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Hawaii is made up of several beautiful islands, each with unique cities and landscapes to explore. If you’re looking to visit the second largest city in the state, you’ll want to plan a trip to lovely Hilo on the Big Island.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The second largest city in Hawaii is Hilo, located on the eastern side of the Big Island.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a deep dive into everything you need to know about Hilo, Hawaii’s second city. We’ll explore Hilo’s history, geography, climate, population, economy, attractions, dining, shopping, and more. Whether you’re planning a vacation or just want to learn about this underrated Hawaiian destination, read on to discover why Hilo is a must-visit Big Island town.

An Overview of Hilo, Hawaii

Location and Geography

Hilo is the second largest city in the state of Hawaii, located on the eastern coast of the Big Island. It is situated on the Hilo Bay, with beautiful views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. The city is known for its lush greenery and tropical rainforests, making it a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Climate and Weather

Hilo has a unique microclimate characterized by abundant rainfall throughout the year. It is often referred to as the “Rainbow City” due to the frequent rain showers followed by sunny skies. The average annual rainfall in Hilo is around 126 inches, making it one of the wettest cities in the United States. The combination of rainfall and warm temperatures creates the ideal conditions for the growth of vibrant flora and fauna.

Demographics and Population

Hilo has a diverse population, with a mix of different ethnicities and cultures. According to the latest census data, the population of Hilo is approximately 47,000. The city is home to a vibrant community of native Hawaiians, as well as people of Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and European descent. The rich cultural heritage of Hilo is reflected in its festivals, traditional arts and crafts, and local cuisine.

For more information about Hilo, you can visit the official website of the City and County of Hilo at

History and Culture of Hilo

Hilo, located on the eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, is the second largest city in the state. It is a vibrant and culturally rich destination that offers a unique blend of history and modernity. The city’s rich heritage can be traced back to its Native Hawaiian roots, its development into a major city, and its diverse cultural attractions and events.

Native Hawaiian History

Hilo has a deep connection to its Native Hawaiian history, which is evident in the city’s name itself. The word “Hilo” means “to twist” or “to braid” in the Hawaiian language, reflecting the lush and intertwining nature of the area’s landscapes. The native Hawaiians have a strong presence in Hilo, and their customs, traditions, and language are still celebrated and practiced today. Visitors to Hilo can immerse themselves in the rich culture by attending hula performances, exploring ancient Hawaiian sites, and participating in traditional ceremonies.

Development into a Major City

Over the years, Hilo has developed from a small fishing village into a bustling city. Its strategic location on the Hilo Bay made it an important center for trade and commerce in the past. The city’s growth was further fueled by the sugar industry, which thrived in the surrounding fertile lands. Today, Hilo is a hub of economic activity and serves as the gateway to the stunning natural wonders of the Big Island. The city is also home to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, which contributes to its vibrant and diverse community.

Cultural Attractions and Events

Hilo is renowned for its vibrant cultural scene, offering a wide range of attractions and events for both locals and visitors to enjoy. One of the most popular cultural destinations in Hilo is the Pacific Tsunami Museum, which showcases the city’s resilience in the face of natural disasters. The Lyman Museum and Mission House, another must-visit attraction, provides a comprehensive insight into the history, art, and culture of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hilo also hosts numerous cultural events throughout the year, including the Merrie Monarch Festival, which is considered the most prestigious hula competition in the world. This week-long celebration brings together hula dancers from across the Hawaiian Islands and showcases the beauty and grace of this traditional art form. Other events include the Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival, the Hilo Orchid Show, and the Hilo Huli.

Things to See and Do in Hilo

Hilo, the second largest city in Hawaii, offers a wide range of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or simply looking to relax on the beach, Hilo has something for everyone. Here are some of the top things to see and do in Hilo:

Botanical Gardens and Parks

Hilo is known for its lush greenery and beautiful gardens. One of the must-visit spots is the Liliuokalani Gardens, a Japanese-style garden located on the shores of Hilo Bay. This serene and picturesque garden is the largest of its kind outside of Japan and offers stunning views of the bay and the nearby Mauna Kea volcano. Another popular spot is the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, where you can see a variety of animals and explore the tropical rainforest.

Volcanoes National Park

No visit to Hilo would be complete without a trip to the Volcanoes National Park. This unique and awe-inspiring park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Visitors can hike through volcanic craters, explore lava tubes, and even witness the incredible sight of molten lava flowing into the ocean. The park also offers ranger-led programs and educational exhibits to learn more about the geology and history of the area.

Beaches and Waterfalls

Hilo is blessed with beautiful beaches and stunning waterfalls. Richardson Ocean Park is a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, and picnicking, with its calm waters and sandy beach. For waterfall enthusiasts, a visit to the Akaka Falls State Park is a must. Here, you can see the breathtaking 442-foot Akaka Falls as well as several other smaller waterfalls along the scenic trails.

Museums and Historic Buildings

Hilo has a rich history and is home to several museums and historic buildings. The Lyman Museum showcases the natural and cultural history of Hawaii, with exhibits on geology, archaeology, and Hawaiian culture. The Palace Theater, built in 1925, is a historic landmark and hosts a variety of performances and events throughout the year. Don’t forget to also visit the Hawaii Plantation Museum to learn about the region’s sugar plantation history.

Shopping and Dining

If you’re in the mood for some retail therapy or delicious local cuisine, Hilo won’t disappoint. Head to the Old Hilo Town for a variety of shops selling unique gifts, clothing, and jewelry. The Hilo Farmers Market is a great place to sample fresh produce, local snacks, and handmade crafts. When it comes to dining, you can find everything from casual eateries serving Hawaiian favorites to upscale restaurants offering international cuisines.

So whether you’re exploring the beautiful gardens, hiking through volcanic landscapes, or simply enjoying the local culture and cuisine, Hilo is a destination that offers a little something for everyone.

Planning Your Trip to Hilo

If you are planning a trip to Hawaii, you may be wondering about the second largest city in the state. Look no further than Hilo! Located on the eastern coast of the Big Island, Hilo offers visitors a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural attractions. Whether you are a nature enthusiast, history buff, or simply looking for a relaxing vacation, Hilo has something for everyone.

Best Time to Visit

Hilo experiences a tropical rainforest climate, with warm temperatures and high humidity year-round. However, there are certain times of the year that are more favorable for visiting. The best time to visit Hilo is during the drier months of April to October, when you can expect sunny skies and less rainfall. Keep in mind that even during the wetter months, the rain showers in Hilo are usually brief and followed by sunshine, so don’t let a little rain deter you from exploring this beautiful city.

Getting to Hilo

There are several ways to get to Hilo. The most convenient option is to fly into Hilo International Airport, which is served by several major airlines. If you are already in Hawaii, you can also take a short flight from Honolulu to Hilo. Another option is to take a cruise ship that stops in Hilo. This is a great way to combine a visit to Hilo with exploring other beautiful Hawaiian islands.

Getting Around

Once you arrive in Hilo, you will need a way to get around and explore the city and its surrounding areas. The most convenient option is to rent a car, as it will give you the freedom to explore at your own pace. Hilo also has a public bus system, called Hele-On Bus, which can take you to various destinations within the city and the island. If you prefer a more eco-friendly option, you can also rent a bike or take a leisurely stroll along Hilo’s scenic waterfront.

Where to Stay

When it comes to accommodations, Hilo offers a range of options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury resorts and boutique hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals, you will have no trouble finding a place to stay in Hilo. If you prefer a more immersive experience, you can also consider staying in a traditional Hawaiian homestay or eco-lodge. Whichever option you choose, be sure to book in advance, especially during the peak tourist seasons.


With its lush rainforests, thundering waterfalls, and views of active volcanoes, Hilo offers an authentic Hawaiian experience you won’t find anywhere else in the state. Whether you’re looking to connect with nature, learn about history and culture, or simply relax by the ocean, you’ll find plenty of activities and aloha spirit in Hawaii’s second city.

Next time you plan a vacation to the Hawaiian Islands, be sure to include Hilo on your itinerary. Exploring this special corner of Hawaii will create memories to last a lifetime. Have a wonderful trip!

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