Hilo, HI | Cruise port of call | CruiseBe
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Hilo, HI

Hilo is a town on the Big Island of Hawaii. The county seat and largest city in Hawaii County, Hilo is one of the best starting points to explore the eastern half of the island, including

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


Although the largest city on the Big Island, Hilo is a small city with a relaxed pace of life. It is on the rainier, less touristy east side of the island, and the city itself is not a huge draw for tourists, but there is an excellent farmers' and craftsmen's market on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and in addition to the attractions within city limits, there is good snorkeling nearby, extremely lush botanic gardens in the area and Volcanoes National Park is a splendid day trip.


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Hilo, HI

Hilo is a town on the Big Island of Hawaii. The county seat and largest city in Hawaii County, Hilo is one of the best starting points to explore the eastern half of the island, including

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


Although the largest city on the Big Island, Hilo is a small city with a relaxed pace of life. It is on the rainier, less touristy east side of the island, and the city itself is not a huge draw for tourists, but there is an excellent farmers' and craftsmen's market on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and in addition to the attractions within city limits, there is good snorkeling nearby, extremely lush botanic gardens in the area and Volcanoes National Park is a splendid day trip.


Around 1100 AD, the first Hilo inhabitants arrived, bringing with them Polynesian knowledge and traditions. Although archaeological evidence is scant, oral history has many references to people living in Hilo, along the Wailuku and Wailoa rivers during the time of ancient Hawaii. Oral history also gives the meaning of Hilo as "to twist".

Originally, the name "Hilo" applied to a district encompassing much of the east coast of the island of Hawaiʻi, now divided into the District of South Hilo and the District of North Hilo. When William Ellis visited in 1823, the main settlement in the Hilo district was Waiākea on the south shore of Hilo Bay. Missionaries came to the district in the early-to-middle 19th century, founding Haili Church, in the area of modern Hilo.

Hilo expanded as sugar plantations in the surrounding area created new jobs and drew in many workers from Asia, making the town a trading center.

A breakwater across Hilo Bay was begun in the first decade of the 20th century and completed in 1929. On April 1, 1946, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake near the Aleutian Islands created a 46-foot-high (14 m) tsunami that hit Hilo 4.9 hours later, killing 160 people. In response, an early warning system, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, was established in 1949 to track these killer waves and provide the warning. This tsunami also caused the end of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway, and instead, the Hawaii Belt Road was built north of Hilo using some of the old railbeds.

On May 23, 1960, another tsunami, caused by a 9.5 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile the previous day, claimed 61 lives, allegedly due to the failure of people to heed warning sirens. Low-lying bayfront areas of the city on Waiākea peninsula and along Hilo Bay, previously populated, were rededicated as parks and memorials.

Hilo expanded inland beginning in the 1960s. The downtown found a new role in the 1980s as the city's cultural center with several galleries and museums being opened; the Palace Theater was reopened in 1998 as an arthouse cinema.

Closure of the sugar plantations (including those in Hāmākua) during the 1990s led to a downturn in the local economy, coinciding with a general statewide slump. Hilo in recent years has seen commercial and population growth, as the neighboring District of Puna became the fastest-growing region in the state.


Hilo has a mild, somewhat muggy subtropical climate, with a lot of rain. In fact, January and February are the only months with less than 20 rainy days on average.

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Hilo, HI: Port Information

Your cruise ship will dock at Hilo Port. The town is only a couple of minutes away.
It's better to take a taxi or a bus; walking is not really a good idea (there is no shade, and the area is industrial).
You can catch a Hele-On Bus to the center outside the main exit of the dock. Also, there is a free bus to Walmart, where you can buy cheap souvenirs.  

Get around Hilo, HI

Many of Hilo's points of interest are concentrated in quite a small area in the western end of Kamehameha Avenue. There you can get around by foot easily. However, some natural attractions, beaches, and shops are a mile or more away from there.

As public transportation on Hawai`i Island is minimal, virtually all visitors rent a vehicle from one of the many rental agencies. It's a good idea to make car reservations in advance, as special events or active conditions at the Volcanoes National Park can quickly deplete the supply of available vehicles.

As an alternative, taxis are also available at the airport though renting a car is almost always more practical.

There are also a few bicycle shops on and around Kamehameha Avenue if you would like to rent a bicycle.

What to see in Hilo, HI

  • Pacific Tsunami Museum

    , 130 Kamehameha Ave, ☎ +1 808 935-0926, fax: +1 808 935-0842, e-mail: tsunami@tsunami.org. Serves as a living memorial, and a reminder for a generation yet to experience such fright. A tsunami, Japanese for "harbor waves" are a fact of life in Hawaii, especially Hilo. On 1 April 1946, and 23 May 1960, Hilo suffered devastating tsunamis that reshaped its social and economic structure.
  • The Lyman House Museum

    , 276 Haili St, ☎ +1 808 935-5021. This museum features a restored missionary house (hourly guided tours). They also have a small collection of local artwork, historical exhibits, and the 9th-best mineral collection in the United States.
  • Rainbow Falls. If you don't have time to make it up to Akaka Falls, or you don't like hiking, Rainbow Falls is worth a visit. Try to visit early in the day. You have a better chance to see the rainbow created by the mist. Drive up Waianuenue Avenue from downtown, following the signs. If you pass the hospital, you have gone too far. Very wheelchair accessible, but the Boiling Pots will require some hiking.
  • King Kamehameha Statue. Erected in 1997 at Wailoa State Park, the statue of King Kamehameha is perhaps the most impressive of the four found throughout the state. A gift from the island of Kauai who failed to erect the statue due to the historical significance of being the only island never to be conquered by Kamehameha the Great. Standing at 14 feet tall, the statue now overlooks Hilo where the first King of Hawaii established his seat of government.
  • Naha Stone, 300 Waianuenue Ave (in front of the Hilo Public Library). It was prophesied that the man who moved the Naha stone, which weighs nearly 5000 pounds, would unite all of the Hawaiian islands and be the greatest king of all Hawaii. Kamehameha, at the age of fourteen, not only moved the stone, but lifted it end over end, and he eventually fulfilled the prophecy. The Pinao stone, which sits next to the Naha stone, once guarded an ancient temple.
  • Lili'uokalani Gardens. Located on Banyan Drive, this authentic Japanese garden was built in the early 1900s as a memorial to the immigrant Japanese who developed the old Waiakea Sugar Plantation and is named in honor of Hawaii's last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani.

What to do in Hilo, HI

Many of the activities that are available are strictly daytime and focus on the ocean. Surf culture is big, and boards may be rented from Orchidland Surf, located in the Bayfront district. Stan, the owner, will be happy to fill you in on where to go as well as the current conditions.

  • Richardson's Ocean Park (at the end of Kalanianaole (Highway 19)). This is a popular spot for family cookouts and has occasional waves. Snorkeling is a popular activity here. You can also find people relaxing on the beach or in the grass reading and visiting.
  • Four Mile. A popular swimming spot, also located on Kalanianaole, before you get to Richardson's. Though there is no 'beach', it is rather like a large saltwater swimming pool, with a sandy bottom, protected from the ocean by a reef. The brackish water is colder, a mix of the ocean and freshwater springs.
  • Helicopter touring. Popular, with flights over macadamia nut plantations to the lava flows at Kilauea.
  • Kaumana Caves. Fun to explore and it's free. You should bring your own flashlight.


  • Merrie Monarch Festival. The week-long Hawaiian culture festival includes art exhibits, craft fairs, demonstrations, performances, a parade that emphasizes the cultures of Hawaii, and a three-day hula competition.

What to eat and drink in Hilo, HI

Hilo is known for its locally-made ice cream. It's some of the best on earth and can be found in several places, including Hilo Homemade Ice Cream downtown at 41 Waianuenue Avenue.

The Hilo Farmer's Market, on the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, has lots of cheap eats. If you love tropical fruit, this is the place to go. There's a great tamale stand in the west corner of the market serving very tasty tamales. Market open daily 7 AM to 5 PM, with extended hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The small town of Pahoa offers The Pahoa Market, which is a flea market open on Sundays and has more prepared food. Take Highway 130 on the way to Pahoa.


  • Blane's Drive-Inn, 150 Kino'ole St, 217 Waianuenue Ave. Falling into the category of "plate lunch" place, Blane's has a large, inexpensive menu. Perfect for a heavy lunch after surfing for a couple of hours. A plate lunch, for those who don't know, usually consists of 2 scoops of steamed rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and your choice of a variety of extremely fattening delicious goodness. For the less adventurous, they also serve up burgers, fries, chili, etc. They are famous for their loco mocos.
  • Cafe 100, 969 Kilauea Ave, ☎ +1 808 935-8683. In honor of the famed 100th Infantry Army Battallion, Mr. Miyashiro who served in the 100th during World War II established this local restaurant with his wife in 1945. Destroyed twice by the devastating tsunamis, Cafe 100 offers good food at a great price. Known for their "Loco Moco" consisting of a bowl of rice with a hamburger patty, gravy, and an egg, it is one of the best places to "grind" on the island and a local favorite.
  • Hilo Coffee Mill, 17-995 Volcano Hwy, Mt. View (Btwn the 12 and 13 Mile Markers in Mountain View), ☎ +1 808 968-1333. M-Sa 7 AM-4 PM. Great light breakfast and locally made lunch specials daily. Some of the best Portuguese Bean Soup around, shoyu chicken, kalua pork, chicken, and veggie wraps made to order. Lots more. Friendly staff, great smell of coffee, tours and unique coffee from around the state. Full espresso bar. Coffee roasted on site.
  • Ken's House of Pancakes, 1730 Kamehameha Ave (Look for Ken's on Kanoelehua, before Banyan Dr), ☎ +1 808 935-8711. Don't let the name of this place throw you off. They have an amazingly varied menu, and perhaps more importantly, they are the only 24-hour eatery in Hilo.
  • Kuhio Grille, Prince Kuhio Plaza Ste 106A, ☎ +1 808 959-2336. Home of the one pound Lau Lau!
  • Ocean Sushi Deli, 250 Keawe St. Ocean Sushi features low-cost original and creative sushi along with local-style Japanese food. Some favorite sushi: eel with cream cheese, scallop roll with melted cheese on top-yum!
  • Suisan, 85 Lihiwai St, ☎ +1 808 935-9349. Many varieties of poke sold by weight - take your package to the park across the street and enjoy a picnic!


  • Cafe Pesto, 308 Kamehameha Ave, ☎ +1 808 969-6640. If you have a memory of coming to Hilo as a child, and eating in a reasonably nice restaurant with a view of the bay, chances are it was Cafe Pesto. They have a wide range of food, everything from pizzas to furikake-crusted ono. It's also open late, which is a definite plus in Hilo.
  • The Hilo Bay Cafe, 315 Makaala St #109, ☎ +1 808 935-4939. This restaurant was started by the owners of a local health food store (Island Naturals) and features excellent cuisine, featuring local organic produce, etc. A great place for a date. Try a Mojito. The name is somewhat misleading since it's actually located in the Prince Kuhio Mall, close to Wal-Mart. Strange location, fabulous place. Reservations may be required on Friday or Saturday nights.
  • Naung Mai Thai Kitchen, 86 Kilauea Ave, ☎ +1 808 934-7540. 11 AM-9 PM. Flavorful Thai food with very fresh ingredients. If you want it spicy, you have to ask for that. 
  • Reuben's, 336 Kamehameha Ave (Next door to Hilo Farmer's Market), ☎ +1 808 961-2552. Tu-Su 11 AM-8 PM. Hilo's best (and perhaps only) Mexican restaurant. Large portions of surprisingly authentic and tasty Mexican staples. Sue, the co-owner and bartender, pours the best (and VERY strong) margaritas in town.
  • Sunlight Cafe, 1261 Kilauea Ave, ☎ +1 808 934-8833. Japanese 'izakaya' type menu.
  • Sushi Bar Hime, 14 Furneaux Ln. Place sits only 10 people.


  • Coconut Grill, 136 Banyan Way. Excellent entres including Chicken Mauna Kea, Fillet Mingnon, fresh fish dishes and desserts such as Naughty Hula Girl Mud Pie (enough for a family of 4!) and mac nut ice cream.
  • Restaurant Miwa, 1261 Kilauea Ave (Hilo Shopping Center), ☎ +1 808 961-4454. An upscale Japanese restaurant, ask about their famous Chirashi bowls, you won't be disappointed.
  • The Seaside Restaurant and Aqua Farm, 1790 Kalanianaole Ave, ☎ +1 808 935-8825. One of the best places to be served an "ono" and fresh seafood lunch or dinner. Seaside can be found on Kalanianaole street across from 4-mile beach.



Hilo is a small town, and as such, there is not a lot of public drinking to be done. Despite a very lackluster nightlife, almost every bar has a cover charge. Still, there are a few places to wet your whistle, and maybe catch a live act.

  • Detour, 124 Makaala St. A relatively new bar catering mostly to an Asian/Hawaiian clientèle. There is a dance floor with music supplied by a house PA system, there is no DJ. There is a bar/lounge area with pool tables, darts, TV's and sofas and a separate dance floor area. Fights tend to be common here also.
  • Cronies, 11 Waianuenue Ave (downtown cnr of Waianuenue and Kamehameha). Until 9 PM. General sports bar not a spot for nightlife.
  • Hawai'i Nui Brewing Company (Mehana Brewing Company), 275 E. Kawili St. (Across the street from the Community College), ☎ +1 808-934-8211. 9:30-5:30 M-Sa. Small batch craft beers are brewed at this location, 6 are rotated on tap for tastings. Can also purchase logo wear and 6 packs, growlers and fills or rent kegs for your next party. They are the only brewery in the islands that produce and bottle all of their beers on site. Conveniently located on the way to the volcano, waterfalls, and beaches!


  • Bear's Coffee, 106 Keawe St. Good waffles, lame hours.
  • Just Cruisin Coffee, 835 Kilauea Ave (cnr of Kilauea and Pauahi Sts (by the new State building)). Great sandwiches and pastries and 100% pure Kona coffee.
  • Hilo Sharks Coffee Shop, 41 Waianuenue Ave. Has delicious ice cream and spectacularly delicious coffee.
  • Surf Break Cafe, 17 Haili St (Downtown on Kinoole). Great food, wonderful coffee, and the best atmosphere.

Shopping in Hilo, HI

Hilo has two main shopping areas, each about a mile away from most of the hotels on the Banyan Drive loop. Follow Kamehameha Avenue west of Banyan Drive, and you will arrive at Downtown Hilo, which is home to many quaint shops and restaurants. Follow Highway 11 (also Mamalahoa Highway or Kanoelehua Avenue) south of Banyan Drive, and you will arrive at the Prince Kuhio Plaza. There are larger retail stores in and around the Prince Kuhio Plaza area. KTA Superstores, Long's Drugs, and a Wal-Mart are all present on the island.

Downtown Hilo

Most Downtown Hilo stores are located along the "Bayfront", or Kamehameha Avenue, though the side streets are also packed with excellent finds and shops to explore. The Hilo Farmer's Market is also located downtown. You can easily spend a day walking around Downtown Hilo, browsing and shopping.

While Downtown Hilo itself is walkable, parking spaces can be hard to find midday. It is possible to walk from your Banyan Drive area hotel to Downtown, though it is approximately one mile.

  • 2 the Point Acupuncture, 83 Maikai St, ☎ +1 808 938-6007. Skilled in the art and science of natural medicine. Applying the ancient Asian tradition of Seitai Shinpo Acupuncture with modern science, Kim is able to treat not only the ailments that bring you to see them, but also to safeguard your long-term health and quality of life, so that your path in life is pain-free and easy.
  • Basically Books, 160 Kamehameha Ave, ☎ +1 808 961-0144. This family-owned independent bookstore in the heart of Downtown Hilo is the perfect place to purchase books on Hawaiian culture, history, and language. Excellent selection of Big Island maps.
  • Chase Gallery, 100 Kamehameha Ave. Located in Hilo's scenic Bayfront district, along highway 19, this gallery features an excellent collection of local artwork.
  • EightyTwo Creations, 82 Ponahawai St, ☎ +1 808 969-3670. Monday - Saturday 10 AM-5 PM. EightyTwo creations has two sections in its business: retail clothing and art in the showroom, and full-service custom printing in the back. The retail section includes clothing from 808 Empire, Lemon Hawaii, Upper Playground, Restless kids, Fumanchu, Acrylick, American Apparel, etc. They also feature art by local artists. Printing services include stickers, banners, wall graphics, t-shirts, hats, and heat transfers.
  • Hilo Farmer's Market (cnr of Mamo St and Kamehameha Ave), ☎ +1 808 933-1000. W Sa mornings from dawn until it's gone, Su 2 PM-until it's gone. Purchase the freshest, cheapest produce in Hilo at the Hilo Farmer's Market. You can also find fresh fish, fresh-cut flowers (anthuriums, protea, and other local varieties), Hawaiian-style jams, prepared snacks, typical flea market goodies, and artisanal jewelry and crafts. Be prepared to haggle. Get there early, like the locals do, before everything sells out.
  • Hilo Guitars & Ukuleles, 114 Ponahawai St, ☎ +1 808 935-4282. Specializing in acoustic instruments, they also have the best collection of ukuleles in Hilo. Good store for Hawaiian music songbooks.
  •  Hilo Surfboard Company, 84 Ponahawai St, ☎ +1 808 934-0925. The Big Island's surf shop for surfers. This little shop has the Hawaii Islands' largest selection of new, used, and custom surfboards. There is also a huge selection of bodyboards. They have rentals and on-site board repair. Also, find Hilo Surfboard Company t-shirts and many local brands. Owner Scott Murray will be stoked to see you and talk story!
  • Kahuina Gallery, 128 Kilauea Ave (on cnr of Mamo St and Kilauea Ave, just up the street from the Farmer's Market), ☎ +1 808 935-4420. A cooperative of island artists and musicians. A variety of cards, posters, CDs, original works of art, and small publications are available from local artists and musicians. Each Friday night is free open mic and music.
  • Kathmandu Trading Company, 35 Waianuenue Ave. A fascinating new addition to the Hilo Bayfront district, Kathmandu Imports sells a collection of Tibetan and Nepali items. Located on Waianuenue Ave.
  • Sig Zane Designs, 122 Kamehameha Ave (right next to the Pacific Tsunami Museum), ☎ +1 808 935-7077. M-F 9:30 AM-5 PM, Sa 9 AM-4 PM. Sig Zane Designs is one of the premier clothiers in Hawaii. They are known for their original textile prints, which depict indigenous and culturally-significant Hawaiian plants and flowers. The shop offers aloha shirts, ladies' blouses and dresses, handbags, and furniture. Sig Zane's aloha shirts and clothing items are priced higher than brands available at Hilo Hattie, though the quality and look is worth the extra cost. 

Prince Kuhio Plaza Area

The Prince Kuhio Plaza is the main retail center in Hilo. It is surrounded by many larger retailers and shops. It is best to have a car, as Highway 11 from Banyan Drive to the Plaza is not the most pedestrian-friendly boulevard.

  • Big Island Candies, 585 Hinano St, toll-free: +1 800-935-5510. 8:30 AM-5 PM daily. Big Island Candies is renowned for their chocolate hand-dipped cookies and confections. They even dip dried squid in chocolate! This is one of the most popular gifts for visitors to take home from Hawaii. Products are packaged perfectly for gift-giving.
  • Big Island Delights, 762-4 Kanoelehua Ave, ☎ +1 808 959-7868. Big Island Delights cookies. A local favorite when visiting Hilo and bringing back "omiyage", which means a gift to take back home when traveling.
  • Discount Fabric Warehouse, 933 Kanoelehua Ave. M-Sa 9 AM-6 PM, Su 10 AM-4 PM. This unassuming warehouse offers the largest selection of Hawaiian-print fabrics on the Big Island. This is a must-stop for anyone who loves to sew or craft! Very reasonable prices on all fabrics, especially the cotton Hawaiian prints.
  • Kawate Seed Shop, 1990 Kinoole Ave, ☎ +1 808 959-8313. Some say Kawate makes the best shave ice in Hilo. With about a dozen flavors, visitors can add ice cream, azuki (red bean paste), or condensed milk to their shave ice. Kawate is also a great place to purchase local-style snacks such as Chinese li hing mui and other "crackseeds."
  • Prince Kuhio Plaza, 111 E Puainako St, ☎ +1 808 959-3555. M-Th 9:30 AM-8 PM, F Sa 9:30 AM-9 PM, Su 10 AM-6 PM. Hilo's main shopping center features a number of standard retail stores including American Eagle Outfitters, Hot Topic, GameStop, and Foot Locker. Macy's and Sears are the department store anchors. There are a few local shops such as Big Island Surf Company and Royal Hawaiian Heritage Jewelry. Also has a movie theater and food court.

Safety in Hilo, HI

Hilo is generally quite safe. There are usually homeless people loitering around public parks and sometimes they can be a little eccentric, so keep your distance.

If an earthquake was to strike and a tsunami warning was issued, if you are at the beach, there would be tsunami evacuation signs to guide you to a safe distance.

Language spoken in Hilo, HI

Hawaiian and English are the official languages.


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