Locals have long described Pahoa, a small town on the Island of Hawaii, as a magical, jungle-y wild west. But since early 2015, Pahoa has been described in another way: as the town that the volcano goddess Pele decided, at the last minute, to spare. Flowing lava from Kilauea, one of Hawaii’s three active volcanoes, stopped just 600 feet shy of the Pahoa’s main supermarket and 200 feet from Main Street. As the locals like to put it, Pele simply changed her mind.
Kilauea is an active volcano, and lava continuously flows from its mouth into the ocean below. The sight draws travelers and geologists from all over the world to Pahoa, but newcomers end up staying for the town’s quirky mix of hippies and traditional Hawaiian culture. Pahoa’s Main Street features neo-Victorian architecture, false-front buildings, and wooden sidewalks, reflecting its history as a commercial stop on the old railroad line. Papaya farmers, artists, off-gridders, and the descendants of Japanese and Filipino sugar mill workers create a diverse and accepting vibe.
Here, seven ways to explore the town that Pele has decided to let live . . . for now.
Have brunch picked from a chef’s garden
The ingredients used to make the tasty bites at Pele’s Kitchen are grown in owner and chef Stephen Yundt’s own garden. Order a combination of sweet and savory dishes, such as the banana and macadamia nut pancakes with passion fruit syrup and the homemade English muffins topped with mahi-mahi. And try the tangy ginger lemonade.
Get a history lesson—and a trim
Eighty-year-old Jan Ikeda, owner of Jan’s Barber and Beauty Shop, has been cutting hair for over 65 years. She specializes in men’s cuts and old-school shaves, but the real reason to go is for the conversations—covering life in Hawaii over the last half century—you’ll have in the chair.
Indulge your sweet tooth (with a little less guilt)
The Tin Shack Bakery serves up dessert favorites with a healthy twist: paleo brownies, raw carrot pie, and vegan cookies, as well as island-inspired savory dishes such as the pesto Okinawan, featuring local sweet potatoes.
People-watch at an alcohol-free bar
La Hiki Ola Kava Bar features the locally grown and non-addictive Polynesian beverage kava, which enthusiasts claim creates a calming effect. If the earthy, bitter taste isn’t for you, try the bar’s variety of kombucha flavors, or just hang out and enjoy the congregation of musicians, street artists, spiritual seekers, and backpackers.
Shop at the island’s best natural food store
At Island Naturals, pick up local specialties, including goat cheese, honey, chocolate, Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, fresh line-caught fish, and grass-fed beef. Say hi to owner Russell Ruderman, who also happens to be the state senator representing the area.
Have dinner at the island’s best restaurant
Named the Island of Hawaii’s best restaurant by Honolulu magazine, Kaleo’s Bar & Grill serves Hawaiian-inspired local favorites such as Kalua pork wontons, coconut shrimp, baby back pork ribs in guava barbecue sauce, and lilikoi cheesecake. Live entertainment and island artwork add to the ambiance.
Wake up in a tropical garden oasis
Hale Moana Bed & Breakfast is a two-acre botanical oasis. Book an en-suite massage or take your relaxation outdoors amid the property’s orchids and fruit trees. Wake up to owner Petra Wiesenbauer’s satisfying island-style breakfasts including banana pancakes, vegetable omelets, and garden-fresh pineapple. When you’re energized for another day, borrow some snorkel gear and explore the nearby Kapoho Tide Pools.
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