Rain may fall on you while you're in Hilo, and if it does, it will be glorious. Sheets of water, often warm, will pour down in deluges, then stop as suddenly as they started. Afterward, the sun will reappear—and that will be glorious, too.
With rain falling most days year-round, Hilo is one of the country's wettest cities, thanks to its location on the Big Island's eastern, windward coast. If the sandy, sunny western shore is Hawaii's hit single, this relaxed college town and its verdant, awe-inspiring surroundings are the B-side: intimate, distinctive, a cult favorite that's easy to love.
The walkable downtown, a cluster of streets bordering Hilo Bay, is an excellent zone for taking Hilo's slow, steady pulse. The restaurant Pineapples, on a corner two blocks inland, sets a tropical mood with its open sides and fruity cocktails. From there you might watch shoppers laden with avocados and papayas leave the farmers' market up the street.
A couple of blocks away, the Pacific Tsunami Museum fills in the local backstory, illustrating how the ocean has repeatedly reshaped the town. In one exhibit, a parking meter bows 90 degrees in testimony to the ocean's power. Between the restaurant and the museum, colorful wooden storefronts house low-key eateries, boutiques, and galleries as well as the Palace Theater, a neoclassical 1925 building that hosts movies and live shows.