Hilo and surrounding areas are wonderful for kids and the child in all of us. Lili'uokalani Gardens offers endless entertainment with its lawns, bridges, paths and ponds. Grab a little fishing pole and see what bites the hook. 30 acres. Japanese gardens and tea house. Free.
Coconut Island sits in Hilo Bay, just offshore of Lili'uokalani Gardens. There is a footbridge across to it. See who can spot turtles and fish under the bridge. There are some tiny beaches on the island, but stay near shore. Heed all warning signs. Before the bridge, people would be rowed out in a boat for a nickel. The caretaker and his family lived on Coconut Island until the 1946 tsunami washed away the house. Can you find parts of the house's foundation?
In old Hawai'i, there were places to find safety, like "base" or "safe" when you play tag. People would try to get there if they had committed a crime, or in times of war. Coconut Island was the safe refuge for the Hilo area.
Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots are in the Wailuku River, about 2 miles apart, on the Hamakua (north) end of Hilo. Each is a short walk from the parking lot to the viewing area. Rainbow Falls: Morning sun creates a rainbow in the spray. Boiling Pots: not hot, just roily. *Do NOT climb down or swim there.The hidden lava tubes that make it appear to "boil" can suck you under, permanently, even when the water appears calm and inviting. We live by the Wailuku River, and 1 to 3 people drown in it every year, almost always sucked into lava tubes.
Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii is a must for children and adults. A world-class venue combining Hawaiians' cultural practices and navigational prowess with modern astronomy, it follows the Hawaiian creation chant and ancient navigation by stars to the current high technology observatories. Hands-on displays, planetarium shows, 3-D shows, a huge hanging sphere, exhibits, restaurant and more...this is a must! Excellent gift shop. Restaurant. The grounds are landscaped with native Hawaiian plants, grouped according to natural elevation. Open Sundays, closed Mondays.
Kalakaua Park is a good starting point for the Historic Downtown Hilo. The great banyan tree is fun for hide-and-seek, and the statue of King David Kalakaua has an informational sign. Across the street and up a block, in front of the library on Wai'anuenue Avenue, lies the Naha Stone --whoever could lift it would unite and rule the islands. King Kamehameha did both.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum documenting Hilo's devastating 1946 and 1960 tidal waves with photos and verbal accounts. They had their cameras, and some incredible shots. The museum started with schoolchildren interviewing the elders who had survived the tsunami, and is now quite impressive. 130 Kamehameha Avenue.
Mokupapapa explores the reefs and shoals of the North West Hawaiian Islands. Includes a reef aquarium. A hit with kids! Free. Tuesday - Saturday 308 Kamehameha Avenue
Wilson's By The Bay sells shave ice, a friendly, happy local favorite of kids, with lots of different flavors. Old timey store with friendly, patient staff. 224 Kamehameha Avenue
Hilo Seeds and Snacks Every local kid loves Chinese preserved seed, a great snack. Go in and buy some, ask what would be good for 'beginners'. Wet li hing mui is easy to start with. Dry li hing mui is not for beginners. Loads of choices here, also candied ginger. 15 Waianuenue Avenue
Lyman House and Museum Missionary house from 1830's has several tours. One of the finest mineral collections in the U.S.; clothing and furnishings from Hawai'i's waves of plantation immigrants document our early history. A Smithsonian affiliate. Haili Street.
The Bayfront parks on either side of Kamehameha Avenue offer wide-open spaces for kids to run around, maybe fly kites, throw the ball, run off some steam. Feed the ducks at Wailoa Park's Waiakea Fish Pond, or go up and down the moon bridges there.
Stop at Hilo Lunch Shop for local-style picnic foods. Get there before noon! Tuesday-Saturday. Take out.
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens has tropical and rainforest animals (Listen to the parrot imitate its owl neighbor). The local plant societies have landscaped it beautifully. Good place to seenene, the endangered Hawaiian goose. Be there when they feed Namaste, the cross-eyed Siberian tiger. Picnic tables. Heading south from Hilo, 2nd road on right after the 4-mile marker on Highway 11. Free.
Drive down to Keaukaha Follow Highway 19 south around Hilo Bay to swimming and snorkeling areas, beautiful scenery. Sometimes whales or dolphins. Great views of Mauna Kea beyond Hilo Bay. Onekahakaha Beach Park has a protected swim lagoon, not too deep, ideal for children.Never turn your back on the ocean--always watch for sudden large waves. Nearby is Hilo Homemade Ice Cream, with local flavors. Tryginger or poha berry.
Akaka Falls 11 miles north of Hilo, a half-mile path through tropical jungle loops past two spectacular waterfalls, Kahuna Falls and Akaka Falls. The trail itself passes over rushing streams and small falls in therainforest. Turn off Highway 19 at the town of Honomu (13-mile marker), follow signs. Poke around in Honomu, a quaint plantation townrevived with gift shops and galleries.
Onizuka Visitors' Center on Mauna Kea--astronomy exhibits, free telescope viewing every night with astronomer guides; very cold; 9,000-ft. elevation. Dress very warmly. Free. *Note: Children under 16 years old are not allowed to go on up to the summit (for health reasons).
Hilo is also the gateway to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, about 30 miles away, at the 4,000' elevation. It has hikes and sights for all ages, and is an easy day trip from Hilo.