Top Things to Do in Hilo, Hawaii: The Ultimate Guide

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Hawaii is the epitome of natural beauty, and the town of Hilo on the Big Island is a prime example of this beauty. Its lush rainforests, dramatic waterfalls, and volcanic landscapes make it a dream destination for travelers in search of adventure and serenity. While Hilo is lesser-known than its bustling counterpart, Kona, it offers a plethora of unique experiences that are bound to captivate you. From awe-inspiring natural wonders to rich cultural sites and mouthwatering local treats, Hilo is an unparalleled paradise just waiting to be discovered. Here’s your comprehensive guide to the top things to do in Hilo that will make your trip truly memorable.

Hilo’s Top Natural Wonders: Waterfalls, Volcanoes & More

The heart of Hilo is underscored by its breathtaking natural spectacles. From the countless waterfalls and abundant rainforests to the active volcanic landscapes, nature enthusiasts will find an unending source of wonder.

Rainbow Falls

Activity Type: Waterfall Viewing

Location: Waianuenue Ave, Hilo, HI

What to Pack for Rainbow Falls: Camera for the perfect Instagram shot, light rain jacket

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Experience the beauty of an 80-foot waterfall in a lush, tropical setting

Best Time to Visit: Before 10 am for the best chance to see a rainbow on sunny days

Rainbow Falls, or Waiānuenue, is an iconic symbol of Hilo. Fed by the Wailuku River, these majestic falls cascade into a natural pool surrounded by a vibrant, tropical rainforest. It’s a short walk from the parking area to the lookout point – a perfect introduction to Hilo’s natural beauty.

Akaka Falls State Park

Activity Type: Moderate Hiking and Waterfall Viewing

Location: 1 Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, HI

What to Bring for Your Akaka Falls Hike: Comfortable walking shoes, water, insect repellent

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Witness the free-flowing cascade of 442 feet, one of Hawaii’s highest waterfalls

Best Time to Visit: Early or late in the day for a quiet experience

For an unparalleled perspective of Akaka Falls, take the half-mile loop trail through a prehistoric landscape. Lush vegetation and native birds such as the Hawaiian Thrush and Hawaiian Hawk accompany you on this adventure, making this state park a must-see.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Activity Type: Nature and Cultural Exploration

Location: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI-11, Volcano, HI

What to Bring: Binoculars, comfortable clothing, and layered clothing for the fluctuating temperatures

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Explore the earth’s ever-changing landscape from the summit of Kīlauea to the depths of the Thurston Lava Tube

Best Time to Visit: Mornings to beat the crowds and see the stunning sunrise over the volcanic crater

A world heritage site and biosphere reserve, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains an active volcanic area where new land is born and continues to evolve on the Big Island. Visit the Jaggar Museum, hike through the Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube, or take a drive along Crater Rim and explore this dynamic landscape.

Carlsmith Beach Park (Four Mile Beach)

Activity Type: Snorkeling and Wildlife Encounter

Location: Kalanianaole Ave, Hilo, HI

What to Bring: Snorkeling gear, underwater camera, reef-safe sunscreen

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Manta rays, sea turtles, and colorful marine life call these waters home

Best Time to Visit: High tide for best snorkeling conditions

Carlsmith Beach Park, also fondly known as Four Mile Beach, offers white coral sand beaches and beautiful ocean scenery, with the added chance to swim with sea turtles. The water is calm and clear, making it perfect for a relaxing dip or snorkeling adventure.

Unique Things to Do in Hilo: Adventures for Every Traveler

For those seeking adrenaline-pumping activities and unparalleled views, Hilo has a host of adventures to satisfy the most intrepid travelers.

Helicopter Tours

Activity Type: Aerial Sightseeing

Location: Hilo International Airport or Hilo Bayfront

What to Bring: Camera, motion sickness medication if needed

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Discover hidden waterfalls, lush rainforests, and remote valleys inaccessible by land

Best Time to Visit: First flight of the day or twilight for the best lighting and calmest skies

Seeing Hilo’s natural beauty from the air is an experience you’ll never forget. Book a helicopter tour and soar above the island, getting a bird’s eye view of everything from steaming lava to expansive landscapes.

Hamakua Coast Scenic Drive

Activity Type: Scenic Drive with Exploration Stops

Location: Akaka Falls State Park to Waipio Valley

What to Bring: Snacks, water, comfortable driving shoes

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Breathtaking views of the coast, plus historical towns and botanical gardens along the way

Best Time to Visit: Any time of day, but especially during sunset for stunning ocean views

For a more grounded but equally awe-inspiring adventure, take a leisurely drive along the Hamakua Coast. Make stops at places like the multi-tiered Umauma Falls, the charming town of Honoka’a, and the tranquil Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

Mauna Kea Summit

Activity Type: Stargazing and Cultural Exploration

Location: Onizuka Visitor Center, Summit of Mauna Kea, HI

What to Bring: Warm clothing, water, and snacks

Why It’s a Must-Visit: See the stars and galaxies up close from one of the premier astronomical research facilities

Best Time to Visit: Nighttime for stargazing opportunities

The summit of Mauna Kea, one of the highest points in Hawaii, is one of the best places to view the sunset and the stars. Visit the free stargazing program held by The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station for an enlightening experience.

Hilo Parks & Culture: Gardens, History, and Stargazing

Hilo’s cultural sites reflect a rich tapestry of history and tradition, and its parks offer serene settings for relaxation and play.

Liliuokalani Gardens

Activity Type: Garden Stroll and Cultural Immersion

Location: Banyan Drive, Hilo, HI

What to Bring: Comfortable walking shoes, camera

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Peaceful retreat with traditional Japanese garden elements and cultural significance

Best Time to Visit: Early morning for a tranquil experience or during a festival for a lively cultural event

This beautifully designed park honors the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Islands, Queen Liliuokalani. Explore the teahouse, pagodas, red bridges, koi-filled ponds, and other traditional Japanese garden elements.

Coconut Island

Activity Type: Relaxing by the Water

Location: Off Banyan Drive, Hilo, HI

What to Bring: Swimsuit, towel, picnic

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Enjoy a peaceful retreat from the city, swimming and lounging

Best Time to Visit: Any day but weekdays for fewer crowds

Coconut Island, or Mokuola, is a small island paradise accessible by a footbridge. Popular among locals and tourists alike, it’s an ideal spot for a refreshing dip, a scenic picnic, or a leisurely stroll around the island’s perimeter.

Imiloa Astronomy Center

Activity Type: Educational and Interactive

Location: 600 Imiloa Pl, Hilo, HI

What to Bring: Curiosity, comfortable walking shoes

Why It’s a Must-Visit: Interactive exhibits that blend science and culture in a fun, family-friendly environment

Best Time to Visit: During one of their many cultural events, or during the day to enjoy the mountain and ocean views

Learn about Hawaiian culture and its connection to the stars through fascinating exhibits at the Imiloa Astronomy Center. The center’s unique program takes visitors on an exploration of Hawaiian star knowledge and how it intertwines with the scientific discovery of astronomy.

Tantalizing Tastes of Hilo

Hilo’s culinary scene is as diverse as its geography, offering up an array of flavors that will delight your taste buds.

Hilo’s Best Restaurants: Where to Eat in Hilo, Hawaii

  1. Café Pesto: Enjoy a fusion of locally grown produce and exotic flavors, with an array of pasta, seafood, and meat dishes.
  2. Hilo Bay Café: Renowned for its creative Pacific Rim cuisine and waterfront ambiance, Hilo Bay Café is a must-visit for a romantic dinner or special celebration.
  3. Moon & Turtle: A casual yet chic atmosphere coupled with a seasonally-inspired menu featuring gourmet offerings like the Ahi Tartar and Sweet Corn Ravioli.

Unique Hilo Treats: Must-Try Flavors

  1. Lavaloha Chocolate: Indulge in farm-to-bar chocolate made with Big Island cacao, offering innovative flavors like Lilikoi & Toasted Coconut and Milk Chocolate & Ginger.
  2. Two Ladies Kitchen: Sample the iconic strawberry mochi or other divine mochi creations at this local favorite, where the treats are made fresh daily.

Where to Stay in Hilo, Hawaii: Best Hotels and Resorts

Hilo offers a variety of accommodations, from beachfront resorts to cozy guesthouses, ensuring that you can relax in comfort after your adventures.

Top 3 Accommodation Options

  1. Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – A Hilton Doubletree: A historic gem, offering modern conveniences with panoramic views of Hilo Bay.
  2. The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls: A secluded rainforest retreat, providing breathtaking views and easy access to the waterfalls of the Kulaniapia River.
  3. The Hilo Hawaiian Hotel: Offering traditional Hawaiian décor and a central location, it’s ideal for exploring Hilo’s landmarks and vibrant downtown scene.

Unforgettable Hilo Experiences Await

Hilo, Hawaii is a true paradise teeming with diverse experiences that can only be found on the eastern side of the Big Island. From its cascading waterfalls to its ancient volcanoes and vibrant local culture, there’s something to enchant every traveler on the Big Island. Ready to start exploring? Plan your dream Hawaiian vacation and discover the best things to do in Hilo, Hawaii!