Hawaii evokes images of exotic palm trees, gleaming azure seas, and thin, sugar-like sandy beaches that are so clean, and their sand covered with no footprints at all as if nobody’s ever walked on them.
The Big Island and its small cities like Hilo offer travelers hundreds of things to experience and places to visit, and we have the 24 best ways to explore Hilo!
From climbing up rocky volcanoes to exploring underwater life with expert scuba divers, keep on reading below for the 24 best things to do in Hilo, Hawaii, and for some travel tips before your visit there.
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, found on the scenic Route 19 off the Old Mamalahoa Highway, is a conservation area and botanical garden with over 2,000 species of plants.
Dan J. Lutkenhouse designed the garden, which is set in a stunning valley with beautiful views of Onomea Bay and has a treasure trove of more than 200 palm trees and a great range of other collections of exotic trees.
Onomea Falls, a triple-tiered waterfall with amazing views of Boulder Creek and the molten tubes on Onomea Bay, is also located in the garden.
Honoli’i Beach Park found on Hawaii’s eastern seaboard and the northern side of Hilo is a well-known beach park with a hilly seaside and terrific swells which make it one of the surfers’ favorite places to be at.
This park has outstanding surf throughout the year, with the summertime becoming the perfect season for novices, and the winter providing more difficult and bigger waves for the pros.
It also has a green grass space covered by Hawaiian trees, a narrow stream, and rolled grasses for picnics, restrooms, showers, as well as a district lifeguard on spot.
A small lake at the northernmost tip of Honoli’i Beach can also be a perfect place to swim.
The Wailoa River State Recreation Area is one of Hilo’s city parks on the bank of the Wailoa River and provides a wide range of spots for picnicking, strolling, and relaxing.
This area houses a diverse array of saltwater organisms and is the location of two monuments, one honoring people lost in the tsunami and the other Vietnam War’s former soldiers.
The Wailoa Center showcasing temporary cultural exhibits that portray the history of the area is also located in the park.
Akaka Falls is the pair of another waterfall in the Akaka Falls State Park, and you can find it on the northeast side of the Hilo Coast.
The Akaka Falls, among Hawaii’s most popular waterfalls, drops 442 feet into a gorge that has been eroded by a stream.
This majestic waterfall is accessible via a pleasurable half-mile hiking trip in the surrounding exotic forest, which is rich in bamboo lands, draping bryophytes, and wild orchids.
From there, you will also be able to see Kahuna Falls, Akaka Falls’ pair.
Pe’epe’e Falls is a gorgeous waterfall on the Wailuku River close to the city of Hilo, approximately 1.5 miles upriver from the famous Rainbow Falls.
The Falls can be seen from an observation post on Waianuenue Avenue in Hilo’s city center by following the signposts to Rainbow Falls.
The current of the waterfall is decided by the rainwater, so if there is sufficient water, the rainwater falls into a small lagoon creating a serene spectacle.
The waterfall is surrounded by lots of green and molten rock formations and drops about 80 feet into the lagoon under it.
The Rainbow Falls, located on the Wailuku River close to the city of Hilo, is a lovely, wide waterfall reaching 80 feet in height.
It runs down all the way from the Pe’epe’e Falls, presenting stunning and dream-like panoramic views with rainbows that have given their name to the waterfall itself.
Calling it a wide waterfall was no exaggeration as its width reach 100 feet.
Rainbow Falls falls over a dark lava cave, the mythical residence of the ancient Hawaiian deity Hina,
and down into a deep and serene lagoon, guarded by a ravine covered in vibrant, thick forests.
The waterfall is accessible from the Wailuku River State Park and can be regarded from many observation spots.
Coconut Island, also referred to as Mokuola, is situated in the center of Hilo Bay, just next to the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens.
It provides a tranquil getaway for anyone looking for relaxing holidays.
What more could you ask for when you have this little Hawaiian heaven with two beaches, spotless washrooms, a well-maintained and massive grass area, and a picnic spot surrounded by exotic trees?
This green island is ideal for getting away from it all while admiring the breathtaking views of Hilo, which are framed by the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.
Water enthusiasts can swim in sea pools, go paddleboarding, or jump in the water from a 20-foot rock structure.
Richardson Ocean Park
Richardson Ocean Park is a lovely sea park with a volcanic sandy shore and waters that are perfect both for swimmers and surfers.
The Richardson Ocean Center takes its name from a house on the beach once owned by the Richardson family.
It is a beach park with numerous rocky shores packed with a wide range of marine creatures for kids to explore.
A natural waterfront shaped by Mauna Kea’s magma has created rocky pools that are filled with high waves and are perfect for swimmers.
Further away from the waterfront, it is also a famous surfing destination that draws both local people and visitors.
Tourists can lease canoes, scuba gear, and masks to experience the surrounding sea, or they can tour the Richardson Ocean Center to discover the area’s aquatic life.
The Imiloa Astronomy Center of the island is an astronomy and culture learning center that uses sciences and the stars to showcase the island’s history and heritage.
It is a venue that is ideal for parents visiting Hilo with their kids as it includes a wide range of exhibitions displaying Hawaiian heritage,
cultural legacy, and sciences, as well as interesting and interactive exhibits that illustrate how these things are inextricably linked.
So, for example, you can explore Hawaiian philosophies and belief systems, learn about sacred sites like that of Maunakea and its importance to the locals, as well as the Hawaiian perception of how life evolved.
Hawaii Route 200
Hawaii Route 200, which can also be referred to as Saddle Road or the Daniel K.
Inouye Highway, runs for almost 53 miles across Hawaii, from the city center of Hilo to the intersection with Hawaii Route 190 close to Waimea.
Saddle Road’s name is a mention of the “saddle” in between the volcano Mauna Loa and the Mauna Kea.
This route’s highest altitude is more than 6,600 feet and connects to the volcanoes’ observatories that diverge from the route.
The majority of the path has been completely reconstructed, and considerable sections have been re-aligned to contemporary specifications.
Wailuku River State Park covers 16 acres and is situated near Hilo’s city center. The park features many of the region’s most natural wonders.
Wailuku River State Park, located along Hawaii’s biggest river, showcases the Rainbow Falls.
The Boiling Pots, located on Pe’epe’e Falls Drive, are a collection of big puddles linked by the subsurface stream or loops that look like boiling water as the fluid flows over the rock formations.
Nani Mau Gardens is a well-kept botanic garden with more than 20 acres of exotic tropical flora.
Makato Nitahara, a Japanese immigrant, created and decided to open the garden to the community in 1972, and its name literally means “forever beautiful,” which is exactly how you will describe it when you see it.
With such stunning scenery, it has turned into a well-known wedding and special occasion venue.
This area also has a restaurant with tasty food and a gift store selling unique Nani Mau gifts and memorabilia.
Both these establishments are open every day.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, you must go to Kaumana Caves, which are located 4 miles from Hilo at Kaumana Caves Park.
Kaumana Caves Park features a labyrinth of the lava field formed by Mauna Loa’s explosion in 1881. Visitors can explore a portion of the lava field, but the remainder is on private land.
Wear hiking boots, bring a headlamp, and come down a slope metal stairway to discover the mystical pitch-black setting packed with slipping rock formations, water wall surfaces, and tectonically active zones.
There are no signposts or safety lights in there, so you will certainly experience this authentic natural habitat in its purest form.
The Hilo Farmers Market is an all-year-long open-air market with more than 200 sellers offering all kinds of things: from fresh fruit and vegetables, art projects, and from exotic plants to freshly made meals, organic food, and memorabilia.
Farmers, growers, and artists of the area gather at the intersection of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue in the center of Hilo to present their merchandise in this well-known market, which is accessible all year long, 7 days a week.
Many eateries and cafeterias are also located in the market, and they often have live entertainment and musicians performing several times per week.
The Liliuokalani Park and Gardens is a park with a lush landscape located on the coasts of Hilo Bay that houses the world’s largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan.
This park covers an area of 24 acres on Banyan Drive and includes Edo-style Japanese gardens, that were created in 1917, as well as lovely overpasses and pagodas, serene ponds, statuary, torii, and a real Japanese teahouse.
The park also includes a tiny island, Moku Ola, which used to be the location of an old temple built for healing that is nowadays a popular picnic and swimming location.
Visitors can access the tiny island via a pedestrian bridge that ties it to the park and enjoy amazing views from a stone turret on the island’s eastern edge.
The Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is a one-of-a-kind exotic zoo that covers a 12-acre land and houses more than 100 species of both flora and fauna.
The Pana’ewa Zoo is the first and last zoo in the U.S. that is situated inside a tropical forest,
and it houses a diverse range of Hawaiian animals that are threatened with extinction as well as other tropical forest animals.
The venue also has a lovely botanical garden with exotic and tropical plants like orchids, bamboo, and palm trees, as well as a peaceful water garden.
The Lyman House Memorial Museum, referred to as the Lyman Museum, in short, is a natural history institution that shows the history of the area through a huge array of artifacts and objects that represent Hawaii’s past.
The institution was founded in 1931 and was originally housed in the 1838 Lyman family mission residence prior to being relocated to a contemporary-style venue near the residence back in the 60s.
The initial Lyman family mission residence has now been included in the museum as part of its displays as it is among the oldest remaining wood-framed structures on the island.
In the museum’s list of artifacts, you can also find ancient Hawaiian tools and weaponry,
feather capes and Hawaiian garlands once worn around the neck by the island’s royal family, kitchenware, and many more things.
There are also geology and shell collections, as well as a tour through a lava passage simulation.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum pays tribute to the 1946 homonymous incident and the 1960 Chilean tsunami, both of which traumatized and destroyed Hilo and the island’s east shoreline.
The local museum, which was founded to inform people about tsunamis, their causes, and consequences, includes several immersive exhibits, such as short clips, narratives, and pictures, in addition to a representation of an early tsunami alerting system.
Volunteer guides and people who have actually lived through the tsunamis work at the institution, relating their stories and experience to people as they walk through the exhibits.
Your Hilo vacation will be incomplete if you don’t plan a ride with Bike Volcano.
The organization is well-equipped to provide daily bicycle excursions to Kilauea Volcano as well as visits to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with one of their expert guides.
Biking in the mountain ranges in between all that molten magma with qualified personnel will simply be unforgettable.
With the help of your tour guide, you will go through asphalt roads and trails, allowing you to witness a wide range of microhabitats.
You will move through a lava field, and, if you’re lucky, see active lava streams flowing directly into the Pacific.
No matter which one you choose, both tour options offer a short break in Volcano Winery, one of the three commercial wineries in Hawaii.
There, you can relax, visit their shop to buy some wine and tea, and then go on with your adventurous excursion!
Depending on how much time you have for this, you can either go for the entire day or half of it; both tour options are available.
If you love flying, Paradise Helicopters provides a wide range of fascinating journeys in the Hawaiian sky, showcasing its breathtaking scenery and interesting sights.
Paradise Helicopters, which is run by locals, was established in 1997 and comprises a team of experts and skilled helicopter pilots who are specialized in Hawaiian geology, heritage, and civilization.
The group employs cutting-edge technology to interact with attendees on trips and participate in their enjoyment of the Hawaiian charm.
Hawaiian Legacy Tours provides two unique outings: helicopter trips all around Hawaii and ATV tree planting outings.
There are several helicopter trips currently offered that explore Hawaii’s falls and volcano spots, as well as many other hotspots.
The unique ATV Planting Tours include a trip to a historical landmark on the hillsides of Mauna Kea that used to be King Kamehameha the Great’s private koa reserve.
Arnott’s Lodge and Hiking Adventures provides pleasurable lodging as well as the chance to discover and experience Hawaii through a variety of adventurous activities.
Since 1990, the company offers places to stay and excursions for adventurous travelers, such as visits to Mauna Kea’s top, the popular Volcanoes National Park, and the magnificent Akaka and Kahuna Falls.
Hilo Ocean Adventures is a Hawaiian-based sports adventure business that provides snorkeling and scuba diving excursions, as well as scuba diving training and swimming classes.
The dive store, which is located on the northeastern side, offers a variety of tour packages, such as beach and tank swims, whale watching journeys, Hilo Bay and Riverfalls excursions, banana boat tours, and manta ray experiences.
Hilo Ocean Adventures also provides swimming classes for grownups and kids in a high-temperature swimming facility with specially qualified swimming educators.
Get a taste of the island from the sea through a wide range of tailored sailing trips with a professional captain.
The standard tour they offer lasts half a day and usually starts in the afternoon hours and lasts till the sunset, so that you can get the best of both worlds.
The sailing ship embarks from Hilo Bay and allows you to enjoy a breathtaking view of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, as well as the metropolitan area of Hilo spreading all along the half-moon-shaped coastline.
With Captain Dan on the wheel, you also get to see him share his love and enthusiasm for Hawaii as he takes you through many of the historic events and narratives that define it.
The Best Time To Visit Hilo
Due to the general tropical climate, tourists can include Hilo in their travel arrangements at any time of year.
Having said that, speciﬁc times of the year are preferable for touring Hilo as that is when it is less rainy and sunnier.
We recommend visiting Hilo either in January or February in the winter, or from May-July in the summer season.
If you are looking for late vacations in the fall, the first two autumn months are ideal.
However, if you are flexible with your vacations, the absolute best time to visit Hilo and avoid any rain is May.
Packing Things For Hilo
Preparing for your vacation in Hilo means you will have to prepare for all the weather conditions you might encounter.
Keep in mind that it is not as hot in Hilo as it is in other Hawaiian regions. But to simplify the process below is a brief packing checklist of items to remember to take with you:
- Bathing suit
- Sneakers or hiking boots
- A lightweight jacket for cooler days
- Clothing for sunny and hot weather
- A torch or headlight if you plan on visiting the caves
Hilo’s Best Restaurants
Hilo has a wide range of places to eat! You’ll never get tired of the food in this place! Try Ken’s House of Pancakes, the local’s go-to diner since 1971, if you enjoy eating breakfast food even when it’s lunchtime.
The macadamia nut pancakes are particularly tasty.
A scrumptious pastry from Moonstruck Patisserie as well as a cup of fresh Hawaiian coffee from Nector Cafe is also great ways to make your day.
Pay a visit to Cafe 100, famous for its delicious Loco Mocos, or the Hawaiian Style Cafe for the best and most authentic dishes of Hawaiian cuisine.
Miyo’s also has the tastiest of Japanese favorites like ramen and udon noodles on its menu, but Moon and Turtle is probably the best Asian American fusion eatery on the island.
Cafe Pesto is an excellent choice for Italian cuisine, while Sweet Cane Cafe offers fresh smoothies, juices, açai bowls, and vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free alternatives.
Last but certainly not least, for some authentic gelato, go to Nicoco Hawaiian Gelato.
Trips And Visits Near Hilo
Since Hawaii has become one of the greatest tourist hotspots, we consider it crucial to venture beyond the touristy traps.
We know some real treasures near Hilo that you should certainly visit if you want to see more of what Hawaii has to offer and get in touch with the natives.
10 minutes away from Hilo, you can find the Lavaloha Chocolate Farm.
There, you can learn about the history of chocolate, and the way it is produced, and you can also go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the chocolate industry, from the cacao bean to the packaged food.
Of course, what you will get to do is taste the chocolates made too.
The good thing is you can always head to the gift shop before you leave the farm and pick a big box of chocolate to treat your friends and family back home.
Don’t forget to get some for yourself too!
Have you ever heard about a goat’s therapeutic skills? If not, you are not the first and certainly not the last person!
When you get to Honomu Goat Farm you can spend the day playing with the baby goats, which will get you laughing and feeling happy in no time.
You can feed the goats, watch them run and play, or even have them jumping on your back if you offer them some treats!
Goat therapy is unexpectedly effective and among the most remarkable and enjoyable activities in Hilo, not to say the island.
The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm is one more unusual visit near Hilo.
Here, you can learn all about macadamia nuts, the way they are grown, how they harvest them, and of course, try some freshly roasted ones.
Before you leave the farm, head to the gift shop for some macadamia nuts covered with chocolate and some heavenly-made ice cream!
The Bottom Line
Hilo is one of the best places in Hawaii to stay and experience the best the island has to offer.
So, depending on how long you are staying there, choose some or all of these things to do in Hilo and have the time of your life!
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