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With its lush rainforests, stunning waterfalls, local farms, and small-town charm, Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii offers visitors plenty of ways to experience authentic Hawaiian culture. If you’re wondering what there is to do in Hilo, we’ve got you covered.

If you only have a short time in Hilo, be sure to walk along the scenic bayside, explore the farmer’s market, see Rainbow Falls and the Banyan trees in Liliuokalani Park, and grab a bite from a local cafe or food truck.

For a deeper dive into all that Hilo has to offer, read on for the 10 best things to do in this Hawaiian paradise.

Marvel at the Natural Beauty of Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots

When visiting Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island, two must-see natural attractions are the awe-inspiring Rainbow Falls and the raging Boiling Pots. Both showcase the incredible power and beauty of nature in this tropical paradise.

Rainbow Falls

Majestic Rainbow Falls plunges over a lava cliff into a turbulent pool below. This breathtaking waterfall gets its name from the mesmerizing rainbows that often form in its mist on sunny afternoons. Rainbow Falls measures an impressive 80 feet tall and 100 feet wide, making it exceptionally voluminous for a waterfall located so close to Hilo.

The best viewpoint is from the overlook across the gorge. From there, visitors can fully appreciate the waterfall’s immense power and scale as over 75,000 gallons of water thunder over the cliff every minute. The billowing mist and vibrant rainbows just add to the magical atmosphere.

Boiling Pots

Just upriver from Rainbow Falls lies the Boiling Pots, one of Hawaii’s most unique natural attractions. Here the Wailuku River churns through a series of steep cascades and swirling whirlpools as it rushes toward the ocean.

Watching the violent motion of the whitewater rapids gives the impression that the river is boiling furiously, hence the evocative name.

The most dramatic section spans about 100 yards across lava rock pools and small cascades. Adventurous visitors can view the rapids from scary-close overlooks or even take a dip in the calmer sections.

However, the currents are extremely hazardous, so caution is an absolute must when getting near the water.

Together, Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots showcase the dual personalities of the Wailuku River. At Rainbow Falls, the wide lazy river plunges languidly over the cliff before transforming into the raging torrent churning through the Boiling Pots below.

This contrast encapsulates Hawaii’s natural beauty, at once peaceful, powerful, and full of surprises.

Stroll through Historic Downtown Hilo

Historic downtown Hilo offers visitors a glimpse into Hawaiʻi’s past while enjoying its present-day charms. As you meander down the tree-lined streets, you’ll discover a wonderful blend of culture, architecture, art, and natural beauty unique to this island town.

Explore Historic Buildings

Many of Hilo’s buildings date back to the early 19th century and have been carefully preserved. The East Hawaii Cultural Center contains two historic structures, the 1921 Bank of Hawaii building with its neoclassical architecture and the striking Moʻoheau Bandstand gazebo from the 1930s.

Other landmarks include the Hilo Masonic Lodge, one of the oldest Masonic centers in Hawaii, and the Palace Theater, a beloved Art Deco movie house from 1925.

Admire Street Art & Murals

Hilo’s buildings serve as the canvas for an ever-changing display of colorful murals and street art. The Hilo Mural Walk self-guided tour lets you discover over 20 impressive works scattered throughout downtown as you walk past history markers and lovely banyan trees.

Don’t miss the 50-foot hula mural on the side of Cronies Bar or the underwater scene at Cafe Pesto.

Wander through Local Shops & Boutiques

Between the murals, spend time ducking into the small shops and boutiques selling all kinds of treasures. Longs Drugs and Ken’s House of Pancakes have been downtown fixtures for over 50 years. At the charming Hilo Farmers Market, flower lei stands and produce stalls neighbor crafters and jewelry makers.

Find Hawaiian quilts at KapohoKine, guitars at Hawaii Music Supply, and everything from clothing to home decor at Sig Zane Designs.

Grab a Bite at a Local Eatery

Treat your tastebuds to the flavors of Hilo at one of these popular local restaurants:

  • Cafe Pesto – Farm-to-table Italian dishes like wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and salads made with locally-sourced ingredients
  • Hilo Bay Cafe – Local cafe right on Hilo Bay serving fresh seafood, burgers, and vegetarian options
  • Ken’s House of Pancakes – Hilo institution open since 1949, loved for huge pancake stacks and local-style breakfasts and plate lunches

Visit Historical & Cultural Sites

While exploring downtown, make sure to stop at these important cultural destinations:

  • Lyman Museum & Mission House – Fascinating exhibits on Hawaii’s natural history and culture plus a restored 19th century missionary house
  • Mokupāpapa Discovery Center – Interactive displays and films highlighting the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s conservation efforts
  • Lili`uokalani Gardens – Picturesque Japanese garden with pagodas, bridges, koi ponds, and a view of Hilo Bay

Immerse yourself in Hilo’s past and present by taking a relaxing stroll through its delightful historic downtown district. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to spend a full day exploring this authentic Hawaiian town.

Wander through Picturesque Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

Nestled along Hilo Bay, the serene Liliuokalani Park and Gardens is a must-see for visitors who want to experience the natural beauty of Hawaii. Spanning 30 acres, these picturesque grounds provide a peaceful respite from Hilo’s urban center.

Lush greenery, graceful bridges, gurgling streams, and eye-catching views make this a perfect place for a stroll or picnic.

Wander Along Palm-Lined Pathways

As you meander along the park’s palm-lined pathways, you’ll quickly notice the relaxing vibe. Gentle sea breezes rustle through leafy trees as songbirds flit between branches. With vibrant ginger plants and orchids adding pops of color, it’s easy to lose yourself amid the botanic splendor.

For the best views, head down to the shoreline overlooking Hilo Bay. Watch as frothy waves crash against lava rock while cruise ships glide through azure waters toward the harbor.

Soak up Rich Cultural History

Beyond its natural appeal, Liliuokalani Park also offers a window into Hawaii’s past. Originally constructed in the early 1900s, the grounds honor Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani.Though she was overthrown in an 1893 coup, “Lili’u” remains a respected figure.

As you follow the winding paths, note the lush flora she selected herself. Many native species thrive here, from fragrant niu palms to vibrant anthurium.

For more insight, be sure to read the plaques recounting snippets of history. And pause to admire the bronze statue depicting the regal queen. Thanks to her vision, locals and visitors alike can enjoy this little slice of paradise over a century later!

Have a Splash at Japanese Gardens

At the park’s northern edge lies the delightful Japanese Gardens. Built in the late 1960s to celebrate Hilo’s sister-city relationship with Miyako, Japan, these grounds house graceful Japanese structures like arched drum bridges and pagodas.

The star attraction is a large carp pond filled with gliding orange, black, and white koi fish. Grab a handful of fish food from the dispensers and watch them swarm!

Kids especially love the area’s interactive features. Make a wish at the picturesque wishing well or explore the peaceful meditation garden’s gravel pathways. And don’t miss ringing the Pavillion’s large bronze bell for good luck!

Whether you spend fifteen minutes or a few hours, the Japanese Gardens offer fun for all ages.

Relax at the Banyan Drive Golf Course

After exploring Liliuokalani Park’s lush grounds, head next door to soak up more tropical vibes at the Banyan Drive Golf Course. Flanked by swaying palms, this peaceful 9-hole course boasts killer views of Hilo Bay’s sapphire waters.

Established in 1937 around scenic banyan trees, it’s the oldest golf course in Hawaii. Even if you’re not teeing off, it’s still worth visiting the historic clubhouse. Snap some photos of the iconic tree tunnel leading down to the shimmering Pacific.

With its laidback setting and affordable fees, Banyan Drive is beginner-friendly. But even experienced golfers sing its praises thanks to the challenging terrain and stellar scenery. Just steps from Liliuokalani Park’s floral beauty, it perfectly complements any visit to this little slice of paradise in Hilo.

Explore the Vibrant Hilo Farmer’s Market

The sprawling Hilo Farmer’s Market is a must-visit for anyone looking to soak up local culture while exploring the bounty of the Big Island’s agriculture. Open every day of the week, this energetic marketplace brings together farmers, artisans, and food vendors peddling fresh tropical produce, vibrant blooms, handmade goods, and ono grinds (that’s “delicious food” in Hawaiian pidgin).

When to Go

The market starts setting up shop around sunrise and runs until early afternoon, but it’s liveliest from 8 AM to 12 PM. We recommend going mid-morning to see the full colorful array of vendors and products.

What to Expect

  • Rows upon rows of local farmers showcasing papayas, bananas, lychees, rambutan, starfruit, mangoes, avocados, and more.
  • Fragrant lei stands filled with vivid orchids, plumeria, anthurium, ginger, and maile vine.
  • Food stalls dishing out tasty bites like fresh poke bowls, loco moco, shave ice, and malasadas.
  • Arts and crafts like wood carvings, Hawaiian quilts, etched shell jewelry, hand-painted ceramics, and unique creations made from dried gourds.
  • Plenty of photo ops thanks to the explosions of color and sensory delights.

Insider Tips

Parking can get tight, so arrive early to snag a good spot. Bring small bills and change to pay the various vendors. Wear good walking shoes and sun protection. Try out lesser known fruits and veggies you’ve never experienced before! Chat up the farmers and food artisans to get the inside scoop.

The Hilo Farmer’s Market perfectly captures the essence of old Hawaiʻi with its bustling atmosphere and smiling community of growers and craftspeople. Wandering the market is a fantastic way to support local agriculture, discover new tropical flavors, take home special island-made souvenirs, and experience an authentic slice of Hilo life.

Location: Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street in downtown Hilo
Hours: Sunrise to early afternoon, daily
Parking: On and off-site lots available
Cost: Free to enter, vendor prices vary

For more on experiencing Hilo’s vibrant offerings, check out Go Hawaii’s guide to Hilo and the Love Big Island blog on the farmer’s market.

Learn about Hawaii’s Agriculture at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Nestled along the scenic Hāmākua Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about and explore the islands’ agricultural heritage and diversity firsthand.

Spanning over 16 acres, this lush paradise contains over 2,000 species of tropical plants from around the world.

As you meander along the Garden’s self-guided tour, you’ll quickly gain an appreciation for the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and other plants that thrive in Hawaii’s tropical climate.

Displays feature staple crops such as banana, papaya, avocado, mango, cocoa, coffee and sugarcane. You’ll learn how these and other plants came to be important agricultural exports for the islands since the arrival of early Polynesian settlers.

In addition to commercial crops, the Garden contains a stunning collection of native Hawaiian plants. As you traverse trails and boardwalks through rainforest and gardens, you’ll have the chance to see exceptionally rare native species, some of which are on the endangered list.

Botanical enthusiasts will be awed viewing the hundreds of varieties of orchids, heliconias, gingers and trees showcased.

Whether you’re simply admiring the beauty of your surroundings or intentionally trying to identify species, a walk through Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden undoubtedly enhances visitors’ knowledge about Hawaii’s diverse tropical agriculture.

It’s a revealing look at the rich relationship between plants and people spanning centuries of Hawaiian history. With such a spectacular array of rare and important specimens seen nowhere else, the Garden has rightfully earned its reputation as a “Garden of Eden” which should not be missed.

See Hawaii’s Art Scene at the East Hawaii Cultural Center

The East Hawaii Cultural Center (EHCC) is a must-visit spot for art lovers visiting Hilo. Located in the heart of downtown, this spacious art gallery hosts changing exhibits that showcase the diverse artistic talent found on the Big Island.

From traditional Hawaiian quilting to contemporary paintings and sculptures, there’s always something eye-catching and inspiring to see at the EHCC.

In addition to visual arts displays, the cultural center also hosts regular performing arts events, from hula shows to jazz concerts. These lively performances let visitors experience many facets of Hawaii’s living culture in an intimate theater setting.

The center also offers a wide array of arts education programs for local residents, helping foster the next generation of creative talent.

The EHCC’s convenient location makes it easy to incorporate a visit into a Hilo sightseeing itinerary. After browsing the exhibits, head just two blocks over to the famous Hilo Farmers Market for a bite to eat.

Or check out the fascinating exhibits at the nearby ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi to learn about Hawaii’s cosmic connections. Wherever your interests lie, the East Hawaii Cultural Center is an absolute must-see for insight into the island’s diverse arts scene.

The center’s operating hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-4pm. Admission is free for all exhibits, though donations are greatly appreciated. Be sure to check the events calendar on the EHCC’s website to see if any special cultural festivities will coincide with your visit.

Key Highlights

  • Showcases work by Big Island visual artists, artisans, and performers
  • Hosts regular classes and cultural programs for local residents
  • Convenient downtown Hilo location near farmers markets and museums
  • Free exhibit admission makes it easy to drop in when sightseeing

Drive up Mauna Kea for Jaw-Dropping Views

One of the top things to do in Hilo is make the drive up Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in Hawaii. At 13,796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea offers absolutely breathtaking views of the island that are not to be missed.

The drive up takes about an hour from Hilo. Be sure to stop at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy visitor center on the way up to learn about the research telescopes at the summit. The center also has bathrooms, a gift shop, and snacks.

As you continue the drive up, be prepared for rapidly changing weather and temperatures. The summit can be 30 degrees cooler than Hilo! Dress warmly and have rain gear handy just in case.

At the summit, on clear days you’ll be rewarded with a jaw-dropping 360 degree panorama. Gaze out over mammoth cinder cones, look down upon wispy clouds cloaking the northern slopes of Mauna Kea, and in the distance, spy Maui’s majestic summit. Watch the sunset paint the sky pink and orange.

As night falls, when the skies are dark enough, look up to see more stars than you’ve likely ever seen. Truly an awe-inspiring sight!

Two main areas on the summit provide parking and trails for exploring on foot: the visitor parking lot and the summit cinder cone parking area just below the true summit. Care should be taken walking due to the high altitude. Visitors may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches.

Take it slow and be sure to have plenty of water on hand. Remain on marked trails as the environment here is extremely fragile.

The descent back down the mountain offers a continually evolving perspective on this shield volcano and its surroundings. With wide open vistas around every turn, you’ll want to pull over frequently for photos. Be extremely cautious of other vehicles that may be driving fast around blind curves.

This drive is an absolute must-do on any trip to Hilo. Just be sure to check weather and volcanic conditions before heading up, as heavy clouds or vog can obscure what would otherwise be magnificent views on clear days.

With a little patience and luck though, you’ll be raving to everyone back home about the glorious vistas from the top of Mauna Kea!

Take a Dip at Onekahakaha Beach Park

Onekahakaha Beach Park, also known as Onekahakaha State Recreation Area, is a beautiful beach park located in Hilo, Hawaii. With soft white sand, gentle waves, and lush green hills as a backdrop, it’s an idyllic place to take a refreshing dip in the Pacific Ocean.

Swimming and Bodyboarding

The calm, shallow waters at Onekahakaha Beach make it an excellent spot for swimming and bodyboarding. The waves here aren’t huge, so it’s suitable for swimmers of all ages and skill levels. Lifeguards are on duty daily, and there are restroom facilities and outdoor showers available.

Bring your own snorkel gear and floaties and enjoy frolicking in the refreshing waters.

Recreational Facilities

In addition to swimming and beach activities, Onekahakaha Beach Park contains recreational facilities like:

  • Basketball courts
  • Volleyball nets
  • Large grassy areas perfect for picnics
  • Pavilions with BBQ grills
  • Playground equipment for kids

There’s always lots of activity happening throughout the park. Join in a casual game of beach volleyball or let the kids burn off some energy at the jungle gym playground. The facilities here allow for a full day of seaside fun.

Legendary Surfing

While the waves at Onekahakaha Beach are usually tame, strong winter swells can produce epic surf here. According to Hawaiian folklore, this beach saw the first stand-up surfing ever in Hawaii by the legendary Polynesian figure Lalo.

Surfers today can still find decent breaks along the reef when conditions allow.

Sea Turtles

If you’re lucky, you may spot endangered Honu sea turtles swimming offshore or napping on the beach at Onekahakaha. These gentle creatures are a treasured part of Hawaii’s wildlife. Be sure to give them plenty of space and refrain from touching or disturbing them if you have an encounter.

Nearby Attractions

Onekahakaha Beach Park is located right along scenic Highway 19, just a few minutes south of downtown Hilo. Nearby sights include Blue Hawaiian Helicopters for aerial tours of waterfalls and volcanoes, the historic Pacific Tsunami Museum, and popular Rainbow Falls.

There are also great options for grabbing a bite after a beach day, like Cafe Pesto and Ken’s House of Pancakes.

With plenty of amenities, mild waves, sea turtle sightings, and epic views of Mauna Kea volcano, Onekahakaha Beach Park has everything you need for an unforgettable Hawaiian beach escape. Grab your swimsuit, sunscreen, and a beach umbrella and make a splash at this Hilo paradise.

Grab Local Grinds from Hilo’s Many Cafes and Food Trucks

With its lush rainforests and thriving agriculture, it’s no surprise that Hilo offers an abundance of fresh, locally-grown produce. This bounty spills over into Hilo’s booming cafe and food truck scene, allowing visitors to sample tasty local cuisine.

Farm-to-Table Fare at Hawai’i Nui Venues

For the freshest island flavors, head to Hawai’i Nui Venues. This group operates three much-loved Hilo establishments: The Moon and Turtle, Bayfront Coffee, and Daylight Mind. Their menus spotlight ingredients from local farms, fishermen, and food artisans.

Savor papaya salad, pulled kalua pork sandwiches, macadamia nut pancakes, and more.

Rainforest-Inspired Cuisine at Bears’ Coffee

Another popular spot is Bears’ Coffee, found along the winding road to Akaka Falls. Bears’ charming setting amidst lush foliage sets the stage for their tropical dishes like guava chicken wraps, Lilikoʻi tarts, and cold-brew coffee featuring 100% Kona beans.

It’s the perfect refueling stop before or after a rainforest hike.

Filipino Food Trucks

Hilo’s large Filipino population has brought culinary influences from the Philippines to east Hawaii. From specialty trucks like What’s Crack’n and Shaka Shaka, queue up for hearty staples like adobo chicken, pancit noodles, and halo halo dessert.

These trucks often park near shopping centers, so keep an eye out when running errands!

Weekly Farmers Markets

For the full range of Hilo’s agricultural bounty, don’t miss the weekly farmers markets. The expansive market at the Mo’oheau Bandstand features over 100 vendor booths every Wednesday and Saturday. Maku‘u Market near the Hilo Airport also operates on Sundays.

Load up on tropical fruit, leafy greens, fragrant flowers, baked goods, and more!

Experience a Traditional Luau

One of the best ways to experience authentic Hawaiian culture in Hilo is by attending a luau. Luaus are traditional Hawaiian celebrations featuring food, dance, music, and storytelling. Here are some of the top luaus to check out during your visit:

A Taste of the Hawaiian Range Luau

This luau takes place on a working cattle ranch near Hilo overlooking the stunning scenery of the Mauna Kea volcano. Guests are treated to a delicious Hawaiian feast with kalua pig cooked in an underground oven. There are also demonstrations of traditional Hawaiian games, arts, and crafts.

The highlight is the electrifying Polynesian revue with thrilling fire and hula dances. With its breathtaking natural backdrop, this is an exceptionally memorable luau experience.

Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel Luau

For almost 30 years, Uncle Billy’s has been putting on an amazing luau show right along Hilo’s waterfront. Their menu features classic luau favorites like lomi salmon, poke, chicken long rice, sweet potato, and the essential kalua pig.

During the show, talented performers share various aspects of Hawaiian culture through ancient and modern hula dances and live music. This luau often books up early, so reserve your spot in advance.

A Taste of Hilo Luau

Nestled amongst lush rainforest gardens, the A Taste of Hilo Luau offers a unique farm-to-table luau experience. The ingredients for the meal are sourced from local farmers and fishermen, resulting in the freshest flavors.

While you dine, you’ll be treated to sensational Polynesian dance and music shows. And you can even learn to dance hula and make your own floral lei to take home. It’s an exceptionally interactive and family-friendly luau option.

Attending a luau is one of the ultimate ways to gain insight into Hawaiian culture and cuisine. With Hilo’s stunning natural scenery as a backdrop, it makes for an incredibly memorable experience. Be sure to book a spot at one of these exceptional luaus during your exploration of this Hawaiian paradise.


From outdoor adventures to cultural attractions to trying new cuisine, Hilo serves up authentic Hawaiian experiences that delight all the senses. With its laidback vibe and friendly local community, you’ll soon find yourself settling into the slower pace of island life.

We hope this guide gives you a great starting point to plan your own Hilo itinerary filled with waterfall visits, beach days, farmer’s market strolls, and more. Let us know if you have any other questions about what to do during your Big Island vacation!

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