Oh, Hilo. It’s hard not to love this town. If you have a thing for living history, Hawaiian culture, lush jungle, waterfalls, pretty black sand beaches, and delicious food – then you’ll be happy here…even when the rain clouds roll in. Read on to discover a list of our top things to see and do in Hilo, Hawaii – from history, natural wonders, arts, culture, and of course – where to eat! Hilo is located just a 35-minute drive south from Kuwili Lani.
Photo of Queen Lili’uokalani Gardens by Steve Halama
The community organization Historic Downtown Hilo is an excellent resource for exploring Hilo’s many historic sites. Their self guided walking tour is a good place to start. The old part of Hilo town is very pedestrian-friendly with short blocks, sidewalks, and an eclectic mix of shops, galleries, and eateries housed in charming old buildings dating to the early to mid 1900’s.
Natural Sights in Hilo, Hawaii
Rainbow Falls – part of Wailuku River State Park, iconic Rainbow Falls gets its name from the rainbow that appears when sunlight shines through it’s mist. (Read about the legend of Rainbow Falls here.)This spectacular 80 ft. waterfall is not to be missed. Climb the staircase to view the falls from above and continue on a short walk into a giant banyan tree grove. Continue driving up Waianuenue Ave for the ‘Boiling Pots’ pools and more waterfall sights along the Wailuku River.
Queen Lili’uokalani Gardens – explore these beautiful gardens with Japanese teahouse and Edo-style landscapes, koi ponds, and a view of Hilo Bay. The pagodas and bridges make for great photo opts. This historic park dates to 1917.
Coconut Island – located right next to Queen Lili’uokalani Gardens, Coconut Island is a fun spot for picnicking with stunning panoramic views of Hilo Bay, Hilo town, and Mauna Kea in the background on a clear day. The island is accessed by a footbridge.
Keaukaha Beaches – these beautiful black sand beaches are one of our favorite things to see and do in Hilo, Hawaii. Located just south of Hilo town, Keaukaha beaches have excellent snorkeling, frequent sea turtle spotting, plenty of natural shade and spots for picnicking. Some of our favorites include Richardson’s Beach Park and Carlsmith Beach Park.
Kaumana Caves State Park – this massive cave system is open for a quick road-side peek up above Hilo town. You can climb down the stairs to the mouth of the cave for a stunning photo opt.
Hilo Arts & Culture
The Palace Theatre – built in 1925, this historic theatre was the grandest theatre outside of Honolulu in the islands. Closed in 1984, it was restored and reopened in 1999. Today it is a hub for live music, movies, and other cultural events in Hilo. Built before electronic sound equipment, the Palace has excellent acoustics.
Pacific Tsunami Museum – built to commemorate those who lost their lives in the devastating tsunami that hit Hilo in 1946, this museum offers an interesting window into the history and science behind this force of nature.
‘Imiloa Astronomy Center – a 40,000-square-foot exhibition and planetarium complex is located on nine acres in the University of Hawaii’s Science and Technology Park. It’s goal is to showcase the rich traditions of celestial navigation in Hawaiian culture and the groundbreaking astronomical research conducted at the summit of Mauna Kea.
Hilo Bayfront Galleries – Hilo’s bayfront is home to many fine art galleries, including: Extreme Exposure, High Fire Hawaii, and the East Hawaii Cultural Center among others.
Dining & Nightlife
There’s so many good places to eat and enjoy some entertainment in Hilo! We don’t have time to list them all, but here’s a few of our favorites.
- Ken’s House of Pancakes – your classic 70’s style dinner with everything on the menu. Open 24 hours.
- Restaurant Kenechi – tasty ramen, Japanese-Hawaiian local style comfort food.
- Hilo Burger Joint – grass fed local beef burgers, fries, and live music.
- Le Magic Pan – yummy sweet and savory crepes.
- Paul’s Place – teeny tiny brunch spot with delicious, locally sourced fare. Must reserve.
- Ocean Sushi – delicious sushi and Japanese in the heart of downtown Hilo.
- Lucy’s Taqueria – Tacos, burritos, margaritas, and festive mexcian music…need we say more?
- Two Ladies Mochi – a Hilo institution, you must try this tasty Japanese sweet.
- Suisan Fish Market – fresh Hawaiian poke and fish by the pound.
- Hawaiian Style Cafe – massive portions for a Hawaiian comfort food Kanak attack!
- Hilo Bay Cafe – upscale dining overlooking Hilo Bay.
- Hilo Town Tavern – a good place to see live music!
Shopping in Hilo
Hilo Farmers Market – established in 1988, this open air market on Hilo’s bayfront has grown to 200 + food, fresh produce, and craft vendors. Hours of operation are:
Wednesdays and Saturdays – 7:00 am – 3:00 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sundays 8:00 am – 3:00 pm.
Zig Zane Designs – classic, beautifully made Hawaiiana wear. Prints designed by a local artist. Established in 1985.
Basically Books – awesome book store with a vast collection of books on Hawaiian culture and legends, plus Hawaiiana gifts.
Still Life Books – funky hole in the wall bookstore that also sells records. Limited hours 11 am – 3 pm, closed Sundays.
Prince Kuhio Plaza – the Big Island’s only fully enclosed shopping mall, Prince Kuhio Plaza is home to 80+ name brand shops and a movie theater.
That’s all folks! We hope this guide has been helpful for you and given you some ideas for fun things to see and do in Hilo, Hawaii. Enjoy your time exploring historic Hilo town! Did we miss one of your favorite spots in Hilo? Drop us a line and tell us about it.