Of all the towns along the beautiful Hāmākua Coast, Honoka‘a is the largest, offering a variety of dining options, quaint shops, a picturesque downtown, and fun cultural events throughout the year. Steeped in history, this close-knit community is located on the makai (ocean) side of Mamalahoa Highway, just 40 miles north of Hilo and a short 15-minute drive south of Waimea.
Once the second-largest town on the island, roughly 2,258 people call Honoka‘a home, according to 2010 census data. The average age of residents is 40, with the population split almost evenly between men and women. The majority of Honoka‘a, Hawai‘i real estate consists of owner-occupied, single-family homes. There are fewer condos or vacation rentals in Honoka‘a, relative to other parts of the state. Overall, residents enjoy a more rural and less urban lifestyle along the coast.
For more than a century, life in Honoka’a and the surrounding Hāmākua Coast centered on the sugar cane industry. To this day, the small town retains its plantation-era charm. Most of the buildings on Māmāne Street, the main street in downtown Honoka’a, were built in the 1920s and 1930s by Chinese and Japanese workers who left the plantations to establish their own businesses. One of these is the historic Honoka’a People’s Theatre. Built in 1930 by the Tanimoto family, the historic theater is home to music festivals and concerts, and also shows current movies.
A Rich Agricultural Heritage
Agriculture and ranching remain a vital part of the local economy, even after the demise of the sugar cane industry in 1994. Honoka’a Farmers Market is a weekly market that fronts Honoka‘a Trading Company, which is held on Saturday mornings from 7:30 am and organized by the Hāmākua Ag Cooperative. Featuring organic and non-organic locally grown produce, it’s likely one of the oldest farmers markets in the area.
The Farmers Market put on by nonprofit Hāmākua Harvest is located at the intersection of Māmāne Street and Highway 19 just outside of Honoka‘a. Hours are Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the event features local vendors offering fresh, locally grown produce, value-added products and ono grindz.
What’s more, you could spend a month of Sundays exploring all the local farms that offer culinary and farming events in and around Honoka’a. Sip on organic green tea during one of Mauna Kea Tea farm tours or enjoy the Vanilla Experience Luncheon and Farm Tour at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, where the first U.S. commercially-grown vanilla has been harvested since 1998.
Popular Honoka‘a Events & Activities
Although small in size, Honoka‘a offers a wide array of popular events throughout the year. On the First Friday of each month, downtown restaurants and shops stay open late offering specials, live music, and entertainment. Every May, Honoka‘a residents celebrate Western Week with a local rodeo, parade, saloon girl contest, and outdoor concerts. The Peace Parade and Festival is another big crowd-pleaser. It’s held every September in conjunction with the United National International Day of Peace and draws thousands of attendees from around the island.
When it comes to outdoor activities, there’s a lot to do in Honoka‘a. One of the most breathtaking views on Hawai‘i Island is just down the road from downtown Honoka‘a at the Waipi‘o Valley Lookout (as seen in the top image in this article). Only one-mile-wide and five miles deep, and surrounded by 2,000-foot cliffs, Waipi‘o Valley is among the most sacred places on Hawai‘i Island. The boyhood home of King Kamehameha the Great, the verdant valley is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles and by horseback.
There are numerous opportunities for hiking and horseback riding to explore the lush fertile valley that’s home to only 100 people. The adventurous can trek to the back of Waipi‘o to see Hi‘ilawe Falls; the 1,300-foot waterfall is the tallest on the island and is a magnificent sight to behold in person.
Many visitors to this area stop at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to view some of the most exquisite tropical flora, and catch a glimpse of Onomea Bay. The 40-acre valley is a nonprofit with a mission “to serve as a nature preserve and sanctuary, a living seed bank, and a study center for trees and plants of the tropical world.”
Honoka‘a Services & Amenities
Honoka‘a is home to the North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center (NHERC), a satellite campus of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo. NHERC offers both college courses and non-credit personal enrichment classes, a computer lab open to community members, a rotating art exhibit gallery, and historical archives. Health care services are close by at the Hāmākua Health Center, located in downtown Honoka‘a. The North Hawai‘i Community Hospital is just a short, 15-minute drive away in nearby Waimea, where you’ll also find world-class private schools that are some of the best in the islands.
With all that is has to offer and its proximity to both Hilo and Waimea, it’s easy to see why homebuyers seek out Honoka‘a when looking to live on Hawai‘i Island. If you’d like to learn more about living in charming Honoka‘a, Waimea (Kamuela), Hilo or Waipi‘o, or you’re interested in properties for sale along the Hāmākua Coast, please contact our Hawai‘i Life Honoka‘a office.
[This post was updated from its original in December 2019]