Learn About the city of Hilo

Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island and the oldest city in Hawaii. Some people say that Hilo is the Big Island itself. It overlooks Hilo Bay and two volcanoes named Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Hilo City is divided into the District of South Hilo and North Hilo. 

Districts of Hilo

North Hilo District

The North Hilo district is positioned near Hopuwai and Keanakolu localities. The north district is referred to as Hilo Akau in the Hawaiian language. It stretches for 58 miles from Hilo Bay to Waiakea-Uka. Luscious and rich jungles with hidden waterfalls characterize the district. 

South Hilo District

South Hilo is also referred to as Hilo Hema. The district is near Big Island’s two noteworthy attractions: Rainbow Falls and Honolii Beach Park. 

Timeline of Hilo City


1100 AD: The first Hilo inhabitants arrived and brought with them Polynesian knowledge and traditions

Early 1800s: The city of Hilo was just a simple farming and fishing area. 

1823: The early settlement of the city was Waiākea, on the south shore of Hilo Bay. 

Late 1800s: Hilo became a commercial center for the sugar industry. Several Chinese workers came to Hilo to work on sugarcane plantations. 

19th century: Missionaries came to the district and founded Haili Church (the first Christian mission on the Island of Hawaii).

1929: A breakwater was built across Hilo Bay. 

1946: An 8.6 magnitude earthquake near the Aleutian Islands created a tsunami that hit Hilo and left many casualties. 

1949: The Pacific Tsunami warning Center was established to track killer waves and provide warnings to citizens. The Hawaii Belt Road, also called the Mamalahoa Highway, was built. 


Since Hilo is on the eastern windward side of the Big Island, it receives a humid rainforest climate with extensive rainfall throughout the year.

Primary industry

Hilo or the Big Island is the greatest production center of sugar from 1876 to 1994 until the last plantations closed. Today, with the city’s tremendous rainfall, Hilo has become the center of the world’s largest tropical flower industry that exports cut flowers, sprays, and potted plants from various farmer cooperatives and flower farms.  The city dedicated 1 million acres land for agriculture. Other major industry of Hilo are livestock, aquaculture, fruit and vegetable production, tourism, television, film, and commercial production.  

Famous people from Hilo

The city of Hilo is also home to celebrities and historically popular people. Celebrities who were born in Hilo includes Folk Singer, Bianca Casady and baseball player, Kolten Wong. Historically, the most famous person born in Hilo was Princess Victoria Kinoiki Kekaulike in 1843. She was cousin of the Kamehameha Dynasty (refers to the reigning Royal Family of the Kingdom of Hawaii founded by Kamehameha I in 1795).  

Famous buildings

Famous buildings in Hilo includes the following:

1. Haili Church

The church was formerly called the Hilo Station. It was the station for the first Christian mission on the eastern side of Hawaii.

2. Hilo Masonic Lodge Hall

The hall was first referred to as the Bishop Trust Building. It is a historic structure in Hilo constructed between 1908 and 1910. The ground floor of the hall is designed as a commercial space while on the second floor was designed as a meeting hall. 

3. Palace Theater

A theater movie built in 1925 considered to be the most prominent buildings constructed in Hilo in the early 20th century. 

4. The Lyman House Memorial Museum

The Lyman Museum was originally built in 1838, and reestablished in 1971. It was one of only four museums in Hawaii ascribed by the American Alliance of Museums.

5. Federal Building

The federal building is a previous courthouse of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii completed in 1917 and expanded in the 1930s. 

6. Pacific Tsunami Museum

The Pacific Tsunami Museum serves as a living memorial to those who lost their lives in past tsunami events that happened in 1946(Pacific Tsunami) and 1960 (Chilean Tsunami) that devastated much of Hilo. 

7. Volcano Block Building

One of the first fireproof buildings in Hilo built in 1914. It is a two-story commercial building with retail spaces on the ground floor and office spaces in the second floor. 

8. Imiloa Astronomy Center 

Imiloa Astronomy Center is located on a nine-acre campus above the University of Hawaii at Hilo. It is an astronomy and culture education center that exhibits Hawaiian culture and history, astronomy, and the connection between the two, perceived by founding Director George Jacob in 2001. 

9. St. Joseph Catholic Church

The church is one example of Spanish Colonial Revival in Hawaii with its arched corner tower and decorative terra-cotta entrance. It falls under the control of the Diocese of Honolulu and its bishop. 

10. East Hawaii Cultural Center 

The cultural center is an art gallery and community theater that features regular art displays with free or proposed donation entry to the general public.  


1. Hilo International Airport

Hilo International Airport is one of the two major airports in Big Island owned and operated by Hawaii State Department of Transportation. It was known as General Lyman Field before 1989. 

2. Kona International Airport

Although this airport is not directly found in Hilo, it is worth sharing in this article as it also found in the town of Big Island which is Kalaoa. The airport serves leeward Hawaii and is also referred to as Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport in honor for first Asian-American astronaut in space named Ellison Onizuka. Ellison grew up in the Big Island and unfortunately lost his life in 1986, along with six other crew members when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded upon lift.  

Famous Tourist Attractions Near Hilo

1. Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls is about 422 feet found at the end of Akaka Falls Road. Lush rainforest filled with orchids, bamboo groves, and draping ferns surrounded the 0.4 miles hike, which will take an hour to complete. A short hike will lead you first to the 100-foot Kahuna Falls. 

2. Rainbow Falls

To arrive at Rainbow Falls, visitors need to hike a 5.4-mile trail which is moderate in difficulty. The trail has rocky terrain in some sections and elevation gain, which might be a little complex for beginners. 

3. Liliuokalani Gardens

Liliuokalani Gardens is the largest, authentic Edo-style ornamental garden outside of Japan. The last ruling monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, donated five acres of land to create a park in the early 1900s. More acres of land were added and became a Japanese-styled garden as a tribute to the last monarch and the first Japanese immigrants on the Big Island who aided in structuring the agriculture of the island. 

4. Kaumana Caves Park

Kaumana Cave offers a swift viewing into a lava tube that was created by an 1881 flow from Mauna Loa. The cave only offers a short expedition in a limited space. The cave further is private property. 

5. Lyman Museum

Founded in 1931 by the Lyman Family, the Lyman Museum is a Hawaii-based natural history museum that was originally built in 1838. It is the oldest surviving wood-framed building. 

6. Pepeeke Scenic Drive

Also called Onomea, this scenic drive is the most scenic road on the Big Island. It is a scenic 4-mile stretch of the old Mamalahoa Highway, which shows a beautiful spot to another through old bridges and lush tropical forest. 

7. Carlsmith Beach Park

The beach park is a well-maintained beach located among a series of beach parks on the south of Hilo. It borders the eastern edge of the Kealoha Beach Park on the Big Island. 

8. Richardson Beach Park

This beach is popular for being a black sand beach, although if you look closely, most of the sand is green. It is a perfect beach for a picnic, snorkeling, and swimming. Richardson is part of a series of beach parks along Kalaniana’ole Avenue. 

9. Kazumura Cave 

Kazamura Cave is Hawaii’s longest cave and lava tube. It is a 42.5-mile-long natural tunnel within a pahoehoe basalt flow of Kilauea Volcano’s eruption many years ago. Kazamura Cave features dangling lavacicles, lava straws, and extraordinary sculpted plunges known as lava falls.  

10. Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens highlight endangered Hawaiian animals such as spider monkeys, lemurs, Hawaiian State Bird called nene geese, and other animal species. The garden is filled with a water garden, orchids, bamboo, and over a hundred varieties of palms.

Final Thoughts

The rich history of Hilo is another gem of the state. The wide variations of tourist spots and historical buildings surely make tourists’ vacation fun and unforgettable. With its humble beginnings, the town is surely a worthwhile and meaningful place to visit in Hawaii.