Discovering the Unique Charm of Pahoa town: Exploring the Heart of Puna (updated 2023)
People really love or hate Pahoa town – it just gives off that vibe and attitude to love or hate it. In the heart of the Puna district, Pahoa town is funky with western style store fronts, run down and brightly colored buildings with wooden boardwalks, vintage stores and a terrific great dining scene with some delicious eateries to choose from.
The juxtaposition of old town vs the newer parts of town is a bit jarring especially when you have to drive from the newer parts at the roundabout where the new shopping areas are located and leads to the old parts of town. In any case it works for locals and visitors to visit the old section and then go to the newer areas for sundries, shopping and other dining out options.
Pahoa Hawaii is really a treasure not to be missed in East Hawaii.
Old town of Pahoa
The Older part of Paho town remains unchanged with slowly decaying Hawaiian western style architecture and rustic wooden boardwalk areas. You can stroll the area quickly and even check out the Pahoa Lava Museum with some interesting pictures, artifacts and other finds to educate you to the lava intrusions into town and the surrounding areas.
There’s a lot of cool shops, boutique stores and funky places to explore in town that are starting to come into the old town scene with two cool bakeries, an ice cream shop, a tech and coffee spot and some delicious food venues in old town.
A walking tour of the colorful buildings and friendly shop keepers will give you good idea about the cool and funky vibe here.
Here’s a visit to everyone’s favorite tin shack in old town
The newer Pahoa town at Puna Kai Center
The newer parts of the town at Malama Market area and the New Puna Kai shopping center have that distinct Hawaiian western motif architecture which fits in okay to the surroundings and direct access from the roundabout. In any case it works for quick access to local needs like the bank, hardware store, gym, a fancy grocery stored called Malama and many dining options at both shopping centers from Hawaiian style chains, specialty foods to nicer dining venues.
Next door is the other newer shopping venue at Malama Shopping center with banks, eateries, hardware store and other mom and pop shops to visit in the Pahoa area.
The new Puna Makai center offers weekly markets, fun movie screen nights, live music at the bar/grocery store and fun new events happening regularly for visitors and locals.
Where is Pahoa Hawaii located?
Pahoa is a charming, intimate community nestled in the Puna District of the eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Its location places it approximately 30 miles (48 km) south of Hilo and 20 miles (32 km) east of the magnificent Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, providing visitors with the opportunity to explore some of the most breathtaking scenery that the island has to offer especially along the coastal areas of the Red Road in Puna.
A brief history of Pahoa town
Early Pahoa during the plantation days was booming in the early 1900s with the local Puna Lumber Mill and the Puna Sugar Company and sugar cane fields growing in all the farmland areas of the Puna district. A railway service was created to transport the lumber and sugar cane to Hilo which was the closest port for export. Farms and businesses were established to support the community as well as schools and homesteads.
The western styled buildings along town’s main street have this western era vibe with wooden boardwalks but are now painted with wild and colorful tropical tones that gives the town very distinctive and one of a kind vibe
Pahoa also has this hippie and bohemian element that just permeates the downtown district, but before they came in Pahoa, a large sugar cane factory and even a tofu factory that were started in the area and where the dominant business in the area. In 1955 the tofu factory created a big blaze that almost destroyed the town but was saved by a local who had a truck filled with water at that time.
The town again experienced destruction closely with the oncoming Lerz eruption of 2018 which came very close to the city grounds and just on the outskirts of the county dump. The eruption devasted areas close by including the Leilani subdivision where it developed a series of explosive fissures that erupted and continued on its path of destruction all the way down and wiping out various communities down to the ocean.
Pahoa town itself was spared and the old town and new sections of town are experiencing growing pains. A building boom is currently happening in the district to support massive new home development interest and affordable prices in the area. Cheap raw land and home prices are creating a demand for moving to the Puna district which is the fastest growing district in all of Hawaii right now.
Things things to do in Pahoa, Hi
There’s plenty of quirky and fun things to do in Pahoa, HI and the surrounding areas that you can explore in a full day.
Stroll around the Old town section – visit the artsy if not funky stores and find a spot for a snack or a fantastic dinner with an international selection of Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, fish and chips and even Hawaiian style barbeque.
Visit the Malama market and Puna Kai Center for your sundries and groceries, gasoline, drop by the bank or other daily needs to do while in town. There are some good dining choices here in the new section of town worth checking out and detailed below in the eating Pahoa section
Check out the Pahoa district park areas with public swimming pools, skateboard park, covered play courts, multi-use fields and baseball field closed to the old town section, there’s a lot of outdoor activities you can do for free.
Check out everyone’s favorite fish shack in Pahoa
Here’s a quick drive through video of Pahoa to check out below
Things to see around Pahoa area
Just outside of Pahoa town are some fun and cool places to explore that really give off that old Hawaii vibe and scenery worth discovering.
Check out my video on my favorite places to visit around the east side of Hawaii in Puna
Explore MacKenzie State park and enjoy the cliffside views, ironwood groves, lava tubes and spiritual presence in the area. Mackenzie State park is dramatic with the rugged cliffs, rough ocean spraying hard against the beautiful raw coastline.
Check out this beautiful coastline video of Mackenzie State Park below
Pahoa Lava Zone Museum – a museum showing an eclectic combination of Pahoa and Puna history and volcano activity from the recent 2018 Lerz Eruption. You’ll see videos, artifacts and other exhibits from the Jagger Museum in Volcanoes National Park that were saved and how housed in this museum.
Nicoco Ice Cream Shop – enjoy delicious home-made gelato ice cream with tropical flavors and unusual frozen ice cream combinations that just wow!
Go on a road trip through newly created lava fields and gorgeous coastal roads on the Pahoa-Kapoho road which is an easy few hour to do and loops back to Pahoa town. There are perfect places to stop and enjoy the views around the lava fields and forest, coastal drive and if you’re looking for an adventure – do the hike to the newly formed black sand beach at Kapoho that was created in the 2018 Lerz Eruption in the area.
Check out this hike to the new black sand beach in the Kapoho area of Puna
Explore Lava Tree State Park – for some cool lava tree molds made when lava encased local ohia trees to create these strangely made forms, the loop trail takes your through lush native forests and other tropical plants in this botanical garden that is free to explore.
Here’s a quick tour of Lava Tree State Park
Kehena Black Sand Beach – an alternative beach that you have to climb down some rugged cliffs to this gorgeous black sand beach and is clothing optional throughout the beach area.
Here’s a fun and strange video tour of Kehena beach
Visit the Painted Church – (the Star of the Sea Painted church) before Kalapana on Hwy 130 is a primitive styled church with beautiful hand painted interior in a folklore style and colorful motifs and detail on the walls and alter. The church was saved and moved to the current location to avoid the lava destruction of the town and surrounding landscape in the 1990s.
Pohoiki Black Sand Beach – check out the newly formed black sand beach with some hidden hot ponds to explore in the area. A perfect place for a picnic, beach comb or hang out in the hot ponds.
Check out this fun video about exploring the Pahoa area and gorgeous scenic coasts ( a few of these places were destroyed by the lava, but most of these attractions are still around to enjoy)
Hiking venues in Puna
There are a few short and easy hiking places to explore the gorgeous Puna coastlines, forests and unique areas of the district below.
Hike to Ha’ena (Shipman Beach)
Botanical garden and hike around Lava Tree State Park
Hike the Kings road and cliffsides at MacKenzie State Park
Explore and hike the new Kapoho black sand beach
Red Road Hawaii – Kalapana Kapoho road – This Hawaii Life
Beaches close to Pahoa town
There are 10 black sand beaches on the Big Island and the area around Pahoa has 5 of them that are the newest black sand beaches in the area. The most popular that you can drive to are Kehena beach and Pohoiki or Issaac Hale Beach Park. The other three beaches you have to hike to and these includes: Kaimu, Ha’ena or shipman beach and the new black sand beach at Kapoho with no actual name. Of course these three beaches that you have to hike to are not as popular and crowded since you can’t drive to them but all the hikes are relatively easy and on flat trails that you hike through to finally get to the beach areas.
Visit the Farmers Markets in Pahoa area
Farmers markets are very popular in Puna and the lifeblood of shopping, socializing and finding some good deals in the local markets around Pahoa and outlying areas.
Visit the Maku’u Market – located about two miles west of town and is the largest farmers market in the Puna district to shop for delicious local tropical fruits and vegetables, island inspired foods and Hawaiian snacks and a variety of crafts, art and souvenirs.
If you miss Maku’u market, there are plenty of other fruit and vegetable stalls all along Hwy 130 on the way to Pahoa town. Or visit these other popular farmers markets located around the Puna District.
Market at the Mill – Every Saturday in Mountain View at the Hilo Coffee Mill Farm between 9 and 2pm. Address: 17-995 Volcano Road
Pahoa Community Farmers Market – located at the Pahoa Regional Parking lot above the skate park and open Sundays from 7am to Noon
Uncle Roberts Market – Every Saturday at Uncle Robert’s in Kalapana (at the outdoor parking lot area) between 9am to 12 noon. Address: 12-5038 Kalapana Kapoho Beach Road
Volcano Village at the Cooper Community Center – Every Sunday from 6am to 10am which is very early and the locals love it that way.
Here’s a fun video tour of Maku’u market sundays outside Pahoa town
**Check out our entire guide to visiting the Puna District of Hawaii and top attractions to visit in the district.
Where to eat in Pahoa town
There are plenty of good dining options in Pahoa depending on what type of food you are interested in trying
Ning’s in Pahoa – fantastic traditional Thai food in a semi open area in the old town area serving fresh and delicious Thai cuisine
Kaleo’s – open air and inside dining room areas serving Pan Asian and innovative Hawaii style cuisine with live music
Loquins – Mexican food in a fun environment and large portioned sized meals
Island Natural Deli and Grocery – take out deli counter with organic salads and other vegan offerings perfect for picnic food
Tin Shack Bakery – A healthy food alternative with delicious baked goods, sandwiches and breakfast meals
Pahoa Fresh Fish – at the Malama market area with delicious local fried fish and chips
Coco Cantina – at the Puna Kai Center with typical and authentic Mexican fare
Thep Thai – at the Puna Kai Center with innovative Asian style foods along with traditional Thai specialty dishes
Pho 19 – Across from the 7/11 with authentic Pho, appetizers and over rice plates that are hearty and delicious
Paolo’s Bistro – Authentic Italian food from Liguria region, authentic and hearty
Where to Stay in Pahoa town
There are no hotels in Pahoa area but mostly small mom and pop inns, VRBO or Air Bnb and private homes to rent through various sites directly.
You can check places to stay on the VRBO site here for more listings of private homes and rooms to let in the Pahoa to Kahena area of Puna.
Or Check with Air Bnb listings here for more properties or rooms you can stay in the area.
Other things to do Around Hilo and the Puna Area
If you plan on visiting Hilo and staying longer, check out my post on visiting Hilo town and attractions around the town to explore including:
Enjoy a visit to historic downtown Hilo
Explore Hilo’s cool museums and art galleries
Stroll around the Lili’uokalani gardens off Banyan Drive
Visit the cool little island called Coconut island on Hilo Bay
Check out the aquamarine pools, lagoons and coves in Carlsmith Beach Park
Enjoy some beach time at Richardson Ocean Park
Family friendly fun at Reeds Bay Beach Park in a shallow and protected lagoon area
Visiting Volcano area, check out these posts
Exploring and staying at Volcano Village
Lava eruptions at Volcanoes National Park
Why visit Volcanoes National Park
Pin or save this to your Hawaii Board
Pahoa Hawaii FAQ
Is Pahoa worth a visit?
If you are exploring the Puna district then Pahoa town is the heart and old town is a must to explore, dine and see some fun and quirky art, galleries and cool shops
What is Pahoa Hawaii known for?
A slice of eastern Hawaii, a little beatnik, hippy, funky and fun, Pahoa Hawaii is where bohemian meets trendy and fun and the wooden boardwalk gives it a real authentic vibe to explore.
Can you see lava in Pahoa
There was live lava action in the recent past in 2018 when Pahoa was under threat of lava, but now there are just places to visit outside that did have lave intrusions to the are worth visiting.
Have you visited Pahoa Hawaii?
Enjoyed your visit here or any other tips to share? Please share on the comments below.
Thanks for checking out this post on a visit to Pahoa Town. Hope the post was informative and a must read article – if so please do share it with any of the social media buttons around the page.