This sleepy, seaside town doubles as an adventurer’s paradise.
Seaside Hilo, with its untouched feel and misty breeze, is a gateway to outdoor adventure. The volcanic peak of Mauna Loa in Hawaii Volcanoes National Parkstands 13,000 feet over the town. From surfing to enjoying delicious island fare, there's more than enough to do in 48 hours. Bring your slicker: With 126 inches of rainfall a year, Hilo is no stranger to rain.
GETTING THERE:Hawaii Island has two major airports, Kona International and tiny Hilo International. United, via Los Angeles, is the only way to fly directly to Hilo from the mainland. American, Delta, and Hawaiian service the airport through inter-island flights.
Otherwise, fly to Kona and drive the 90 minutes to two hours. Snaking through gulches overlooking the Pacific and alongside waterfalls peeking out from corners make it worthwhile.
WHERE TO STAY:After a $30 million facelift reinventing what was formerly the Hilo Naniloa Hotel, theGrand Naniloa Hotel Hilo now commands the tip of tree-lined Banyan Drive. The lobby is white-washed with couches opening to Hilo Bay and the Pacific (that’s Mauna Kea in the distance). Just two miles from the airport and a quick walk to downtown, the property is also tucked away behind a nine-hole golf course and a quaint Japanese-style garden. Another perk: Kapohokine Adventures, Hawaii’s top eco-adventure tour operator, operates out of a sustainably-built sports shop off the Grand Nailoa’s lobby.
For something a little more removed, the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, a countryside bed and breakfast, is 15 minutes outside of Hilo’s downtown but high enough up for ocean views. Here, guest rooms have private entrances, marble bathrooms, and balconies that overlook a 120-foot waterfall.
WHAT TO DO:
Foodies will want to spend their mornings perusing the aisles of Hilo’s Farmers Market. Here, in the shade of Banyan trees by the ocean, more than 200 local purveyors put their goods—tropical flowers, papayas, coconuts (that can be cracked right in front of you), and more—on display. Explore the old downtown next: it’s peppered with Hawaiian street art, wooden storefronts, homey cafes whipping up fresh acaí bowls, and art galleries.
Water isn’t far in Hilo. And those who love it won’t want to miss two nearby waterfalls. Akaka Falls is a wild 442-foot fall into a gorge in the middle of a rainforest (an easy turn off the highway); and Waianuenue (Rainbow Falls) is an 80-foot drop made famous for the rainbows that appear in its mist. Surfers can catch their breaks at Honoli'i Beach Park, a black sand beach where you’re likely to find green sea turtles popping their heads out of the water.
Dinner is at Asian/Hawaiian-fusion eatery Moon and Turtle, where locally-sourced ingredients make up an ever-changing menu.
Dedicate a whole day to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Part rainforest, part active volcano, it’s just 45 minutes away from downtown Hilo. Since the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a monstrosity (333,000 acres)—expect everything from sprawling overlooks and short rainforest walks to backcountry, volcanic hikes—it’s best to go with a guide.
Adrenaline junkies, book Kapohokine’s lava expedition. It’s an all-day in-and-out trek across blackened lava at the park’s most current active eruption site. Flowing lava isn’t a guarantee but the mere chance of seeing the red hues glowing in the black sky is worth the hike back after dark. Alternatively, take a bike tour through the volcano.
We suggest splurging on breakfast for dinner (or a loco moco, a Hawaiian dish with rice, a hamburger patty, eggs, and gravy) at the classic Hilo establishment, Ken’s House of Pancakes, on your way back into town. It’s open 24 hours a day and is a favorite of celebs like The Rock.
If you have time before your flight out, regenerate via a yoga class.