The tropical paradise of Hawaii is made up of several major islands, each with its own unique culture and history. For those looking to visit or move to the Big Island of Hawaii, one common question is: what is the capital of Hawaii Island?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Hilo is the capital of Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the history, geography, and attractions of Hilo to help you understand exactly why it became the capital city of Hawaii’s largest island. We’ll also provide key facts about Hilo and look at how it compares to Hawaii’s overall capital city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

History of Hilo as Capital

Hilo, located on the eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, has a rich history as the capital city. From its humble beginnings as a port town to its eventual rise as the capital, Hilo has played an important role in the development of the island.

Early History as a Port Town

In the early years, Hilo served as a bustling port town, attracting merchants, sailors, and traders from around the world. The natural deep-water bay provided a safe harbor for ships, making Hilo an ideal location for trade and commerce. The town quickly grew, with a diverse population of Native Hawaiians, Europeans, and immigrants from Asia.

The arrival of missionaries in the 19th century brought education, Christianity, and a new way of life to Hilo. The town became a center for education and the arts, with schools, churches, and cultural institutions springing up in the area.

Development of the Sugar Industry

The development of the sugar industry in the late 19th century further propelled Hilo’s growth. Plantations were established in the surrounding areas, and Hilo became a hub for sugar production. The industry brought prosperity to the town, attracting more immigrants to work on the plantations.

The sugar industry also brought modern infrastructure to Hilo, including roads, railroads, and a reliable water supply. These developments laid the foundation for Hilo’s future as the capital city.

Hilo Replaces Lahaina as Capital

In 1845, Hilo officially replaced Lahaina as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. This decision was made due to Hilo’s strategic location, its growing population, and its economic importance. The move was met with mixed reactions, with some residents of Lahaina feeling disappointed and resentful.

As the capital, Hilo became the political and administrative center of the kingdom. Government buildings were constructed, and the town became a hub of activity. The capital status brought increased investment and development to Hilo, solidifying its position as a thriving city.

Today, Hilo continues to serve as the capital of Hawaii Island, known for its rich history, natural beauty, and vibrant culture. Visitors can explore the town’s historic buildings, enjoy the bustling farmer’s market, and immerse themselves in the unique charm of Hilo.

Location and Geography

Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is located in the central Pacific Ocean. It is situated approximately 2,400 miles southwest of California and about 3,800 miles west of Japan. The island is part of the state of Hawaii and is the southeasternmost of the major islands in the archipelago.


Hawaii Island has a diverse climate due to its varying elevations and geographic features. The island experiences a tropical climate in most areas, with warm temperatures throughout the year. However, the climate can vary significantly depending on the location. The eastern side of the island, which faces the prevailing trade winds, tends to be wetter and cooler, while the western side is drier and warmer. The island’s higher elevations, such as Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, can even see occasional snowfall in the winter months.

Proximity to Volcanoes

Hawaii Island is renowned for its volcanic activity, as it is home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. These volcanoes have shaped the island’s landscape over millions of years and continue to influence its geography. Kilauea, in particular, has been erupting continuously since 1983, making it one of the most closely studied volcanoes on Earth. The island’s proximity to these volcanoes provides unique opportunities for scientific research and attracts visitors from around the world who are fascinated by the island’s volcanic activity.


Getting to Hawaii Island is relatively easy, with regular flights from major cities in the United States, Asia, and other parts of the world. The island is served by two major airports: Hilo International Airport on the east side and Kona International Airport on the west side. Both airports offer domestic and international flights, making it convenient for travelers to reach the island. Additionally, there are ferry services available for inter-island travel between Hawaii Island and other neighboring islands in the archipelago.

Demographics and Economy

Population Statistics

The capital of Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, is Hilo. Hilo is the largest city on the island and home to a diverse population. As of the latest census data, the population of Hilo is estimated to be around 45,000 people. This number continues to grow as more people are attracted to the island’s natural beauty, warm climate, and unique culture. The population is a mix of different ethnicities, including Native Hawaiians, Japanese, Filipino, and Caucasian.

For more detailed information about the population demographics of Hilo, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Main Industries and Employers

Hilo’s economy is diverse and supported by various industries. Agriculture plays a significant role in the local economy, with coffee, macadamia nuts, and tropical fruits being major agricultural products. The tourism industry also contributes significantly to the economy, as visitors flock to the island to experience its stunning natural landscapes, including volcanoes and waterfalls.

The healthcare sector is another important industry in Hilo, providing a range of medical services to residents and visitors. Education is also a significant employer, with the University of Hawaii at Hilo offering higher education opportunities to students from around the world.

For more information about the main industries and employers in Hilo, you can visit the official website of the Hawaii Business Magazine.

Culture and Tourism

Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, is not only famous for its stunning natural beauty, but it also has a rich and vibrant culture that attracts visitors from all over the world. From its diverse arts scene to its abundance of outdoor activities, there is something for everyone to enjoy on this magnificent island.

Arts Scene

The arts scene on Hawaii Island is thriving, with a wide range of galleries, art studios, and cultural events that showcase the talent of local artists. From traditional Hawaiian crafts to contemporary paintings and sculptures, there is a diverse array of artwork to admire and purchase. One of the most popular destinations for art enthusiasts is the Volcano Art Center, located within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This center features exhibits, workshops, and performances that celebrate the unique artistic heritage of the island.

Parks and Outdoor Activities

For nature lovers and adventure seekers, Hawaii Island offers an abundance of parks and outdoor activities. With its lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and volcanic landscapes, the island is a paradise for hiking, camping, and exploring. One of the must-visit parks is the Akaka Falls State Park, home to the stunning 442-foot Akaka Falls. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely hike through the park’s lush vegetation, taking in the breathtaking views of the waterfall along the way. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is another must-see destination, where visitors can witness the power and beauty of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Historic Buildings and Architecture

Hawaii Island is also known for its rich history, which is reflected in its historic buildings and unique architecture. One of the most iconic landmarks on the island is the Hulihe‘e Palace, located in the heart of Kailua-Kona. This historic royal residence showcases the island’s royal heritage and offers visitors a glimpse into the past. Another architectural gem is the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a sacred site that was once a place of refuge for Hawaiians who had violated kapu (sacred laws). The park features restored temples, ancient petroglyphs, and a reconstructed royal fishpond, providing a fascinating insight into Hawaiian history and culture.

Whether you are interested in art, nature, or history, Hawaii Island has something to offer every visitor. Its vibrant arts scene, breathtaking parks, and historic buildings make it a truly unique and captivating destination.

Comparison to Honolulu

Population and Urbanization

When comparing the capital of Hawaii Island to Honolulu, it’s important to consider the differences in population and urbanization. While Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii, with a population of over 350,000 residents, the capital of Hawaii Island (also known as Hilo) has a smaller population of around 45,000. Despite its smaller size, Hilo still offers a vibrant community and a variety of amenities for residents and visitors alike.

Political Power

In terms of political power, Honolulu holds a significant advantage over the capital of Hawaii Island. As the state capital, Honolulu is home to the Governor’s office, the State Legislature, and various government agencies. This concentration of political power has led to a greater influence on state-wide policies and decision-making processes. However, it’s important to note that the capital of Hawaii Island still has its own local government and plays a crucial role in the island’s governance.

Cost of Living and Business

When it comes to the cost of living and business opportunities, there are notable differences between Honolulu and the capital of Hawaii Island. Honolulu tends to have a higher cost of living, with higher housing prices, transportation costs, and overall expenses. On the other hand, the capital of Hawaii Island offers a more affordable living situation, making it an attractive option for those looking to save money or start a business.

The capital of Hawaii Island also has its own unique business environment, with a focus on industries such as agriculture, tourism, and education. Its natural beauty, cultural attractions, and proximity to natural resources make it an appealing location for entrepreneurs and investors.


As the largest and easternmost city on Hawaii Island, Hilo serves an important role as the Big Island’s center of government and commerce. While Honolulu on Oahu remains the capital of the entire state, Hilo offers a more relaxed pace of life in touch with the island’s natural beauty.

We hope this outline gives you a comprehensive overview of Hilo as the capital city of Hawaii Island. Let us know if you have any other questions about visiting or living in this island paradise!

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