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Big Island Day Trip! Things to Do in Hilo, Hawaii

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The largest city on Hawaii’s Big Island, there are many fun things to do in Hilo, Hawaii with your kids. Despite what you may have heard about the drive, Hilo is a pleasant day trip from Hilton Waikoloa Village. Unlike the barren moonscape of volcanic rock plains in and around the Kohala Coast, Hilo is lush, green, and fertile. In fact, it is so colorful; you’ll be amazed that you are still on the same island.

Here some tips for a successful excursion:

  • Hilo is about a two hour drive from Waikoloa. If you set out early, there are some breathtaking sights for the family to enjoy en route.
  • There are two well-known routes for reaching Hilo. One is the notorious Saddle Road, a winding, dipping country road that cuts across the high valley between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Long disliked by rental car agencies, recent improvements have made it safer and smoother to travel, the other is the more scenic route 19 (Hawaii Belt Road).
  • The Hawaii Belt Road is filled with small towns that can be linked back to the area’s bygone history as a sugar cane center and spectacular natural beauty.

Here are some stops along the Hawaii Belt Road that can be easily managed and thoroughly enjoyed as part of your Hilo road trip itinerary:

Waipiʻo Valley Lookout

A sacred spot, Waipiʻo Valley was once the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I. This fertile valley of waterfalls and rivers was also the stomping grounds of a large community of native Hawaiians. Today it is home to a much smaller number of residents. The Hiilawe Falls cascade over 1,000 feet down the back of the valley. This beautiful tropical haven can be viewed from the Waipio Valley Overlook at the end of Hamakua Heritage Coastline drive.

Akaka Falls State Park

Spot two beautiful waterfalls in one short hike at Akaka Falls State Park. Traverse lush rainforests complete with draping ferns and colorful wild orchids as the family tackles this trek. Continue on the paved footpath which forms a loop. You’ll first encounter the 100-foot Kahuna Falls before rounding the bend and discovering the Akaka Falls, which plummet 442-feet into a stream eroded gorge.

Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls plummets 442 feet!

Once you’ve arrived, don’t miss these things to do in Hilo, Hawaii:

The Pana`ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens

Work off all that pent up youthful energy from the car ride by taking the kids to the Pana`ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens! There’s a Primadome for primates, a petting zoo, lovely gardens maintained by local community gardening groups and so much more. And all of it comes at the best admission price too — free!

The Banyan Tree Drive

Hollywood has the Walk of Fame with stars dedicated to big names in the entertainment industry scattered along its sidewalks. Hilo has Banyan Tree Drive — a nod to celebrities who, before it was hip to be green, planted a tree in their own or someone else’s name. Outlining the Waiakea Peninsula, each tree is accompanied by a plaque noting its honoree. Among the roster of notable names on this drive are Babe Ruth, Cecil B. De Mille, Richard and Pat Nixon, and Amelia Earhart. Although some trees have been lost to tsunamis and tidal waves that once devastated the Hilo coast line, many trees still line Banyan Drive.

Pacific Tsunami Museum

Located in downtown Hilo, the Pacific Tsunami Museum is small but provides an informative education on the long history of tsunamis in the region. Tsunamis have killed more people in Hawaii than any other natural event, particularly in Hilo. The Pacific Tsunami Museum has assembled firsthand accounts from tsunami survivors, photographs, and other exhibits including a wave machine and tsunami warning center simulation to help convey this story. Other exhibits detail recent tsunamis in Japan, Alaska, and Indonesia.

Lili’uokalani Gardens

Located next to Hilo Bay, families take walks, ride bikes, picnic, and enjoy the area of Lili’uokalani Gardens. Take the small footbridge to nearby Coconut Island. Considered a place of healing in ancient times, it’s a great place for the kids to play in the tide pools.

Leleiwi Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Center

The Leleiwi Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Center has a whole lot of nature to enjoy! From sea turtles and reef fish to lagoons and protected inlets, these two places are actually made up of a series of bays and pretty parks. Turtles and dolphins are often spotted as our local kids who favor the black-sand pocket beach for body boarding.

Onekahakaha Beach Park

Onekahakaha Beach Park is a favorite among Hilo families with small children because of its shallow, rock wall-enclosed tide pools and nearby picnic areas. Sea urchins and anemones are among the Hawaiian marine life to look for in these pools.

Looking for something deliciously local?

Then visit the Hilo Farmer’s Market! More than 200 local farmers and crafters sells produce, tropical flowers, handiwork and eats in a festival-style outdoor market. It’s a great place to not only try something uniquely Hawaiian but to bring a piece of Aloha home with you.

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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…

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