Itineraries: One Day in Hilo

By Katie Young Yamanaka
Banyan Drive, Hilo, Hawaii.  Photo: member Harry D.

Banyan Drive, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo: member Harry D.

If you have just one day to spend in Hilo, you can still cover a lot of ground thanks to the close proximity of most destinations and very little traffic.

Whether you are flying or driving, if you arrive in the early morning, breakfast is a must. Try the iconic Ken’s House of Pancakes to fuel up before you start exploring.

Book Your Trip – Customize your itinerary, see pricing and book!

Check out the Waterfalls

akaka falls

Akaka Falls. Photo: Thomas.

You can head to spectacular Akaka Falls first, open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s a short 0.4 mile walk that will take hikers through a dense tropical forest with two picturesque waterfalls along the circular route: the 100-foot tall Kahanu Falls and the thunderous Akaka Falls, which plummets 442 feet into the gorge below. The hike takes less than an hour round trip.

hilo Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls. Photo courtesy of Richard Bitting.

Or head to the 80-foot Rainbow Falls, known for the rainbows that appear in the mist. Rainbow Falls is just a short five-minute drive from downtown Hilo.

Explore Downtown Hilo


Hilo Farmers Market. Photo: Twain Newhart.

On a Wednesday or Saturday, make sure to stop by the Hilo Farmers Market in the heart of town. The market features more than 200 local farmers and crafters from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here you will find unique gifts, clothing, artwork, jewelry, tropical flowers and fresh produce from local farmers.

Photo:  Andy Collins.

Photo: Andy Collins.

But even if it’s not a market day, you can still enjoy a stroll through the many small shops that line the downtown Hilo bayfront. Stop by the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., for a free family experience featuring a 3,500-gallon saltwater aquarium, interactive educational exhibits and life-size models of wildlife found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Interpretive panels in both Hawaiian and English describe Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the single largest conservation area in America.

Learn About the Earth and Stars

Lyman House Museum & Mission House, Hilo, Hawaii.  Photo:  Les Williams.

Lyman House Museum & Mission House, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo: Les Williams.

Just outside of downtown Hilo is the Smithsonian-affiliated Lyman Museum and Mission House — the Big Island’s only museum of natural and cultural history, open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum has a large collection of artifacts, sea shells, and an extensive display of minerals, gemstones and fossils. You can also take a tour of the oldest wood frame structure on the island.

Imiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo, Hawaii

Imiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo: Imiloa Astronomy Center.

If astronomy and wayfinding pique your interest, explore the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, a 40,00 square foot exhibition and planetarium complex, where adults and children alike can learn about the universe and how ancient Hawaiians navigated over vast oceans with the stars as their guide.

Enjoy a Picnic Lunch in a Garden by the Sea

liliuokalani gardens, hilo

A couple enjoys a stroll in the park at Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson.

If the weather is nice, grab some food and head to the Queen Liliuokalani Park and Gardens for a late picnic lunch, complete with arching bridges over fishponds and a spectacular view of Hilo Bay.

Stroll Through a Rainforest Zoo

Photo:  Katie Young Yamanaka.

Photo: Katie Young Yamanaka.

Now you’re ready to drive to the other side of town for one last stop: the Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, the only naturally occurring rainforest zoo in the U.S. They offer free admission, more than 60 species of rainforest animals, a botanical collection of more than 40 species of plants, and the best playground in town.

The zoo is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except for Christmas day and New Year’s day.

Don’t forget – special rental car discounts are available for members. Click here for more information.

Visit for more itinerary suggestions and travel tips.

  • User Info and Leaderboard

  • Sanitize your phone with UV rays
    Plan your trip to Hawaii with 101 Things To Do