Skip to main content

Destination Honokaa

SAVVY360 Link

Home to Native Hawaiians who believed the land to be infused with mana and honua (power and peace), this region along the lush Hāmākua Coast stretched throughout several ahupua‘a (land divisions that ran from the mountains to the sea). Coastal fishermen who braved fishing off the steep cliffs traded with lowland farmers and upland hunter-gatherers. All shared in the bounty of the land. Natives reaped banana, sweet potato, yam and kalo (taro) abundantly before sugar took its reign in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The sugarcane industry invited the first generations of Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Koreans and Filipinos to work in the fields and build their new lives on the cliffs. Honoka‘a transformed into a vital commercial and recreational hub, and so emerged the historic town and its western-style buildings that symbolized the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture that also took root. As the sugar industry dissolved, the community diversified its crops and quieted down. But sitting against the deep blue Pacific waters that seemingly rise into bright skies and distant puffy clouds, Honoka‘a continues to offer its harvests and beauty, all while retaining its plantation-era charm and sweet heritage.

To explore and taste for yourself the bounty of Honoka‘a, start with an awakening cup of rich Hāmākua coffee from Āhualoa Family Farms’ “nuthouse,” once a sugarcane haul truck fueling station. Savor Hāmākua coffee’s bold flavors with very low acidity and bitterness, and of course, you must pair your pour with gourmet macadamia nuts handpicked from local orchards. For a hint of sweetness, try the lilikoi (passion fruit) macadamia nuts, and for something a little richer, sink your teeth in chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. They’re quite addicting. Now a jar of the sweet and salty Mac Butter or the decadent Macnella chocolate spread will catch your eye. Just treat yourself!

Lei Making




Once you’re fueled up and energized, make your way into Historic Honoka‘a Town. Travel back to old Hawai‘i as you wander through the wooden plantation-era buildings on Mamane Street, the town’s main road. Discover preserved treasures like the Honoka‘a People’s Theatre, a 525-seat theater built in 1930 by Japanese American entrepreneur Hatsuzo Tanimoto. At the height of the silver screen era, the movie house was packed regularly and played a range of Hollywood and international films for its multicultural audience. The Honoka‘a People’s Theatre continues to serve as a gathering place, presenting a selection of popular and independent films and is recognized as the heart of the town.

For another treat, grab a warm malasada from Tex Drive In. The golden, pillowy Portuguese doughnut dusted with sugar can be enjoyed plain or piped with a luscious filling. Guava, mango, coconut and more—the pastry fillings are enticing. Each bite will have you licking your sugared lips to satisfaction.

Before exploring more of Honoka‘a, head some eight miles north to majestic Waipi‘o Valley, where ruling Hawaiian monarchs took seat. More than 50 generations of Hawaiians lived in this once political and religious center. Though today less than 100 people live amongst the waterfalls, kalo fields and rivers permeating the valley, Waipi‘o remains a beloved landscape. The steep, narrow road to the valley is currently closed to visitors, but the lookout offers gorgeous views of this regal haven. Stand in awe as the dramatic cliffs plunge 2,000 feet into the evergreen fields and listen as the waves charge unceasingly onto the gorgeous black sands. Come with respect and leave inspired.

When you’re ready for a memorable meal, head back to town and stop at Harmoni Foods, a casual Korean eatery run solely by chef-owner Susie. Using organic ingredients and only the freshest local produce, Susie consciously prepares food to bring out all the natural flavors gifted by the local soil. The bibimbap is perhaps the most colorful dish you will lay your eyes on. To bring this vibrant bowl to life, Susie sources ingredients from five local farms, sometimes more. Even the perfectly seasoned beef comes from cattle that graze on the grasses of the Hāmākua Coast. If you order the kimchee grilled cheese sandwich, add the turmeric ginger lemonade, and let all the flavors revive your senses. Everything on the menu is flavorful and beyond delicious—an understatement, really. You’ll be planning your return before your last bite.

Lei Making




If you’re in Honoka‘a on a Sunday, visit the Hāmākua Harvest Farmer’s Market, where you’ll see for yourself the bounty of the land. The market hosts a variety of vendors offering fresh, locally grown produce and ‘ono (delicious) food. For traditional Hawaiian staples, see Bradda Les, who grows kalo right in Waipi‘o Valley. The steamed kalo chunks or pounded poi (taro in a pudding-like consistency) will give you an authentic taste of the crop deemed sacred to Hawaiians. Another favorite dish is the sesame-soy-based hō‘i‘o (fern shoot) salad, also picked from the valley.

As you continue to explore the medley of shops on Mamane Street, the tantalizing aroma of chocolate being tempered will lure you through the doors of the Honoka‘a Chocolate Company in the Hasegawa building, where confectioner Seishiro Hasegawa served Japanese treats in the plantation days. Carrying on the building’s sweet legacy, Honoka‘a Chocolate Company handcrafts award-winning artisanal chocolates from cacao grown on the island and even right above town. Indulge your senses while sampling all signature chocolate flavors like the silky Drunken Goat Milk Bar with a special barrel-aged infusion or the Pure Hawaiian Cacao Bar, which boasts buttery toffee notes and a nutty finish. But don’t feel guilty for consuming so many sweets. After all, you are immersing yourself in a town with sugary beginnings.

And of course, you can’t forget to do some shopping. If you want to take some artwork back with you, visit Revel Artistry Collection, which hosts treasures from 25 local artists. The boutique’s selection includes original paintings, resin art and koa bowls and drums, just to name a few. For contemporary island clothing and handmade swimwear featuring patterns inspired by the islands’ flora, visit Kelea Love Swimwear, Kalokini Swimwear or Wehi’s Boutique. If you’re overwhelmed by all the beautiful designs, just snag a piko‘ole pāpale, a crownless hat perfect for your beach or messy bun hair days.

Honoka‘a is filled with so many other things to explore and indulge in. Here is a place truly rich in hospitality, history and soil. Whatever you seek to experience, you’ll leave enlivened and nourished with a deeper connection to the land—the land that continues to lend itself generously to all who step foot on it.