At the little Pacific Tsunami Museum, guide Sheila Clark described experiencing the April 1, 1946, tsunami that claimed 96 lives.
"We had no warning whatsoever," she said. (A warning center in Honolulu opened in 1958. Even so, a 1960 tsunami killed 61 people and leveled 500 buildings, changing the face of Hilo's waterfront.)
Hawaiian history comes to life at Hilo's Lyman Museum, which recognizes the cultural contributions of immigrants who came to work in the sugar fields, starting with the Chinese in 1852.
Who knew that the ukulele was brought from Portugal? You don't learn that lounging on the beach at Waikiki.
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Where to stay, play
WHERE TO STAY:
Waterfalls Inn, 240 Kaiulani St., Hilo, Big Island; (888) 808-4456, www.waterfallsinn.com. Four spacious, beautifully appointed en suite rooms in a restored 1916 plantation-style house on the banks of Wailuku River. Doubles $140-$190 (with two-night minimum), including continental-plus breakfast.
Jacaranda Inn, 65-1444 Kawaihae Road, Waimea, Big Island; (808) 885-8813. www.jacarandainn.com. B&B in the former Parker Ranch manager's home. En suite rooms, housed in six cottages, are lovely; on my visit, the main house was a work in progress. Doubles $159-$225 ($450 for three-bedroom cottage), including excellent full breakfast.
North Country Farms, 4387 Kahili Makai St., Kilauea, Kauai; (808) 828-1513, www.northcountryfarms.com. For an eco-tourism experience. Guests in the two self-contained cottages on this organic family farm receive an "aloha" breakfast basket on arrival. They're free to pick salad greens and fruit right outside their doors. $130 per night.
Hale Honua Lani, 4170 Wailapa Road, Kilauea, Kauai; (808) 828-1563, www.starmen.com/bnb.html. Charming, very private self-contained view cottage on bluff overlooking the beach. $200 a night (with three-night minimum); $165 a night for week's stay.
WHERE TO EAT:
Merriman's, 65-1227 Opela Road, Waimea, Big Island; (808) 885-6822, www.merrimanshawaii.com. Chef Peter Merriman's creative regional cuisine features fresh island products. Inviting room with rattan, greenery. Dinner entrees $30-$45.
Daniel Thiebaut, 65-1259 Kawaihae Road, Waimea, Big Island; (808) 887-2200. www.danielthiebaut.com. French-Asian menu. Sushi bar Tuesday-Saturday nights. Dinner entrees $25-$46.
Postcards Cafe, 5-5075A Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, Kauai; (808) 826-1191, www.postcardscafe.com. Twinkling lights, rattan chairs and ceiling fans lend tropical ambience. Fresh fish and vegetarian only. Dinner entrees $15-$22.
Kaikodo, 60 Keawe St., Hilo, Big Island; (808) 961-2558, www.restaurantkaikodo.com. Opened in 2004 in an elegantly tropical space with Asian antiques in a vintage bank building. Vast fusion menu. Dinner entrees $25-$38
Hilo Bay Cafe, 315 Makaala St., Hilo, Big Island; (808) 935-4939, www.hilobaycafe.com. Chic little bistro in a mall on the city's outskirts is a good choice for lunch or dinner. Dinner entrees start at $8 for chicken potpie and top out at $32.
WHAT TO DO:
Saddle up with Paniolo Adventures, (808) 889-5354, www.panioloadventures.com. Horseback rides, including on the open range, on the Big Island. Beginners welcome. Boots, chaps and hats provided. Rides from $79, including taxes.
Kona Historical Society, Kona Coffee Living History Farm tour, 82-6199 Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, Big Island; (808) 323-2006, www.konahistorical.org. Learn about the lives of early Japanese coffee farmers on hourlong tours, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; $15 per person.
Native Hawaiian Hospitality Assn., 900 Fort Street Mall, Suite 1300, Honolulu; (808) 441-1404, www.nahha.com. Take a two-hour walking tour of historic Waikiki. By appointment; $150 for up to 25 people.
Puuopelu, Parker Ranch, Highway 190, Waimea, Big Island; (808) 885-5433, www.parkerranch.com. The elegant home has the fine art collection of the ranch's last heir. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except Sundays; admission $9 for adults, includes an informative talk.
-- Beverly Beyette