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Hilo is Hawaii's second largest city after Honolulu. However, Hilo does not see the number of tourists that does Honolulu by a long shot. Because of this, a truer sense of Hawaiian culture can be found in Hilo.
Hilo is also home to one of the University of Hawaii campuses. This keeps a lot of youth and livliehood in Hilo. You will see the college students around the city and working in the local cafes and markets.
Generally speaking, Hawaiian culture is laid back and friendly. The lei-upon arrival and aloha and mahalo attitude are a part of the island spirit. Speaking of island, time runs on "island time" here. This means you can add a good ten to fifteen minutes on to everything; there is simply no need to rush in paradise!
Hilo is a very casual city. Because it is quite warm year round, a university city, and receives a high percentage of annual rainfall, people do not dress up often at all. Even at the finer restaurants, you can often get in with shorts and flip flops! *edit: Two points are missed. 1. The Merrie Monarch Festival. a world wide Hula comp held each year after Easter. VIP 2. Slippers. That's the way it is said by Hawaii locals. MAINLANDERS say flipflops. And actually locals say sleepahs.
Respect to the island and surrounding nature is expected at all times. Drunk locals throwing bear bottles excepted. This is an important part of Hawaiian culture: called in Hawaiian aloha aina. Hilo has great kept gardens and is located by several national and state parks; always treat these areas with the utmost respect.