There is only one city on the Big Island in my eyes, and that’s Hilo. Sure it’s small and a little new-agey, but the essentials are all covered: a historic centre with centuries-old wooden storefronts, a few good museums (like the Pacific Tsunami), good food (try Lucy’s Taqueria), strong local coffee (try Hilo Shark’s), galleries, bookshops and a killer Farmers Market. Aaaaand it’s surrounded by stunning nature, like the Japanese-inspired Liliuokalani Gardens and waterfall heaven at Wailuku River State Park.
Water comes in many forms here. The rainfall is substantial—Hilo is one of the wettest cities in the world—and its location on a funnel-shaped bay also makes it prone to tsunamis. After a particularly devastating big wave in 1960 the city built a green belt in the hardest hit spot to prevent future losses of life and business. Today, Wailoa State Park sits in this area of the bayside and is a refuge for both wildlife and residents. And just a little further down the coast you’ll find Richardson Beach Park with black sand beaches, excellent snorkelling and calm tide pools frequented by large sea turtles (all just off the side of the main road!).