Are you looking for a list of the best things to do in Hilo, Hawaii? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything that you need to know!
The sleepy town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii is a hidden gem. There are so many wonderful things to do in Hilo, from waterfalls to active volcanoes to beaches. Here are loads of awesome things to do in Hilo, Hawaii.
*Note: This list of things to do also includes Hamakua, Puna, and Kau, since they are on the Hilo side of the island (as opposed to the Kona side).
Best Things to Do in Hamakua
Just to the north of downtown Hilo (but still on the side of the island that many think of as “Hilo”), you’ll find the under-the-radar town of Hamakua, filled with food finds and waterfalls.
Check Out the 13th Tallest Waterfall in the World
At 2,600 feet, Waihilau Falls is the thirteenth tallest waterfall in the world and the third tallest in Hawaii! It is still kept in pristine condition, because Waihilau Falls is MUCH more difficult to access in comparison to the rest of the waterfalls on this list.
Located in the greenery-filled, cliff-ridden Waimanu Valley, Hilo locals are pretty much the only people with the knowledge to access this breathtaking Hilo waterfall. So if you’re a skilled hiker with a local friend, consider adding Waihilau Falls to your Hilo bucket list.
Learn About Vanilla Farming at Hawaiian Vanilla Co.
First established in 1998, the Hawaiian Vanilla Co. has found its place in Hilo. While there, you can walk through the vineyards, purchase some product from their gift shop, and even partake in a vanilla experience luncheon. This vanilla experience luncheon incorporates vanilla into every aspect of the meal – from vanilla lemonade to garam masala shrimp with vanilla butter to, of course, vanilla bean ice cream.
Best Things to Do in Hilo
Looking for the best things to do in Hilo proper? We’ve got you covered.
Take in the Beauty of Akaka Falls
One of the most famous Hilo waterfalls is Akaka Falls. As a matter of fact, with the long cascade and surrounding greenery, visiting Akaka Falls is one of the best things to do in Hawaii, on any island.
Given the park’s popularity, the state of Hawaii has created the Akaka Falls State Park. That means there are tons of paved paths for you to wander around, making it the most kid-friendly waterfall on this list! And honestly,
Kahuna Falls is also in the park, but, if I’m being honest, it doesn’t stand a chance in comparison to the 442-foot Akaka Falls. If you want to make the most of your time at the falls, try to get there before 5 p.m., as the parking lot closes at 6 p.m.
Because it is a state park, it has a $5 parking fee per car (if you have a Hawaii State ID, just show it to the parking attendant.) They also offer umbrellas (for an optional donation), so don’t let a little rain cancel this adventure!
Stock Up on Hawaii’s Best Cookies at Big Island Candies Factory
Even though the treats from Big Island Candies are some of the most popular ones in the islands, their factory is located in the sleepy town of Hilo. Not only can you stock up on their delicious cookies, but you can watch the cookie-making in progress!
Watch the Best of the Best Perform at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival
The most esteemed hula festival in the world is the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii. Each April, the best of the best hula halau (hula groups) are invited to participate in the Merrie Monarch Festival. Tons of people from across the globe hope to watch these hula masters in action.
Tickets for this renowned hula festival typically sell out in just a few days! If you would like a glimpse of authentic Hawaiian culture, check the Merrie Monarch website for instructions to get tickets.
Trek Down to Onomea Bay
Onomea Bay is Hilo’s local secret. Because its off of Hilo’s main road and it requires a short hike, most visitors don’t even have the chance to stumble upon it! The bay’s deep blue ocean, lush green plants, and dark black lava rock resemble old Hawaii, before the state became such a popular tourist destination.
Sip Some Beer
Head over to Hilo Brewing & Beverage Co for all sorts of hoppy beverages — from ales to lagers. Sample some of their best brews with their well-priced flights, and maybe even purchase some to take home!
Learn About Hawaii’s Plants at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Plant-lovers, scientists, and photographers alike all find their way to the beautiful Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. This 40-acre valley is home to over 2,000 different species of plants, including some of the coolest Hawaiian flowers. As a matter of fact, this lovely botanical garden has over 2,000 reviews on TripAdvisor and is still a solid five stars! So this seems to be a must-visit on your trip to Hilo.
Spot Baby Hammerhead Sharks in Hilo Bay
Hilo Bay is a well-known “pupping ground” for hammerhead sharks. In other words, if you get lucky, you can see little baby hammerheads swimming around Hilo Bay!
If you just can’t get enough of Hilo Bay, why not reserve a hotel right on it? After all, there are quite a few Hilo hotels that offer great views of this picturesque area.
Snorkel at Richarson Beach Park
Just a short fifteen minutes outside of the city of Hilo, Richardson Beach Park is a hidden haven. First and foremost, Richardson Beach Park stands out from the crowd, because it’s one of Hawaii’s rare black sand beaches.
But that’s not all! Besides its sparkling black sand, Richardson Beach Park is also the best place to snorkel south of Hilo. There is a fantastic array of fish and turtles that like to visit this black sand beach. Combine this with calm waters and shallow tide pools, Richardson Beach Park is one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii for children.
Get Your Coffee Fill at Big Island Coffee Roasters’ Flagship Cafe
Big Island Coffee Roasters is one of the best Hawaii coffee brands around. Up until recently, you could only purchase their products to make your coffee at home (which is still a treat!). But now, you can visit their new flagship cafe in the heart of Hilo for top-notch Kona coffee goodness as well!
Whether you’re looking for a simple latte or a fancy moku affogato with Kau coffee ice cream and a crumble of decadent Espresso Bites, you can find it at this must-visit Hilo cafe. And don’t forget to pair it with a popover with lilikoi butter, while you’re at it!
Devour Hawaii’s Best Mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen
Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo took the Japanese dessert known as mochi and added little local twists. Traditionally, Japanese mochi is a sticky dessert made of rice flour. Sometimes it’s filled (think mochi ice cream), and sometimes it’s plain.
This particular Hilo restaurant is known for its strawberry-filled mochi (that’s right – there’s a whole fresh strawberry inside). That said, they have also created mochi in dozens of flavors like lilikoi (passion fruit), persimmon, nectarine, ube (sweet purple potato), and even brownie! It’s safe to say that these sweet treats are one of the many must-eat Hawaii foods.
*Note: Two Ladies Kitchen is a CASH-ONLY establishment.
Enjoy Dinner at Moon & Turtle
Located in downtown Hilo, Moon & Turtle is considered to be not just one of the best restaurants in Hilo, but one of the best restaurants in all of Hawaii. This small restaurant consistently has high-quality, delicious food, despite the fact that their menu changes daily. While on one day you might have the option to order wild boar puttanesca, on another day, miso chili yaki udon might be the star of the menu.
If you do plan on dining at Moon & Turtle, you should definitely make reservations! The restaurant only has a few tables, and, because of the delicious food, these tables get filled quickly!
Check Out Pe’epe’e Falls
Just upstream from Rainbow Falls on the Wailuku River is Pe’epe’e Falls. Pe’epe’e Falls (pronounced peh-eh peh-eh) is one of the local favorite Hilo waterfalls. Many days, you’ll find a group of teenagers hanging out by the falls, enjoying the water. However, visitors tend to just view Pe’epe’e Falls from the viewpoint.
Venturing closer to Pe’epe’e Falls can be quite the dangerous encounter. While the locals know what to look for, visitors tend to be ignorant of the natural patterns in the area, which can put them in danger. Waikulu River can rise quite quickly, and, therefore, can cause flash floods. These can prove to be extremely dangerous to visitors who do not see these flash floods coming. Therefore, I would not recommend venturing closer to Pe’epe’e Falls without a local.
*Note: If you are using Google Maps, plug in “Boiling Pots” instead of “Pe’epe’e Falls”. Even though the two sites are right next to each other, if you plug in “Pe’epe’e Falls,” Google Maps takes you to a place with no access and no view of the falls.
Pop by the Boiling Pots Next Door
Boiling Pots, which is right next to Pe’epe’e Falls, is a portion of Wailuku Falls that appears to be boiling. On really calm and low flow days, you’ll see some locals simply floating in the pools.
Take a Ziplining Tour of Umauma Falls
Umauma Falls has capitalized on Hilo visitors’ love of waterfalls. This three-tiered waterfall has been coupled with zipline, rappel, and ATV experiences! During the popular 90-minute zipline tour, guests have the chance to tackle two miles of zipline, zip over 14 different waterfalls, and experience stunning views!
If you would simply like to check out the waterfall, the entrance fee is $10. The falls close at 5 p.m., so be sure to get there by 4:30 p.m. to have enough time to enjoy Umauma Falls.
Learn About Space at the Imiloa Astronomy Center
If you’re into astronomy, be sure to add the Imiloa Astronomy Center to your list of things to do in Hilo. This astronomy center teaches its visitors how the Polynesians viewed the stars, including information on Polynesian constellations and how they used the stars to navigate. There are also several space-themed shows to enjoy in their planetarium, including “Mauna Kea: Between Earth and Sky” and “Earth, Moon, & Sun.”
Learn About One of the Strongest Natural Phenomena at the Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Tsunami Museum acts as both a museum and a memorial. While you can learn a ton about this natural phenomenon, you can also pay your respects to those who have passed away due to tsunamis as well as recognize those who survived such a natural disaster.
Stare in Awe at Rainbow Falls
Officially located in Wailuku River State Park, Rainbow Falls, also known as Waianuenue Falls, is just a few minutes away from the city center of Hilo. The best time to visit Rainbow Falls is in the morning, as the sun may shine on the falls and make it look like it is wrapped in a rainbow! But, honestly, this 80-foot waterfall is breathtaking at any time of day.
There are two viewpoints of Rainbow Falls. One has a beautiful clear view of the falls just a few steps from the parking lot, and one has a view of Rainbow Falls from above. Personally, I prefer the view near the parking lot, because it is quite difficult to see the falls from the upper viewpoint. There isn’t really much to see from the above lookout point.
Explore the Kaumana Caves
The Kaumana Caves are part of a 25-mile-long lava tube in Hilo. Due to some of the lava tube being on private property, only a couple miles on either end of the lava tube are open to the public. If you turn your back into the lava tube while inside of it, it creates a pretty cool skylight filled with the natural greenery in the area.
Hike to Waiale Falls
Everyone knows, where there’s a river, there might be more waterfalls. The Wailuku River not only hosts Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, and Pe’epe’e Falls, but it is also home to Waiale Falls.
If you’re looking for a Hilo waterfall with a short hike, Waiale Falls is for you! This 0.6-mile hike takes you to the two-tiered Waiale Falls. While this hike is rather short, it can get quite muddy due to Hilo’s frequent rain, so make sure you are prepared with the proper clothing and footwear before heading out! Also, just like Pe’epe’e Falls, a flash flood can strike at any time, so be aware of the weather and your surroundings!
Visit the Free Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens
As the only natural-occurring rainforest zoo in the U.S., the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is quite a treat – especially considering that it’s free to visit! Check out their eighty different animal species, including a white Bengal tiger named Tzatziki and an orange Bengal tiger named Sriracha. You’ll also be able to get a chance to see some of Hawaii’s endangered bird species, including the io (Hawaiian hawk), pueo (Hawaiian owl), and the nene goose (Hawaii’s state bird).
Stock Up on Fresh Produce and Local Finds at Hilo Farmers Market
Visiting a farmer’s market is just a part of getting the true feel for Hawaii. That’s why it made it onto our Hawaii Bucket List. Stock up on new fruits like rambutan, yellow dragon fruit, lilikoi (passion fruit), mountain apples, and guava. Try locally-produced honey and meat. Maybe even purchase locally-created jewelry made of flowers or shells. While the Hilo Famers Market is open every day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., the “big market days” are Wednesday and Saturday.
Spend Some Time at Four Mile
Four Mile, also known as Carlsmith Beach Park, is a great place to snorkel and swim! The lava rock and reef create a natural wall-like barrier from the ocean, protecting the swimming area from strong currents and creating a sort of giant tide pool. In addition to the schools of colorful fish, it’s not uncommon to see a turtle (locally known as honu) or two!
Check Out the 100-Foot Waterfall at the World Botanical Gardens
If you visited Hilo more than a decade ago, there’s a good chance you had no idea about Kama’e’e Falls. Located within the World Botanical Gardens, this beautiful piece of scenery only opened in 2009. This 100-foot waterfall is unique, because its water actually comes from a lava tube, rather than from rainwater.
Cliff Jump at Coconut Island
Coconut Island, also known as Moku Ola, is a popular cliff jumping location in Hilo. There is a 20-foot, manmade stone tower on the northern tip of the island that is great for kids who want to try out cliff jumping! If you’re little one is a bit too nervous for the 20-foot one, there is a 10-foot jump that can be used instead.
Stay at an Inn with a Natural Waterfall in the Backyard
The only way to see Kulaniapia Falls is to stay the night The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls. This particular waterfall is the largest privately accessible waterfall in Hawaii. But I mean, who else can stay that they’ve stayed at a hotel with a 120-foot natural waterfall in the backyard?
If you’re looking to stay the night at The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, room rates start at $199 per night, depending on season and availability. There is also the farm cabin accommodation option, which starts at $79 per night.
Best Things to Do in Puna
Beaches, markets, and tours await!
Visit the Newest Black Sand Beach: Pohoiki Beach
Pohoiki Beach, also known as Isaac Hale State Park, is the most recently created (or I suppose recreated) black sand beach in Hawaii. In October 2018, the lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano created the beautiful black sand of Pohoiki Beach.
The highlight of Pohoiki Beach is the fresh black sand. In comparison to other black sand beaches on the island, the sand at Pohoiki is significantly darker, because it is much fresher. The sun hasn’t had time to make it grayer. If you want the blackest of sand, brush away the top level of sand with your foot. The sand beneath the surface hasn’t even seen sun before, so it’s the blackest it can get!
Check Out the Makuu Farmers Market
If you’re looking for another bustling Hilo farmers market to check out, the Makuu Farmers Market is a fantastic option. Open every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., find almost anything you could want at a Hawaii farmers market from eight different varieties of mangoes to stunning seashell jewelry.
*Note: There is a $2 entrance fee for the Makuu Farmers Market.
Check Out the Puu Loa Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs were the ancient Hawaiian form of pictorial writing. Just as the ancient Egyptians had hieroglyphics, the ancient Hawaiians had petroglyphs. Typically, the petroglyphs were carved into lava rock, allowing them to still exist today.
Located within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Puu Loa Petroglyph trail is 0.7 miles (1.4 miles round trip). If you do plan on exploring this trail, bring a lot of water and sunscreen, because there isn’t any shade.
Get Your Fill of Mac Nuts at Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm
The most popular macadamia nut company in Hawaii (and maybe even the world) is Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. Take a couple of hours to visit their factory in Hilo on the Big Island, and you won’t be disappointed! Drive through three miles of macadamia nut trees, learn about the macadamia harvesting process, munch on some free samples, and perhaps even buy some to take home with you!
Take a Horseback Riding Tour at Paani Ranch
The 1.5-hour Horseback Riding Tour at Paani Ranch allows you to ride through the 220-acre ranch. Discover the ranch’s history, learn about the culture of the Big Island, and take in all of the beautiful natural sights while on your friendly horse.
Best Things to Do in Kau
If you’ve been looking for Hawaii’s iconic volcanoes, Kau is the spot!
Hike to the Green Sand Beach
That’s right. In addition to 12 black sand beaches, Hawaii also has a green sand beach for you to visit. Papakolea Green Sand Beach located on the Big Island of Hawaii boasts this green sand beach of green crystals known as olivine (which also came from the volcanoes’ lava).
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
One of the most famous things to do in Hilo is visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are two volcanoes located within the park: Mauna Loa and Kilauea. While Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, Kilauea has pretty much been active ever since then! There are also 150 miles of hiking trails, a museum, and ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs (the ancient Hawaiian pictorial form of writing) in the park.
Book Here: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tour
And While You’re There, Warm Up by the Steam Vents
The Kilauea Volcano is constantly emitting heat – although not necessarily through lava. This volcano also emits heat through steam vents! And you can actually access these steam vents and warm your hands up, because it can be quite chilly at such a high altitude.
*Note: it smells like rotten eggs at these steam vents because of the sulfur that is being released.
And Walk Through the Thurston Lava Tube
A lava tube is pretty much what it sounds like: a tube (usually made out of hardened lava rock) that lava from a volcano once flowed through. Pretty cool, right? By far, the most popular and well-known lava tube is the Thurston Lava Tube, also known as Nahuku, on the Big Island. This is one of the only lava tubes that you can easily walk through.
Maybe Even Catch a Glimpse of Some Lava Flowing
Currently, across all of the Hawaiian Islands, there is only one active volcano: Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. That means, if you’re going to have any chance of getting a glimpse of lava, you’ll have to go there.
While some risky adventurers attempt to hike to see the lava, that sounds like a lot of work with a questionable amount of reward. I mean, what if the lava is flowing two miles away from where you expected it to be? That’s a lot more extra walking. Instead, there are both boat tours and helicopter tours that can get you to safely get a glimpse of this glowing hot lava from Kilauea.
Visit the Volcano Winery
Just a five-minute drive outside of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Volcano Winery. So why not pair your trip to the volcanoes with a quick wine tasting?
Stay in a Treehouse
Embrace your inner child and stay in one of the many treehouses on the Big Island! While they are scattered around the island, the vast majority of Hawaii treehouses are in Kau, relatively close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
That means, after a day of lava tube-exploring and volcano-hiking, you can spend the night in a one-of-a-kind treehouse. Pretty magical, right?
Embrace the Art of Hula at the Hula Arts at Kilauea Series
The Hula Arts at Kilauea Series combines Hawaii’s natural beauty and cultural beauty. This monthly event includes hula performances, Hawaiian cultural demonstrations, discussions of hula genealogy, and even classes on Hawaiian language!
Visit the Most Popular Black Sand Beach: Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii. Located on the southeastern coast of the Big Island, Punaluu Black Sand Beach is often visited in conjunction with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
*Local Tip: If you want to snorkel at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, walk over to the Ninole Cove area.
If you’re looking for more black sand beaches to visit, here is a complete list of all of the black sand beaches in Hawaii.
While You’re There, See If You Can Spot Some Turtles
The black sand at Punaluu Black Sand Beach is already stunning. But imagine this black sand with a turtle or two relaxing on it! Punaluu Black Sand Beach is known for having turtles basking. If you do see a turtle, please give it some space! If you were relaxing, you wouldn’t want anyone getting in your bubble, right? Same for the
Here’s a post with a little more information about respecting turtles.
Tackle the Kilauea Iki Trail
The Kilauea Iki Trail allows visitors to access a volcano crater that is still warm to the touch! It’s such a unique experience! Before reaching the crater part of the trail, there is also quite a lot of greenery in the area to admire as well.
*Note: Due to the lava flow in 2018, the Kilauea Iki Trail is no longer a loop and is instead an out-and-back trail. So that means, whatever you go down (including into the crater), you must go up!
Take a Helicopter Tour Over the Volcano
If there is one thing that you MUST do in Hilo, it’s take a helicopter tour. The Big Island of Hawaii is filled with so many unique terrains that only become even more beautiful from the air. Get glimpses of an active volcano, black sand beaches, stunning coastlines, powerful waterfalls, and lush jungles. Is there anywhere in the world where you can take a more jaw-dropping helicopter tour? Probably not.
Book Here: Hilo Helicopter Tour Over Volcano
Get Some Fantastic Guava and Taro Bread
Baked at the southern-most tip of the United States on the Big Island of Hawaii (and at the southernmost bakery in the U.S., the Punaluu Bake Shop sells sweet bread in a variety of my flavors.
Every single time I go to Hilo, I make sure to get a loaf, and then I make it my snack on the inevitably long drives (well, long for an Oahu gal.) My favorite Punaluu sweet bread flavors are definitely traditional, guava, and taro, but I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of their options.
*Bonus: If you’re looking to try the local sweet, donut-esque treat known as a malasada, Punaluu Bake Shop is now the place to get some on the Big Island. (The old go-to spot, Tex Drive-In, changed management and it’s not quite what it used to be sadly.)
Hike in the Desert
So far on this list of things to do in Hilo, we’ve recommended hiking to waterfalls, on lava rock, and to green sand beaches. But could you imagine hiking in the desert on the same day? The Big Island of Hawaii boasts ten of the fourteen climate zones, according to the Koppen Climate Classification System. In practical terms that means that in Hilo, you can hike in both a jungle and a desert in one day. So why not tackle the Kau Desert Trail and make that challenge happen?
Best Things to Do Anywhere in Hilo
There are a few things that you can experience anywhere in Hilo — from scenic drives to croaking frogs.
Take a Drive Along the Hamakua Coast
Sometimes a scenic drive can be the highlight of a trip. In this case, a drive along the Hamakua Coast may be one of the best things to do in Hilo. This 40-mile drive cuts through Hilo and Hamakua. It has stunning waterfalls, breathtaking ocean views, and even a glimpse of a black sand beach! If you’d like to make sure that you don’t miss any of the must-see stops, consider taking a guided tour.
To drive along the Hamakua Coast from Hilo, plug-in “Waipio Valley Lookout” into Google Maps.
Listen to the Coqui Frogs
If you have ever been in Hilo after dark, you’ll be familiar with the sound of the coqui frogs. Originally from Puerto Rico, these itty bitty frogs are only about an inch long. Even though they are tiny, by the thousands, they make quite a lot of noise. The high-pitched noise they create could easily be mistaken for birds – but don’t be fooled! That’s the call of the coqui frog.
Do a Hike or Beach Clean-Up
It’s important to give back to the places that bring you so much joy. After surfing, hiking, relaxing, and eating your heart out, consider doing a hike or beach clean-up to help out the nature in Hilo.
Not only does this activity have the potential to be a fun, fulfilling experience, but if you spend so much time on your vacation enjoying this beautiful trash-free environment, why not help the islands stay that way? Just grab a trash bag (and perhaps some gloves) and pick up anything that doesn’t belong. Thank you for your help in advance!
Do you have any other recommendations of things to do in Hilo that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!
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