Hawaii conjures up images of gently swaying palms, shimmering turquoise waters, and footprint-free, sugary-white sand beaches, and it doesn’t disappoint. The vast tableau of the Big Island and the towns on it, such as Hilo, offers a plethora of things to see and do, from hiking up craggy volcanic peaks and across the rocky moonscapes of ancient lava flows to learning the ancient sport of “wave sliding” (surfing) and snorkeling or diving with the myriad of marine life on the multi-coloured reefs. There are plenty of sacred Hawaiian sites and ancient missionary churches to explore, lush, fauna and flora-filled national parks to discover, and beautiful black-sanded beaches to enjoy. Hawaii Island is, without a doubt, one of the sparkling jewels in the Pacific crown.
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Located along the northeastern Hilo Coast, Akaka Falls lies within Akaka Falls State Park and is one of two waterfalls in the park. The Akaka Falls plummets 442 feet into a stream-eroded gorge and is one of the island’s most famous waterfall. The magnificent falls can be viewed on a pleasant 0.4-mile uphill hike that winds through the surrounding tropical rainforest, which is full of bamboo groves, draping ferns, and wild orchids. The second waterfall in the park is the 100-foot Kahuna Falls, which can also be seen from the hiking trail.
Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, HI 96728
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2.Hawaii Route 200
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Hawaii Route 200, also known as Saddle Road or the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, spans the width of the Big Island of Hawaii for 52.7 miles from downtown Hilo to the junction with Hawaii Route 190 near Waimea. Hailed as being notoriously dangerous, Saddle Road is named after the “saddle” between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes, reaches a maximum elevation of over 6,600 feet, and provides access to the volcano observatories that branch off the road. Most of the trail has now been repaved, and significant parts have new re-alignments to modern standards.
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3.Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
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Located on scenic Route 19 off the Old Mamalahoa Highway, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a nature preserve and botanical garden that is home to more than 2,000 plant species. Set in a scenic valley with spectacular views over Onomea Bay, the garden was created by Dan J. Lutkenhouse and features a collection of over 200 palms, more than 80 species of heliconias, over 80 species of bromeliads and a selection of century-old mango and coconut palms. The garden is also home to three-tiered waterfall known as Onomea Falls, with stunning views over Boulder Creek and the lava tubes on Onomea Bay.
27-717 Old Mamalahoa Hwy, Papaikou, HI 96781, Phone: 808-964-5233
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4.Hilo Farmers Market
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The Hilo Farmers Market is a year-round open-air market that features over 200 vendors selling their wares, which range from fresh produce, arts and crafts, and tropical flowers to homemade food, certified organic produce, souvenirs, and gifts. Local farmers and crafters come together at the corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue in downtown Hilo to showcase their products in this famous market, which is open every day of the week throughout the year. The market is also home to several restaurants and cafés and hosts live music and other entertainment throughout the week.
Kamehameha Avenue, Mamo St, Hilo, HI 96720,
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5.Honoli'i Beach Park
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Located on the Big Island's east coast just north of Hilo, Honoli'i Beach Park is a favorite seaside park with a rocky beach and fantastic waves and is popular among the local surf crowd. Honoli'i Beach Park offers excellent surfing all year round, with summer being ideal for beginners and winter offering more challenging surf. Honoli'i Beach Park also features a tree-shaded grassy area with a dense grove of native trees, a small stream and rolling lawns for picnicking, restroom and shower facilities, and a county lifeguard on duty. There is also a pond at the northern end of Honoli'i Beach, which is ideal for swimming.
180 Kahoa St, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-464-0840,
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6.Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
© Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii is an astronomy and culture education center that highlights the culture and history of Hawaii through astronomy and the stars. The family-friendly center features a range of exhibitions showcasing Hawaiian culture and history and science and explains how the three are interconnected through interactive and immersive displays. Featured exhibits include Hawaiian Theories and Beliefs, which focuses on the sacred mountain of Maunakea and its significance to the Hawaiian people, and Astronomy Theories and Beliefs, which shares the Hawaiian understanding of the evolution of life.
600 Imiloa Pl, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-932-8900
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7.Liliuokalani Park and Gardens
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The Liliuokalani Park and Gardens is a beautifully landscaped park along the shores of Hilo Bay that is home to the largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan. Located on Banyan Drive, the 24-acre park features Edo-style Japanese gardens, which were established in 1917 and contain the Waihonu Pond as well as pretty bridges and pagodas, tranquil ponds, statues, torii, and an authentic Japanese teahouse. The park is also home to a small island called Moku Ola (meaning “island of life”), which was once the site of an ancient temple dedicated to healing and is now a perfect spot for picnicking and swimming. Visitors can get to the little island by a footbridge that connects the island to the park and soak up spectacular panoramic views from a stone tower on the east side of the island.
189 Lihiwai St, Hilo, HI 96720
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8.Lyman House Memorial Museum
© Lyman House Memorial Museum
The Lyman House Memorial Museum, also known as the Lyman Museum, is a natural history museum that documents the history of the region through an extensive collection of artifacts and items that document the natural and cultural history of the islands. Established in 1931, the museum was initially based in the 1838 Lyman family mission house before moving to a modern building next to the house in the 1960s. The original Lyman family mission house is now part of the museum as an exhibit of the oldest surviving wood-framed building on the island. Collections in the museum include ancient Hawaiian tools and weapons, feather capes and leis that used to adorn Hawaiian royalty, cookware, and games. There is also an interesting mineral and seashell collection and a tour through a simulated lava tube.
276 Haili St, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-935-5021
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9.Nani Mau Gardens
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Nani Mau Gardens is a beautifully maintained botanical garden that features over 20 acres of exotic tropical flowers, plants, and trees. Located 3 miles from Hilo, the garden was established and opened to the public in 1972 by a Japanese immigrant, Makato Nitahara, and features a variety of artistically landscaped displays of native and exotic tropical flowers and plants, rare palms and tropical fruit orchards, and a spectacular orchid garden. Nani Mau Gardens, which translates to “forever beautiful” is a popular venue for weddings and special celebrations. The gardens also have a restaurant that serves delicious fare and a gift shop offering an array of exclusive Nani Mau gifts and souvenirs, both of which are open daily.
421 Makalika St, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-959-3500
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10.Pacific Tsunami Museum
© Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is dedicated to the Pacific tsunami of 1946 and the Chilean tsunami of 1960, both of which devastated much of Hilo and the eastern coastline of Hawaii. Established to educate visitors about tsunamis, their causes, and effects, the small museum features a variety of interactive multimedia displays, including short videos, stories, and photographs as well as a re-creation of an early tsunami warning system. Docents and tsunami survivors work at the museum as guides and share their stories and experiences with visitors while leading them through the displays. The Pacific Tsunami Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday.
130 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-935-0926,
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11.Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo
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The Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is a unique tropical zoo that spans 12 acres and is home to more than 60 species of animals and over 40 species of plants. The only zoo in the United States to be located within a rainforest, the Pana?ewa Rainforest Zoo features a variety of endangered Hawaiian animals and other rainforest creatures, such as white Bengal tigers, spider monkeys, nene geese, lemurs, and giant tortoises. The zoo also has a beautiful botanical garden filled with exotic and tropical species of plants, such as orchids, bamboo, and palms, and houses a tranquil water garden.
800 Stainback Hwy, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-959-7224,
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Paradise Helicopters offers a variety of exciting tours above the Big Island, highlighting its most beautiful landscapes and exciting attractions from the air. Tours depart from Hilo, Kona, or Oahu and range from Maui Nui tours, the Lanai Circle Island Experience, the Kohala Valleys and Waterfalls Experience, and Southern Route tours to air and ziplining tours and sunset flights. Locally owned and operated, Paradise Helicopters was founded in 1997 and has a team of professional and highly experienced helicopter pilots who are well versed in Hawaiian geology, history, and culture. The team uses the latest in technology to communicate with guests on flights and share in their experience of enjoying the beauty of the Big Island.
Paradise Helicopters, P. O. Box 5371, Kailua Kona, HI 96745, Phone: 808-969-7392,
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Pe'epe'e Falls is a beautiful waterfall about 1.5 miles upstream the popular Rainbow Falls on the Wailuku River near downtown Hilo. Pe'epe'e (pronounced peh-eh-peh-eh) Falls can be viewed from a lookout point that can be reached on a short hike from Waianuenue Avenue in downtown Hilo by following the signs to the Rainbow Falls. The flow of the Pe'epe'e Falls is determined by rainfall, and when there is reasonable rainfall, the multi-spouted falls fills up a small pool at the base of the waterfall to create a tranquil scene. The falls are surrounded by lush vegetation and lava rocks and plunge about 80 feet into the pool below.
Wailuku River State Park, Waianuenue Avenue
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Based on the Wailuku River near downtown Hilo, the Rainbow (Waianuenue) Falls is a beautiful, broad, 80-foot-high waterfall downstream from the Pe'epe'e Falls, offering spectacular misty vistas scattered with rainbows, after which the falls were named. Surrounded by a gorge blanketed by lush, dense non-native tropical rainforest, the 100-foot-wide waterfall cascades over a dark lava cave, the mythological home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess of the moon, Hina, and into a deep and tranquil pool. The falls can be reached via Wailuku River State Park at Waianuenue Avenue and viewed from several viewing platforms.
Wailuku River State Park, Waianuenue Avenue
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15.Richardson Ocean Park
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Richardson Ocean Park is a beautiful ocean park that features a black volcanic sand beach and some of the best swimming and surfing spots on the island. Named after a beach house that was once home to the Richardson family, the Richardson Ocean Center, this family-friendly beach park features plenty of rock pools filled with a variety of marine life for children to explore. A natural seawall made from the lava of Mauna Kea has formed rock pools, which fill at high tide and make for excellent swimming, and beyond the seawall is a popular surf break that attracts both locals and tourists alike. Visitors can rent kayaks and snorkels and masks to enjoy the surrounding ocean or visit the Richardson Ocean Center to learn about the marine life of the region.
2349 Kalanianaole Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-961-8695,
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16.Wailoa River State Recreation Area
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Located on the banks of the Wailoa River, the Wailoa River State Recreation Area is a public park in Hilo that offers a variety of places to picnic, wander, and relax. Encircling Waiakea Pond, a spring-fed estuary that is home to a variety of saltwater species, the Wailoa River State Recreation Area is home to two memorials, one of which honors tsunami victims while the other honors Vietnam War veterans. The park is also home to the Wailoa Center, which features changing cultural displays that tell the story of the region.
Piilani St, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-984-8109
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17.Hawaiian Legacy Tours
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Hawaiian Legacy Tours is a tour company that offers two exclusive tours – helicopter tours around the Big Island and ATV tree planting tours. A variety of helicopter tours are available, exploring the island’s waterfalls and volcanoes, Circle Island, the North Shore, Maui Nui, Diamond Head, and other top attractions around the island. The one-of-a-kind ATV Planting Tours involve visiting an historic site on the slopes of Mauna Kea, which was once the private koa forest of King Kamehameha the Great, the first ruler of the kingdom of Hawaii, and planting a native Hawaiian tree known as a King Koa Legacy Tree in the Hawaiian Legacy Forest.
91 Coelho Way | Honolulu, HI 96817, Phone: 808-595-8847,
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18.Wailuku River State Park
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Wailuku River State Park is a 16-acre park located just outside of downtown Hilo and is home to several of the most striking waterfalls in the area. Set along the Wailuku River, the longest river in Hawaii, Wailuku River State Park features the 80-foot Rainbow Falls, which are named after the rainbows formed by the blend of mist and sunlight, and legends say that the cave beneath the waterfall was the home of Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess. The second set of famous falls in the park are the Boiling Pots on Pe'epe'e Falls Drive, which is a series of large pools connected by underground flow or cascades that look like boiling water as the water moves over the rocks.
2-198 Rainbow Drive, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: (808) 587-0400,
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19.Arnott's Lodge and Hiking Adventures
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Arnott’s Lodge and Hiking Adventures offers both comfortable accommodations and the opportunity to explore and experience the Big Island with a range of adventure tours. Established in 1990, Arnott’s Lodge and Hiking Adventures provides lodging and tours for intrepid travelers, including visits to the summit of Mauna Kea, famous Volcanoes National Park, and the plunging Akaka and Kahuna Falls. Other tours offered include the Volcano Twilight Tour of the Big Island, the Puna: Land of Frozen Fire Tour, the Kilauea Iki Crater Hike and Rainbow Falls Tour, and the Valley and Waterfalls Tour. Tours for cruise ship lines that visit Hilo can also be organized, as can the rental of bicycles for exploring the island.
98 Apapane Rd, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-339-0921,
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Bike Volcano is a tour company that provides daily volcano bicycle tours of Kilauea Volcano and guided tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Bike Volcano offers a full-service experience with professional tour leaders and van drivers, Giant Sedona Comfort Hybrid Bikes, DOT-approved helmets, bike bags, rain jackets, lunch, dinner, snacks and beverages, a safety briefing, and round-trip transportation. Tours include a full day guided bicycle tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, bike and hike trips to active lava surface flows, and volcano summit tours as well as fly, bike and hike volcano tours.
Hilo, HI 96720-8945, Toll Free Reservations: 888-934-9199 / Local Reservations: 808-934-9199,
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21.Hawaii Sailing Tours
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Experience Hawaii from the beauty of the ocean with a variety of customized sailing tours with Captain Dan Lappala. The basic tour offered is a half-day afternoon sailing experience that leaves from Hilo Bay on the east side of the Big Island and takes in a magnificent panorama that includes Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and the city of Hilo stretching along the crescent-shaped shoreline. The basic tour lasts from afternoon to sunset and is led by Captain Dan, who shares his passion and love for the island along with historical facts and stories. Other tours include half day sailing tours, Hamakua Coast tours, whale watching tours, sailing instruction tours, and inter-island sailing trips.
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22.Hilo Ocean Adventures
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Hilo Ocean Adventures is a leading sports adventure company on the Big Island that offers a variety of ocean-based activities, such as snorkeling and scuba diving trips, scuba diving courses, and swimming lessons. The family-owned dive shop is based on the north-east side of Hawaii's Big Island and offers a range of tours, including beach and tank dives, whale watching trips, Hilo Bay and Riverfalls adventures, banana boat rides and manta ray adventures. Hilo Ocean Adventures also offers swimming lessons for adults and children with professionally trained swim instructors in a heated indoor swimming pool.
1717 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-934-8344,
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KapohoKine Adventures offers fun-filled, family-friendly adventure, volcano, and ziplining tours on the Big Island of Hawaii. Tours have been designed to showcase the fantastic formations of the Kilauea volcano, the island’s breathtaking waterfalls and lush rainforests, and the stunning natural beauty of the Big Island. The eco-friendly tour company offers tours leaving from Hilo and Kona, and these include the Lava Expedition, Zip-Lining Through Paradise, the Heli-Zipping Volcano Tour, Secrets of Puna, and the Waipio Valley Express Tour. KapohoKine Adventures supports sustainable tourism and maintains a carbon-neutral footprint while giving guests an unforgettable Hawaiian experience.
Grand Naniloa DoubleTree by Hilton Lobby, 93 Banyan Drive, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-964-1000,
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Lavaland Hawai’i specializes in providing nature-centric outdoor experiences that explore Hawaii’s beautiful landscapes and native ecosystems. Tours are offered to all the main features of the Big Island, including Volcanoes National Park tours, lava hike and bike tours, Kilauea lava glow tours, and island hop lava glow tours, as well as customized and private tours. The eco-friendly tour company supports sustainability and maintains a carbon-neutral footprint by keeping groups small, recycling materials, offering healthy, locally grown and organic food choices for guests, and using solar power in the offices.
Hilo, HI, Phone: 808-430-0646
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25.Mehana Brewing Company
© Mehana Brewing Company
Mehana Brewing Company produces authentic Hawaiian beers and brews on tap and by the bottle. Based in what was once a soda pop facility in the 1920s known as Hilo Soda Works, Mehana Brewing Company began brewing beer in the 1990s in partnership with Hawaii Nui and still maintains a balance between the old and new recipes that have used for decades. The brewery produces a range of beers, including Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Volcano Red Ale, Humpback Island Lager, Hawaiian Crow Porter, and Tsunami IPA. Mehana Brewing Company has a tasting room, open Monday through Saturday, where guests can taste some of the brewery’s best beers, along with a gift shop that sells a variety of beer-related merchandise, souvenirs, and gifts.
275 E Kawili St, Hilo, HI 96720, Phone: 808-934-8211
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25 Best Things to Do in Hilo, Hawaii
- Akaka Falls, Photo: Courtesy of DirkR - Fotolia.com
- Hawaii Route 200, Photo: Courtesy of DmitriK - Fotolia.com
- Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Photo: Courtesy of MNStudio - Fotolia.com
- Hilo Farmers Market, Photo: Courtesy of Zechal - Fotolia.com
- Honoli'i Beach Park, Photo: Courtesy of kelifamily - Fotolia.com
- Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, Photo: Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
- Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of pikappa51 - Fotolia.com
- Lyman House Memorial Museum, Photo: Lyman House Memorial Museum
- Nani Mau Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of beerphotographer - Fotolia.com
- Pacific Tsunami Museum, Photo: Pacific Tsunami Museum
- Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of SUKTSHAT - Fotolia.com
- Paradise Helicopters, Photo: Courtesy of Vlad Turchenko - Fotolia.com
- Pe'epe'e Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Charlotte - Fotolia.com
- Rainbow Falls, Photo: Courtesy of cherylvb - Fotolia.com
- Richardson Ocean Park, Photo: Courtesy of liquid studios - Fotolia.com
- Wailoa River State Recreation Area, Photo: Courtesy of John Penisten - Fotolia.com
- Hawaiian Legacy Tours, Photo: Courtesy of Vlad Turchenko - Fotolia.com
- Wailuku River State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- Arnott's Lodge and Hiking Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of Vacclav - Fotolia.com
- Bike Volcano, Photo: Courtesy of MNStudio - Fotolia.com
- Hawaii Sailing Tours, Photo: Courtesy of Tropical studio - Fotolia.com
- Hilo Ocean Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of lancesagar - Fotolia.com
- KapohoKine Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of EpicStockMedia - Fotolia.com
- Lavaland Hawaii, Photo: Courtesy of Sezai - Fotolia.com
- Mehana Brewing Company, Photo: Mehana Brewing Company
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of MNStudio - Fotolia.com