Hilo on Hawaii's Big Island

Anthuriums for sale at the Hilo Farmers Market in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii
Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

Where the Wailuku River meets Hilo Bay on the eastern side of Hawaii's Big Island is the town of Hilo, Hawaii.

Hilo is the largest town on the island of Hawaii and second largest in the State of Hawaii. Its population is approximately 43,263 (2010 census).

The derivation of the name "Hilo" is unclear. Some believe the name derives from the Hawaiian word for the first night of the new moon. Others believe that it is named for a famous ancient navigator. Still others feel Kamehameha I gave the town its name.

Hilo Hawaii Weather:

Due to its location on the windward (eastern) side of the Hawaii's Big Island, Hilo is one of the wettest towns in the world with an average rainfall of 129 inches.

On average, precipitation of more than .01 inches is measured 278 days of the year.

Temperatures average around 70°F in the winter and 75°F in the summer. Lows range from 63°F - 68°F and highs from 79°F - 84°F.

Hilo has a history of tsunamis. The worst in modern times occurred in 1946 and 1960. The town has taken extensive precautions to deal with future tsunamis. A great place to learn more is at the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo.

Whenever potential visitors discuss Hilo the issue of the weather always plays an important part in the conversation.

While Hilo definitely has a large amount of rain, much of it is at night. Most days have prolonged periods without rain.

A benefit of the rain is that the area is always lush, green and flowers abound. Despite the weather the people of Hilo are warm and friendly and the town retains much of the small town feel.


Hilo Hawaii has a highly diverse ethnic population. United States government census figures show that 17% of Hilo's population is White and 13% Native Hawaiian. A significant 38% of Hilo's residents are of Asian decent - primarily Japanese. Nearly 30% of its population classify themselves as being of two or more races.

Hilo's large Japanese population derives from the area's role as a large producer of sugar cane. Many Japanese came to the area to work on plantations in the late 1800s.

History of Hilo:

Hilo was a major center of trade in ancient Hawaii, where native Hawaiians came to trade with others across the Wailuku River.

Westerners were attracted by the bay which provided a safe harbor and missionaries settled in the town in 1824 bringing Christian influences.

As the sugar industry grew in the late 1800's, so did Hilo. It became the major center for shipping, shopping and weekend diversions.

Devastating tsunamis severely damaged the city in 1946 and 1960. Gradually the sugar industry died.

Today Hilo remains a major population center. The tourist trade has become important to the area's economy as many visitors stay in Hilo when they visit nearby Volcanoes National Park.

The University of Hawaii maintains a campus in Hilo with over 4,000 students. Like much of the eastern part of the Big Island, Hilo continues to suffer the economic consequences of the loss of the sugar industry.

Getting to Hilo:

Hilo Hawaii is home to Hilo International Airport which handles numerous inter-island flights each day.

The town can be reached from the north by Highway 19 from Waimea (approximately 1 hour 15 minutes). It can be reached from Kailua-Kona by Highway 11 around the southern part of the Big Island (approximately 3 hours).

More adventurous travelers take the Saddle Road which is a more direct route across the island between the islands two major mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Hilo Lodging:

Hilo has several moderately priced hotels located along Banyan Drive as well as several smaller hotels/motels downtown and a nice selection of bed & breakfasts and vacation rentals.

We've compiled a few of our favorites which we've placed on a separate profile page of Hilo Accommodations.

Hilo Dining:

Hilo has a nice selection of affordable restaurants. Among the best are Café Pesto, which features modern Italian cuisine with a Pacific-Rim influence.

Local favorite Ponds offers steaks and seafood along with live Hawaiian music.

My favorite, by far, is Uncle Billy's on Banyan Drive which serves superb and affordable dinners and has great, live Hawaiian music nightly.

Merrie Monarch Festival

The week after Easter is when hula halau from the islands of Hawaii and the mainland gather in Hilo on the Big Island for the Merrie Monarch Festival. The Festival began in 1964 and has evolved into what is now universally considered to be the world's most prestigious hula competition. In recent years you have been able to view the festival live via streaming video on the Internet.

Area Attractions

There are lots of things to do in the Hilo area. Check our our feature on Hilo Area Attractions.

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