Hawaii, our “Aloha State” offers visitors a tropical playground in a culturally rich setting with many unique qualities. Visitors from the U.S. mainland can experience this exotic place while still having the comfort or convenience of remaining in the United States. Here’s a list of unique towns, cities and communities in Hawaii – many of these are unique by both mainland and Hawaii standards.
Technically not a city, but a community in Kokee State Park, this offers a store, lodging, museum and places to eat for those who live here and those visiting the park’s claim to fame, Waimea Canyon, the largest canyon in the Pacific. When Mark Twain first laid eyes on this beautiful canyon, he dubbed it the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” From the lookout point the canyon appears like a scene out of a Western movie – lots of painted desert colors, and appearing quite dry. Hike down though and you’ll find waterfalls and all kinds of lush plant life. The canyon is one mile wide, 10 miles long and 3600 feet. Kokee’s museum provides lots of information about the canyon and the rest of the state park.
This town located near Honolulu is the only town in Hawaii, to date, to have been named an All American City (1986). Once a plantation, Mililani is located in central Oahu, and is the third wealthiest area in the islands. It has an uncanny likeness to the typical American suburb and was named by Money Magazine as a “best place” to live.
The wettest city in the United States, Hilo receives around 130 inches of rain annually. Mauka (up slope) Hilo gets up to 200 inches. Most of the rain falls at night and in the morning. Sometimes though it seems it will never stop and will rain day in an out for several days (this is when you hop in the car and head to sunny Kona!). Hilo is the county seat of the Big Island, and the second largest city in Hawaii. It is famous for its orchids, anthuriums, historical downtown and Hilo Bay. In the winter, you can often see from Hilo some of the only snow in Hawaii, on top of Mauna Kea.
This subdivision, sprawling about 6 miles from the main highway to the sea cliffs and several more miles wide, is the largest privately owned subdivision in the United States. HPP probably also has the distinction of having the largest congregation of residences that use rainwater harvesting for a household water source! Aside from emergency taps along the highway there is no public utility water here.
The one-acre semi rural lots are cheap compared with most of Hawaii and even mainland states such as California and HPP. Average cost of a home is about $260,000,compared to $620,000 for the state of Hawaii. The median income is around $36,000 but the per capita income is only around $5,000. Low-income and wealthy homes are found side by side. The median housing cost here is about $945 (mostly 2 to 4 bedroom homes).
The nearby volcano may be the reason for the cheaper properties here. Out of 9 lava zones, with 1 being at the highest risk, HPP is in a 3 zone. Much of the ground covered with lava rock from ancient flows, and builders must bulldoze and otherwise break up the lava. The lava soil is rich in nutrients and there are many beautiful gardens and nicely landscaped yards here (along with barren yards where trees were razed to get rid of loud coqui frogs). Homes with windows facing the west take advantage of the afternoon trade winds coming in from the ocean, which provide enough cooling that central air is unheard of here. My family and I lived in Hawaiian Paradise Park for several year so I had a lot to say on this area!
This town is unique in that it is the southern-most city in the United States. Naalehu is a picturesque, quaint town of about 900 population and is a popular stop between the volcano and Kona or on the way to or from the Green Sand Beach. Naalehu has some unique places to stay overnight too, like the Macadamia Meadows Farm Bed & Breakfast. Photo
I lived here for several years while working in Volcano National Park. I love this little town! Whenever we go up to the park, we take a spin through Volcano Village, which is located just a block of Highway 11 and just a couple miles from the National Park. It has a strong sense of community, a great farmer’s market (if you’re an early bird), an impressive art center and some awesome places to eat, especially if you’re into Thai food.
The old general store here is a novelty in itself. What’s unique about this town, besides its American/Hawaiian small town feel, is that it is located on top of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Fortunately the lava flows from Kilauea down to the sea. Just outside of Volcano Village there’s Volcano Winery and Volcano Golf Course. Even though it’s perched on the volcano, this town is much more affluent than the towns below in Puna.
The climate of Volcano Village is rather unique for Hawaii. It can get frosty on a winter’s night, and even in the summer the temperatures don’t rise much above the 70’s. I find it very refreshing! Lots of cedar trees too and few bugs (it’s just now warm enough for mosquitoes and such)!
This town might be considered unique due to its population of colorful characters and its reputation and most likely has the largest concentration of hippies and marijuana growers in all of Hawaii. You’ll see lots of dreadlocks, bare feet and sarongs here. Marijuana (called “pakalolo” in Hawaii) is grown widely in surrounding rural areas of Pahoa and while illegal (except for approved medical use), cannabis could be considered the largest agricultural crop of Puna.
We lived near Pahoa in Hawaiian Paradise Park for many years, and I enjoyed going into to Pahoa to eat (lots of cool little restaurants here), shop at the natural foods store and go swimming at the community pool (which is free to use, underused, clean and outdoors).
It’s a great place to stop off Highway 130 on the way to the hot pond, Lava Tree Park or the Kalapana Viewing area. Pahoa and its Puna District were called the “Wild West” for many years. That reputation started falling away in the last decade as development in nearby subdivisions and law enforcement grew. Parts of the town resemble and blend of Old West and New Age: many storefronts and part of the walkway are wooden and haven’t been painted in years, and other stores are painted in vibrant colors with Eastern mystic and hippy designs.
The northern-most town on the Big Island, Kapaau also has the unique distinction of being the birthplace of King Kamehameha l, who was born in a remote area near Kapaau that is now known as the Kohala State Historical Sites Monument. The original statue of Kamehameha the Great stands at the town’s center after being lost at sea and recovered.
Kapaau is a small, friendly community with a nice community pool and park, awesome lookout points. Kapaau is one of the few towns located in Lava Zone 9, the only “extremely low risk” lava zone on the island. The Kohala volcano last eruputed some 60,000 years ago, although it is not known if it is dormant or extinct.
Once a whaling village, Lahaina is the place to go if you want to see humpback whales in Hawaii. The humpbacks migrate to Hawaii every winter, where they hang out from December through April, mating, playing, giving birth and nursing their young before they make the trip back to their feeding grounds off Alaska. The largest congregation of wintering humpback whales is found off of Maui’s west short, and Lahaina offers more whale watching tours than any other place in Hawaii.
Humpbacks prefer shallow and protected waters, and the waters off West Maui at 300 feet and protected by the north and south west coasts of Maui, along with sister islands Molokai and Lanai are just right! Lahaina is also a very pretty town with lots of things to do like shopping and eating out in nice restaurants. There’s a lot of Hawaiian history here too!
Home to the only royal palace found in the United States. This is a dubious distinction to some who know the story of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
The palace is gorgeous. It was largely designed by King David Kalakaua, a huge patron of the arts – and parties – known as the Merrie Monarch. Much of Iolani Palace has been meticulously restored to the opulency and grace of the era when Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani reigned. The palace was progressive for its time. It even had electrical lights before the White House. Political intrigue, history, art and more are found here.
Hawaii’s oldest band, the Royal Hawaiian Band, provides free concerts on front lawn of the palace. The band is most famous for having introduced “Aloha O’e” to Americans in San Francisco in 1883. Other unique things about Honolulu – it is home to the islands’ state government and to the world’s most famous beach, Waikiki. Most of the state’s 1.3 population lives in Honolulu. It also home to the Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor and many other sites of historical and cultural significance. Honolulu is the first city most visitors to Hawaii see.
Based on an unusual law, Honolulu has the unique distinction of being the largest city in the United States. The reason for this is that per Hawaii’s Constitution, any island that does not belong to a county belongs to Honolulu. Thus Oahu island belongs to the city of Honolulu. So do the uninhabited northwestern islands of Hawaii. However, Oahu does have many cities, and the entire island is in Honolulu County. Another unique thing about Honolulu – the city is home to the oldest public garden in the State of Hawaii: Foster Botanical Gardens.