The Most Charming Small Towns on Hawaii’s Big Island
So, you’ve booked a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii. While you’ll get countless recommendations for natural attractions, restaurants, waterfalls, and other amenities, you might be wondering about the character of the towns themselves.
Hawaii’s Big Island has some incredibly charming towns that are well worth taking the time to explore. And while it’s hard to go wrong with any of them, these small towns are especially enticing.
Pahala is located in the northernmost part of the Ka’u area. While it was once the site of a huge sugar cane plantation, it’s much more quaint today. With its lush landscape and volcano views, it’s easy to see why the locals love it.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach is located a few miles from the heart of Pahala, so make sure to check it out as you go. As for the town itself, make sure to check out Kaʻū Coffee Mill and Wood Valley Temple.
Honokaa is known as a gateway to the Hamakua Coast. This place radiates small town charm, so make sure to stop and stretch your legs here. On the main streets, you’ll spot the historic Honoka’a People’s Theatre along with a handful of shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Gramma’s Kitchen is a no-frills hot spot for a tasty lunch, and Hina Rae’s serves fresh, healthy fare. But if you visit in the morning, don’t miss the chance to stop at Tex Drive-In for an authentic Hawaiian breakfast and their famous malasadas (Portuguese donuts). Browse Taro Gifts for the best Hawaii-made souvenirs to take home.
According to those who are in the know, Hawi is one of the Big Island’s best kept secrets. This little town sits nestled on the far northern coastline of the Kohala area, across from the island of Maui. Hawi nearly became an abandoned town once, but luckily, it is now thriving.
Hawi is full of eclectic boutiques and restaurants, like the Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery. The Hawi Farmers’ Market is one of the best on the island, running every Saturday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Vendors from all over the island sell fresh foods, treats, and homemade gifts and keepsakes.
Located in the Ka’u District near South Point, Naalehu is one of the southernmost towns in the United States. It’s quaint, and there aren’t many amenities, but this place is definitely worth a visit.
You may have heard of Naalehu, as two festivals take place here every year, on the 4th of July (the Na’alehu Rodeo) and Labor Day (the Hawaiian Hula Festival). The rest of the year, the town is nice and quiet. Make sure to check out Papakolea Beach, a beach made of rare and semi-precious green sand.
Waimea may be the biggest town on the north side of the Big Island, but it’s still a small town by any definition. The town is located at 2,670 feet and the temperatures tend to be a bit cooler than the coastal areas of the island with day time highs in the low to mid 70s. Known as paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country, this little town is big on local history. Make sure to check out the Paniolo Heritage Center which showcases a collection of artifacts, images, and original Hawaiian saddles.
The rolling green pastures of Waimea are still full of cattle and ranches, but there’s a lot more to see here. You’ll find some fantastic restaurants here, including the flagship location of Merriman’s Restaurant. Owner Peter Merriman has been a finalist for a James Beard Award three times, and he’s considered a pivotal part of Hawaii’s regional cuisine. And for an off-the-beaten path adventure, take the Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250) right to Hawi.
Hawaii’s larger cities certainly have a lot to offer. But for a glimpse into the more authentic Hawaii life, don’t miss out on these small towns.