#7. Hilo

Name, age, occupation: Alexandra Franzen, 34, author, and editor and founder of the Tiny Press, a division of a larger publishing company called Mango Press.  

How long did you live in LA? I was born in LA and lived there until I was 21 years old. Then I came back to LA briefly right after graduating from college, but I didn’t stay for too long. 

Where did you move? Hilo, Hawaii 

Why did you leave LA?

Initially, I moved to Minneapolis-Saint Paul because I got an internship at a public broadcasting company, which later unfolded into a full-time job. Several years later, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I spent many happy years freelancing, working in coffee shops, hiking and enjoying the Pacific Northwestern vibes. 

Then came an incredibly painful break-up, a house sale (my ex-partner and I owned a place in Portland together), and many huge life changes. I decided I needed a big change of scenery — a quiet place to heal, grieve and piece myself back together. I wanted something really different. A big new chapter of my life. So, I sold almost everything I owned, packed two suitcases, and bought a one-way plane ticket to Hilo.

What’s the difference in your rent/mortgage payment in LA vs. Hilo?

In my early 20s, I shared a two bedroom apartment with two other people in West Hollywood. Honestly, the place wasn’t that great. It was a 1970s building that was really outdated and not particularly attractive. Parking was always a nightmare because we had three cars and only one assigned parking spot. Almost every night when I got home, I circled around the block over and over and over, hunting for a precious spot! Our rent was $2,400 per month, utilities not included. 

Here in Hilo, I pay $1,600 per month for a really cute 1 bedroom house, furnished, with a giant backyard that’s full of tropical flowers, and my own driveway — so parking is never a problem. The rent includes all utilities: electricity, water, Wifi, trash, recycling and lawncare. $1600 is actually pretty high for Hilo prices. It’s definitely possible to find places here for way less than that, depending on which area you want to be in.  

How did leaving LA affect your career/creative life? 

Living in LA wasn’t the right place for me. After a long day navigating around LA — going to classes, going to work, being stuck on the freeway for hours — I always felt so drained, like all my creative energy was being sapped away. I remember feeling tired all the time. 

Living in a smaller city feels so much better for my mental and physical health. My quality of life has gone way up. From my house in Hilo, I can walk to my local gym in 7 minutes, or drive to the beach in 10 minutes. I love my place so much. 

Over time, I’ve realized that I’m just not a big city person. I love that little village feeling living in a smaller place, like waving to everyone as you go by, bumping into your friends at the grocery store, and feeling part of a tight-knit community. I feel happier and more productive.

What’s something creative you’ve been able to do in Hilo that may not have happened in LA?

When you live in a small city and your “commute” is a five-minute walk to the coffee shop instead of hours on the freeway, you wind up with waaa-aaay more free time and energy to pursue creative projects (and side-projects) that excite you. Living in Hilo has helped me to uncover some passions that have nothing to do with my primary career as a writer. 

 Since moving here, I’ve started teaching yoga and fitness classes a few times a week, which is something I never planned to do! I’ve also started painting. I painted a big piece inspired by one of my favorite beaches here in Hawaii. I started my own podcast, “So Obsessed,” and recorded the first season at a funky, cool studio right here in Hilo. And I’ve led several writing retreats here in Hawaii, which have been so rewarding.

What do you miss about LA? 

My mom and dad. But I try to visit as often as I can. And they love visiting me in Hawaii, of course!

Tell us something surprising about Hilo that people may not realize. trails/whatever. 

Oh my gosh, where to begin?! Hilo has so many cool, surprising gems.

Narnia is an incredible spot that locals love — a series of waterfalls with beautiful pools in between. You can swim beneath the falls! How to get there? You can’t find it on GoogleMaps. It’s not really on any official maps anywhere. You have to make friends with a “local” and ask them to show you the way. This is one of those spots that’s special, precious and not for tourists. Locals want to keep it peaceful and un-crowded. 

Hilo has an active First Friday scene. On the first Friday of every month, at night time, the whole downtown area is popping! Shops stay open later than usual. There’s music, food, and everyone gallivants around. It’s kinda like a mini street fair, every single month. 

Space and Light is a really cool spot right in downtown Hilo. By day, it’s a coffee shop featuring a menu of Hawaiian-grown coffee beans, making it a great place to grab a cappuccino and do some work on your laptop. By night, it’s a kava bar and event space. They do an open mic night, live music and more.  

Hawaiian Licks is an ice cream shop selling vegan ice cream made with coconut milk. So amazing! Even if you’re normally not “into” vegan food, seriously, you will love this. People freak out over this ice cream! My favorite flavors are the chocolate peanut butter and the ube-cardamom. This business opened up fairly recently and they’re quickly exploding in popularity. I’m addicted. 

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