Hilo has a special kind of charm. Unlike other major destinations in Hawaii, you won’t see high-rise hotels or glitzy shopping areas. What you will find is an appreciation for the slow life embedded with local ideals like living with aloha and respecting the aina (earth). Thanks to constant rain throughout the year, you’ll also find plenty of lush greenery on this side of the Big Island.

Must Do’s While You’re Here

Stargazing at Mauna Kea
Home to one of the world’s largest astronomical observatories, Mauna Kea is an amazing place to see the stars! Get to the Visitor Information Station before sunset to make sure you make it for the free nightly stargazing program, which starts at 6:00 pm. Please note: this location is not accessible by private vehicle.  There are private tours that go to the summit, which are recommended.

Hawaii Volcanos National Park
Hawaii’s youngest island continues to grow thanks to Kilauea’s active lava flow. Start at the Visitor Center to learn about current park conditions and active lava flow locations. Then drive down the Chain of Craters Road, park your car and see the beautiful Holei Sea Arch. The Thurston Lava Tube is also fun and easily accessible by car. For beginner to avid photographers, Extreme Exposure offers personalized or group lava photo tours.

Akaka Falls
Take a quick 30-minute drive from Hilo to Akaka Falls State Park. Parking is $5 per car, and it’s an easy walk through lush vegetation down to the falls. If looking closer to town, try Rainbow Falls instead, but you should definitely consider stretching for Akaka Falls.

Merrie Monarch Festival
This festival is at the top of my Big Island bucket list! Every spring, Hilo comes to life with a weeklong hula festival and competition. See the best dancers and halaus (schools) that exemplify the beauty, strength and grace of this traditional Hawaiian dance.

Must Eats

Hilo Farmers Market
The Hilo Farmers Market is a must! Go on Wednesdays and Saturdays, where there are over 200 local farmers and crafters. The selections are phenomenal, with fresh lilikoi, star fruit, and rambutan when in season. I recommend the apple bananas, strawberry papayas and local avocado!

Hawaiian Style Café
Get ready for big portions, reasonable prices and simple good food. This is a great breakfast spot offering everything from pancakes and French toast to Kalua Hash and Portuguese sausage with eggs. There’s something here for everyone.

Café 100
Known locally as the home of the “loco moco” (rice topped with a hamburger patty, egg and gravy), Café 100 is THE place to try this local dish. Expect casual outdoor seating and generous portions.

Where to Get Your Gifts (omiyage)

Two Ladies Kitchen
Famous for their strawberry mochi, neighbor island visitors always grab some goodies to bring home.

Big Island Candies
Try a variety of their delicious shortbread cookies and enjoy free samples at their flagship store in Hilo.

Where to Stay

Many visitors opt to stay in sunny Kona or the Kohala Coast, and take day trips to Hilo. Here are some great picks on both sides of Hawaii’s Big Island:

  • The newly renovated Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton (accepting reservations from December 1, 2016) is ideally located right along Hilo Bay, just a short drive from Hilo airport.
  • For a home away from home experience on the Kohala Coast, enjoy the spacious suites at Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations Club that include a full kitchen and washer/ dryer.
  • Hilton Waikoloa Village is an expansive oceanfront resort with three pools (including waterslides and a winding river), and you can get around the resort on canal boats or the tram.

This article was originally published by Hilton Suggests.

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