If you’re looking for quaint Hawaiian charm, Hilo is the perfect 48-hour getaway.
Humid, verdant and romantic, Hilo abounds with those touchstones that make Hawaii beloved by its visitors and residents. Its downtown architecture leans into the 21st century from the Island’s bygone industrial sugar era, while its teeming tropical rainforest climate will add awe-filled moments to any outdoor adventure. On a cloudless day, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa preside over the Hilo district, adding a sense of grandeur to your day’s activities.
Below, we’ve compiled a 48-hour itinerary to help you to make the most of your short time in Hilo.
Take a walking tour of Downtown Hilo to get your fill of local history, tasty eats and shopping.
Day 1: The heart of Downtown Hilo
What makes Downtown Hilo great is it’s easily walkable. History, shopping, and ono eats are always just a short stroll away. Before striking out, get oriented with the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association’s walking tour map (downloadable from the Historic Hawaii Foundation). Even if you don’t make it to every stop, the tour map gives a nice overview of Hilo’s layout, its landmarks and architectural history.
After breakfast at the iconic Ken’s House of Pancakes, spend the morning at the Lyman Museum and Mission House. Established in 1931 by the descendants of New England missionaries David and Sarah Lyman, the museum peels back the layers of Hawaii’s natural and human history through exhibits, educational programs, and events. The 1839 mission house is the oldest wood-frame building on the island, and the mission house tour provides a fascinating peek into early 19th century Hawaii.
For lunch, stop in for a bite at the always festive Pineapple’s. As the only open-air restaurant in downtown Hilo, it’s a refreshing spot for a meal, day or night. Live music performances and the streetside ambiance pushing in from the corner of Mamo and Keawe streets will lively up your lunch, dinner or happy hour.
Downtown Hilo has an eclectic selection of shops, boutiques, galleries, and markets, and one of the most well known — the Hilo Farmers Market — is only a block’s walk, makai (toward the ocean) of Pineapple’s. Hilo Farmers Market has come a long way since its early days in the late ‘80s, when it was just a few farmers selling their florals and produce under a stretch of gray, tarpaulin tents every Wednesday and Saturday. The market has grown, to say the least, and has become one of the more popular attractions in Downtown Hilo. Open seven days a week, the market now has over 200 vendors, including local farmers, retailers, food trucks, restaurants, artisans and crafters.
Though there are many shops to explore downtown, two shops worth visiting are Hana Hou Hilo and Sig Zane Designs, located a few blocks north on Kamehameha Avenue on the Wailuku River side of Bayfront. What makes both of these shops unique is the way their products celebrate and perpetuate Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island culture. They’ve found ways to make the ancient, contemporary, and the traditional, fashionable.
Seek out the vibrant nature spaces surrounding Hilo, from waterfalls to beach parks.
Day 2: Outdoor adventures just outside Hilo
Hilo’s surrounding environs are just as amazing as its downtown is, but you’ll need a car to experience what they have to offer.
Start the day with an easy hike through a tropical rainforest at Akaka Falls State Park. The park’s paved path loops through some of the most stunning natural scenery East Hawaii has to offer. You may be tempted to head straight for the falls, but take time to enjoy the wild orchids, the bamboo groves, and ferned rivers. The main attractions are Kahuna Falls (400 ft.) and Akaka Falls (442 ft.) and are breathtaking. There’s an old song, sung beautifully by Ledward Kaapana, that celebrates the beauty of Akaka Falls.
On the ride back to Hilo, take a detour to Honolii Beach Park. The premier spot for Hilo surfers and bodyboarders, Honolii is located in a neighborhood just off Mamalahoa Highway. The Old Government Road, where everyone parks, is cut into the side of the cliff, which offers amazing views of the surf breaks.
Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at Carlsmith Beach Park, or Four Mile, as the locals call it. But before you go, stop in at KTA Super Stores in Downtown Hilo to pick up some beach provisions. You can’t go wrong with limu and shoyu poke at the beach.
Four Mile has always been a popular spot with locals. The lava rock barrier creates a large tide pool that varies in depth, depending on the tide. Unlike most of the beaches on the east side, the sand here is white and soft. Those pockets of cold water come from freshwater springs on the sandy floor.
After a long day spent outdoors, relax with a few pau hana drinks and some munchies. Rueben’s, next door to the Hilo Farmers Market, is a good spot to kick back. If you like Mexican fare, flowing margaritas, and a fiesta-like atmosphere, you can’t go wrong here. Another spot to while away the afternoon and early evening hours is Hilo Town Tavern, on Keawe Street. Don’t let its seemingly ramshackle facade keep you from going in and finding a table. With regular live music and indoor/outdoor seating, Hilo Town Tavern is a casual spot where both locals and tourists love to hang.
Note: Due to web limitations, the use of diacritics in the Hawaiian language are omitted from this article.