flight to Honolulu anytime between 11 a.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. Monday, though I did manage to walk on after being wait-listed. Book early, especially if you're traveling at busy times, such as Friday night or Sunday evening.

In the course of a recent weekend in Hilo, my husband and I greatly enjoyed the view from our room at the Hawaii Naniloa Resort, a kama'aina-friendly hotel that's considerably the worse for wear, but clean and comfortable. It's worth paying a bit more for an oceanview room. Ours overlooked the lawns, pool and lava-fringed bay and we didn't even notice that there was no HBO or video on demand because we so enjoyed sitting on our balcony, sipping wine and munching mac nuts, watching the light fade. We wished we had time to while away a morning or afternoon at the tables on the lawn that look out on the bay. Another trip.

As to nothing to do, the only question is which direction to point the car:

• Toward downtown Hilo, where there are an increasing number of intriguing shops and galleries, plus the Lyman Mission House Museum (in the oldest home on the Big Island), the small but fascinating Pacific Tsunami Museum and grassy Kalakaua Park (a great place for a picnic and people-watching) and the tranquil Japanese-style Liliuokalani Gardens and Mokuola (Coconut Island), once an ancient place of refuge and now a park.

• Toward the Hamakua coastline, for sightseeing to Akaka Falls, Laupahoehoe and various beaches and roadside attractions.

• Or up the hill to Volcano Village and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

If you should happen on a sunny day in Hilo, as we did on one of the three days we were there (the others included one rainy and another that was just cloudy with the odd light drizzle), hit KTA (which I think is one of the most interesting, most local-feeling and best-run grocery chains in the Islands) or one of the many plate-lunch spots for something to eat and find a place from which to enjoy the green and luscious landscape.

As to where to stay, a number of Hilo-area bed-and-breakfasts come highly recommended in our most-trusted travel guides, Frommer's and the Moon Handbook, especially the historic Shipman House and Maureen's B&B. And we heard good things about the Dolphin House Hotel, which has furo — Japanese-style soaking tubs — in every room.

We enjoyed the dinners at two local restaurants and a Sam Choy-size local breakfast, too.

Restaurant Miwa (961-4454), in the Hilo Shopping Center, is a family-style Japanese restaurant with a slightly upscale feel (kimono-clad waitresses, sushi bar). Our kaiseki dinners, including soup, pickled vegetables, rice and entree, were reasonably priced and nicely prepared. If we had it to do again, we'd sit at the sushi bar for the chance to interact with Hiloans and the sushi master.

Another night, we were most impressed by the food, the service and the atmosphere at Cafe Pesto (969-6640), downtown in the restored S. Hata Building. The high-ceilinged, many-windowed room is comfortably listener-friendly and feels uncrowded even when every table is full. Our server was a gem who engaged just enough without intruding and dealt with a not-on-the-menu order graciously (a sign that servers are properly empowered to handle such contingencies and that the kitchen is confident enough to be flexible). The wine list was interesting and I loved my baked goat cheese and black sesame appetizer so much that I tried to re-create it a few days later at home. This is a must-stop in Hilo.

The next day at the Taste of Hilo, I fell in love with the food from Nori's Saimin and Snacks (935-9133), including green, wasabi-accented saimin noodles in a really flavorful dash with house-made tender, salty-sweet char siu, and an oniony mini-burger. This cheap but exceptionally good little restaurant is behind a bowling alley at 688 Kinoole Street and they stay open a little later than most Hilo eateries.

Our Saturday breakfast was at popular Ken's House of Pancakes (expect to sit and wait on a weekend morning), where the lilikoi pancake syrup is a treat and my husband had to beg me to share my corned beef loco moco (housemade corned beef has rice, egg, gravy over all, in a bowl, as it should be). Breakfasts, juice and coffee for two was less than $20.

Don't forget that Hilo is home to the restaurant that claims to have invented the loco moco, Cafe 100. And my husband looked longingly at funky Leong's Chop Suey, where he loves the takeout Chinese, but we weren't able to fit in a meal there on this trip.

Which is OK, because we're going back. Soon.

• • •

If you go...

Getting to Hilo and getting around: Both Aloha and Hawaiian airlines fly into Hilo, but flight schedules have been somewhat curtailed in recent months; be sure to reserve seats as early as possible. Unless you plan to vegetate in one place, you'll need a car for getting around Hilo, which is rather spread out.

Pack: Raingear and a rain-accepting attitude. A guidebook — we like the Lonely Planet, Frommer's and Insight guides.

Information: Big Island Visitors Bureau, Haili and Keawe streets, downtown Hilo; 961-5797. They have downtown walking tour maps.

About Merrie Monarch: The annual festival is April 23-26 this year. If you don't have hula festival tickets, airline seats and hotel and car reservations already, you will have to be very well-connected to get them. Tickets are available only by a lottery that's already been held and the town is booked up with a waiting list. Phone 931-9568. (Merrie Monarch does not have a Web site.)

Source: …honoluluadvertiser.com/article/…il18a.html

Good luck and happy travels!

Keno, OR
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1. Re: Hilo has a lot more to offer than just rain

Thanks echolynch--great article, and definitely worth sharing. We have always greatly enjoyed our visits to Hilo and the east side of the Big Island, and I wouldn't want to visit Hawaii without being in that area for at least a couple of days. Thanks to you, we have a new list of things to do on our next trip!

Island of Hawaii...
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for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
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2. Re: Hilo has a lot more to offer than just rain

That is a neat article, echolynch, how nice that you posted it.

Just want to add that there's no shortage of flights to Hilo at the moment, the article was written three years ago and some things do change. I know we can get flights the next day or the day after most of the time, but the better fares do sell out early. Hilo airport is much easier to get in and out than Kona too.

I always enjoy eating at Cafe Pesto Hilo! Hilo Bay Cafe has very good food especially welcome if you like organic local greens. I think it opened after this article was written.