Hilo, Big Island

A busy farming and fishing area in early times, Hilo evolved into a commercial center for the sugar industry in the 1800’s and became the seat of county government. The Hilo region is the geographic flip side of the volcanic Kohala Coast. 

Hilo (pronounced hee-low) is home of the world-famous Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, the International Festival, the Aloha Festival, and many other events throughout the year. In 1946 and 1960 the town was nearly swallowed by a tsunami. But Hilo’s waterfront was rebuilt and today Hilo is a vibrant town, home to great museums (Imiloa Astronomy Center, Lyman Museum, Pacific Tsunami Museum), art galleries (East Hawaii Cultural Center), unique shops and perennial favorites like the Hilo Farmers Market. Hilo’s newest world-class attraction, the Imiloa Astronomy Center, is housed beneath three striking titanium cones representing the three largest mountains on Hawaii Island. Interactive exhibits include a “walk” through a koa (native hardwood) forest. Hilo offers natural beauty too, the serene Liliuokalani Gardens is right on Banyan Drive.

The north eastern coast of Hawaii Island is the wetter side of the island, blessed with dramatic waterfalls, fertile rain forests and blooming gardens; so you’ll also find many natural wonders here including Waianuenue, also known as Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots in Wailuku River State Park, beautiful parks like Liliuokalani Gardens and Wailoa River State Park (home to the 2nd King Kamehameha Statue on Hawaii Island; the original resides in Kapaau in North Kohala), as well as many botanical gardens and orchid farms. Visit the nation's only rain forest zoo, Panaewa Rain forest Zoo, to see a collection of exotic plants and animals, including Namaste, a regal white Bengal tiger.

Location: Roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes from Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) and on the polar opposite side of the island.

Airports: Kona International Airport (KOA) in Kona on the west or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in Hilo on the east.

Map of Hawaii Big Island

Explore Big Island by region: Hamakua CoastNorth KohalaKohala CoastKonaPunaKau.

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Island Highlights

- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Home to Kilauea Volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
- Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona): Lively, historic gathering place in the heart of Kona.
- Hilo: Home to botanical gardens, waterfalls and off-the-beaten-path local shops and restaurants.
- Waimea: Experience the cool uplands of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country.
- Holualoa: Visit coffee country and taste why 100% Kona coffee is so famous.

Downtown Hilo

Hilo Downtown

Stroll down Kamehameha Avenue facing beautiful Hilo Bay and discover a variety of local shops, restaurants and attractions including the neo-classical Palace Theatre built in 1925, and the bustling Hilo Farmers Market. Visit the East Hawaii Cultural Center, the central hub of the Hilo art scene, dedicated to preserving and sharing cultural, creative and traditional arts on the island.

Historic Hilo also has notable museums, some looking into Hilo’s past and others looking toward the future. The Pacific Tsunami Museum chronicles the cataclysmic natural disasters of 1946 and 1960 forcing Hilo to rebuild further inland using parkland as a buffer. The Lyman Mission House and Museum features a historic house built in 1839 by American Christian missionaries. The Mokupapapa Discovery Center brings to life the culture, history, natural science and virtually untouched environment of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

Location: 15 minutes from the Hilo International Airport (ITO).

Hilo Farmers Market

Hilo Farmers Market

The Hilo Farmers Market lures both locals and international visitors with Hilo’s freshest finds at affordable prices. You’ll find a colorful selection of locally grown exotic fruit, vegetables, herbs, island jams and jellies, macadamia nuts and delectable baked goods. Also note that 95 percent of Hawaiian papayas are grown on the east side of Hawaii Island, so look for these fresh fruits when they are in season. Strawberry papayas, a local delicacy, look like regular papayas, but their beautiful pinkish-orange flesh is sweeter, tastier and juicier.

Food is only part of the fun at the Hilo Farmers Market. Large buckets of orchids and anthuriums line the stalls. Wind chimes, etched glass and koa wood treasures fill the craft section. Don’t forget to buy a lei for that special person in your life. Be sure to get there early to shop for the best choices from the market’s more than 200 local vendors. The full-fledged market is open year round every Wednesday and Saturday, but some vendors are open almost every day.

Location: 15 minutes from the Hilo International Airport (ITO).

Liliuokalani Gardens

Liliuokalani Gardens

Have a quite picnic in the beautiful Lili'uokalani Park; with over 30 acres of Japanese inspired gardens with fishponds, gazebos, bridges, and a spectacular view across the bay of Hilo Town and the slopes of Mauna Kea. If you are lucky, on a clear day you will see the snow-capped summit of the tallest mountain, from its base, in the world. Across the foot bridge is Coconut Island, just big enough for relaxing picnics and open-air concerts.

Location: 20 minutes from the Hilo International Airport (ITO).

Wailuku River State Park

Rainbow Falls

Waianuenue (Rainbow Falls), which has an 80-foot drop and is known for the rainbows that are formed in the surrounding mist. Thunderously powerful after heavy rains.

Travel further upland along the Wailuku River and you’ll find Peepee Falls (pronounced Peh-EH Peh-EH), which feeds the famous pools known as Boiling Pots. These terraced pools bubble as if they were boiling, connected by a series of cascading water flows alongside hexagonal columns formed by the slow cooling of basalt lava. As beautiful as Waianuene (Rainbow Falls) and Boiling Pots are these areas are not safe for swimming. Instead, take a moment and simply enjoy the natural beauty found in Wailuku River State Park.

Location: From downtown Hilo, take a short drive west on Waianuene Avenue to Wailuku River State Park.

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Memberships and Certification

 Hawaii Tourism Authority

Certified Hawaii Tourism Authority 'Destination Expert'.

A member of Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

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