Hilo is a town on the Big Island of Hawaii. The county seat and largest city in Hawaii County, Hilo is the one of the best starting points to explore the eastern half of the island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Although the largest city on the Big Island, Hilo is a small city (43,263 in the 2010 Census) with a relaxed pace of life. It is on the rainier, less touristy east side of the island, and the city itself is not a huge draw for tourists, but there is an excellent farmers' and craftsmen's market on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and in addition to the attractions within city limits, there is good snorkeling nearby, extremely lush botanic gardens in the area, and Volcanoes National Park is a splendid day trip.
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Source: w:Hilo, Hawaii#Geography and climate
Hilo has a mild, somewhat muggy subtropical climate, with a lot of rain. In fact January and February are the only months with less than 20 rainy days on average.
Most of the visitors bound for Hilo will arrive via one of the inter island airlines (Hawaiian), or as a day stop from one of the frequent cruise ship visits. Unless you're sailing your own craft, this is only way of getting in by sea, as inter-island boat services were suspended in 2009.
1 Hilo International Airport (ITO IATA) is the main airport serving Hilo and the eastern side of the Big Island. The majority of flights to Hilo originate from Honolulu via Hawaiian Airlines. There is also one flight from Kahului daily, and one non-stop flight from LAX daily, operated by United Airlines. The airport terminal is rather small, with a relaxed atmosphere. Long lines for security are unlikely.
From elsewhere on the Big Island: for visitors, this would mean taking the Mamalahoa Highway (HI-190), the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (via a right turn) and the Saddle Road (HI-200, but without signposted route numbers on the road) across the interior of the island from Kailua-Kona at the western end, where the other commercial airport is located. Allow at least 2 hours for that trip, which goes through some curvy, hilly terrain.
Alternatively, you can take the Hawaii Belt Road (HI-19) around much of the northern shore of the island, going inland through Waimea. You may find this an easier drive, and possibly a more pleasant one if you'd like to go through more villages and see fewer starkly beautiful views of Mauna Kea and other hilly inland scenery. To be on the safe side, you should allow at least 2.5 hours for the northern route, though you may want to stop in one or more towns along the way.
Direction signs are fairly good on the Big Island, though not always with much advance notice for the driver. Traffic drives slowly (usually 25-35 miles per hour), and it's ordinary for unobstructed traffic to go slower than posted speed limits.
If you don't have a car, hitching a ride is very easy on the Big Island.
Many of Hilo's points of interest are concentrated in quite a small area in the western end of Kamehameha Avenue. There you can get around by foot easily. However, some natural attractions, beaches and shops are a mile or more away from there.
The county's Hele-On Bus system ($2 fare) serve Hilo International Airport eight times per day (except on Sunday). However, as public transportation on Hawai`i Island is minimal, virtually all visitors rent a vehicle from one of the many rental agencies upon arriving at Hilo International Airport. It's a good idea to make car reservations in advance, as special events or active conditions at the Volcanoes National Park can quickly deplete the supply of available vehicles.
As an alternative, taxis are also available at the airport though renting a car is almost always more practical.
There are also a few bicycle shops on and around Kamehameha Avenue, if you would like to rent or buy a bicycle.
- 1 Pacific Tsunami Museum, 130 Kamehameha Ave, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Serves as a living memorial, and a reminder for a generation yet to experience such fright. A tsunami, Japanese for "harbor waves" are a fact of life in Hawaii, especially Hilo. On 1 April 1946, and 23 May 1960, Hilo suffered devastating tsunamis that reshaped its social and economic structure.
- 2 The Lyman House Museum, 276 Haili St, ☎ . This museum features a restored missionary house (hourly guided tours). They also have a small collection of local artwork, historical exhibits, and the 9th-best mineral collection in the United States.
- 3 Rainbow Falls. If you don't have time to make it up to Akaka Falls, or you don't like hiking, Rainbow Falls is worth a visit. Try to visit early in the day. You have a better chance to see the rainbow created by the mist. Drive up Waianuenue Avenue from downtown, following the signs. If you pass the hospital, you have gone too far. Very wheelchair accessible, but the Boiling Pots will require some hiking.
- 4 King Kamehameha Statue. Erected in 1997 at Wailoa State Park, the statue of King Kamehameha is perhaps the most impressive of the four found throughout the state. A gift from the island of Kauai who failed to erect the statue due to the historical significance of being the only island never to be conquered by Kamehameha the Great. Standing at 14 feet tall, the statue now overlooks Hilo where the first King of Hawaii established his seat of government.
- 5 Naha Stone, 300 Waianuenue Ave (in front of the Hilo Public Library). It was prophesied that the man who moved the Naha stone, which weighs nearly 5000 pounds, would unite all of the Hawaiian islands and be the greatest king of all Hawaii. Kamehameha, at the age of fourteen, not only moved the stone, but lifted it end over end, and he eventually fulfilled the prophesy. The Pinao stone, which sits next to the Naha stone, once guarded an ancient temple.
- 6 Lili'uokalani Gardens. Located on Banyan Drive, this authentic Japanese garden was built in the early 1900s as a memorial to the immigrant Japanese who developed the old Waiakea Sugar Plantation and is named in honor of Hawaii's last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani.
Many of the activities that are available are strictly daytime, and focus on the ocean. Surf culture is big, and boards may be rented from 1 Orchidland Surf, located in the Bayfront district. Stan, the owner, will be happy to fill you in on where to go as well as the current conditions.
- 2 Richardson's Ocean Park (at the end of Kalanianaole (Highway 19)). This is a popular spot for family cookouts, and has occasional waves. Snorkeling is a popular activity here. You can also find people relaxing on the beach or in the grass reading and visiting.
- 3 Four Mile. A popular swimming spot, also located on Kalanianaole, before you get to Richardson's. Though there is no 'beach', it is rather like a large salt water swimming pool, with a sandy bottom, protected from the ocean by a reef. The brackish water is colder, a mix of the ocean and fresh water springs.
- Paradise Copters. Flights over macadamia nut plantations to the lava flows at Kilauea. Because Kona is twice as far from the volcano as Hilo, tours that leave from Kona are generally 2 hours long and accordingly more expensive. You may choose to drive 2¼-hr to Hilo if money is a consideration. Morning helicopter flights tend to have the least cloud cover, but also book first. If taking photos, wear dark clothing to avoid reflections from windows. A special mention should be made about the "doors off" helicopter tour, which lets you smell the lava and feel its heat.
- 4 Kaumana caves. Fun to explore and it's free. You should bring your own flashlight.
- 5 Lava Ocean Tours, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. To get as far as possible to the lava flowing into the ocean, get onto a boat from just outside Hilo. Sunset tours are an excellent opportunity to see the lava in a lower light setting while mostly avoiding riding the boat at night. $250/person.
- Big Island Aina Tours, ☎ . Tours to the Volcano National Park, waterfalls and black sand beach. Small group tours for cruise ships. Private tours also available
- Merrie Monarch Festival: April. The week-long Hawaiian culture festival includes art exhibits, craft fairs, demonstrations, performances, a parade that emphasizes the cultures of Hawaii, and a three-day hula competition
Hilo has two main shopping areas, each about a mile away from most of the hotels on the Banyan Drive loop. Follow Kamehameha Avenue west from Banyan Drive, and you will arrive at Downtown Hilo, which is home to many quaint shops and restaurants. Follow Highway 11 (also Mamalahoa Highway or Kanoelehua Avenue) south from Banyan Drive, and you will arrive at the Prince Kuhio Plaza. There are larger retail stores in and around the Prince Kuhio Plaza area. KTA Superstores, Long's Drugs, and a Wal-Mart are all present on the island.
Most Downtown Hilo stores are located along the "Bayfront", or Kamehameha Avenue, though the side streets are also packed with excellent finds and shops to explore. The Hilo Farmer's Market is also located downtown. You can easily spend a day walking around Downtown Hilo, browsing and shopping.
While Downtown Hilo itself is walkable, parking spaces can be hard to find midday. It is possible to walk from your Banyan Drive area hotel to Downtown, though it is approximately one mile.
- 1 2 the Point Acupuncture, 83 Maikai St, ☎ . Skilled in the art and science of natural medicine. Applying the ancient Asian tradition of Seitai Shinpo Acupuncture with modern science, Kim is able to treat not only the ailments that bring you to see them, but also to safeguard your long term health and quality of life, so that your path in life is pain free and easy.
- 2 Basically Books, 160 Kamehameha Ave, ☎ . This family-owned independent bookstore in the heart of Downtown Hilo is the perfect place to purchase books on Hawaiian culture, history and language. Excellent selection of Big Island maps.
- 3 Chase Gallery, 100 Kamehameha Ave. Located in Hilo's scenic Bayfront district, along highway 19, this gallery features an excellent collection of local artwork.
- 4 EightyTwo Creations, 82 Ponahawai St, ☎ . Monday - Saturday 10AM-5PM. Eightytwo creations has two sections in its business: retail clothing and art in the showroom, and full-service custom printing in the back. The retail section includes clothing from 808 Empire, Lemon Hawaii, Upper Playground, Restless kids, Fumanchu, Acrylick, American Apparel, etc. They also feature art by local artists. Printing services include stickers, banners, wall graphics, t-shirts, hats, and heat transfers.
- 5 Hilo Farmer's Market (cnr of Mamo St and Kamehameha Ave), ☎ . W Sa mornings from dawn until it's gone, Su 2PM-until it's gone. Purchase the freshest, cheapest produce in Hilo at the Hilo Farmer's Market. You can also find fresh fish, fresh-cut flowers (anthuriums, protea, and other local varieties), Hawaiian-style jams, prepared snacks, typical flea market goodies and artisanal jewelry and crafts. Be prepared to haggle. Get there early, like the locals do, before everything sells out.
- 6 Hilo Guitars & Ukuleles, 114 Ponahawai St, ☎ . Specializing in acoustic instruments, they also have the best collection of ukuleles in Hilo. Good store for Hawaiian music song books.
- 7 Hilo Surfboard Company, 84 Ponahawai St, ☎ . The Big Island's surf shop for surfers. This little shop has Hawaii Islands largest selection of new, used, and custom surfboards. There is also a huge selection of bodyboards. They have rentals and on site board repair. Also find Hilo Surfboard Company t-shirts and many local brands. Owner Scott Murray will be stoked to see you and talk story!
- 8 Kahuina Gallery, 128 Kilauea Ave (on cnr of Mamo St and Kilauea Ave, just up the street from the Farmer's Market), ☎ . A cooperative of island artists and musicians. A variety of cards, posters, CDs, original works of art, and small publications are available from local artists and musicians. Each Friday night is free open mic and music.
- 9 Kathmandu Trading Company, 35 Waianuenue Ave. A fascinating new addition to the Hilo Bayfront district, Kathmandu Imports sells a collection of Tibetan and Nepali items. Located on Waianuenue Ave.
- 10 Sig Zane Designs, 122 Kamehameha Ave (right next to the Pacific Tsunami Museum), ☎ . M-F 9:30AM-5PM, Sa 9AM-4PM. Sig Zane Designs is one of the premier clothiers in Hawaii. They are known for their original textile prints, which depict indigenous and culturally-significant Hawaiian plants and flowers. The shop offers aloha shirts, ladies' blouses and dresses, handbags, and furniture. Sig Zane's aloha shirts and clothing items are priced higher than brands available at Hilo Hattie, though the quality and look is worth the extra cost. Aloha shirts from $89, Ladies' blouses from $59.
Prince Kuhio Plaza Area
The Prince Kuhio Plaza is the main retail center in Hilo. It is surrounded by many larger retailers and shops. It is best to have a car, as Highway 11 from Banyan Drive to the Plaza is not the most pedestrian-friendly boulevard.
- 11 Big Island Candies, 585 Hinano St, toll-free: . 8:30AM-5PM daily. Big Island Candies is renowned for their chocolate hand-dipped cookies and confections. They even dip dried squid in chocolate! This is one of the most popular gifts for visitors to take home from Hawaii. Products are packaged perfectly for gift-giving.
- 12 Big Island Delights, 762-4 Kanoelehua Ave, ☎ . Big Island Delights cookies. A local favorite when visiting Hilo and bringing back "omiyage", which means a gift to take back home when traveling.
- 13 Discount Fabric Warehouse, 933 Kanoelehua Ave. M-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 10AM-4PM. This unassuming warehouse offers the largest selection of Hawaiian-print fabrics on the Big Island. This is a must-stop for anyone who loves to sew or craft! Very reasonable prices on all fabrics, especially the cotton Hawaiian prints.
- 14 Kawate Seed Shop, 1990 Kinoole Ave, ☎ . Some say Kawate makes the best shave ice in Hilo. With about a dozen flavors, visitors can add ice cream, azuki (red bean paste), or condensed milk to their shave ice. Kawate is also a great place to purchase local-style snacks such as Chinese li hing mui and other "crackseeds". Shave ice from $2.
- 15 Prince Kuhio Plaza, 111 E Puainako St, ☎ . M-Th 9:30AM-8PM, F Sa 9:30AM-9PM, Su 10AM-6PM. Hilo's main shopping center features a number of standard retail stores including American Eagle Outfitters, Hot Topic, GameStop, and Foot Locker. Macy's and Sears are the department store anchors. There are a few local shops such as Big Island Surf Company and Royal Hawaiian Heritage Jewelry. Also has a movie theater and food court.
Hilo is known for its locally-made ice cream. It's some of the best on earth and can be found several places, including Hilo Homemade Ice Cream downtown at 41 Waianuenue Avenue.
The Hilo Farmer's Market, on the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, has lots of cheap eats. If you love tropical fruit, this is the place to go. There's a great tamale stand in the west corner of the market serving very tasty $2 tamales. Market open daily 7AM to 5PM, with extended hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The small town of Pahoa offers The Pahoa Market, which is a flea market open on Sundays and has more prepared food. Take Highway 130 on the way to Pahoa.
- 1 Blane's Drive-Inn, 150 Kino'ole St, 217 Waianuenue Ave. Falling into the category of "plate lunch" place, Blane's has a large, inexpensive menu. Perfect for a heavy lunch after surfing for a couple of hours. A plate lunch usually consists of two scoops of steamed rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and your choice of a variety of extremely fattening delicious goodness. For the less adventurous, they also serve up burgers, fries, chili, etc. They are famous for their loco mocos.
- 2 Cafe 100, 969 Kilauea Ave, ☎ . In honor of the famed 100th Infantry Army Battallion, Mr. Miyashiro who served in the 100th during World War II, established this local restaurant with his wife in 1945. Destroyed twice by the devastating tsunamis, Cafe 100 offers good food at a great price. Known for their "Loco Moco" consisting of a bowl of rice with a hamburger patty, gravy and an egg, it is one of the best places to "grind" on the island and a local favorite.
- 3 Hilo Coffee Mill, 17-995 Volcano Hwy, Mt. View (Btwn the 12 and 13 Mile Markers in Mountain View), ☎ . M-Sa 7AM-4PM. Great light breakfast and locally made lunch specials daily. Some of the best Portuguese Bean Soup around, shoyu chicken, kalua pork, chicken and veggie wraps made to order. Lots more. Friendly staff, great smell of coffee, tours and unique coffee from around the state. Full espresso bar. Coffee roasted on site.
- 4 Ken's House of Pancakes, 1730 Kamehameha Ave (Look for Ken's on Kanoelehua, before Banyan Dr), ☎ . Don't let the name of this place throw you off. They have an amazingly varied menu, and perhaps more importantly, they are the only 24-hour eatery in Hilo.
- 6 Ocean Sushi Deli, 250 Keawe St. Ocean Sushi features low-cost original and creative sushi along with local-style Japanese food. Some favorite sushi: eel with cream cheese, scallop roll with melted cheese on top--yum!
- 7 Suisan, 85 Lihiwai St, ☎ . Many varieties of poke sold by weight - take your package to the park across the street and enjoy a picnic!
- 8 Cafe Pesto, 308 Kamehameha Ave, ☎ . If you have a memory of coming to Hilo as a child, and eating in a reasonably nice restaurant with a view of the bay, chances are it was Cafe Pesto. They have a wide range of food, everything from pizzas to furikake-crusted ono. It's also open late, which is a definite plus in Hilo.
- 9 The Hilo Bay Cafe, 315 Makaala St #109, ☎ . This restaurant was started by the owners of a local health food store (Island Naturals) and features excellent cuisine, featuring local organic produce, etc. A great place for a date. Try a Mojito. The name is somewhat misleading, since it's actually located in the Prince Kuhio Mall, close to Wal-Mart. Strange location, fabulous place. Reservations may be required on Friday or Saturday nights.
- 10 Naung Mai Thai Kitchen, 86 Kilauea Ave, ☎ . 11AM-9PM. Flavorful Thai food with very fresh ingredients. If you want it spicy, you have to ask for that. Apps: $9, Salads: $8-15, Curry: $11-17, Noodles: $11-17, Rice dishes: $13, Seafood: $16, Stir fry: $11-17, Soups: $11-17, Specials: $12-20, Desserts: $3-5.
- 11 Reuben's, 336 Kamehameha Ave (Next door to Hilo Farmer's Market), ☎ . Tu-Su 11AM-8PM. Hilo's best (and perhaps only) Mexican restaurant. Large portions of surprisingly authentic and tasty Mexican staples. Sue, the co-owner and bartender, pours the best (and VERY strong) margaritas in town.
- 12 Sunlight Cafe, 1261 Kilauea Ave, ☎ . Japanese 'izakaya' type menu.
- 13 Sushi Bar Hime, 14 Furneaux Ln. Place sits only 10 people--cozy.
- 14 Coconut Grill, 136 Banyan Way. Excellent entres including Chicken Mauna Kea, Fillet Mingnon, fresh fish dishes and desserts such as Naughty Hula Girl Mud Pie (enough for a family of 4!) and mac nut ice cream.
- 15 Restaurant Miwa, 1261 Kilauea Ave (Hilo Shopping Center), ☎ . An upscale Japanese restaurant, ask about their famous Chirashi bowls, you won't be disappointed.
- 16 The Seaside Restaurant and Aqua Farm, 1790 Kalanianaole Ave, ☎ . One of the best places to be served an "ono" and fresh seafood lunch or dinner. Seaside can be found on Kalanianaole street across from 4-mile beach.
Hilo is a small town, and as such, there is not a lot of public drinking to be done. Despite a very lackluster nightlife, almost every bar has a cover charge. Still, there are a few places to wet your whistle, and maybe catch a live act.
- 1 Detour, 124 Makaala St. A relatively new bar catering mostly to an Asian/Hawaiian clientèle. There is a dance floor with music supplied by a house PA system, there is no DJ. There is a bar/lounge area with pool tables, darts, TV's and sofas and a separate dance floor area. Fights tend to be common here also.
- 2 Cronies, 11 Waianuenue Ave (downtown cnr of Waianuenue and Kamehameha). Until 9PM. General sports bar not a spot for nightlife.
- 3 Hawai'i Nui Brewing Company (Mehana Brewing Company), 275 E. Kawili St. (Across the street from the Community College), ☎ . 9:30-5:30 M-Sa. Small batch craft beers are brewed at this location, 6 are rotated on tap for tastings. Can also purchase logo wear and 6 packs, growlers and fills or rent kegs for your next party. They are the only brewery in the islands that produce and bottle all of their beers on site. Conveniently located on the way to the volcano, waterfalls and beaches!
- 4 Bear's Coffee, 106 Keawe St. Good waffles, lame hours.
- 5 Just Cruisin Coffee, 835 Kilauea Ave (cnr of Kilauea and Pauahi Sts (by the new State building)). Great sandwiches and pastries and 100% pure Kona coffee.
- 6 Hilo Sharks Coffee Shop, 41 Waianuenue Ave. Has delicious icecream and spectacularly delicious coffee.
- 7 Surf Break Cafe, 17 Haili St (Downtown on Kinoole). Great food, wonderful coffee, and the best atmosphere.
- 1 Arnott's Lodge, 98 Apapane Rd, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ranges from hostel bunks and campsites to three-bedroom suites with kitchens. The owner also runs tours and hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. $30-140.
- 2 Uncle Billy's Hilo Bay Hotel, 87 Banyan Dr, ☎ , fax: . Inexpensive rates and excellent location, but poor value due to old, unclean, noisy rooms and spotty service. Should be considered only as a last resort if everything else is booked. 145 rooms. $99-119.
- 3 Pakalana Inn, 321 Punahoa St (adjacent to Hilo Farmer's Market and Wailoa Park, across from Agasa's Furniture and Music, above Koji's Bento ande Hilo Guitars), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 5 nice, newly restored rooms in the second floor of an old building in downtown Hilo. Free Wi-Fi, ocean or mountain views, key-less doors, very short walking distance to all the downtown Hilo offerings. Be there Wednesday or Saturday mornings for the Hilo Farmer's Market action. $99-139.
- 4 Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, 71 Banyan Dr, ☎ , fax: . Older hotel of 286 rooms that has as of 2015 been renovated and with great views. It is clean and the staff are friendly. Internet access in rooms, but the TV is 15 inches. $157-308.
- 5 At the Beach with Friends Bed and Breakfast, 369 Nene St, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Custom built as a B&B on a lagoon at Hilo's favorite swimming beaches. One of a kind tropical setting, privacy, comfortable rooms, friendly, good food, and a great location. Beautiful house and garden with great tropical fish and plant collections. Computer station and WiFi. Cable TVs, and private phone lines in all the rooms. Lounge with books and music. $160-185.
- 6 Hilo Bay Hale, 301 Ponahawai St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A restored 1912 plantation home that features 4 guest suites with private baths and lanai (porches) overlooking koi ponds, streams and Hilo Bay. $159/night, discounts for longer stays.
- 8 Hilo Vacation Rentals, 2256 Kalanianaole Ave, toll-free: . Oceanfront homes front best swimming and snorkeling beaches in Hilo bay. Choose from 1-4 bedroom beach houses. Guests enjoy complete oceanfront privacy in fully-equipped vacation rental homes. Available for nightly, weekly, and extended stays. All properties are privately owned and managed by the same family.
Hilo is generally quite safe. There are usually homeless people loitering around public parks and sometimes they can be a little eccentric, so keep your distance.
If an earthquake were to strike and a tsunami warning were issued, if you are at the beach, there would be tsunami evacuation signs to guide you to a safe distance.
- Haole = White person: Though many think that "haole" just means white person, it refers more to an attitude than anything else. Hilo is a workaday town that sees few tourists. Locals aren't as accustomed to tourists as they are in the resort areas, so respecting the local people and culture is very important. Treat the locals with respect, and the same respect will be returned to you. There are a few Native Hawaiians who have a generally negative attitude to Haoles, and may express this attitude through looks or comments. You are best to simply ignore comments to avoid provocation. You may also find that other Native Hawaiians are quite friendly and warm if you take the time to speak with them and be friendly, yourself.
Locals refrain from wearing aloha outfits, either full body attire or partial outfits. Clothes are very casual to resort casual at best.
- Akaka Falls State Park (11 mi/18 km N of Hilo at the end of Hwy 220). This awe-inspiring waterfall is the highest falls on the island, tumbling 440 feet to its base. The loop trail is an easy walk through the tropical rainforest, and provides several viewing opportunities. Kahuna Falls can also be viewed from the trail, though it is much less impressive than Akaka Falls.
- Nani Mau Gardens, 421 Makalika St (3 mi/5 km from Hilo), ☎ . Nani Mau, which translates as "forever beautiful", features over 50 acres of artistically-landscaped displays of native and exotic tropical flowers and plants, a spectacular orchid garden, rare palms and tropical fruit orchards. First opened to the public in 1972, this tropical garden claims to have every flowering plant in Hawaii.
- Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (off Hwy 19 in Papaikou, 6 mi north of Hilo), ☎ . Daily 9AM-5PM. An expansive garden of rainforest plants, with meandering trails passing through palm forests and past waterfalls and orchids. $15 adults, $5 children 6-16.
- Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo (off Hwy 11), ☎ . 9AM-4PM daily. This is the only zoo in the U.S. situated in a tropical rainforest--a playground for exotic birds and animals, including a white Bengal tiger and pygmy hippos. Three squirrel monkeys from the old Pearl City Tavern (now closed and razed, replaced by a auto dealership) are there as well. Tiger feeding daily at 3:30PM. Free.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - The entrance to the park is in Volcano Village, roughly 40 minutes' drive from downtown Hilo. Many people can spend several days exploring all that the park has to offer. There are a number of excellent hikes, showcasing most of the flavors of Hawaiian geological activity. Of course, the thing that most people come to see is the active flow zone of Kilauea. Entrance fees are consistent with other U.S. National Parks.
- Mauna Kea (28 mi (45 km) west of Hilo on Hawaii Route 200, then north on the access road to the visitor center), ☎ . 9AM-10PM daily. The largest mountain in the world (measured from its base), this dormant volcano has become an international center for astronomy, with multiple observatories located on its summit. The austere Mars-like landscape is dotted with technological marvels, and on a clear day you might be able to see other Hawaiian islands in the distance as well as the other mountains of the Big Island. The elevation is high, and there are few tourist support facilities so hiking and exploring are discouraged. The Visitor Center offers free star gazing parties every night of the year from 6PM-10PM, with staff and volunteers giving verbal star tours and setting up a various array of telescopes for you to look at the skies through. An optimal view of the night sky can be seen there after sunset, enhanced by large telescopes set up for free viewing. Four-wheel drive is required to reach the summit (check with your car rental company before driving to the summit), but the visitor center, which is at approximately 9,300 feet, is reachable by a good 2-wheel drive car with excellent brakes (for the descent — the road up Mauna Kea is very steep). Make sure to bring warm clothing with several layers; temperatures in the 40s or lower are common at night, even in the summer, and a stiff wind is almost guaranteed. Free.