When on The Big Island, there are two places that people are most likely to stay: Kona – on the west side or Hilo – on the east side and there are definite pros and cons to each. In the end, it really comes down to what your goals are for your visit.
Our main purpose for visiting was Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, so it only made sense that we would stay on the side closest to the park, which meant we stayed in Hilo. We stayed at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, which is a bit pricy for a 3-star hotel, but realistically it was all about having a place to stay. I know that Hawaii is expensive in general, but I honestly didn’t do a lot of research into what hotels cost in the area because we actually turned booking our flights, rental cars and this hotel over to a travel agent. It was my first time using one, but I knew I was in good hands because my best friend Stacey is now a travel agent. It was really nice not having to stress about this trip while planning a wedding.
While the rooms weren’t extra, extra special (Matt and I did make the decision to not pay extra for the ocean-front room, which we’re still okay with), the location was perfection. We were just off this little bay and our first morning we finally saw Hawaii for the first time since it was almost midnight when we got to the hotel. We loved it instantly!
Look at these brilliant blues! And sailboats?! So dreamy.
I loved seeing all of the lava rock! I’ve never seen so much of it in my life. Instead of a beach it was just a collection of small volcanic rocks coming away from these bigger formations.
Aside from our beautiful bay, there’s also a golf course within walking distance and my favorite of the things that were within walking distance was this beautiful park. Liliuokalani Gardens and Park is a Japanese Garden and it’s actually the largest of its kind outside of Japan! Matt and I strolled through it one evening. It’s seriously beautiful, but try to go on a day that there hasn’t been much rain because a lot of the pathways were flooded. We had a wonderful stroll through here one evening before dinner and I really enjoyed being able to see all of the Japanese architecture and iconography.
My favorite activity of Hilo, though, was the Farmer’s Market! This was just such a beautiful glimpse of Hawai’i’s island life, and I very much enjoyed being part of it. There are all kinds of foods, crafts and, of course, some touristy things. Looking through all the stalls and sampling things we found new treats and treasures that we couldn’t leave without.
Starfruit, bananas, papayas, watermelon, mangoes, avocados, ginger, passionfruit, guavas, dragonfruit, pineapples…. The options seem endless!
Along with the amazing fruits, veggies + spices there were also loads of different types of flowers. I have no idea what these are (above) but I saw so many different varieties of orchids!
This woman was making these amazing prisms that were little take-home beaches. Although we can’t get green sand from the beach, this lady buys it from some locals and Matt + I were sure to bring home a beach in a pyramid filled with that gorgeous green sand we worked so hard to get to and some seashells to make it look extra-beachy!
This was my personal purchase. I love collecting little things from my travels that I can accessorize with when I get home. These beautiful rosette earrings are made from coconut husks! I loved watching the lady make them and they were a steal at only $4!
Eats + Drinks
Surprisingly we didn’t spend much time eating in Hilo. We grabbed a lot of food on the go heading from one hike to another on every part of the island. However, we had a couple of things that we really loved!
HAWAI’IAN SHAVED ICE
I don’t think that it is possible for me to express how much love I have for this stuff and it all started on the Big Island. This beauty is a guava/papaya shaved ice that we shared – I think that it’s best to split this dessert because many of these come out the size of your head!
This was my favorite place that we ate in Hilo. It’s right off the Bay, but that doesn’t really mean that there’s a beach-view. It does mean that it’s really centrally located around the shops (which close really early). Matt and I are big fans of splitting meals, so we split the Fresh Basil Crostini and the Mango-Glazed Chicken. We absolutely loved both things, especially the chicken. Also, know that the have loads of great happy our specials!
One of their great happy Hour Specials was insanely cheap craft beer! I had the Lavaman Red Ale and it was absolutely delicious! It was great being able to get some amazing craft beer while we were in Hawai’i.
Hilo was the perfect Big Island home for us. It was located on the same side of the island as Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and was a less-than two hour drive from everywhere else we wanted to visit! Plus, it was in the rainforest which is my kind of scenery! If you find that Hawai’i is on your list for natural reasons, I highly recommend staying in Hilo.
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