Set back a block from Hilo’s coastline are scores of towering and sprawling banyan trees with their thick and unique trunks. Similar trees can be found throughout the state, but what makes these fifty specimens unique is their planters. Between 1933 and 1972, many famous celebrities, political figures, authors and Hawaiians personally planted or dedicated these banyan seedlings as a way to commemorate their visit or honor friends. In front of the Hilo Hawaiian hotel, a particularly large road-shading tree has a small sign indicating it was planted by George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and across Banyan Drive are trees planted by King George V, Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon. Other famous names visible on placards along the leafy corridor are Franklin Roosevelt, movie star Cecil B. DeMille and his wife Constance, Amelia Earhart, volcanologist Dr. Thomas Jaggar (whose name is given to the Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and musician Louis Armstrong. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that the many of the trees here have persevered through three city-devastating tsunamis. Giant waves swept through Hilo in 1946, 1960 and 1975, and though these trees were not lost, a combined 222 people were.
Banyan Drive is located directly off downtown Hilo’s main drag, Kamehameha Avenue. It’s the second left turn over the bridge after Bayfront Park as you’re heading toward the airport, and across from the popular Ken’s House of Pancakes. You can also access it via Lihiwai Street. The Hilo Seaside Hotel, the Hilo Naniloa and the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel are all set along Banyan Drive, which forms a loop that also holds access to Coconut Island and the Liliuokalani Gardens. The loop’s interior encloses the Naniloa Volcanoes Golf Club and it’s said that trees on the course grounds may have also had famous planters, though they do not bear plaques.