The Hilo region is blessed with dramatic waterfalls, fertile rainforests and blooming gardens; the geographic flipside of the volcanic Kohala Coast. Home to Hilo International Airport, Hilo is also the gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park located 45 minutes south.
A busy farming and fishing area in early times, Hilo evolved into a commercial center for the sugar industry in the 1800’s. Downtown Hilo was built around its crescent-shaped bay and became the seat of county government. In 1946 and 1960 the town was nearly swallowed by a tsunami. But Hilo’s waterfront was rebuilt and today Hilo is a vibrant town, home to great museums (Imiloa Astronomy Center, Lyman Museum, Pacific Tsunami Museum), art galleries (East Hawaii Cultural Center), unique shops (Sig Zane Designs, Big Island Candies, Hilo Hattie, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory) and perennial favorites like the Hilo Farmers Market. Hilo’s newest world-class attraction, the Imiloa Astronomy Center, is housed beneath three striking titanium cones representing the three largest mountains on Hawaii Island. Interactive exhibits include a “walk” through a koa (native hardwood) forest and an IMAX-style movie presentation that makes viewers feel like they’re flying through space. Hilo offers natural beauty too. Serene Liliuokalani Gardens is right on Banyan Drive near Hilo’s major hotels.
The northeastern coast of Hawaii Island is the wetter side of the island, so you’ll also find many natural wonders here including Waianuenue, also known as Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots in Wailuku River State Park, beautiful parks like Liliuokalani Gardens and Wailoa River State Park (home to the 2nd King Kamehameha Statue on Hawaii Island; the original resides in Kapaau in North Kohala), as well as many botanical gardens and orchid farms. Visit the nation's only rainforest zoo, Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, to see a collection of exotic plants and animals, including Namaste, a regal white Bengal tiger.
Roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes from Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) and on the polar opposite side of the island, Hilo is also a convenient place to stay if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A visit to Hilo is worth the trip to experience an authentic taste of Hawaii Island.