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Hilo, Hawaii, United States

Out-of-this-World Hilo on the Big Island

Hawaii Island's east side harbor hamlet offers more than meets the eye

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 10.0 miles / 16.1 km
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly
 
Overview: With historic small-town charm, Hilo walks to a beat that's a contrast of culture and funk. As if it's in a time warp, Hawaii Island's capital feels like an old familiar friend—especially the quaint downtown area where repeat visitors expect things to pretty much stay the same each time they visit. And in Hilo's case, that's much of the charm.

If you're into basking on a white sandy beach and livin' la vida loca until the wee hours, you won't find that here. What you will find is a laid-back attitude and mellow pace where gardens, historic buildings, a farmers' market and plenty of tasty delights take top billing.

This guide is a combination of strolling to points of interest in downtown Hilo and then driving to a few other top visitor spots that help you really see what makes this town tick. You'll start at the beautiful bayfront Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, and then motor over to historic downtown Hilo for a walking tour. Then it's back in the car for the short drive to the town's showcase museum and a pair of delicious tasting rooms.

As you explore Hilo's streets and take in the sites, bear in mind that this tough little town has rebounded twice from destructive tsunamis that drastically altered the landscape and day-to-day life. It has bounced back just right, inviting you to sample the "good old days" every day.


Tips: If you plan on seeing both sides of remarkable Hawaii Island, consider flying into Hilo for the first few nights. While accommodations are limited, your best bet is Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and Naniloa Volcanoes Resort. Aside from abundant history and charm, Hilo is the springboard to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A preferred itinerary is to spend a day at volcanoes, spend another day exploring Hilo and then head off along the scenic Hamakua Coast to sunny Kona for a few more days. Since the east (Hilo) and west (Kona) sides of Hawaii Island are as different as night and day, it's two unique vacation experiences neatly rolled into one.

The Downtown Hilo Improvement Association has created a 21-stop self-guided walking tour of historic downtown Hilo that takes about one hour if walked continuously. Stop by to chat, ask questions and pick up a map at the Hilo Information Center at 329 Kamehameha Ave. This EveryTrail tour takes in the top stops of that tour as well as incorporating a few other spots that share Hilo's unique flavors. We encourage you to go at your own pace and spend additional time discovering and exploring what interests you the most.

While you're strolling through historic Hilo, be sure to check out the hole-in-the-wall food and beverage stops. If you're into sports, Cronies has you covered with brews and pub food. There's Bears, an incredible coffee shop with what locals claim are the best Belgian waffles outside of Belgium. Since the loco-moco was created in Hilo, Café 100 is a no-brainer for tapping into this local-style breakfast feast. Or if pastries and sweets are more your style, check out Puka Puka Kitchen. There's also Bayfront Kava for a little bit of perk-you-up java or mellow-you-out kava.

Points of Interest

Viewpoint
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Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

Aside from being the home to Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, one of the cool things about Hilo's Banyan Drive is that the city of Hilo lined the entire thoroughfare with banyan trees in 1935. Planted by famous visitors back in the 1940s and 1950s, each tree features the celeb's name and year it was planted. You'll find Babe Ruth (famous baseball player) and Richard Nixon (infamous politician) among the list.

This guide begins at one of the town's most beautiful sites. If you're driving in for the day, you'll find plenty of parking along the surrounding streets and lots. And if you're staying at either of Hilo's main hotels, this is an easy, pleasant stroll. So leave your car behind and pick it up later.

Adjacent to the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel on Banyan Drive, the 30-acre Liliuokalani Park and Gardens was built in the early 1900s and is said to be the largest such gardens outside Japan. The site was donated by Queen Liliuokalani for the purpose of creating an ornamental Japanese park honoring the many hardworking Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii Island to work the Waiakea Sugar Plantation. You'll definitely find it peaceful to stroll around this Hilo sanctuary that always seems to be quiet, regardless of how many people are wandering the paths.

Connected to the park by a footbridge, the small island of Mokuola (Coconut Island) is a great place for a picnic and some limited swimming. Because it faces the east (as does the entire park), it's one of the most pleasant spots to catch a sunrise. Before the sun comes up, you'll spot locals flinging fishnets into the ocean just on the other side of the park, catching the early morning hungry fish.

Not that much of an early bird? You can still grab some pastries and coffee at your hotel and then head over for breakfast before tackling the day. You'll take in an incredible panorama of Hilo Bayfront, downtown Hilo and the rest of Hilo Bay.

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Address: Banyan Drive in Hilo


Food/Dining
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Hilo Farmers' Market

At the west end of Banyan Drive is Lihikai Street. If driving from your hotel, take a left here and go one block to the traffic signal and make a right on Kamehameha Avenue (Highway 19). You'll pass through the traffic signal at Pauahi Street. When you reach the crosswalk with flashing lights at the Mamo Street intersection, take a right into the Hilo Information Center and parking lot. Free eight-hour parking is available here everyday--yet another reason you've got to love this town! There are other free parking options as well. But some are limited to two hours.

Walk back a few blocks to the corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue to that colorful hub of activity you drove past a few minutes earlier.

Conceived and developed in 1988, the Hilo Farmers' Market had a humble beginning with only four farmers who sold their goods from their parked cars and trucks. It has flourished to more than 200 vendors selling everything from fresh island fruits and vegetables to locally grown tropical flowers, special Big Island food products and handmade craft items. The festive outdoor atmosphere reflects the old "plantation" days of early Hilo.

Aside from the expected mango, papaya and pineapple, you can grab specialty consumables such as awa juice, coconut pastries, fresh fruit popsicles, Portuguese bread and local seafood delights.
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Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue
hilofarmersmarket.com
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Hours
Wednesday, Saturday 6am-4pm
Monday, Tuesday Thursday, Sunday 7am-4pm
Building
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Mokupapapa Discovery Center

Once you leave the market, stay on the main street of Kamehameha Avenue and you'll see shops, eateries and some cool historic buildings.

Within the S. Hata Building, the National Oceanographic Institute has constructed the Mokupapapa Discovery Center to interpret the natural science, culture and history of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding marine environment. Interactive displays, engaging 3-D models and immersive theater allow you to experience the wonder and majesty of this special ocean region.

Among the favorites are a 2,500-gallon saltwater aquarium that provides a habitat for some of the fish from the NWHI reefs. In a small alcove adjacent to the aquarium is a mock up of Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory's Pisces V submersible. Using working robot arms, you can see what it's like to be a researcher descending into the dark depths of the ocean.
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308 Kamehameha Ave.
Phone: 808-933-8184
Other Resources
Mokupapapa Discovery Center
Building
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Pacific Tsunami Center

Continue strolling along Kamehameha Avenue and you'll reach the Pacific Tsunami Museum. On April 1, 1946, and May 23, 1960, Hilo faced the horrific devastation of tsunami waves generated from earthquakes in the Aleutian Islands and South America respectively.

Built in 1930 with its parapet, fluted columns and wrought iron design, this sturdy concrete structure survived both tsunamis. It is now a museum chronicling the history of Big Island tsunamis and the resulting reconstruction of the city. You'll find interactive exhibits, documentaries, photographs, documents, videos, scientific instrumentation and art that details these monumental events. You can also listen to recordings of personal accounts from tsunami survivors.
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130 Kamehameha Ave.
Phone: 808-935-0926
Hours: Monday through Saturday 9am - 4:15pm
Other Resources
Pacific Tsunami Center
Building
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East Hawaii Cultural Center

From the Pacific Tsunami Museum, turn left on Kalakaua Street and continue a few blocks. Resembling a Hawaiian hale (house) of the 1800s with its hipped roof, the East Hawaii Cultural Center is operated by a coalition of art groups dedicated to preserving and sharing cultural, and creative and traditional arts.

Established in 1967, the galleries feature visual arts by local, national and international artists. You can view art exhibits at one of the center's three public galleries, shop for local art in the main gallery and attend performing arts events if your timing is right. Check the website to see what's on tap for the time you're in town.
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141 Kalakaua St.
Phone: (808) 961-5711
Hours: Open Mon-Sat 10am-4pm
Admission: Free
Other Resources
East Hawaii Cultural Center
Building
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Lyman Museum & Mission House

Walk left on Kinoole and then a right on Haili Street. The Lyman Museum building depicts the multicultural past in telling the story of Hawaii, its islands and its people. Here you'll discover a collection of Hawaiian artifacts, fine art and the restored home of David and Sarah Lyman. Built in 1939, the Lyman House is one of the oldest wood-frame structures on Hawaii Island.

The Island Heritage Gallery tells the story of the native Hawaiians and the immigrants who have created the unique society of Hawaii today. Here you'll see examples of the way the Hawaiian people lived, including their fishing and hunting tools made from materials they had at hand (no metal). There are wooden bowls, basketry, poi pounders, and a wood and cord framework for the typical grass-covered hales they lived in.
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276 Haili St.
Phone: 808.935.5021
Hours: Monday - Saturday 10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Admission: $10 Adults, $3 Children

Other Resources
Lyman Museum
Building
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Imiloa Astronomy Center

At this point, you'll need to head back to your car. Then you can basically backtrack your walking path. From Haili Street, take a right on Kapiolani Steet and then a right on Ponahawai Street. When you reach Komohana, take a left. Then take another left on Nowelo. Take a left on Imiloa and you've arrived.

Located on a nine-acre campus above the University of Hawaii at Hilo, this stellar 42,000-square-foot venue explores the connections between early Polynesian star navigators and modern-day astronomers who stargaze to determine how life began. Imiloa's exhibits are divided into two major areas: "Origins" and "Explorations." Within each area, you'll learn about Hawaiian and scientific beliefs, theories and practices related to Maunakea, the stars and the world around us.

You'll also have access to the world's only planetarium with 3-D stereoscopic capabilities. The planetarium features its signature show, "Maunakea: Between Earth and Sky," along with new shows that rotate on a quarterly basis. Each includes a live presentation of the Hawaiian night sky. The center also hosts monthly live presentations by local astronomers that allow audiences to observe the stars and constellations. Check Imiloa's website so you can see what's up when you're visiting.
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Address: 600 Imiloa Place, Hilo, HI 96720
Phone: (808) 969-9700
Hours: Open Tue-Sun 9am-4pm
Admission: Adult $17.50 and Children 4-12 $9.50
Other Resources
Imiloa Astronomy Center
Building
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Hawaii Nui Brewery

From Imiloa Astronomy Center, turn left onto Nowelo Street and then take the first left. You'll turn right onto West Lanikaula Street. You'll pass the Hilo Nursery and Arboretum on the right. Just past Mililani Street turn right onto Manono Street. Take the first left onto East Kawili Street. If you reach Mililani Street, you've gone too far. Hawaii Nui Brewing (Mehana Brewing Co.) is on the left, just after the corner building ends.

Beer aficionados will argue that there's no better way to get a true taste of Hawaii Island than by visiting the tasting room at Hawaii Nui Brewing. Hawaii's largest independent craft brewer and the only local bottler, the company boasts such favorites as Hawaii Nui Brewing Sunset Amber Ale, Hapa Brown Ale, Tsunami IPA and Southern Cross Seasonal Ale. Under its Mehana Brewing Co. label, popular picks are Volcano Red Ale, Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Humpback Blue Beer, Hawaii Lager and Alala Hawaiian Crow Porter.

Be sure to ask if they are offering samples of the Hawaii Nui Brewing Hapa Brown Ale. This bad boy took the World Beer Cup 2010 Silver Medal for American Brown Ale and the Gold Medal in the U.S. Open of Beer 2010, also in the American Brown Ale Category.
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275 E. Kawili St.
Phone: 808.934.8211
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Hours
Monday-Saturday 8:30am-5:30pm
Other Resources
Hawaii Nui Brewery
Building
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Big Island Candies

To continue onto Big Island Candies, take a left out of Hawaii Nui Brewing onto East Kawili and make a right on Manono Street. Continue on Manono until you reach Kekuanaoa, then take a right. Travel to Hinano Street, where you'll turn left. Big Island Candies is right on the corner of Kekuanaoa and Hinano.

This is what you've been waiting for! The treats at Big Island Candies are handmade with the finest ingredients, including high-grade chocolate, Island eggs and premium 100 percent Hawaii-grown macadamia nuts. After you're greeted with complimentary Kona coffee, and chocolate and cookie samples, you can tour the factory.

Don't worry about rushing out of this stop. Everyone tends to linger and find their favorites to take home from the well-stocked gift shop--macadamia nut milk chocolate, corn chip crunch bars, macadamia nut caramel clusters, guava macadamia nut cookies, chocolate-covered macadamia nut brownies and coconut shortbread cookies. Yum!

From here, you can return to Manono Street and make a right to return to Banyan Drive.
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585 Hinano St.
Phone: 800-935-5510
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am-3:45pm
Other Resources
Big Island Candies
Pictures in this guide taken by: dawna.robertson, Credit: Dawna L. Robertson, Credit: Hilo Farmers Market, Credit: Mokupapapa Discovery Center, Credit: Pacific Tsunami Center, Credit: East Hawaii Cultural Center, Credit: Lyman Museum and Mission House, Credit: Hawaii Nui Brewery

Out-of-this-World Hilo on the Big Island Map


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About the Author

dawna.robertson
dawna.robertson
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Dawna L. Robertson is a freelance travel writer who splits her residential stays between San Diego and...

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