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Visit picturesque Holualoa on the island of Hawaii — and you may never want to leave

Holualoa, a sleepy artist community 1,400 feet above Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii, has an uncrowded downtown that is unassuming and picturesque.

Post office boxes from the 1920s still adorn the wood facade of what is now a ukulele workshop; former doctors’ quarters house yoga studios; and galleries selling shell jewelry and modern art operate out of century-old family homes.

I spent two leisurely days and one night visiting this slice of old Hawaii most often visited by resort day-trippers. Once you arrive by way of the winding, coffee-plantation-lined Mamalahoa Highway, you may never want to leave.

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The tab: I slept well and ate for $137 (rental car not included).

From LAX, American, United and Delta offer nonstop service to Kailua-Kona, and Hawaiian offers connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip service begin at $601, including taxes and fees.

The bed 

It’s hard to miss the Pepto pink, 11-room Kona Hotel in the heart of town (76-5908 Mamalahoa Highway, Holualoa; [808] 324-1155; from $65 a night per person). It’s not Holualoa’s swankest lodging — it’s creaky and simply furnished, with shared bathrooms — but it is historic (built in 1926) and true to character. A long hallway over its steeply sloping backyard garden leads to perhaps the world’s most scenic outhouse, with a window overlooking miles of ocean. At night crickets, coqui frogs and warm through-the-screen breezes lull visitors to sleep. “We get quite a few nostalgic travelers,” said manager Staci Yates.

The meal

There are just two sit-down dining options in Holualoa, but Holuakoa Gardens and Café (76-5901 Old Government Road; [808] 322-5072mains from $25.), a slow-food restaurant with a seasonal menu and an adjacent coffee shop, is among the best on Hawaii Island. I enjoyed several meals: locally sourced beef brisket and locally caught monchong (deep sea pomfret). The brunch-time Holuakoa Eggs Benedict with smoked-out-back kalua pig and a mango juice mimosa made with the fruit of a nearby tree were showstoppers.

The find

The problem with visiting an art town? You’ll want to buy everything. But if you’re limiting yourself to just one item, consider an artist-grown and -decorated gourd at Ipu Arts Plus’ (76-5893 Mamalahoa Highway; [808] 464-5807). The shop’s ipu, or gourds, crafted according to a nearly lost Hawaiian art, are emptied and carved before being filled with watery organic dyes and left to sit for several weeks. The shallow exterior etchings pull the color through to the face of gourd. Gourds with traditional designs depicting weather patterns, currents, landmasses and stars used for navigation mingle on shelves with those showcasing more modern motifs. Prices range from $200 to $1,500.

The lesson learned

Holualoa runs on Hawaii time: Many shops have limited hours (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) or are open just a few days a week. To maximize your stay, try to time your visit for the first Friday of the month. That’s when the galleries stay open late, live music plays and food booths offer gourmet hot dogs and other eats. “It’s supposed to go from 5 till 8, but most of us are here till 10 because we don’t want to go home,” said artist Karen Root of Ipu Arts. “It’s a stitch.”

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