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The east coast town of Hilo on Hawaii Island — a.k.a. the Big Island — gets more rain than the clear western shores. But these days, Hilo’s tourism forecast looks downright sunny. Long prized for its proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and first-rate farmer’s market, modern Hilo is offering even more, with creative new shops and superb restaurants springing up regularly. A major hotel is even sporting a new upgrade, and another resort stands ready for renovation.
"Hilo will soon have the inventory to accommodate the built-up demand of travelers seeking three to four-star hotels in east Hawaii,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau.
Here’s a look at why travelers are adding Hilo to their Big Island itinerary.
Hilo Hawaiian UpgradeHilo Hawaiian Hotel recently completed an extensive renovation to its guest rooms, including new furnishings and bathrooms. The Castle Resorts and Hotels-managed property has an enviable location by Hilo Bay, within walking distance of the town’s beach and shops.www.castleresorts.com
Hilo Naniloa ReinventionThe beachfront Hilo Naniloa Hotel — formerly Naniloa Volcanoes Resort — is planning a major renovation. When completed in early 2015, the hotel will offer an environmentally friendly, marine-themed ambience. Officials are billing the finished product as a three- to 3.5-star property.www.aquahospitality.com
Imiloa Planetarium ShowsImiloa Astronomy Center blends science and culture with its everyday exhibits, and the property also offers planetarium shows on the third Friday of each month. Called Maunakea Skies, the evening begins with a tour of current celestial conditions over Hawaii. A guest speaker then shares insights into astronomy.www.imiloahawaii.org
Restaurant InnovationsContemporary eateries are complementing Hilo’s historic charm. Among the hot spots is a breakfast and brunch nook called Paul’s Place, where fish bowls featuring the catch of the day and eggs benedict with Kamuela tomato are favorites. Fans of the eatery Pineapples rave about its fresh catch and live local music. At Hilo Sharks, there’s great espresso and ice cream, and at Moonstruck Patisserie, try the quiche or cheesecake.www.downtownhilo.com
Shops With a Sense of PlaceWhen Borders closed in 2010, Hilo lost its mainstream bookstore. Enter Big Island BookBuyers, which satisfies clients with top-selling reads, including works by local authors. Fine art fans love photography studio Extreme Exposure, where Tom Kualii and Bruce Omori’s incredible Big Island-themed prints are on display.www.downtownhilo.com