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Hilo may be the largest town on the Big Island of Hawaii, but it’s often overlooked for the sun-soaked beaches and resort lifestyle of Kona and the Kohala Coast. If you’ve never been to Hilo, you’re missing out, as there is so many things to do in Hilo and the area along the windward coast is breathtakingly gorgeous. It’s one of the best places on the island to see nature in its purest form.
To help you plan your perfect trip, we’ve put together a list of some of the best sights, attractions, and activities Hilo has to offer. Many of these things are located right in town, although we’ve also included a few things in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and along the Hamakua Coast.
Get everything you need to plan the rest of your Big Island trip here:
Take a deep dive and get all you need to know with our Big Island Travel Guide
Figure out the best part of the Big Island to stay on and explore where to stay
Explore the best beaches on the island and even more activities to keep you busy
Is it worth visiting Hilo?
Of course! While many visitors prefer to stick to the sunny leeward side of the Big Island (near Kona and the Kohala Coast), Hilo is absolutely worth visiting. With biodiverse rainforests, rugged coastal cliffs, and charming plantation towns, it’s a great option for nature lovers looking to see a more untouched side of the island.
Downtown Hilo has a lot to see and do, although some parts can be a little gritty. While it’s good for shopping and dining, most of Hilo’s most notable attractions are located a bit outside of town. Therefore, we recommend having a car so you can make the most of your time in the area.
What is Hilo known for?
Hilo started out as a farming and fishing village, although it quickly grew into a bustling town during the sugar plantation boom in the 1800s. It’s now the largest town on the Big Island, with over 44,000 residents.
In town, you’ll find a number of businesses, shops, and restaurants. But as we mentioned, the most appealing thing about Hilo is its unparalleled natural beauty. Once you leave the streets of home and shops, you’ll be surrounded by waterfalls, volcanoes, caves, rainforests, and more.
Where Should You Stay: Hilo or Kona?
This answer largely comes down to your personal travel preferences and what you want to see during your trip to Hilo. There’s a lot here to see, so it’s definitely possible to spend a few days exploring the area. Compared to Kona, Hilo has cheaper lodging and more outdoor activities (which is key if ziplining, hiking, and waterfall viewing are priorities). It’s also closer to Volcanoes National Park, so it’s worth staying here if you plan to be in the park for a couple of days.
On the other hand, we personally prefer to stay in Kona. The weather is usually better, and the beaches and snorkeling opportunities are second to none. We also think there’s a larger selection of resorts since the accommodation in Hilo tends to be mid-range hotels or vacation rental properties.
If you are short on time, you can always visit Hilo on a day trip. But if you’re staying on the Big Island for a week or two, you can always book a night so you aren’t rushed to cram everything into one day.
32 Amazing Things to Do in Hilo
Map of Things to Do in Hilo
1. Go Snorkeling at Richardson Ocean Park
Known to the locals as “Richardson,” this scenic park is home to the only black and green sand beach in Hilo. It’s a good place to go snorkeling, especially if you’re with kids, as the waters are protected by the neighboring seawall. There’s also a lifeguard on duty, which adds another level of security in case you’re not super comfortable in the water.
In addition to the abundance of marine life underwater, you may also see green sea turtles and even monk seals on the beach (just make sure to keep your distance if you do). It’s one of Hawaii’s great black sand beaches.
Richardson’s can be quite busy on the weekends, so we recommend coming early or on a weekday (click for directions). Make sure to bring some drinks and snacks, too! There are picnic tables and grills in the park that are available to use. You can also head to Carlsmith Beach Park for another great beach day.
Check out some of the best snorkeling experiences around the Big Island:
5 Best Big Island Beginner Snorkeling Spots You Shouldn’t Miss
Big Island Snorkeling Spots (plus how to swim with manta rays)
The Best Manta Ray Night Snorkel and Dive Tours
2. Explore the Depths of Kaumana Caves
The Kaumana Caves (click for directions) were formed nearly 150 years ago by lava flows from Mauna Loa. Although most of the underground caves are located on private property, there is a large cavern that is open for exploration as a state park.
The entrance of the cave is a steep and slippery stairway down, framed with ferns, vines, and tropical plants. But once you enter into the lava tube, you’ll find a dark cavern of boulders and craggy rock formations. Make sure you bring a flashlight (it’s dark and uneven floor in there!) as well as sturdy shoes.
Keep in mind there is no marker as to where the caves switch from public to private. We recommend not venturing too far back and turning around after a few hundred yards.
3. Make the Trek to Akaka Falls State Park
Hike your way through the lush rainforest of Hilo to see the mighty plummet of Akaka Falls. This 442-foot waterfall is one of the island’s most stunning, as it cascades down the side of a verdant green gorge.
The waterfall is located within Akaka State Falls Park, and the trek itself is only 0.4 miles. As such, it shouldn’t take more than an hour round trip. Along the way, you’ll also get to see another waterfall (the 100-foot Kahuna Falls) as well as other native foliage, like colorful orchids, bamboo groves, and a wide variety of ferns.
As a state park, there is an entrance fee for non-residents. Tickets are $5 per person, while parking is $10 per vehicle.
4. Admire the Beauty of Rainbow Falls
If you want to see a waterfall without having to hike to it, then head to Rainbow Falls. At just 80 feet tall, it’s not the highest waterfall on the island. But as it flows over a natural lava cave surrounded by wild ginger and monstera plants, it creates an enchanting atmosphere, making it one of our favorite places to visit in Hilo!
The viewpoint over Rainbow Falls is right off the parking lot (which is free), so it’s easily accessible for all. If you want to get closer to the falls, there’s also a small trail through a banyan tree forest that takes you to another excellent lookout.
5. Spend the Day at Kulaniapia Falls
A day at Kulaniapia Falls is one of our favorite ways to spend a day in Hilo. Located on a private 40-acre property, the 120-foot waterfall is a mesmerizing sight to behold. And while it’s worth going just for the view, we love coming here because of all the fun activities that are included with your day pass.
While you’re here, you can go swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding underneath the falls. There are also bamboo gardens and miles of nature trails around the property that you can explore.
Purchasing a day pass also gives you exclusive discounts on other on-site activities, like waterfall rappelling, cooking classes, and farm tours. The ticket cost is on the pricier side ($69 for adults and $49 for kids), but it’s truly a memorable experience that the whole family will love.
6. Marvel at Pe’epe’e Falls (Boiling Pots)
If you drive a few minutes north of Rainbow Falls, you’ll find Pe’epe’e Falls (click for directions). While the waterfall itself isn’t very impressive (at least not the view, it’s actually hard to get a good view of it from the lookout point), most people come here to see the Boiling Pots instead.
These rocky pools are located at the base of the falls. As the water rushes past them, it creates the appearance of boiling water – hence the name.
Although it may be tempting to go past the viewing deck, doing so is strictly prohibited! Flash floods can cause the current to be very dangerous, and many people have died trying to cross the stream. So stick to the lookout and enjoy the natural wonder of the bubbling pools!
7. Enjoy the Verdant Gardens Around Onomea Falls
Located within the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, Onomea Falls is a three-tiered waterfall and one of the highlights of the park. After strolling through the nature reserve (which contains over 2,000 different types of plants and flowers), you’ll encounter the falls.
Tickets are required to enter the garden ($30 for adults and $22 for kids). Besides the waterfall, there’s also a butterfly sanctuary, coastal viewpoints, and several nature trails.
8. Taste Test at the Big Island’s First Meadery
If you’ve never tried mead before – you’re missing out! This alcoholic beverage is also known as “honey wine,” as it’s made with a combination of honey, yeast, and water. At Big Island Meadery, you can sample the delectable drink that is brewed right there on-site.
The honey is produced in their very own apiary (they also operate the Kilohana Honey Company). For flavored meads, they also use locally sourced ingredients from farmers and producers around the island. During your visit, make sure you have enough time to do a mead flight or honey tasting in their tasting room.
9. Grab a Beer at Hilo Brewing Company
If you’re a beer lover, then there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than by sipping your way through the menu at the Hilo Brewing Company. Their indoor-outdoor tasting room is just a short 5-minute drive from downtown Hilo.
They produce around 10 different kinds of beer, including the Humpback Island Lager, the Volcano Red Ale, and the Hilo Breakwall IPA. Order a pint or sample a couple to find your favorites (4oz tasting flights are a fun way to try the best of what they have to offer).
10. Take a Tour of the Delicious Lavaloha Farm
The Lavaloha Farm is one of the sweetest activities you can do in Hawaii – literally! Located just 10 minutes from downtown Hilo, this 1,000-acre haven specializes in all things chocolate. Their cacao groves are planted in the rich volcanic soils of Mauna Kea’s slopes, which is the optimal growing condition for cacao beans.
Once the pods are picked by hand, they are used for chocolate that is produced in their on-site processing facility. They make everything from dark chocolate with orange to white chocolate with cacao nibs. Besides chocolate, they also use cacao to make tea, lip balm, body butter, and candles – all of which you can buy in-store.
Besides sampling the chocolate, it’s also worth taking their Tree-to-Chocolate Farm Tour. This 60-minute tour on an open-air minibus is a great way to learn about the farm and the chocolate-making process as a whole. And yes – it comes with samples!
Explore more to do around the Big Island:
21 Incredible Things to Do on the Big Island
The 21 Best Things to do in Kona (+ tips to know before you go)
12 Epic Things to Do in Kona with Kids
Hawaiian Island Cheat Sheets
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11. Get the original Loco Moco at Cafe 100
The Loco Moco is a Hawaiian specialty. And while you can find it on practically every menu, it doesn’t get any tastier than the one served at Cafe 100.
Since it was founded in 1946, this take-out eatery has become world famous for the dish (which is rice topped with a hamburger patty, Hilo-style brown gravy, and a fried egg). They now have 30 different variations of the Loco Moco, although we highly recommend sticking with the original if you’ve never tried it before!
The portions are generous so make sure you bring your appetite. It’s also a good choice for large groups, as they serve Pupu (appetizer) Platters that can feed a hungry crowd.
12. Shop the Hilo Farmer’s Market
If you want to pick up some local produce, sweet treats, or souvenirs, then make sure you stop by the Hilo Farmer’s Market. It takes place every single day of the week (Wednesday and Saturday being big market days) from 7 AM to 3 PM, right in the heart of downtown.
The sheer variety of what is sold here is astounding! With over 200 vendors from around the island, it’s one of the best places to get fruit, vegetables, herbs, jellies, macadamia nuts, and baked goods. You’ll also find coffee, flowers, jewelry, clothing, and more.
And if the sight of all the food is making your tummy grumble, then stop at one of the hot vendors for lunch. From poke bowls to Thai noodles, there’s something to satisfy everyone at the Hilo Farmer’s Market!
13. Enjoy a Nice Dinner at Jackie Rey’s
Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or just an evening with good food, you can’t go wrong with a dinner at Jackie Rey’s. The ambiance is cozy, and the service is top-notch. But the main reason to come here is, of course, the food!
Their Hawaiian-influenced menu includes mouthwatering dishes like Guava BBQ Glazed Baby Back Ribs, Panko Coconut Crusted Fish, and Mac Nut Ahi Tartare. They also serve lunch, as well as happy hour with discounted drinks and pupus.
14. Celebrate the Merrie Monarch Festival
The weeklong Merrie Monarch Festival takes place every Spring and celebrates Hawaiian culture, history, and arts. Many activities happen during the week, including a royal parade, an art fair, and lots of live entertainment.
However, the highlight of the Merrie Monarch is undoubtedly the hula competition. Dancers can perform as a group (there are awards for ancient and modern-style dancers) or as an individuals for the title of Miss Aloha Hula.
Tickets are required if you’re attending the hula competition, although the rest of the events during the festival are free and open to the public.
15. Browse the Art Galleries in Downtown Hilo
Hilo has a thriving art scene and is home to some of the Big Island’s most prominent artists. If you’re into art or just looking for a nice rainy day activity, then you can spend a few hours browsing the art galleries in downtown Hilo.
For being a relatively small town, Hilo has a surprising number of art galleries to choose from. Get island-inspired art at One Gallery, admire the fine photography at Extreme Exposure, or check out up-and-coming artists at the Exhibit Gallery of Arts and Events.
16. Check out the Hilo Street Art
Hilo’s artistic community doesn’t just exist in the galleries and museums. It can also be seen right there on the streets. As you stroll through town, you’ll be able to see wall after wall of colorful murals painted by an array of local and international artists.
While street art is continuously changing, there are some well-known spots around town. We recommend looking at the murals next to the Hilo Tattoo Co., Hilo Town Tavern, and the University of Hawaii Hilo campus. But they’re popping up all over the place, so take a walk for yourself to see what there is to discover!
17. See Artifacts at the Lyman Museum
Visit the Lyman Museum in downtown Hilo and learn all about the natural history and environment of Hawaii. In the Earth Heritage Gallery, there’s an impressive collection of rocks, minerals, and native animals (including models of some extremely rare and extinct creatures!).
The Island Heritage Gallery focuses more on the history of Hawaii. You’ll learn about how early Polynesian settlers lived and how European and Asian cultures transformed their world.
Next to the museum is the Mission House. Built in 1838, it’s the oldest structure on the entire island. Tickets for the Lyman Museum and Mission House need to be purchased separately (the Mission House can only be visited with a guided tour), but we recommend doing both if you have the time!
18. Learn about Tsunamis at the Pacific Tsunami Museum
Hawaii has experienced more than 160 tsunamis over the last 200 years, although very few have caused severe damage to the islands. However, people need to learn more about this natural disaster and the effects it can have on the community.
The goal of the Pacific Tsunami Museum is to raise awareness and promote preparedness for any future disturbances. They also have a very moving video (as well as an exhibit) to honor the survivors and victims of the treacherous tsunamis of 1946 and 1960.
Find a great place to stay on the Big Island:
Where to Stay on the Big Island: best areas, hotels, and vacation rentals
Hilo or Kona, Hawaii: Where to Stay on the Big Island
Where to Stay in Kona: the 7 Best Hotels and Vacation Rentals
19. Visit the Planetarium at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center
Learn about Hawaiian culture and astronomy at the Imiloa Astronomy Center, right in downtown Hilo. There is an abundance of educational activities that are geared toward children, but that adults will love too! The center is small but there are plenty of hands-on activities and the planetarium show is included in the ticket price.
20. Walk Through Lili’ukolani Gardens out to Coconut Island
When you’re in downtown Hilo and looking for a place to stroll, look no further than Lili’ukolani Gardens and Coconut Island (click for directions). The gardens are a well-kept Japanese garden spread over 30 acres with koi ponds and a tea house. After that, you can head out to Coconut Island to take in the view, explore tide pools, and watch the kids jump off the stone landing. It’s a nice place for a good walk. This is located on the eastern end of Hilo Bay, just a few minutes from the Hilo airport.
Things to Do North of Hilo on the Hamakua Coast
21. Stroll Through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Take a trip up the Old Māmalahoa Highway, and you’ll come across the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. The garden is a lush paradise with more than 2,000 species of plants. Walk through palm jungles, admire the wild orchids, and marvel at the 100-year-old mango and coconut groves.
While you’re here, don’t miss a visit to see Onomea Falls (#7). This three-tiered waterfall is one of the prettiest falls on the Big Island! There are also nature trails, creeks, and a spectacular lookout over the wild and rugged Onomea Bay.
22. Go Ziplining at Umauma Falls
Speed through the sky at speeds of 65 mph when you go ziplining at Umauma Falls! This 9-line zipline course is an exhilarating adventure for the whole family (kids must be at least 4 years old). Once you’re in the air, you’ll whizz past waterfalls and suspension bridges while enjoying panoramic views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
Umauma Falls is just a short 20-minute drive up the Hamakua Coast from Hilo. They also offer ATV tours, horseback riding, and combination river kayak and swim trips.
23. Take a Coffee Tour at Hog Heaven
Hog Heaven just might have the best cup of joe on the entire island! It truly is a farm-to-coffee establishment, as all the beans are grown, hand-picked, and processed right here on the farm. During your visit, you can take a farm tour or participate in a coffee roasting demonstration to learn more about how the farm operates.
And don’t forget to pick up a few bags to take home. Choose from one of their three roast types or purchase their green coffee beans to roast them on your own!
24. Enjoy the Views on 4 Mile Drive
With sweeping views of Onomea Bay, 4 Mile Drive is an easy road trip just a few minutes outside of Hilo. The narrow, curvy road snakes along the coast, taking you through the rainforest, past streams and waterfalls, and across one-lane bridges.
There aren’t any official parking areas (most of the road is residential), although you will find a few spots where you can pull over for photos. Just be careful not to park in someone’s driveway!
If you’re coming from Hilo, you’ll find the start of the drive at mile marker 7 on Kulaimano Road. There’s a sign pointing out the detour, so don’t blink, or you might miss it!
If you’re planning to drive around, check out our rental car recommendations.
25. Stroll Honoka’a Town
If you drive up the coast, you can visit Honoka’a Town (click for directions) – the Gateway to Waipo Valley. Once a lively town during the sugar plantation era, Honoka’a now has a laid-back and somewhat sleepy vibe, although the historic buildings along its Main Street are full of charm.
In addition to the iconic Honokaʻa People’s Theatre, there are also quite a few boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants to visit. If you’re here on Sunday, you can also stop by the weekly Hamakua Harvest Farmer’s Market for local produce and delicious foods.
26. Hamakua Coast Scenic Drive
Arguably one of the most scenic drives on the island, the Hamakua Coast Scenic Drive runs from Hilo to the Waipo Valley. Along the 45-mile journey, you’ll get to see a mix of charming plantation towns and breathtaking natural landscapes (you can also make a quick detour to do the scenic 4 Mile Drive here).
You can do the entire round trip in about two hours. But if you would like to make a pit stop, there are quite a few attractions to see, including the Hawaii Tropical Biorserve and Gardens, Akaka Falls, and the Kalopa State Recreation Area.
27. Tour the Hawaiian Vanilla Company
Did you know that vanilla beans come from orchids? At the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, you can learn all about how vanilla is produced with a guided tour of their Vanilla Vineyard! They were the first commercial vanilla growers in the entire country, so everyone is extremely knowledgeable and eager to share their insights!
There are multiple tours available, including ones with a vanilla tasting, a vanilla tea sampling, or a sit-down vanilla-themed lunch. If you are short on time, you can also pop by just to visit their cafe and gift shop. Here, you can pick up a variety of cool things they produce on the farm, like extracts, chutneys, salad dressings, spice rubs, and more.
Find even more Big Island farm tours:
The 10 Best Big Island Farm Tours You Won’t Want to Miss
Don’t Miss the 7 Best Coffee Tours on the Big Island
28. Spend the Day at Magic Creatures Animal Sanctuary
Magic Creatures Animal Sanctuary is a volunteer-run non-profit organization dedicated to saving and rehabilitating animals. They currently have 85 animals on the farm, including goats, sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and cats. Most of the animals here were rescued from slaughter or abuse, while others came injured, requiring special care.
Public tours are conducted every Saturday afternoon, although private tours can also be arranged if you want to come on a different day. During the 2-hour tour, you’ll get to see and interact with the residents while also learning about their rescue stories. It’s a great activity for animal lovers and families who want to support a worthy organization!
29. Play with Baby Goats at Honomu Goat Dairy
Nestled on 15 acres of the Hamakua Coast, Honomu Goat Dairy is one of the best free things to see outside of Hilo. The pastures are home to tons of adorable baby goats, which you can play with and pet during your visit. Just make sure to check their website beforehand, as they usually close the playpen during rainy or bad weather.
But these goats aren’t here just for show – they’re also hard workers! You can pick up locally made goat cheese, goat milk caramels, or goat milk soaps at the small gift shop on the farm.
30. Cuddle a Baby Cow
If you’re looking for more four-legged farm animals to play with, then make sure to add Krishna Cow Sanctuary to your itinerary. For just $20, you can take part in one of their “Cow Cuddle Therapy” sessions, where you’ll be able to lay in the grass and cuddle with these friendly bovines!
Krishna Cow Sanctuary is dedicated to protecting and rescuing cows, and their current herd of over 200 is comprised of bulls, steers, calves, and even retired mother cows!
Things to Do in Volcano
31. Hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
A visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of those things you simply can’t miss during your trip to the Big Island. The 344,000-acre park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. With a rugged landscape of lava fields, geothermal steam vents, and even rainforests, it’s the perfect place for a day of hiking and exploring.
Many trails wind through the park. Beginners can wander along the Devastation Trail (the land is barren from the Kilauea Iki eruption of 1959) or through the sandalwood trees of Iliahi. More adventurous trekkers can do the Mauna Iki Trail to traverse the floor of the Mauna Iki crater.
If you’re not a fan of hiking, don’t worry! There are some beautiful scenic drives where you can see the landscape from the comfort of your vehicle. You can also stop by the Visitor’s Center to watch a film about the park and learn about other attractions and ongoing activities.
32. Volcano Winery
Volcano Winery is a family-owned business and one of the most unique wineries we’ve ever been to! Its location, 4,000 feet above sea level at the summit of the Kilauea volcano, has the perfect climate and soil consistency for growing grapes. While you’re here, you can take a tour of their vineyard and production room to learn more about how they operate. Or, you can just visit their tasting room to sample some of their most notable wines.
They produce several signature wines, including a fantastic Pinot Noir. But their special blends are unique and worth trying. They produce a Macadamia Nut Honey Wine, a Fusion Tea Wine, and a Hawaiian Guava-Grape Wine.
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The Best Big Island Itinerary
Finish your vacation planning with ease. We’ve done all the work for you so all you have to do is download the itinerary and go have the vacation of a lifetime! The Big Island Itinerary narrows your choices down from hundreds to a handful. From where to stay, what to do, where to eat, even the best tour operators, we’ve hand-picked the best so you can rest easy knowing you’re going to have a great time.
Just wanted to tell you that we followed your vacation guide almost to the T and had a wonderful time when we went a few months ago in November! Your recommendations were awesome!Allan D.
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