Greetings, Internet Stranger, and welcome to the best things to do at Hilo Hawaii. Hilo (pronounced hee-low) isn’t always the first destination that people think of when imagining a magical Hawaiian vacation. It’s the fourth-largest city in Hawaii, and the largest Hawaiian city outside of Oahu, and tourists often come to Hawaii to get away from cities.
Hilo has beaches, but they’re not as stunning as the beaches of Maui. It has nature, but it’s not as wild as the nature of Kauai. And it’s on the rainy side of the Big Island of Hawaii, so people often prefer to stay on the sunny side of the island, in Kailua-Kona.
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However, getting away from the hordes of tourists in Hawaii can be tons of fun, and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed my best things to do at Hilo Hawaii. If you like delicious foods, shopping, and learning fascinating facts about history, then Hilo is the place for you. Let’s get started!
best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
Where to Stay?
For your day of the best things to do at Hilo Hawaii, you’ll want to stay in a place that isn’t too far from downtown. But because Hilo isn’t really a beach resort destination like lots of other spots in Hawaii, your choices for hotels will be quite surprisingly affordable.
That’s why I recommend staying at the Old Hawaiian Bed and Breakfast. It has a gorgeous location within walking distance of the Boiling Pots and the Rainbow Falls. The rooms are clean and comfortable, with a nice private bathroom, which isn’t the case in every bed and breakfast in Hawaii.
Plus, the bed and breakfast provides an extraordinary breakfast every morning with fresh local produce from their garden. Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream bean? Well, you can here, and it’s just as delicious as its name implies.
If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’re looking for other hotel options in Hilo, check out these fantastic prices on many other hotels in Hilo here.
This search engine will help you find the perfect place to stay as the base for your one day in Hilo. With hundreds of options to choose from, I’m sure you’ll find something for your schedule and budget.
best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
Morning: Explore Hilo
Hilo is an interesting city because it has both concrete and nature, shopping and waterfalls. (Apparently, Hilo is technically a census-designated place and not a city, but I am not going to keep typing out census-designated place, and everyone I met in Hilo called it a city, so that’s what we’re going with.)
If you chose to stay at the Old Hawaiian Bed and Breakfast, this is really easy because both the Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots, where we will start our best things to do at Hilo Hawaii day, are just a short walk away from the bed and breakfast. But if you decided to stay somewhere else, no worries! This is still an easy itinerary to follow. So let’s get started with our…
Approximately Top 5: best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
1) Rainbow Falls
Many tour groups stop at Rainbow Falls on circle tours of the Big Island, so if you did one of those tours out of Kona, you might have stopped here already. (I did.) However, it’s less likely that your group would have stopped at the Boiling Pots, which are fairly nearby. (Mine didn’t.)
Plus, the Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots are connected by one mythical story about Maui, the demi-god who was voiced by Duane “The Rock” Johnson in Moana. Are you grateful for that information? Well, what can I say except, “You’re welcome!”
It’s nice to visit the Rainbow Falls at the start of your best things to do at Hilo Hawaii day because if it’s sunny, not guaranteed in Hilo, you might be able to see a gorgeous rainbow in the falls. Legend has it that Maui’s mother was trapped in the caves behind the Rainbow Falls by a giant lizard and Maui had to rescue her. Let’s bring that legend on over to the Boiling Pots.
2) Boiling Pots
It’s hard to get the weather for this itinerary exactly perfect because you want to visit the Rainbow Falls on a sunny day, but it’s more exciting to visit the Boiling Pots, which you can see in my photo above, on a rainy day because then they’ll be overflowing.
I came here on an extremely rainy morning, and as you can see, the Boiling Pots were bubbling over with excitement. Sometimes people ask me if it was difficult to visit Hawaii by myself because it’s such a popular honeymoon destination. But I say no because if I’d gone with a husband, he probably wouldn’t have let me walk for twenty minutes in the pouring rain just to see these pots.
Anyway, let’s continue the legend of Maui. He chased the giant lizard here and, with the help of Pele the fire goddess, he zapped that giant lizard into oblivion. Apparently the fire goddess powers is what turned the river into boiling pots. I wonder where the giant lizard corpse went? Is it decaying under the river somewhere? Someone needs to answer this very important questions.
3) Farmer’s Market
We’ll continue our best things to do at Hilo Hawaii day back in downtown Hilo. Farmer’s markets seem like a really big deal in Hawaii, but that makes sense since they have access to so much amazing produce. Unlike some farmer’s markets, the Hilo Farmer’s Market is open every day! Yay!
The Farmer’s Market has plenty of assorted produce, including something called an apple banana, which is neither an apple nor a banana. (I kid, they’re actually extremely delicious bananas.)
However, the market also sells other goods like soap made with Hawaiian coffee and earrings made with ethically harvested butterfly wings. (Those were the two souvenirs I purchased because soap is always useful, and I make a point of collecting earrings in every city I visit.) I’m sure you’ll find something equally delightful to take home.
4) Liliuokalani Gardens
If it’s not raining too hard, which isn’t guaranteed in Hilo, head to the Liliuokalani Gardens, which are lovely and free to visit. These are named after Queen Liliuokalani, who was the last monarch of Hawaii. They’re famous for their Japanese-style gardens, which you can see in my photo above. Want to try that again from another angle?
Here you go! These gardens were built to honor the Japanese immigrants who have contributed so much to Hawaii. Hawaii remains a very popular travel destination for Japanese tourists, and you can find amazing Japanese food all over the state.
Do you also like insane trees that look like their roots are growing skyward and about to choke out the sun? Then these gardens are for you!
From the gardens, it’s just a short walk to Coconut Island, where they refused to give me any coconuts. It used to be populated, but no one lives on this island anymore because it was destroyed in 1960 by a tsunami. Tsunamis really are the worst.
5) Lunch at Hilo Bay Cafe
Hilo Bay Cafe is an excellent restaurant both because of its delicious food and its amazing views. If you go on a weekday for lunch, it probably won’t be crowded and you’ll be able to enjoy a balcony view of the water while you sip on your spicy Bootlegger cocktail.
This is as relaxing as life gets!
The Hilo Bay Cafe has excellent desserts, and I wanted to save room, so for my main course, I just got this tataki salad, full of fresh tuna and vegetables. I felt brimming with health and Vitamin B12 when I was finished.
But we don’t want to feel healthy for too long, so let’s indulge in a real volcano cake that actually looks like a volcano. Isn’t that an adorable concept? And it was as rich and decadent as it was beautiful.
best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
Afternoon: Lyman Museum
Outside of Honolulu, I didn’t experience a ton of museums in Hawaii. After all, people come to Hawaii to enjoy the sun and surf, not to be indoors looking at old rocks. So the Lyman Museum, dedicated to Hawaiian history and culture, is a welcome exception.
This museum has three separate sections. One is dedicated to Hawaii’s natural features, landscape, and animals. (Yes, if you read my article on Kona, our old friend Lava Tube makes an appearance.) The second is dedicated to Hawaiian history and culture, and it is by far the largest section.
Plus, for a small extra fee, you can take a tour of the Lyman Mission House, which is the oldest wooden building on the Island of Hawaii (aka the Big Island.) I strongly recommend doing the extra tour.
So, without further ado, let me give you a virtual tour of this excellent museum with…
Three Fascinating Facts: Lyman Museum
1) What’s the Most Interesting Exhibit?
That’s subjective, but for me it was the Mission House, which is the sort of building you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else in the United States. You can’t take photos inside, but I found the stories so interesting that I remembered many of them.
The Lyman family were a family of missionaries who came to Hawaii, settled down, and often married locals. Their descendants still live in Hawaii today. The artifact in the house that I was the most interested in was the earthquake diary that the women in the family kept. Hawaii has many earthquakes, and these diaries, with their detailed information about the strength and behavior of these earthquakes, have been enormously helpful to historians and scientists. Sisters! Are Doing it For Themselves! (Fighting Earthquakes!)
2) OK, What was this about Lava Tube?
Back in the Lyman Museum, you can head to the floor displaying Hawaii’s natural treasures, which naturally includes Lava Tube. Sadly, it isn’t real Lava Tube, but rather an artificial creation. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t walk back and forth through Faux Lava Tube several times.
I also learned that there are two main types of lava. The first is pahoehoe, which flows like a river and cools smoothly. The second is ‘a’a, which moves much more slowly and has a chunky surface. So if we ever get caught by an overflowing volcano and are about to be smothered to death by lava, we’ll be able to identify the substance that is killing us.
24 Hour Treasure
Don’t miss the chance to see Orlymantite, which is one of the rarest minerals in the world. It was named after Orlando Lyman, the former director of the museum, after it was discovered in his collection. This is the only Orlymantite ever located on the planet, so it would be a really good idea for someone to make an exciting heist movie about the theft of Orlymantite from this not terribly well guarded museum, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Hollywood, I give you this idea for free. And all I ask is ten percent off the gross.
3) Hey, wasn’t that singer who did “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from Hawaii?
Ah, you’re talking about the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, who indeed did a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” using the ukelele. However, there’s a lot more to Hawaiian culture than that, which you can learn all about on the top floor of the Lyman Museum.
One of my favorite exhibits was about the origin of the Hawaiian Pidgin language–not to be confused with the Hawaiian language. Workers from all over the world came to labor in the Hawaiian sugar plantations. Because they all had different languages, ranging from English to Hawaiian to Japanese to Portuguese, the owners thought it would be impossible for them to organize for better working conditions.
However, the laborers eventually developed their own language, which was an amalgam of all the different languages that they spoke. Hawaiian Pidgin is still widely spoken in Hawaii today, though I don’t know of any people who aren’t from Hawaii who speak it.
Also, don’t forget to pay tribute to King David, also known as the Merrie Monarch. He was the King of Hawaii in the 19th century, and he was famous for reviving lost Hawaiian arts like the hula. He also supported Hawaiian arts and music as much as he could.
That’s why the Merrie Monarch festival of music and dance is still conducted every year in his honor. If you’re lucky enough to be in Hawaii during this festival, please do check it out.
24 Hour Treat: Sugar Coast Candy
There will be a little time in between your adventure at the museum and dinner, and I suggest that you go shopping! There are many wonderful stores in Hilo, like Turn the Page, which is an excellent used bookstore. If you’re looking for fine art made by local artists, I recommend One Gallery, where I bought a beautiful wall hanging.
However, my favorite store was Sugar Coast Candy. After all, Hawaii was famous for sugar production, so why not check out some sugar-sweet candy? This isn’t just a place you go for some Kit Kats and Hershey’s Kisses. I bought one candy that was shaped like a giant cherry but filled with marshmallow fluff, and another candy that was from Idaho and shaped like a potato, but actually made with chocolate.
So head over to Sugar Coast Candy and see what kind of candy adventures you can find on your best things to do at Hilo Hawaii day
best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
Evening: Dinner at Moms
Moms is a super cozy local place in downtown Hilo. I strongly recommend going here for friendly staff and yummy Japanese and other Asian food. Also, that’s no typo. There’s no apostrophe in Moms. So I assume it’s not a place that belongs to Mom, but rather a room that contains multiple moms.
One thing I appreciated about Moms is that when they say that a dish is spicy, it’s actually spicy. Hawaiian food is delicious, but it’s not often spicy, and I love spicy food, so I sometimes get cravings. That’s why I started with a spicy margarita…
And I paired that with some equally spicy dandan noodles, which are a popular Sichuan dish.
Moms is famous for its creative sushi, so I opted for the spicy tuna roll. Again, actually spicy, and raw tuna in Hawaii is always a treat.
The waitress was so nice to me and curious about my travels to Hawaii alone. At the end of the meal, she offered me an off-menu dessert that they don’t always offer called haupia pie. This sweet treat is made with lots of coconut, and it’s the perfect end to a spicy meal. It’s also the perfect end to our best things to do at Hilo Hawaii day
best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
Tools For Travel
- A cell phone charger so you can take photos throughout your best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
- My favorite guidebook to the Big Island, including Hilo
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- The most reliable travel umbrella that is small enough to fit in my purse, but strong enough to stand up to powerful winds during our best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
- These great TSA approved clear toiletries bags, so I can always keep spare toothpaste and travel sized toiletries in any carry-on.
That’s the best things to do at Hilo Hawaii
What would you do with the best things to do at Hilo Hawaii? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Hilo now? Were you excited about the return of Lava Tube? Please email me at email@example.com and let me know.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should only spend one day with the best things to do at Hilo Hawaii. If you’re also looking for itineraries in Honolulu, I have you covered here and here.