Hilo, Hawaii, US

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Water and fire reign here: This is a land of verdant rain forests bisected by sparkling falls. But the fiery element flares along the volcanic coast of Kohala and the roaring furnace of the Kilauea volcano: Lava has continued to seep from the crater since its last eruption in 1983.

Nature is Hilo's blessing, as well as its challenge. The beautiful crescent bay served as a funnel to two major tsunamis that battered the city—tragedies that are never forgotten and hopefully never repeated. (Hilo's Pacific Tsunami Museum remains a leader in safety education.)

Once a busy fishing and farming area, Hilo blossomed into a commercial center for the sugarcane industry in the 1800s. Today’s town—its waterfront rebuilt since the last destructive wall of water in 1960—flourishes as a hub of galleries, independent shops, farmers markets and homegrown destination restaurants. A world-class astronomy center has joined this mix, underlining the awe unfolding through the telescopes atop Mauna Kea (the world's tallest peak from base to summit, outstripping Everest by 1,363 meters, or 4,472 feet!). Meanwhile, leafy Banyan Drive celebrates more earthbound stars with its arboreal Walk of Fame. Look up, look down: Wherever you glance, Hilo looks good. 

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