Thursday, July 30, 2009

East Side/ West Side – All Around the Big Island

Few things cause emotions to run higher than when discussing the merits of the two sides of the Big Island where most of the population is located. The main population hub on the west side is centered around Kona and on the east side, around Hilo, Hawaii’s second largest city.

In general, residents of either region believe that their area is preferable which is as it should be. Some, however, take it a bit further and like to malign life on the “other side,” and the people that live there.

Devany (my wife) and I are familiar with this from Chicago. We lived on a very small one block street in Lakeview, not far from Wrigley Field, that had an annual block party in the summer. Apparently, something controversial happened ages ago in planning that year’s party, and ever since, the north side of the block has disliked the south side, and vice versa. People rarely mingle above or below the midpoint of the street at the block party! And I won’t even get into what Cub fans think about Sox fans, and vice versa.

Rainbow Falls in Hilo

Anyway, on the Big Island the most typical comparison that we’ve heard is that people from Los Angles prefer Kona and the west side, and people from San Francisco prefer Hilo and the east side, both for weather and life style. It seems like an OK comparison to me.

The west side has all the high end resorts, and Kona and the south Kohala coast can be sort of happening with lots of shopping and restaurants. It is also nearly always sunny and hot, with very, very little rain and it even has traffic! And the west side has beautiful large sandy white beaches. Did I mention that it is hot?

Kohala Sunset (West Side)

By contrast, on my side of the island Hilo leads the nation in average rain fall. (Full disclosure here: it is not so much a constant drizzle as it is a seasonal occurrence and much of the rainfall is at night.) It also is a sleepy town that time has passed by somewhat – we still can see first run movies at the downtown theater for only a dollar. Our beaches are nice with good snorkeling and surfing, but not world class like “over there.” Shopping and dining are smaller scale too, but the University of Hawaii-Hilo is located here – not there.

Hapuna Beach (West Side)

Most of the arguing (generally playful) is about the differences in the people on the two sides, which is more difficult for me when generalizations are made such as that those over here are “more authentic.” Or that those on the west side are more “with it.” Clearly the two sides of the Big Island have different appeal, and on each side, the various locales therein have appeal for some individuals more than others.

Sunrise on Hilo Bay

That is the beauty of the Big Island; almost anyone can find the type of lifestyle where they are most comfortable. Tossing verbal abuse at each other on the two sides of the island is generally not taken seriously and, if cleverly done, often very funny.

Some other contrasts:

West Side/East Side

Views: lava moonscapes/waterfalls

Predominant Color: golden brown/green

Beaches: among best in world/good

Discount Shopping: Costco, Target and Wal-Mart/Wal-Mart (Target coming)

High End Shopping: lots/little

Cost of Living: medium to high/medium to low

Irrigation and A/C: needed/not necessary

Golf Courses: many/few

Best photo op time: sunset/sunrise

Coquii frogs: no/yes

Rainfall: semi-arid/lots

Humidity: dry/high

Mosquitos: some/few to many

Affluence: medium to high/low to medium

We are happy being in Hilo and cannot imagine living elsewhere. Plus when it’s in the rainy season, we can drive to some of the best beaches in the world north of Kona in less than 90 minutes. Heck, I’ve had one-way commutes longer than that!


  1. We have really been noticing the differences since we have had visitors staying on the west coast recently. And they have made comparisons as well when they come over here. It is great to have so much diversity in one place. I think one of the great things about it is that we can go to the other side if we get a rainy period and still have sunshine.

  2. Wes - Your West Side/East Side comparison list is a great, and concise checklist for anyone who asks the question, "what's the difference?"

    Me? I like the East Side for the green climate. Only thing I would improve would be to get the sunrises AND the sunsets over Hilo Bay...too hard, so its great the way it is.


Mahalo for leaving a comment!~WesIsland