Cycling Tour: Hilo to Akaka Falls

  • Start Downtown Hilo
  • End Akaka Falls
  • Length 30 miles round-trip; three hours

Note that this ride includes stretches of narrow shoulder along bridges on Hwy 19. If you're not an experienced cyclist comfortable with highway traffic, stick to in-town rides.

Plan your ride for an early morning departure on a clear day. Start in downtown Hilo, where you can grab on-road supplies such as super-high-SPF sunblock at Abundant Life Natural Foods. Go north across the Singing Bridge and you'll ride for about 5 miles along Hwy 19. Be careful crossing the Honoli‘i Bridge, since the road shoulder narrows due to the raised bridge structure.

Turn right at the sign for the Pepe‘ekeo 4-Mile Scenic Drive. This road is narrow and winding, with multiple one-lane bridges, but traffic is lighter. If you're in no rush, succumb to each photo op: jungly foliage, old plantation houses, twinkling waterfalls, weather-worn one-lane bridges. Expect gentle ups and downs and blind turns. When you reach a clearing within sight of the ocean, stop and see the fallen remains of the Onomea Arch (which now looks like a U-shaped landmark).

You'll bypass Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (save it for another day), and wind through more lush rainforest and some scattered houses. To the left, pass the cheerful yellow facade of What's Shakin' and then tidy green-roofed Low Store, both worth roadside eateries for another day. Cross a final one-lane bridge, veer left and you'll return to Hwy 19.

After a couple of miles, turn left onto Hwy 220 to ‘Akaka Falls State Park. Pace yourself for 4 miles of uphill climbing. If you're lucky, Mauna Kea will stand towering before you. If riding in the afternoon, the sun in your face could be brutal.

At the state park, either lock your bike to a post or, if cycling with others, take turns visiting the falls. The fee per walk-in visitor is $1. On your way back, stop in Honomu for a celebratory coffee break at Hilo Sharks Coffee.

Walking Tour: Historic Downtown Hilo

  • Start Mo‘oheau Bandstand
  • End Hilo Farmers Market
  • Length 1 mile; half day

Park your car somewhere along Kamehameha Ave and stop at the historic Mo‘oheau Bandstand, c 1905 and a rare survivor of the 1946 tsunami. If you're lucky, the county band will be performing their monthly concert. Next, cross the street toward the Hilo Farmers Market, which will eventually be your final stop, and continue along Kamehameha Ave to the S Hata Building, a 1912 example of renaissance revival architecture with a distinctive row of arched windows on the 2nd floor. The US government seized this building from its original Japanese owner during WWII. After the war, the owner’s daughter bought it back for $100,000. Today it houses Café Pesto, among other businesses.

Along Kamehameha Ave, numerous gift shops vie for attention. Target those that sell locally made items, not imported knockoffs. Extreme Exposure Fine Art Gallery is ideal for volcano photography. Take note of Haili St for a later visit to the art-deco Palace Theater (1925), which was the island’s first major playhouse, with 'stadium' seating, and still offers great concerts, movies and plays. Continuing along Kam Ave, glance at the art-deco SH Kress Company Building, which was Hilo's branch of the popular five-and-dime store until 1980; it now houses a charter school.

Tour the Pacific Tsunami Museum, which brings to life the two catastrophic tsunami in 1946 and 1960 that permanently changed Hilo's layout and psyche. The museum is located in the old First Hawaiian Bank building, with its parapet, fluted columns and wrought-iron features; it was designed by renowned Honolulu architect CW Dickey in 1930. Next door, admire the iconic botanical fabrics of the aloha wear at Sig Zane.

Another museum worth a stop is Mokupapapa Discovery Center in the notable FW Koehnen Building (1910), with its eye-catching blue facade with interior koa walls and ohia floors. The museum highlights the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (a 1500-mile-long archipelago beyond the major eight islands that constitute the US state) and their pristine marine environment. Don't miss the Locavore Store, toward the end of the block: all local stuff.

Then head up Waianuenue Ave where, on the left-hand side of the street, you'll pass two wooden buildings typical of early 20th-century Hawai‘i: the Burns Building (1913), which now houses a hostel, and the Pacific Building (1922) next door. Across the street, the Kaikodo Building (1908), built with then-novel 'fireproof' steel beams on reinforced concrete, was home to Hilo's first Masonic Lodge. It's now Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill.

Next and most dramatic is the Federal Building (1919) across Kekaulike St. Designed by architect Henry Whitfield, this stately building is typical of Hilo’s early 20th-century government buildings. The former courthouse today houses government offices, including the downtown post office branch.

Walk through the small but lovely green space of Kalakaua Park, where a bronze statue of King David Kalakaua (the ‘Merrie Monarch’) stands in the center. The lily-filled pool honors Korean War veterans, and buried under the grass is a time capsule, sealed on the last total solar eclipse (July 11, 1991), to be opened on the next one (May 3, 2106).

Next stop at East Hawai‘i Cultural Center/HMOCA and check out their current art exhibits. The gallery building (1932), formerly a courthouse and then the county police department headquarters, is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Next door is the notable Hawaiian Telephone Company Building, which was designed in the 1920s by CW Dickey with Spanish, Italian and Californian mission influences. Note the high-hipped, green tile roof and the brightly colored terracotta tiles set in the building.

Along Keawe St, backtrack half a block to find two gems. Local Antiques & Stuff is chock-full of fascinating artifacts and memorabilia from plantation days. Next door, stop for a coffee at longtime Bears' Coffee.

Turn around and go northwest along Keawe St, less bustling than Kamehameha Ave but also offering indie shops worth browsing. An unexpected find is Still Life Books, a cozy basement space filled with quality secondhand books and LPs. Before heading makai (toward the ocean), try the island-grown, island-made chocolate at Hawaiian Crown.

The Hilo Farmers Market is jammed from daybreak on Wednesday and Saturday, when locals and tourists alike meander around a dazzling array of fresh produce, flowers, and other locally made goods. Bring cash and a bag.

Walking Tour: Bayfront Loop

  • Start Mo‘oheau Bandstand
  • End Mo‘oheau Bandstand
  • Length 4 miles; two hours

This scenic walk, which highlights Hilo Bay, can also be done by bicycle. You'll be navigating on a safe paved path, Hilo Bayfront Trails, for most of the way.

Start at the Mo‘oheau Bandstand, an iconic landmark that serves as a gathering spot for concerts, hula shows, political rallies and more. If you plan to picnic during your walk, cross Kamehameha Ave and cobble together a meal from the farmers market or find your favorite takeout. The path starts slightly east of the bandstand.

At the end of the highway, see Suisan Fish Market (another option for delicious takeout poke bowls) to your left. Go in that direction toward LIli‘uokalani Park. With its Japanese-style bridges and pagodas, vast lawns and magnificent trees, the park is a wonderful place to stroll or to picnic. Views of Hilo Bay and the Hamakua Coast, with Mauna Kea in the background, are spectacular.

At the northern end of the park, find the footbridge to Mokuola (Coconut Island), a mini island that surely reflects every kid's fantasy. Next head left onto Banyan Dr, iconic for its massive banyan trees.

You'll soon reach Reeds Bay Beach Park, a sleepy cove with still waters ideal for learning SUP. Circle back toward Kamehameha Ave, where you'll walk along the golf course. Stop at the tall green Tsunami Clock, just opposite Coqui's Hideaway, stopped by Hilo's second catastrophic tsunami at 1:04 on the morning of May 23, 1960.

Continue on Kamehameha Ave, cross to the mauka (inland) side of the street and veer left into Wailoa River State Park. Cross the pretty rainbow-shaped bridges over ponds of fish and ducks. On the western side of the river, stop at Wailoa Center if an exhihit is running, and at the Vietnam War and Shinmachi Tsunami memorials.

Join Kamehameha Ave again and continue west past the sports fields until you reach downtown Hilo. After a break for refreshments, you can return to the bandstand area if that's where you parked your car.