Although it's the Big Island's capital and largest town, just 45,000 people live in Hilo, which remains endearing and unpressured. Mass tourism has never taken off here, mainly because it rains too much. However, the rain falls mostly at night, and America's wettest city blazes with tropical blooms against a backdrop of rainbows.
With its modest streets and wooden stores, Hilo's downtown looks appealingly low-key. Sadly, that's largely because all the buildings that stood on the seaward side of Kamehameha Avenue were destroyed by two tsunami, in 1946 and 1960. The story is told in the Pacific Tsunami Museum, on Kamehameha Avenue at Kalakaua Street (Mon– Sat 9am–4pm; $7; Tel:808/935-0926, Web: www.tsunami.org ). A scale model shows how the city looked before 1946; contemporary footage and letters bring home the impact of the tragedy.
Five minutes' drive from downtown brings you to the fascinating new 'Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, 600 'Imiloa Place (daily except Mon 9am–4pm; $14.50; Tel:808/969-9700, Web: www.imiloahawaii.org ), which explains the work of the international scientists who use the astronomical observatories at the summit of Mauna Kea.