Stuck deciding between Hilo vs. Honolulu for your next Hawaiian vacation? You’re in the right place. While Hilo is a town located on the Big Island of Hawaii, Honolulu is the capital of Oa’Hu. These two Hawaiian islands are separated by three smaller islands and the larger island of Maui. In comparison, Oa’Hu is smaller than the Big Island, but Honolulu and Hilo have quite a different vibe in terms of the tourist experience. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil, full-on vacation-mode kind of visit, or something a little closer to civilization should also factor into your choice between Hilo vs. Honolulu on the beautiful islands of Hawaii.
Keep on reading to learn about the differences between Hilo vs. Honolulu. We’ll discuss their unique attractions, local sights, and worthwhile adventures. Get a better idea of how the geographic distance affects the weather systems, and what kinds of activities you can do. Stick around as we do a breakdown of the best parts of each of these beautiful Islands. Once you’re done with this post you’ll for sure have a better idea of which option of Hilo vs. Honolulu will best fit your ideal Hawaiian vacation. Let’s get into the fun details comparing Hilo vs. Honolulu.
Hilo vs. Honolulu: A Quick Comparison
Hilo is a town on the Northeastern side of the Big Island, while Honolulu is the capital city on the Island of O'ahu. The two differ in terms of climate, with Hilo being fairly rainy with lots of waterfalls in its lush climate. Honolulu on the other hand is typically dryer, with calmer waters than some of the surrounding islands. While Hilo is smaller, it still has lots of things to see and do. Meanwhile, Honolulu, being a major city, will provide lots of attractions and activities and a generally faster-paced vacation.
Hilo History & Attractions
The history of Hilo is centered around the sugar industry. It was a farming and fishing town located on the Northeastern side of the island of Hawai'i. Modern-day, Hilo offers a lovely, relaxed small-town vibe. There are plenty of museums, galleries, restaurants, and other walkable features of downtown Hilo.
It is close in proximity to the Kohala coast, a volcanic region. Because of this, Hilo is known for its vibrant foliage, greenery, and gardens. Only 45 minutes south of Hilo, you'll find the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. In Hilo, you can learn about the town's experience with Tsunamis or more local history (the Lyman Museum, and the Pacific Tsunami Museum). There's also an “incredible”world-class” Astronomy Center called ‘Imiloa. When you're done museum-hopping, check out the Hilo farmer's market, other local artisan shops, or the East Hawai'i Cultural Center.
Hilo is home to the Liliʻuokalani Gardens, located right along Hilo Bay. These gardens feature Japanese-inspired landscaping across 30 acres. Check out the 80-foot Rainbow Falls, and there's also the Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo. So much of Hilo's beauty is owed to its natural attractions, and there are simply so many things to see and do. Time spent on Hilo is sure to be peaceful, and restorative. Check out some of the best restaurants in Hilo on Eater.
Attractions To Consider
- The Lyman Museum
- The Pacific Tsunami Museum
- The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center
- East Hawai'i Cultural Center
- Hilo Farmer's Market
- Hilo Town Market
- Liliʻuokalani Gardens
- Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo
- Rainbow Falls (Waiānuenue)
- Peʻepeʻe Falls
- Na‘au Restaurant
- The Temple Bar
- Moon and Turtle
- New Chiang Mai Thai Cuisine
Honolulu History & Attractions
Honolulu is the capital city of Hawaii. Its landscape is made up of shipping routes, commercial and industrial ventures, towns, villages, and the Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Its history dates back to the 1100s, with early explorers of the Island describing the “protected bay” of Honolulu. It became a base for sandalwood traders and whalers in 1820, and it was a port occupied by the French, and the British between the years of 1843 and 1849. The Island was returned to King Kamehameha III who declared it the capital in 1850.
Modern-day Honolulu is a bustling city along the Southeast Coast of O'ahu. It is still the capital city of this third-largest Island among the eight Hawaiian islands. It is a balanced mixture of a lively metropolis and the calm, ebb, and flow of the nearby sea. Honolulu is known for its fairly dry climate and calmer waters. Get your fix of the sea at Hanama Bay, and a good look at the surrounding Nu’uanu Valley at Pali Lookout. In the city itself, walk the streets of Chinatown and Kaka'ako. In these areas, you can experience Honolulu's street art, local artisan stands, handmade lei shops, and lots of restaurants. Take a drive to the Lyon Arboretum, home to over 200 acres of Tropical rainforest. When you've had your fill of forest, sea, and exploration, Honolulu has more than enough great restaurant options to offer.
Included on Eater‘s list of 38 essential Honolulu restaurants are spots like Wicked Hi Cafe, known for its local fruit and homemade honey slushies, and the Waiahole Poi Factory, a native-owned restaurant serving traditional Hawaiian food. Not only can you experience Honolulu through the sights and sounds, but also the traditional tastes and flavors of this unique and beautiful island city.
Attractions To Consider
- Waikiki Aquarium
- Honolulu Zoo
- Pearl Harbor Museum
- Iolani Palace Honolulu
- Pali Lookout
- Bishop Museum
- Lyon Arboretum
- Chinatown & Kaka'ako
- Wicked Hi Cafe
- Waiahole Poi Factory
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food
- Palace Saimin Restaurant
A good thing to compare between Hilo vs. Honolulu is the budget and cost of visiting. Hawaii is the second most expensive state in America. Since these are islands, one has to consider the cost of building on an island, sending goods, and gas, and maintaining jobs on an island. This ups the price of groceries, transportation, and other in-demand goods.
For vacationers, only some of these things need to be taken into account. Parts of the island can be pricier than others, and while the cost of food is expensive, if you're staying at an all-inclusive resort, you may have a good deal on a fixed price. If you're planning to rent a car to get around the island, the cost of gas can be worth keeping in mind, but there are other ways to get around the island. Transportation may also be a good reason to pick a larger city, like Honolulu, compared to a smaller town like Hilo.
The Cost of Vacationing in Hilo vs. Honolulu
Let's break this down even further. When comparing Hilo vs. Honolulu, it's important to compare an ideal budget. Much of the beauty of Hilo is due to its natural landscapes; waterfalls, rainforests, and beaches are all relatively close and very hikeable. Hilo can provide a peaceful vacation with lots of free sights to see. Kona is the sunnier side of the Big Island, which can make Hilo a slightly less popular tourist destination. The plus side? Prices may not be as high, and many of the local museums and cultural centers offer student/senior discounts and some free event days as well.
Next up we have Honolulu, which is definitely popular and has simply so much to see and do. If you're on a very tight budget, and mostly looking to relax, perhaps Hilo is more your speed. But, if you are able, Honolulu has so much to offer and it's one of the most beautiful places to explore. Budgetyourtrip.com estimates a stay in Honolulu to run about $227 per day/per person. This is only an average though, so it may go up depending on what activities, or island experiences you decide to do.
Since it is a city that has a lot of residents, and also a lot of tourists, you can expect high prices on food, and activities. Consider going in the tourist “off-season,” if you're hoping to better budget. You can also try and cook with the local produce (check out farmers markets too!) to save some money on food.
Whatever way you lean, you're in for a beautiful Hawaiian vacation in either Hilo or Honolulu. Enjoy!
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