If you’re looking for things to do in Hilo, look no further. Hilo is the largest city on Hawaii’s Big Island and is also home to one of the giant volcanoes in the world. It has numerous outstanding recreational opportunities, from beaches to hiking trails and even ziplining at night!
Here are 12 things to do in Hilo that will leave you with memories for a lifetime:
1) Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo
Located in Hilo near Rainbow Falls, this is a great place to see native animals. The zoo is free and has an aquarium and petting zoo for kids, but it also has plenty of activities for adults!
There’s a train ride, walking trails through different terrains (including lava tubes), a butterfly garden, and more to explore at this unique spot. The zoo is open every day except Friday from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm.
The zoo is free to enter, but you can donate if you’d like, and there are many ways to help the animals.
2) Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is a great place to learn more about the devastating tsunami that hit the Hawaiian Islands in 1946.
The museum has an exhibit of books, pictures from this terrible event, and videos of survivors telling their stories. There are also interactive displays where you can learn about how tsunamis form and how to prepare yourself for one.
If you visit Hilo in late September or early October (during the Great Aloha Run), there will be an official opening ceremony with live entertainment and food vendors on site. This is an excellent time to check out the museum because it’s fun and festive!
The museum charges $8 for adults and $4 for children and is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Some special exhibits are only available for a few days, so check the website.
3) Liliuokalani Park and Gardens
Liliuokalani Park and Gardens is a beautiful park with Japanese gardens located in Hilo, Hawaii. The park is named after Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii before the islands were annexed by the United States.
The park has many trees, flowers, and ponds where you can go fishing or swimming. It’s a great place to get away from everything else and relax for a while!
4) Rainbow falls
Rainbow Falls are a short walk from downtown Hilo. The falls drop into a large pool and continue down a series of waterfalls.
The area has been called Rainbow Falls since the early 1900s when local residents believed they saw rainbows forming over it during heavy rains.
However, this phenomenon only occurs when there’s enough mist to reflect light off droplets of water in clouds above, making it seem like there are rainbow-colored skies overhead instead!
5) Merrie Monarch Festival
In case you haven’t heard, the Merrie Monarch Festival is one of the most famous cultural events in all of Hawai’i. It’s a week-long spring competition in Hilo, which draws hundreds of dancers and thousands of spectators from all across the state.
While it’s a bit out there to just show up at an event like this if you want to participate as an audience member or participant, here are some tips:
- Come during spring break. The festival takes place during the last week in April (but check their website for exact dates). This is prime tourist season on Big Island, so expect crowds at all the main attractions. You’ll want to get your hotel room booked early if possible!
- Wear comfortable clothing that’s easy to move around, and don’t forget a rain jacket or umbrella for rainy days! There are many grassy fields where people set up campsites and tents nearby; bring something comfortable enough for sleeping outdoors if that’s what you prefer with your time away from home!
6) Imiloa Astronomy Center
Imiloa is a non-profit institution that offers educational experiences in astronomy, Polynesian culture, and the Hawaiian language.
The center exhibits Hawaii’s natural history, geologic formations, and native plants. Imiloa is open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Admission costs $19 for adults, $17 for seniors age 55+, and $12 for children 5–12 years old.
Though most activities take place inside Imiloa’s two buildings, one houses interactive exhibits on various topics, including astronomy, Hawaiian culture, and science.
On the other building is a planetarium, which offers daily shows about Hawaii’s sky. You can also buy food and drinks at the café inside.
7) Hilo Farmers Market
The Hilo Farmers Market is a great place to visit if you’re looking for souvenirs or fresh produce.
I’ve never been personally, but it’s been on my list of things since moving here two years ago.
The market has more than 120 vendors who sell everything from fresh produce, flowers and plants, baked goods, and sweets to clothing, jewelry, and other unique items.
If you want some souvenir swag that isn’t part of the tourist trap circuit (and isn’t made in China), this is where you should be shopping!
8) Kaumana Cave Park
Kaumana Cave Park is a popular attraction for local and foreign tourists alike. The park is home to several caves, including the famous Kaumana Cave.
There are hiking trails that wind through the park and lead to the various caves, which range in size from small lava tubes to large chambers.
It’s one of my favorite places on Oahu because it feels like getting away from everything while still being close enough to civilization that you can get back to it quickly if need be.
9) Mauna Kea Summit Adventure Tour
If you’re looking for a thrill, this tour is for you. The Mauna Kea Summit Adventure Tour is an activity that takes hikers to the summit of one of Earth’s tallest mountains, Mauna Kea.
As part of the tour, you will hike and sled down snow-covered slopes while learning about Hawaiian history.
The tour starts with a short drive from Hilo to the base camp, where guides provide warm clothing and equipment necessary for the journey.
Then it’s off on a 3-kilometer hike through an alpine forest toward Pu’u Wekiu Vista Point, where guests can enjoy panoramic views before continuing another 1 mile on foot to reach Mauna Kea’s summit.
Guests then have free time or choose from optional activities such as snowshoeing or snorkeling into lava tubes before returning by van to Hilo.
This tour is perfect for children over seven who can walk 3 miles uphill without assistance; younger children should be accompanied by adults who can carry them if needed.
10) Volcano National Park
Volcano National Park is a must-visit for anyone in Hilo and one that you won’t regret. Here, you can hike the volcano or simply explore on your own.
There are also several fun activities around the park, including visiting an active lava tube, taking a helicopter tour over the Kilauea Volcano caldera to see its current activity firsthand, or catching a movie at The Theater in the Clouds.
If you’re looking for something unique and memorable, this national park offers just that!
11) Hawai’i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden
The Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden is a great place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can enjoy lovely views and plants such as papaya trees, breadfruit trees, and many others. The Garden has been around since 1961 and has over 2500 species of tropical plants on display!
The Botanical Garden is located in Onomea Bay, so it’s easy to get there by car or bus if you’re staying in Hilo for more than a day.
The Garden is open every day from 9 am-5 pm. Adults pay $25, and Children 6–16 pay $12.
12) Richardson Ocean Park
The Richardson Ocean Park is located east of Hilo, a great place to enjoy breathtaking ocean views. Here, you can also see marine life, such as dolphins and turtles!
The black sand beach closest to Hilo is suitable for snorkeling and swimming. The tide pools are calm, the water’s clear enough that you can easily see fish swimming around in it, and if you want shade while having a picnic at the ocean (who doesn’t?), there are plenty of palm trees nearby.
The park is open every day from 7 am-7 pm.
Bonus: Carlsmith Beach Park
Carlsmith Beach Park is one of Hilo’s best places to swim and have fun. It’s located on Kalanianaole St, just south of town.
The park has excellent facilities, including a playground and picnic area. You can also participate in other activities, such as camping, biking, or hiking.
You can park at the main entrance and walk down the shoreline to get to the beach.
Or, if you prefer, you can drive your car down one of the parking lots and unload there.
The park has plenty of parking spaces for vehicles, and picnic tables are available for those who wish to enjoy a meal or snack.
The park also has restrooms and showers, so you can clean up before or after your swim.
What is Hilo Hawaii known for?
Hilo is a unique place, and many things make it special. These include:
- The volcanoes: Hilo is home to two active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. They’re both accessible via tour or hiking but visible everywhere in the city.
- Agriculture: Hawaiians have been cultivating crops on this island since the time of their ancestors (the first people who arrived here brought taro plants with them). Today, tourism brings in money that supports local farms and food companies.
- Local food: This may go without saying, but Hilo has some delicious restaurants!
Is it worth visiting Hilo, Hawaii?
Is it worth visiting Hilo, Hawaii? If you’re looking for a place with many things to do and see, then yes.
Hilo is home to numerous museums, galleries, parks, and other attractions that will keep you busy for weeks, if not months, on end.
But if you’re the type of person who needs nightlife and good restaurants to feel like they’ve been somewhere unique, then I would say no.
There are some decent bars in town, but not much else at night compared to other Hawaiian destinations such as Waikiki Beach or Kailua-Kona.
Is Hilo better than Kona?
Kona wins hands-off in the nightlife category, but Hilo still has a lot of things to do. The museums and parks are great for families or those looking for cultural experiences, and many guided tours can take you around town.
Kona also has a better climate s, but Hilo has a more laid-back vibe and is a great place to relax.
Ultimately all depends on the kind of vacation you’re looking for:
- If it’s an active and adventurous trip, then Kona is the place for you.
- If you want to relax by the beach or spend time exploring a historic city, Hilo might be more your speed.
We hope this article has provided some excellent ideas for planning your next trip. We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide and that it has given you some great ideas for your next vacation. Please comment below if we missed any great places to visit in Hawaii.