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In the town of Waimea on Hawaii Island, the local cowboy culture makes itself known. Cattle and horses graze on lush green pastures. A traffic sign reads “Whoa” instead of “Stop.” The parking lot of a shopping center features a statue of a rodeo rider roping a steer.
In Waimea, the “paniolo” (Hawaiian cowboy) culture reaches back to the early 1800s. But the town has much more to offer than just roping and riding. Located inland and upcountry from the resorts of the Kohala Coast, Waimea is a busy little hub with shops, restaurants, attractions, bed-and-breakfasts and year-round events, all set against a backdrop of rolling hills. Here are five of our favorite reasons to visit Waimea.
Anna Ranch Heritage CenterThe trailblazing Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske (1900-1995) wore many hats, from cattle rancher and butcher to jockey, community leader and world traveler. Today, her Waimea ranch house — built in 1910 and listed on state and national historic registries — is open for tours. Local artwork, Hawaiian koa wood furniture, fine china, old saddles, ranching and riding clothes and family photos help tell the story of this remarkable woman.
Farmers MarketsWhat’s fresh in Waimea? Find out at one of its three farmers markets. On Saturdays, Waimea Town Market fills the grounds of Parker School. Saturday also brings Waimea Homestead Farmers Market at the 55-mile marker on Highway 19. On Wednesdays, look for Waimea Midweek Farmers Market at Pukalani Stables.
All three farmers markets feature flowers, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, crafts and tasty carry-out food such as Thai noodles, French crepes and local plate lunches.
Horseback RidingTrot back in time during rides in Waimea’s cool upcountry climate. At Dahana Ranch, a working ranch run by several generations of a paniolo family, clients canter across the open range while learning about the history, legends and lore of the area.
Kahua Ranch, located 3,000 feet above sea level, offers rides across private land with ocean and mountain views. Kahua’s evening barbecue serves an authentic taste of paniolo lifestyle.
Kahilu TheatreCulture and creativity thrive in this 490-seat performance hall, where clients can catch live entertainment by top-tier talents. The current season runs through June 2015. Upcoming shows include Maori singer/songwriter Maisey Rika; award-winning pianist Sean Chen; theatrical dance by Massive Company of New Zealand; Hawaii’s own Brothers Cazimero and Kealii Reichel; and a local production of the musical “Godspell.”
Merriman’s WaimeaChef Peter Merriman is one of the founding fathers of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, which has ruled the island dining scene for more than 20 years. At his flagship restaurant in Waimea, he uses ultra-fresh ingredients from area farms and waters. Diners taste the difference in dishes such as wok-charred ahi, local beef ravioli and pork chops with sweet corn-jalapeno potato beignets. When it’s time to dine, don’t miss this Waimea standout.