The Best 10 Things to Do in Hilo

Updated July 2, 2021.

Happy Aloha Friday! It’s also Flyaway Friday here on the blog, and this week we’re setting our sights on beautiful Hilo, Hawaii! We only spent one day in Hilo, but I wish we’d spent at least one more day–so consider that for your trip! We did hit the highlights in this cute, seaside town, and I’ve listed them here for you!

10. Naha Stone

The Naha Stone is a 3.5 ton boulder. An ancient prophecy claimed that a new ruler would be able to move the stone by himself. Legend has it the future King Kamehameha did that when he was in his 30s. It looks like a bench, but please don’t sit on it! It is sacred to the Hawaiians, so that would be very disrespectful. You can find it in front of the library in town.

The Naha Stone
Keep reading: Road Tripping on the Island of Hawai’i

9. Rainbows

Hilo is on the rainy side of the island. This makes it a prime place to spot rainbows. Check out this one right outside our hotel, over looking Hilo Bay and downtown Hilo!

Rainbow over Hilo
Keep reading: 10 Reasons to Visit the Island of Hawai’i

8. Volcanoes National Park

This is about 45 minutes west of Hilo, but it’s definitely an easy day trip from Hilo, or perhaps a great stopping point on your way to or from Hilo if you’re making your way around the island. It’s a huge national park, but easy to get around by car, on foot, or by bicycle. If you’re lucky, you’ll see surface flow! But even if the lava isn’t visible from the surface, it’s active down below! We learned so much about volcanoes and how different they are than we thought, and we got to walk through a lava tube in a lush forest, just steps away from a volcano crater!

That smoke is from 2000-degree LAVA!
Read on: Hawaii’s Best Adventures

7. Queen Liliuokalani Gardens and Coconut Island

Queen Liliuokalani was Hawaii’s last reigning monarch. She donated the land for this garden in the early 20th century, and it’s a Japanese-style garden and park to honor the Japanese who came to work on Hawaii’s plantations in the 19th century. Nearby Coconut Island is connected by a bridge and has its own interesting history; my favorite piece of its history is that it used to be a quarantine location! We saw sea turtles and colorful fish there, so be on the lookout!

Queen Liliuokalani Gardens
Sea turtle-infested waters off of Coconut Island. Also watch for falling coconuts!
More here: Hawaii for History Lovers

6. Reeds Bay

Speaking of beautiful water, be sure to check out Reeds Bay, in front of the Grand Naniloa Hilton. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and we saw sea turtles and fish there, too!

The view from our hotel in Hilo!
More here: The Best Hawaiian Souvenirs

5. Akaka Falls

Just 30 minutes north of Hilo is beautiful Akaka Falls. You can go in any time from sunrise to sunset, but their official hours are 8:30am-6:00pm. We went before 8:30, and there was a shadow across the tallest free falling waterfall in the USA. Still beautiful, but maybe go a little later for better photos!

Akaka Falls
Essential info: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Hawaii

4. Residents’ Commitment to Keep Going

Hilo and its surrounding area has been the site of lava flows, tsunamis, and earthquakes, but they have such a determined, happy to be there attitude. A testament to that is the clock that now stands as a memorial to those who died and those who survived the 1960 tsunami, triggered by the largest earthquake ever recorded–9.5 on the Richter Scale in Chile. It stopped at 1:04 am, the minute the tsunami struck. They chose not to fix it, but instead use it as a reminder and a memorial.

Additionally, lava flow is a very real and present threat. It’s a slow-moving natural disaster, so they have time to get out of the lava flow area, but it’s also an unstoppable natural disaster. You can’t really divert the flow, since it melts everything in its path. Our guides on the lava boat tour both lost their childhood homes to the lava, but now it’s their livelihood–they take people to see it! That’s a positive, keep moving forward kind of attitude.

The clock stopped at the exact time the tsunami hit
Read on: What to Know Before You Visit the Island of Hawai’i

3. Pacific Tsunami Museum

Speaking of the 1960 tsunami, I highly recommend the Pacific Tsunami Museum in an old bank building in downtown Hilo. The museum is well-organized and interactive, and the volunteers are more than happy to answer questions and tell you all about various tsunamis around the world. It’s a lot to take in, so be prepared for a heavy hour or two.

Ready for the Tsunami Museum!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the Hawaiian Islands

2. Rainbow Falls

Just three miles from downtown Hilo, you can walk here or drive. Prime time is around 10:00 am to see the namesake rainbow across the falls, but it’s often cloudy here, like the day we went, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see the rainbow. It’s still worth the trip! Also don’t be daunted by tour buses bringing people from the cruise ship in the bay. They are only there about 5 minutes and will move along quickly! Just hang around for a few minutes and let them get their pictures; when they hear that bus horn honking, they’ll head out and you can get that perfect shot you want!

Taken on our third anniversary!
Keep reading: The Ultimate Island of Hawai’i Bucket List

 1. Lava Boat Tour

I’ll be honest, I balked a bit at the $200 per person price tag at first. But we finally decided to go for it because this is the best way to see the lava flowing into the ocean (the pictures I saw from the helicopter tours that fly by were mostly smokey with practically no lava to see, and they’re only there a minute or two at most). We chose the sunrise tour to take advantage of our jet lag! It was one of the best excursions we’ve ever done, and I highly recommend this one of a kind, once in a lifetime experience! Find out more in a upcoming blog post!

Sunrise from the boat
Get the whole story: How to Have an Unforgettable Lava Boat Tour

In short, I highly recommend Hilo! These are just the top 10 things we did, but there are more things to do and that I wish we’d had time for! I recommend spending two days in Hilo to take your time and see the things you want to see. When is your trip?

Check out my Hawaiian Islands Page for more!

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