Hilo, Hawaii Guide

Hilo, Hawaii Guide
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Address , Hilo, HI 96720
Complete guide to the city of Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii.

• General: Educational • General: Guide • General: History

Guide Series: Hawaii City Guides
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Hilo Location

The town of Hilo is located on the eastern side of Hawaii's Big Island. Connecting areas like Kailua-Kona on the west side of the island to Hilo is Saddle Road. What most people don't realize is that the Big Island is really big and the drive between east and west coasts will easily take 1.5 hours.

To the north of Hilo is Papaikou and Pepeekeo which are accessed along the main north / south road known as the Mamalahoa Highway. To the south are towns like Keaau, Kurtistown, and Mountain View to name a few.

The center of Hilo is on a bay known as Hilo Bay which can be best seen across from downtown at Hilo Bayfront Beach Park.

Hilo is the county seat for the "County of Hawaii" which emcompasses the entire island. There are approximately 50,000 residents that occupy the city and surrounding neighborhoods. Hilo has far more rain than Kailua-Kona (about 120" inches annually) which makes the area wetter and greener overall.

The main airport is Hilo International Airport (ITO) and the area is the commercial center of the Big Island and is Hawaii's third largest city (Honolulu on O'ahu is the largest). It's also home to a thriving University of Hawaii campus with a diverse international student base.

Hilo History

The first Polynesians are thought to have inhabited Hilo in 1100 AD. There is little written history that far back, but petroglyphs (like those on the Malama Petroglyph Trail / Puako Petroglyph Preserve) and oral history help tell the story of Hilo's past.

The first missionaries came here in the early 1800's and built several churches, many of which still exist today. Nearby sugar plantations soon developed, which stimulated the growth of the area with immigrant farm workers from Asia. For more on that, be sure to read Sugar in Hawaii.

The Hilo side of the Big Island has been hit with several tsunamis over the years. In 1946, a 7.8 earthquake from the Aleutian Islands created a 46-foot Tsunami, creating a wall of water which devastating the town and killing 160 people. In 1960, a Chilean earthquake registering 9.5 on the Richter Scale killed 61 people. It was thought lives could have been saved if residents evacuated the low lying areas after the early warning sirens wailed.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center was developed in 1949 after the devastation of the 1946 Tsunami. You can learn more about this at the Pacific Tsunami Museum.

Today, the Laupahoehoe Memorial Park is dedicated to the memory of 20 students and 4 teachers lost their lives from the 1946 Tsunami.

Hilo Attractions

Hilo's most popular annual event is the Merrie Monarch Festival, which is a celebration of Hawaii's past and present with a week long festival with crafts, activities and Hula competition.

Richardson's Ocean Park is one of the better beach parks in Hilo with great snorkeling, shady areas, and picnic tables. There is very little sandy beach sections, but the rocky shoreline is quite beautiful and an offshore seawall minimizes the ocean surge, which helps make it ideal for snorkeling.

Onekahakaha Beach Park is a sheltered lagoon ideal for children and apprehensive adults. A really nice beach for swimming, snorkeling, and playing with the kids. This is one of the places to visit when conditions are rough at the other beach parks.

Carlsmith Beach Park is a beautiful beach park with subterranean ponds that flow to the ocean.

Although not in Hilo, consider a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which is located 45 minutes south of Hilo. This really shouldn't be missed when visiting the Big Island and, if possible, try to view the lava flow at dusk or early evening.

Explore Kaumana Caves which are ancient lava tubes you can walk through. Be sure to bring a flashlight (or make sure the batteries on your cell phone are charged). It's fun to explore, a bit damp, but refreshing to on a hot day.

Walk around the historic downtown district and enjoy one of the Island's best farmer's market at the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings.

Enjoy the beautiful Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, which is 30 acres of Japanese garden with fish ponds, gazebos and bridges. It's a lovely, peaceful place to relax and zen out.

Bring your camera and visit Akaka Falls State Park, which is 11 miles north of town and has a beautiful one mile walking path looping along lush tropical fauna with a spectacular view of the waterfall. Other waterfalls to visit near Hilo include Kahuna Falls and Rainbow Falls.

View all that Hilo has to offer here.

Hilo Fun Facts

The word Hilo in Hawaiian means to "twist" or "braid".