Constance M, A Well-Read Wanderer
5 Cool Bookstores to visit on Hawaii's Big Island
Updated: Jan 19
If you're at all like me, when you travel someplace new, you search for the coolest indie bookstores you can pop into to break up all the sightseeing.
Whether at home or abroad, nothing rejuvenates or excites me more than browsing through the shelves of a really unique independent bookstore and loading up on my wish list books. I can spend hours in a bookstore, and my only real limitations are the shop's closing hours and the limits of my so-called budget.
I recently spent a week on the Big Island of Hawaii and tracked down every single indie bookstore on the island. Sadly, two of them (not listed below) have gone out of business in the last year. Still, Hawaii's Big Island still has a thriving indie bookstore scene on both sides of the island. I came home with half a suitcase loaded with books and really tested that 50-lb checked bag weight limit.
What can I say, I live on the edge.
So in between visiting Hawaii island's black sand beaches, active volcano sites, and delicious eateries, here are 5 cool bookstores to visit on your trip to the Big Island:
Oh, and before you come, don't forget to read these 11 surprising things no one warns you about visiting Hawaii.
1. Kona Bay Books
My favorite type of bookstore is one that carries an extensive collection of both new and second-hand books, stacked high and deep, in a winding maze of bookshelves where you can get lost for hours. One of Kona's indie bookstores, Kona Bay Books, delivers exactly that experience in such a satisfying way!
There's a great variety of books in every subject, including a substantial section of Hawaiiana, or books focused on Hawaii, in addition to the go-tos of fiction/literature, sci-fi/fantasy, romance, thriller, comics, children's books, and lot of nonfiction categories.
When I visited, they were in the process of moving to a new location, so some of the shelves were already packed up. Still, it was incredibly satisfying to spend a couple of hours browsing in here. I can't imagine how full the new bookstore location will be once it's all unpacked.
Kona Bay Books also buys used books, so while you're visiting you can trade in the books you already finished on the plane for some new reads to get you home.
Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to check out this unique indie bookstore in Kona on the western side of the Big Island.
Not coming to the Big Island any time soon? You can shop some of their book selection online and have it shipped!
Kona Bay Books
open 11-6 daily
74-5487 Kaiwi St
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
2. Still Life Books & Vinyl
Still Life Books and Vinyl on the Hilo side of Hawaii's Big Island is the smallest of the stores on this list, but it was one of my favorites.
Tucked into a tiny shopping strip next to a nail salon just down from Hilo's Public Library, you might miss this tiny indie books and records store if you don't know to look for it.
The selection is small, but it's highly curated. I found it to be a more condensed shopping experience but with lots of books I got excited about (without wading through all the books I'm not interested in).
There's also a good selection of children's books. While we were visiting, the owner had a selection of Hawaiian language children's books he was giving away for free. All in all, we walked away with quite a hefty stack of books considering it's such a small shop.
The owner of this cute indie bookstore lives locally and opens roughly at 11 each day so he can spend the morning surfing. Feel free to stop by outside of hours on the off chance it's open early or late. The owner will likely be playing a favorite record and sitting at the front digesting a good book (my son said he has a great job!).
This is your quintessential, small Hawaiian beach town business with a great, friendly feel.
Needless to say, vinyl music lovers and collectors will also find much to entertain in this store. There's an impressive selection of nostalgic records to dig into.
Still Life Books & Vinyl
open ~ 11-3 daily
235 Waianuenue Avenue
Hilo, HI 96720
3. Big Island Book Buyers
Here's another cool indie bookstore to get lost in: Big Island Book Buyers in downtown Hilo.
Wind your way through shelf after shelf of books in every genre, organized with non-fiction by sub-category in the front of the store, including a great selection of books about Hawaii, to fiction genres and children's books in the back half of the store.
And get ready to climb, because these shelves are packed to the top! Look for stools and step ladders around the shop to assist you in your ascent.
In addition to books, there's a sizable selection of used Blu-Ray and DVD movies and TV series as well as audiobooks on CD (talk about nostalgic!)
Big Island Bookbuyers, as the name might suggest, buys used books, DVDs, and audiobooks if you have any to off-load while you're on the Big Island.
Before you leave, make sure you walk 100 feet up the street to Makani's Magic Pineapple Shack for an absolutely delicious (not to mention instagrammable) acai bowl, smoothie, or ice cream in a pineapple. Trust me on this one.
Big Island Book Buyers
open Mon-Sat from 10-5
14 Waianuenue Ave
4. Kona Stories Bookstore
Kona Stories Bookstore is another fun indie bookstore to browse on Hawaii Island's Kona side. This shop sells a moderate selection of new books in most categories, with an extensive children's book section.
They've got a great kids' section, including a kids' table and toys to keep the keiki occupied while you browse.
This is also a great store to buy a unique souvenir. A good third of the store is dedicated to greeting cards designed by local artists as well as other unique artwork, windchimes, and other gift or souvenir items made on the island.
There's also a sizable selection of Tarot and Oracle cards and crystals.
Kona Stories Bookstore
open 7 days a week, check hours on the website
78-6831 Ali'i Drive #142
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
(in the Keauhou Shopping Center)
5. Basically Books
The final indie bookstore to check out in Hilo on the Big Island is Basically Books.
This small indie bookstore is located right near Ken's House of Pancakes (a must-visit for breakfast food kinda place)
Nearly all the books you'll find in this cute shop focus on Hawaii, from dual language children's books to Hawaii guidebooks to books by Hawaiian authors. The children's section is extensive, if we're going to understate it. Your child will find much to entertain him or herself here.
It's also another great shop to find locally made souvenirs and gifts on the windward side of the island.
open Mon-Sat 12-6
1672 Kamehameha Avenue
Pin this now to reference when planning your next Hawaii Big Island trip!