Historic B&Bs are rare in Hawaii; appealing ones even rarer. To be fair, the Shipman House, in the old sugar town of Hilo, sets the bar impossibly high. A capacious late-Victorian landmark, turret and all, is a sunny and immaculate treasure chest run with quiet grace by Barbara Ann Anderson and her husband. She’s the great-granddaughter of Willie Shipman, a well-to-do cattle rancher who bought the house in 1901 (two years after it was built), and his socialite wife, Mary, who turned it into the place to be in Hilo. Jack London stayed for several weeks in the downstairs guest quarters, formerly the billiards room. Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch, dropped by regularly to play the Steinway piano, which still sits in the living room, just beneath the bay windows. Many pieces of furniture, including the glossy koa-wood headboards and tables, date back to those early Shipman days when the ballroom, now guest rooms, was put to good use. Vintage family photos, Japanese block prints, wooden turned bowls, and countless other curiosities fill all the nooks and crannies, but it’s all too well curated to feel cluttered. Surrounding the house is a wide, shady lanai, where a row of rocking chairs overlooks the Andersons’ meticulously tended gardens and the wild-as-can-be gulch that runs just beside the house. In the distance is the blue of Hilo Bay.
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The Shipman House sits in a lush and hilly residential neighborhood, a five-minute drive from downtown Hilo, where there’s a justly famous farmers' market, a growing number of good restaurants (Hilo Bay Café and Full Moon Cafe are among the best these days), and a clutch of good small museums such as the Lyman House.
Need to Know
Rooms: 5 rooms. From $219. Check-in: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; check-out: 10 a.m. Dining options: No restaurant, but the enormous daily breakfasts, which include a huge platter of varied fruits from the property, are reason enough to book a room. Spa and gym details: No spa, no gym. Hula lessons are held on the Shipman House most Tuesday nights.
Who's it for: Antique aficionados; Hawaii history buffs; adults (with so many precious antiques around, the Shipman House isn’t ideal for children—or klutzes). Our favorite rooms: All the rooms are bright, airy, and nicely furnished with antiques, but Aunt Carrie’s Room, in the main house, gets a pleasant mountain breeze, which comes in handy on warm nights since there is no air-conditioning on the property. Good to know: The coqui frogs that inhabit the area can be incredibly noisy come nightfall. If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs.