Hawaii has long been associated with growing three foods—pineapples, sugar, and macadamia nuts—but they are now cheaper to grow in other parts of the world and aren’t as prevalent in the 50th state as the once were. On a recent trip to Hawaii we found a growing farm-to-table movement along with some unique foods (sushi Spam anyone?) we haven’t seen elsewhere. When considering what to eat in Hawaii, take a look a these great places we found on the Big Island.

Here is our food lover’s guide to the Big Island of Hawaii:

Book a Food or Coffee Tour on the Big Island.

Hilo Farmer’s Market, Hilo

Hilo farmers market

The underrated town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of our favorite spots. It was marked for resort development in the 1960s but never really took off. Despite this, there are tons of things to do in Hilo, Hawaii, the gateway to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The Hilo Farmers Market is open seven days a week offering a variety of exotic produce, crafts, clothing and prepared food like King Laulau Poi and Mister D’s Grill Wagon (BBQ on a stick).

Hawaiian Vanilla Company, Paauilo

Hawaiian Vanilla Company orchard

The Hawaiian Vanilla Company on the Big Island of Hawaii is owned by Jim and Tracy Redekoff. After growing up on Oahu in a family “who can be traced back to grass shacks,” Jim and his family moved to this plot of land overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific to raise their kids on a farm.

Guests tour the “Vanillery,” where the fussy flowers are coaxed into blooming (for a single day per year, and only four hours at that), a prelude to producing the long skinny bean that is one of the world’s most expensive spices.  For full-on immersion, reserve a place at the “Vanilla Experience Luncheon,” where the tour and presentation are spiced up with a vanilla-inspired meal.

Sputnik Donuts, Hilo

Sputnik Donuts Hilo hawaii

The buttermilk donut at Sputnik Ralf’s in Hilo made our list of the top dozen donuts in America for the Huffington Post. We miss them already.

Hilo Coffee Mill, Mountain View

Hawaii Hilo Coffee Mill Jeanette Baysa photo by Milne copy

Jeanette Baysa, a former banker from San Francisco, moved to Hilo to open a café in 1992. She couldn’t find Hawaiian coffee to serve; there was no one to roast the local beans so she undertook the task herself and opened the Hilo Coffee Mill on the eastern slope of the Big Island near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Jeanette promotes locally grown coffee from areas other than the well-known Kona.  Visitors can sample local blends (including a quirky but surprisingly tasty pineapple coffee) and explore the 24-acre farm.

Hamakua Mushrooms, Laupahoehoe

Hawaii Hamakua Mushrooms

The sunny hillside spot along Hawaii’s northeast shoreline seems an unusual choice to grow mushrooms. But Hamakua Mushrooms are cultivated organically via a proprietary Japanese bottle method in incubation rooms that are naturally lit by the sun. As co-owner Janice Stang says, “We are enlightened mushroom growers.”

Almost the entire harvest of alli, pioppini, gray oyster and abalone varieties are sold locally. The Stangas also offer other “fungal in the jungle” goodies; be sure to try some of their mushroom brownies (which we have to admit, sound like something that was gobbled up by dazed hippies at Woodstock).

Kuaiwi Farm, Captain Cook

Hawaii Kona coffee beans

Thoughts of the 60s were definitely on our mind as we drove up a bumpy, unpaved road to the geodesic-domed Kuaiwi Farm, where Una Greenaway and Leon Rosner have been organic farming for almost four decades. Una describes herself and Leon as “a couple of old hippies who came to live off the land.”

Una packs a lot into their five acres above the Kona Coast. Call in advance to arrange a two-hour tour, where she shows off her 100-year-old coffee trees, avocados, cacao, bananas and whatever else happens to be fruiting or flowering and will brew up a pot of her “Old Kona Coffee” to taste along with house-made chocolate and macadamia butter.

Hawaiian Shave Ice

Mauna Kea Snow, Hilo

Mauna Kea snow Hilo Hawaii

We’ve seen Hawaiian shave ice stands all over the world so were glad to finally try them in their native location. Quite frankly, any dessert that’s bigger than my head qualifies as a favorite. Mauna Kea Snow on the Hilo waterfront is a combination cafe/Hawaiian clothing store that cranks out delicious shaved ice. I have to admit I chickened out and this is a small. (Note: Even though the ice is shaved, it’s still called Hawaiian shave ice.

Scandinavian Shave Ice

Scandis hawaii shave ice big island hawaii

Okay, I don’t quite get the name of this place in Kailua-Kona on the west coast; it does serve Hawaiian shave ice after all. Known by locals as Scandi’s, it’s been in business for over 20 years. Not only do they taste great, the workers put on quite a show in this happy place. Make sure to get sweetened condensed milk poured over it.

Click here to book a Food/Coffee Tour on the Big Island.

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!Savor the unique local flavors of the Big Island of Hawaii

We stayed at the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel which has a cool retro 60s vibe.

Also check out our food lover’s guide to Oahu.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.




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Besides being a surfer’s paradise, Oahu also offers many unexpected tasty treats. There’s definitely a local food culture. If you’re a foodie traveler (or just like a good bar of chocolate . . .and really, who doesnt???), check out these spots. Here’s our food lover’s guide to Oahu with some of our favorites.

Click here for Food Tours of Oahu.

Garlic Shrimp Food Trucks of Oahu

Giovanni's shrimp truck oahu hawaii hot dog

The north coast of Oahu is festooned with trucks serving a local favorite: garlic shrimp. Visitors driving along the Kamehameha Highway to watch a surfing competition on the pounding waves of the North Shore will be hard-pressed not to stop once the heady aroma of sauteed garlic fills their car.

The shrimp are sauteed in a lemon/olive oil/butter/garlic sauce with chunks of caramelized garlic and are quite simply, outstanding. Success breeds competition and there now several other shrimp trucks in the area, several of which we also tried, but we enjoyed Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck the most. If you’re not in the mood for shrimp try their hot dogs, which may be the best we’ve ever tasted. Or read our full review of Giovanni’s hot dogs.

Madre Chocolate

Foodie Hawaii madre chocolate

Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. where cacao beans thrive. Nat Bletter is a co-founder and “Chocolate Flavormeister” of Madre Chocolate, Oahu’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker. He says, “We’re trying to turn the windward coast of Oahu into the Napa Valley of chocolate.”

In the historic Chinatown section of Honolulu, Madre offers classes and chocolate tastings that would be right at home in any popular winery. The comparison is apt; the first thing a visitor notices upon stepping into the shop is the musty, vinegary aroma of cacao beans permeating the air, similar to that encountered in wine caves.

Nat teaches how to extract raw chocolate’s unique qualities. We sipped raw cacao pulp, which was milky and tangy, evocative of crushed lychees. During the one-hour class visitors savor beans from various regions and follow their evolution from a fruit to the beloved superfood that it’s become today.

Take a Chocolate making class in Oahu.

Butter Mochi

Foods of Hawaii Oahu butter mochi

Butter mochi is baked custard with a twist that is a popular dessert in Hawaii. Checking out the ingredients–Mochiko sweet rice flour, sugar, coconut milk, Carnation cream, vanilla butter and eggs–it’s easy to see why.

Leonard’s Bakery Malasadas, Honolulu

Leonards Malasadas Honolulu Hawaii

Hawaii boasts two spots that made our list of best dozen donuts in America for the Huffington Post. Perhaps we should move there. Malasadas are fried balls of dough that originate from Portugal, just like the original owners of Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu. Here they fill them with your choice of custard, chocolate or coconut cream then coat them with sugar, cinnamon sugar or li hing, a sweet and sour dried plum powder. You’ll wait about 10 minutes for your donuts since they are made to order. The wait is most definitely worth it.

Spam Musubi (Spam sushi)

Spam Musubi Hawaii
Spam Musubi Hawaii

Well, we couldn’t write about foods of Hawaii without mentioning Spam, could we? The popular canned meat was introduced to Hawaii during World War II and has never left. One of Barrack Obama’s favorite treats from growing up in Hawaii is Spam musubi. (Proof alone that he’s from there.) Take a slice of Spam, place a chunk of seasoned rice on it wrap it all up with a noir seaweed bow and there you have it. It’s irresistibly salty and fatty, the two prerequisites for any popular snack food.

Dole Pineapple Whip

Dole Plantation Oahu Hawaii

Yeah it’s touristy, but when driving back from the North Shore of Oahu with all that garlic shrimp flavor rolling around your taste buds it’s hard to resist the siren call of the Dole Plantation signs for its favorite treat, Dole Whip. It’s basically a cone of soft-serve “ice cream” with pineapple sherbet but hits the spot on a hot day.

Interested in booking your own food tour? Check out these Oahu Food Tours with Viator!

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We stayed at the VIVE Hotel at Waikiki in Honolulu.

Here’s our story on foods on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our free travel newsletter here.

In our 11+ years of journeying around the globe we’ve tried to experience new things and seek adventure outside our comfort zone. Earlier in the year we rode horses for the first time and later Larissa flew an aerobatic plane upside down in Las Vegas. Which was how we found ourselves bobbing up and down on the gentle waves at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. We were finally learning how to surf in our 50s.


Surfin’ USA

Waikiki Beach is an excellent spot for the beginner surfer: the waves break in easy 3-to-5-foot swells and there’s an abundance of surfing schools. We chose Gone Surfing, figuring that its female owner, Jo Jo Howard, would be patient with our nonexistent skills. We signed up for a two-hour semi-private lesson. Jo Jo was assigned to Larissa while Noah handled Michael, a formidable task for the young surfing instructor.

We started with a quick safety lesson on the beach where we were taught what to do out on the water. The three-step process seemed simple on solid land: 1) Bring your knees up; 2) Set your feet; and 3) Stand up. What could go wrong?

Since the waves on our part of the beach were pretty flat, Jo Jo and Noah towed us out to a farther section of the beach. Or we should say “toe’d.” Each of them hooked a toe over the front of our surfboard and paddled us out into the ocean. That was so relaxing that it could be a new activity for old-timers.

Wipe Out


As we bobbed around in the water waiting for a wave Michael tried the three-step process on the stationary surfboard. Guess what? It’s a lot easier on solid ground. With the water shifting underneath him he promptly did an ungainly face plant. Watching Michael’s belly flop brought images from the movie Orca to mind. Hmm, maybe this would be harder than we thought.

The mellow Noah said not to worry. It would be easier when the board was moving. That sounded counterintuitive to Michael but getting into the Hawaiian island spirit he decided to roll with it.

Rumble at Waikiki

And then it happened. The first wave came. Michael was face down on his board and was paddling with the wave as it pushed him to shore. With Noah shouting out the commands Michael somehow found himself in a standing position on the board, feet pointing in the right direction, arms stretched out for balance. It must have been a day for miracles because he was actually surfing. His five second ride felt like five minutes and when he came crashing into the water at the end he was stoked.

When visiting Oahu, be sure to check out Wiamea Falls, it’s one of the best waterfalls to visit in the USA!

Surfer Girl

Larissa jumped onto the second wave and with her convenient lower center of gravity (okay, she’s short) also rode to a watery glory. We were thrilled.

One of the nice things about surfing is that even experienced surfers end their rides with a dive into the water. It’s basically how you stop so when we fell off the board at the end of our attempts it wasn’t the same as doing a face plant on a ski run. It was actually quite refreshing.


Don’t Worry Baby

We wore long-sleeved black shirts called rash guards that protect the skin from sun and scrapes. One of the nice things they do for a middle-aged surfer is act as a cover-up for sagging muscles so we looked as sleek as champion Laird Hamilton, well almost. We might just start wearing them everywhere even when we’re not hanging ten.

We were warned by some friends that we’d be pretty sore afterwards. The next day we were a bit sore in our rib cages where they pressed into the board. But that was it. A day after that we were fine. I just wish we had brought along the best GoPro for surfing to memorialize our ride. Ah well, next time.

Good Vibrations

The one lesson has given us enough confidence that if we’re staying someplace where we can rent boards we can now do so. Granted we’re not ready for the Banzai Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu, but we feel we can handle something more modest without embarrassing ourselves.

Collecting experiences at this point in our lives feels so right. We are creating new memories and are even picking up a few new skills along the way. Besides, as nomads without a home we can’t collect stuff, we have no place to put it.

Hawaii Vacations: Save 30% or more in paradise!

Here’s how to connect with Gone Surfing who was kind enough to provide us with this lesson.


Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.