Hilo Sights, Tours, & Information

Things to Do & Visitor Tips for Hilo on Big Island Hawaii

The most notable location on the East side of the Big Island of Hawai'i is undoubtedly Hilo town. Hilo is the island's largest city (second largest in the state - population wise) and also takes the title for the wettest city in the United States (70+ inches yearly). Hilo is an especially lush city with several gorgeous orchid gardens, interesting parks (the most prominent being Liliu'okalani Garden), museums, and other various attractions. Hilo borders a beautiful bay and is often cooled by sea breezes and tradewind showers.

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Don't let the beautiful bay fool you about its past though, it hasn't always been so pleasant. On April Fool's Day 1946, the city of Hilo was hit with something far worse than any practical joke, a tsunami swept inland killing 159 residents and destroying 1,300 homes. On May 19, 1960, devastation struck again when the area was swept over by another tsunami killing 61 more. Today the Tsunami Museum in Hilo is a somber reminder of what this devastating force can do to an island.

Today Hilo is a thriving and relaxing historical center for residents and visitors alike on the east side of the island. The business district has undergone major renovations in the last few years and the town is becoming quite popular with visitors these days.

Twice a week the farmers' market also opens its doors and offers a wide variety of produce, tropical flowers, and even visitor souvenirs (some of the best deals on the island in our opinion). Hilo's fish market is also a popular stop for chefs and retailers each early morning.

Hilo town also plays host to the Merrie Monarch festival each April, as well as the 'Olympics' of Hula competition worldwide. Hilo town remains the 'back door' of sorts for access to the central part of the island and its famous Saddle Road, including access to Mauna Kea's summit and Mauna Loa.

Rainbow Falls State Park and Wailuku River State Park, featuring the Boiling Pots area and Pe'epe'e Falls, are some of the larger natural attractions in town. Both parks are located on the same river just a few miles separate from one another.

Hilo Top 5 Things to Do

Best Things to See & Do in Hilo Region on the Big Island

Pacific Tsunami Museum

#5 Rated in Hilo Region on the Big Island

This small museum provides a wealth of multimedia information on tsunamis and their effect on the Pacific islands. Docents, many of whom are actual tsunami survivors, are more than happy to share their experiences and guide guests through the displays. 

There are several interactive displays, including one that teaches visitors about the Tsunami Warning System by allowing them to "create" a tsunami and then decide whether or not it is strong enough to warrant evacuation.

The building is a renovated bank which managed to withstand both the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis that affected Hilo. The museum has turned the old vault into a theater where an introductory movie is shown recounting the stories of tsunami survivors.

Liliuokalani Park & Gardens

#4 Rated in Hilo Region on the Big Island

One of the most gorgeous views of Hilo Bay is from the edge of Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo. The sun glistens on the calm bay waters while palm trees gently sway in a warm breeze, and in the distance, you can see clouds banking on the slopes of Mauna Loa. 

Lili'uokalani Park was named in honor of Hawaii's last queen and features a meticulously manicured Japanese landscape ringed by sprawling banyan trees.

Visitors can stroll across arched stone bridges and pause in pagodas that overlook the bay.

Lyman Museum & Mission House

#3 Rated in Hilo Region on the Big Island

Behind the rather reserved walls of the Lyman House Memorial Museum is a fascinating collection of galleries that span the natural and cultural history of the islands.

There are an eye-popping mineral and seashell collection, recreations of the various natural habitats on the islands, and a tour through a simulated lava tube. Visitors can wander through displays featuring ancient Hawaiian weapons, tools, cookware, and games.

Other showcases describe the care taken in creating the massive feather capes and leis used to adorn the Hawaiian royalty.

Imiloa Astronomy Center

#2 Rated in Hilo Region on the Big Island

In the Hawaiian language, “imiloa” means “exploring new knowledge.” Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii was built to help bridge the gap between ancient Hawaiian tradition and belief and astronomy.

The three domes that comprise the building are intended to represent the volcanoes Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai.

The state of the art 120 seat planetarium features a 22-minute jaw-dropping tour through the origins of the universe in “Mauankea: Between Earth and Sky.”

Rainbow Falls State Park

#1 Rated in Hilo Region on the Big Island

One of several falls along the path of the Wailuku River in Hilo, Rainbow Falls is a gorgeous waterfall to visit early in the morning. 

In fact, its name originated from the fact that on some early mornings a rainbow can be seen arching across the falls. 

From the lookout, the surrounding vegetation is a dense jungle. A path to the left of the lookout provides a view from the top of Rainbow Falls.

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