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What to do in Hilo Hawaii?
Aloha, visitors. Hawai’i travel policies and procedures change frequently. Always check the Hawai’i Safe Travels site for the latest information. Mahalo for your support.
Have you ever been to Hilo? Here are some ideas of what to do in Hilo Hawaii – time to plan a visit!
Though most flights – and thus most visitors – arrive on the “Kona side” or western side of Hawaii Island, you take some time to think about what there is to do in Hilo.
For many visitors, Hilo is a bit more more off the beaten path. For years, rental car companies prohibited travel across the Big Island of Hawaii on State Route 200, known as the Saddle Road. In 2010, the road was entirely repaved, meaning you can cross the island in under two hours.
Hilo is larger than Kona in terms of population, and is home to great restaurants and local businesses. So if you want a break from crowds and resorts, take a drive to the other side of the island. You can book a helicopter flight, you can visit Akaka Falls, and you’ll be able to see some of the most lush parts of Hawaii, as Hilo gets more rain than any other place in the country.
So you want to spend a day on the other side of the Big Island?
Here are some ideas of what to do in Hilo Hawaii:
Head to Just Cruisin’ Coffee for coffee, breakfast, and some lunch sandwiches to go. Then head about 40 minutes south of Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Though the park has changed following the 2018 eruptions, there are still plenty of options for activities, ranging from casual strolls to strenuous hikes. Choose something that fits you and your travel companions and enjoy the day.
Or you can grab a hearty breakfast at Ken’s – open 24 hours – and then head into Hilo Town. You can tour the University of Hawaii – Hilo campus, visit Rainbow Falls, and/or grab some fresh strawberry (with chocolate!) mochi at Two Ladies Kitchen. Then drive south to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach for a near-guarantee to see sea turtles, as well as experience one of the island’s “newer” beaches. Just south is the town of Nahulau where you can grab lunch – and a malasada or two – at Punalu’u Bakery before either continuing to the Kona side, or returning to Hilo for some Thai food at Sombat’s Fresh Thai Cuisine.
Hilo Hidden Gems:
Do you need more ideas of what to do in Hilo Hawaii? Hilo draws many fewer tourists than the Kona side of the island, which means that it can be less crowded and has some real hidden gems. Some of the options mentioned above are featured in my list of Big Island Favorites, others are here:
Breakfast: Just Cruisin’ Coffee:
Feeding a crowd while traveling is always challenging – so breakfast sandwiches are a great answer. My crew loved their sandwiches so much, they demanded we go back the next morning. I was happy to sit in their tiny postage-stamp of a cafe sipping my almond milk latte while they plowed through my massive order of breakfast sandwiches. Breakfast – check!
Lunch: Ernie’s Poke Market:
A tiny place, just the width of the poke counter and the register – but delicious, fresh poke at a great price- $10 gets you your choice of rice, your choice of poke and your choice of two sides – the sweet potatoes are highly recommended – but they were all solid.
Dinner: Sombat’s Fresh Thai Cuisine
This restaurant is tiny. Though I’ve enjoyed several meals from this tasty Thai restaurant, I have never eaten in the postage-stamp small dining room. My group has been too large. But takeout has been delicious – with each dish better than the last – curries, noodles, stir-fry – you just can’t go wrong. Note: Though Sombat’s is close to easy-to-find landmarks, like Ken’s House of Pancakes, it is a little tricky to get into. If your GPS misleads you, then call the restaurant to navigate into the correct driveway to grab your delicious meal.
Dessert: Hawaiian Licks:
After giving up (most) dairy a few years ago, I’ve learned to cut back on pizza, or choose versions using cashew cheese, parmesan or other low lactose options. But ice cream – that has been harder to replace. My current favorite store-bought brand is the non-dairy line from Haagen Daaz. But that is definitely a (tasty) frozen treat – and not a true ice cream.
Hawaiian Licks, though, takes coconut milk and other non-dairy bases and creates amazing (and amazingly vegan) ice creams. Even after sampling them, I was torn, so I ended up with a little bit of three flavors in my (compostable bamboo) ice cream boat. The Pina colada, dark chocolate and Chile mango are all choices I can vouch for personally – but it sure seemed like a place you couldn’t go wrong!
Shopping: Banyan Gallery:
Not a restaurant, but definitely a hidden gem, Banyan Gallery occupies one of the small out-buildings in front of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (others hold the fitness equipment and a convenience store). On multiple occasions, I have found just the right gift here for hard-to-shop-for recipients – and I also love that I am supporting local artists.
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Can’t Miss Kona: What to Do in Kona
9 Big Island Favorites: Piece of Mind Picks