On your Hawaii cruise, you might be surprised to learn of the capital city of Hilo, a picturesque town that pays tribute to fascinating parts of Hawaiian history, preserving the beauty of the Big Island for the world to see. Like other stops in Hawaii, you can play, surf, or simply hammock the day away on the beach if you choose a laid-back approach during your cruise to Hilo, Hawaii. But the more active excursions, like dramatic hiking at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or trekking to see the multi-colored waterfalls stream from Rainbow Falls, and cultural sights in Hilo like the East Hawaii Cultural Center, will leave you with a new appreciation of island life.
Walk through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden for a rugged taste of the flora and fauna of Hilo, or wiggle your toes in black beach sand at Richardson’s Ocean Park. Hilo’s quaint charm exudes along every avenue and shop corner. As one of the rainier parts of Hawaii, Hilo is best tackled with water resistant boots and a can-do attitude. This off-the-beaten path stop will soon become your new favorite island town.
For a day trip outside of downtown Hilo, you can’t go wrong with a drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the very active volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa are based. Hikers can trek to the volcanoes summits if they’re feeling adventurous. Guided walks are available for all types of fitness levels and interests.
Christian missionaries from New England created a home in Hilo, and their house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places today. If you’re curious about early settlement here on your cruise to Hilo, Hawaii the Lyman House is the place to go for a laid-back step into the past.
Art enthusiasts won’t want to miss the quirky East Hawaii Cultural Center in the heart of Hilo. It offers regularly changing exhibits and an annual show of artwork repurposed from actual trash.
Take a short ride out of the city to immerse yourself in the rainforest outside Hilo. Waterfalls and tropical plants are givens, sure, but the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden will still take your breath away. Take at least two hours to meander the grounds on a self-guided tour.
Featuring authentic Japanese gardens, scenic bridges, and recreations of ancient tea ceremonies, the Liliuokalani Gardens are dedicated to Japanese immigrants in Hilo. The gardens make for an ideal walking tour, where you’ll be surrounded by lush tropical plants. Enjoy fresh sushi at the garden’s restaurant, Nihon, which offers consistently top-rated eats in Hilo.
Locals love this toasty black sand beach for lounging and surfing alike. Head here for snorkeling, swimming, and dolphin sightings. During certain parts of the year, you might see families of humpback whales swimming close to the shoreline, too.
It’s not a taxing stroll to see all the downtown sights in Hilo, and when you’re done passing the shopfronts and museum facades, stop in for a refreshing iced tea or an unhurried lunch. Like other destinations on the Big Island, Hilo also operates firmly on “island time”.
Significant parts of Hilo were damaged or destroyed by two different 20th century tsunamis, and today survivors are honored at the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Try the powerful wave simulation to understand the magnitude and kinetic movement of tsunamis. An educational but important way to spend the day in Hilo.
Address: 332 Keawe St, Hilo, Island of Hawaii, HI 96720-2932
Pineapple’s Island is a Hilo institution for a quick and easy lunch during your stop in Hilo. You’ll be able to try classic Polynesian dishes and the standard cheeseburgers and pasta fare here. The team at Pineapple’s want visitors to have a good time. Stay for live music Tuesday through Sunday.
Moon and Turtle
Address: 51 Kalakaua St, Hilo, Island of Hawaii, HI 96720-2805
If you’re on the hunt for fresh poke and ahi tuna, Moon and Turtle is a must-try restaurant in Hilo. The menu changes regularly to reflect the day’s fresh catches, and you’ll find Moon and Turtle a cozy spot in Hilo for a date night or a low-key dinner.
Address: 132 Punahoa St, Hilo, Island of Hawaii, HI 96720-6308
For breakfast and brunch, Paul’s Place is the place to be. Waffles, eggs benedict, and other comfort breakfast classic are done well in this no-frills, small cafe. You’ll also find a variety of vegetarian options here, too.
Address: 16 Furneaux Ln, Hilo, Island of Hawaii, HI 96720-2828
Craving sweets or pastries? Head to Moonstruck Patisserie for sponge cakes, cheesecakes, and pastries fit for a snack any time of day. This European-style bakery offers something for everyone. There’s a ham and cheese croissant or spinach quiche if you’re looking for something savory instead.
Hilo is the oldest established city in Hawaii, and record of Polynesian settlement in the Hilo Bay dates back thousands of years. Eventually, settlement by different groups like the Japanese came to Hilo. Sugarcane and macadamia nuts became key natural exports of the area.
Two tsunamis in 1946 and 1960 irrevocably changed Hilo. These tsunamis wreaked destruction on the town and affected thousands of residents. The Pacific Tsunami Center was built to honor the impact of these tragedies, and only deepened the civic loyalty that Hilo is now famous for. Today, the town of Hilo is an important capital city that takes history seriously while balancing a carefree but respectful attitude toward the preservation of Hawaii’s great beauty.
The Hilo cruise port is about two miles from downtown, and there are typically shuttle services available to get travelers to downtown or the farmer’s market. It’s mostly a cargo port but it does accommodate cruise ship traffic, too. When you step onto the port, you’ll overlook the beautiful Hilo Bay and you’ll be welcomed to Hawaii by a traditional, cheerful dance performance.
When your Celebrity cruise to Hilo, Hawaii docks in port, you can take a complimentary shuttle to a huge shopping center, or ride in a taxi to downtown. A $1 bus, Monday through Saturday, will drop passengers off at the Hilo Information Center from the port each hour. It’s also free for seniors. After that, getting around during your Hilo cruise stop is pretty straightforward. The downtown is very walkable, and your own two feet will take you far on the island. Taxis are available in Hilo, too, ready to take you to the protected landmarks and national parks further from the city center.
If you’re looking to spend the day shopping while on your Hilo cruise, a shuttle will take you to one of Hilo’s biggest shopping malls from the port. It’s huge for fashion retailers ranging from small to upscale, as well as selling goods from local artisans. Shop like a local while you’re there at the open-air Hilo Farmers Market, which sells fresh fruits and vegetables, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Hawaii’s official currency is the U.S. dollar (USD), and credit cards are widely accepted on the Big Island. Bringing a little bit of cash never hurts for small transactions or if you’re trying to get a bargain with a local vendor. Tipping standards are like the other states of the USA, so things won’t be too different. Leave 15-20% at restaurants and 15% for taxi drivers during your cruise to Hilo, Hawaii. Since the island relies so heavily on tourism and the service economy, you’re helping support Hawaii’s future when you tip.