Big Island Guide: Expand Your Horizons by Experiencing the Island’s Culture

Mix Yourself a Heady Brew of Music, Dance, Local Lore and More in the Big Island.
Merrie Monarch  tickets go fast, but you can always visit Hilo for the high spirits.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


Live Music 

The sound of music is everywhere on the Big Island, from bars to festivals. If you like to rock and love a good ol’ country roadhouse (the kind Patrick Swayze would work for as a bouncer), Kaleo’s in Pāhoa makes a great end to a day at the volcanoes: 15-2969 Pahoa Village Road, (808) 965-5600. Fresh and local describes both music and menu at Hilo Burger Joint; 776 Kīlauea Ave., (808) 935-8880: Tuesday, MokuLeo duo; Friday, Daylan Tiangangco. The Royal Kona Resort Hotel turns Thursdays into an Ongoing Hawaiian Music Series from 5 to 7 p.m.: First Thursday, John Cruz; Second, John Keawe; Third, Henry Kapono; Fourth, Cyril Pahinui. And Brian Pi‘ikea Vasquez on Saturday and Sean Wilkinson on Sunday: 75-5852 Ali‘i Drive, (808) 930-3286. Does the parking lot of Sack N Save in Kona still have a kanikapila that’s liable to pop up just about anytime? Only one way to tell: Show up prepared to ‘uke it out. Lanihau Center, 75-5595 Palani Road (across the street from Wal-Mart)


Must-See Museums 

Seek cover from sun or rain in these, but also to feed your head.



Can’t miss the wave here, where new photo troves  from the ’46 and ’60 tsunamis boost an already visceral collection. Interactive displays and survivor stories make you feel like you were there.


130 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo,, (808) 935-0926



Like all of Hilo, the Lyman is a memory project, documenting Old Hawai‘i with residents’ crowd-sourcing IDs and relicts. The art and exhibits fascinate, but the Mission House, built in the 1830s, is where you see how a missionary family lived and what those times were like for Hawaiians.


276 Haili St., (808) 935-5021



And then, to see how the other 99 percent lived, here’s a charming, one-man-band Hawai‘i Plantation Museum, located in the old Onomea Plantation Store in Pāpaikou.


​ 27-246 Old Māmalahoa Highway, Pāpa‘ikou, (808) 964-5151,



Heads will also turn at the planetarium show at Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i. Also: a live Maunakea feed, stargazing, a Keiki Weekend Show and planetarium rock.


600 ‘Imiloa Place, (808) 969-9700,



Up at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park you’ll find artists whose vision relates to Hawaiian culture and “interprets the park through art.” Buy here and boost a career.


19-4074 Old Volcano Road, (808) 967-8222,


Talk of the Town

While you’re on vacation, the people who live here 24/7 have real lives, you know, like you do at home. What are the hot topics here? We’ll get you started.


Thirty Meter Telescope 

You’ll find folks on both sides of this controversy, only they’ve been talking about this for years. Even before actor Jason Momoa marked his torso with “We Are Mauna Kea.”


Mayor Billy Kenoi

He was a rising local political rock star, known as smart, savvy and a guy who can party with the best. But $129,000 worth of charges on his government-issued pCard put him in a different light, under investigation, and it’s not clear where he’s headed now.


Volcano Watch 

Where other communities talk about the weather, the most, ahem, sure-fire conversation starter may well be what’s happening with the eruption. Is lava cutting off a community, shutting down a school or just cranking up the vog?


Cost of Living

For decades, folks have fled to the Big Island to buy into a slower, cheaper lifestyle. Now, longtime residents are feeling the effects. Sure, the Costco’s got great prices, but what’s with the traffic jams?


This story is part of The Holoholo Guide to the Big Island in our June 2015 issue. Check back next week for more.