Four-mile beach, Hilo © AlaskaDave
Overlooking beautiful Hilo Bay and dominated by two volcanoes (the active Mauna Loa and dormant Mauna Kea), Hilo was a trading centre for native Hawaiians in ancient times, becoming an important port once the westerners had discovered that the area was ideal for growing sugar cane. More modern times have seen Hilo bear the brunt of two tsunamis, one in 1946 and another in 1960. But the hardy citizens of Hilo cleaned up their city after each affliction and now the high-water marks of these devastating events are a tourist attraction, along with the Pacific Tsunami Museum on the corner of Front and Kalakaua Streets. Although reminders of the past are everywhere in the architecture and attractions, Hilo remains a young city with a small-town feel, home to the University of Hawaii and the Merrie Monarch Festival which celebrates hula dancing annually in the week after Easter. Another of the hottest happenings in Hilo is the Farmers' Market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays along Front Street, when more than 100 vendors set up their stalls selling everything from fresh produce to Portuguese pastries and native crafts. The downtown area of Hilo contains Hawaii's largest collection of historic buildings, dating back to the turn of the century. There are plenty of restaurants, museums, a rainforest zoo and the beautiful Nani Mau Gardens to explore.