DescriptionThe Hawai‘i Island capital, this beautiful town on the shore of crescent-shaped Hilo Bay sits on the island's eastern side. With its lush tropical surroundings, historic charm, laid-back rhythms and close proximity to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (about 30 miles away), Hilo would presumably be a tourist hot spot brimming with resorts and condos. Not so. And the reason can be summed up in one soggy word: rain. It falls here in abundance (about 130 inches per year), and most visitors unwilling to chance a vacation rainout stick to the sunny Kona coast instead.
Even if you don't stay in town, it's well worth spending at least 1 day (preferably 2) exploring Hilo, the Hāmākua Coast to the north, and the Puna area to the south. You'll find a few modern hotels along the Hilo waterfront, as well as smaller motels and B&Bs scattered around town. One-way drive time from Kailua-Kona is roughly 2 hours. Hilo International Airport handles flights to the city. Cruise ships doing the Hawai‘i circuit dock 2 miles south of the historic downtown area; take a taxi ($12 to $16) or ask your ship's shore excursion desk about shuttle transportation.
Along downtown's Kamehameha Avenue, colorful historic buildings house souvenir shops, boutiques, jewelers, galleries and restaurants. The area is easily doable on foot, and a bit of exploration will undoubtedly turn up some shopping gems. In the fine art department, check out Dreams of Paradise Gallery (308 Kamehameha Ave. #106), which deals in exceptional works by local painters, sculptors and photographers.
For unique aloha shirts and island wear for women, look no further than the ever-popular Sig Zane (122 Kamehameha Ave., next to the Pacific Tsunami Museum). All of the clothing is designed by Zane, quality is high, and so are the prices. Basically Books (160 Kamehameha Ave.) is the go-to spot for Hawai‘i-related books and maps, including USGS topographic maps for the entire state.
The must-do Hilo Farmers Market takes place daily beginning at 7 a.m. at the corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue. The so-called “big days” are Wednesday and Saturday, when the market hosts more than 200 local farmers, florists and crafts dealers and opens an hour earlier. On all market days, the event usually winds down around 4 p.m.
Forgot your toothbrush? Lack a rain jacket? If you need everyday essentials, south of the airport along SR 11 are supermarkets and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.
Back at the waterfront, outrigger canoes glide across glassy Hilo Bay (protected by a breakwater). Locals and tourists alike stroll along Banyan Drive (the location of Hilo's major hotels), a shady, curving lane lined with more than 50 stately banyan trees. The leafy behemoths were planted in the 1930s, '40s and '50s by visiting celebrities, politicians and other famous folk, and each tree is named for the person who planted it. At the foot of each banyan you'll see wooden signs bearing names like Cecil B. DeMille, Amelia Earhart, Franklin Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Louis Armstrong and Richard Nixon. Also along Banyan Drive you'll find the pretty Lili‘uokalani Gardens .
On the north side of town flows the Wailuku River. From the historic downtown area, drive west on Waiānuenue Avenue through residential neighborhoods to see the Boiling Pots pools and Waiānuenue (Rainbow Falls), both of which are in the river's upper reaches .
Hilo's plentiful rainfall creates ideal agricultural conditions. In addition to sustaining papaya and macadamia nut orchards, the area has become the center of Hawai‘i's orchid industry. Akatsuka Orchid Gardens , about 24 miles south in the village of Volcano, produces many types of orchids and other tropical plants and flowers.
In early or mid-April the Merrie Monarch Festival, held at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Tennis Stadium and the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, celebrates Hawaiian culture with craft shows, concerts, a parade, a hula competition and more.
Visitor InfoIsland of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau: East Hawai‘i Office 101 Aupuni St., Suite 238 HILO, HI 96720. Phone:(808)961-5797 or (800)648-2441
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