Hawaii Island, top places to visit on the east side

Hawaii Island, top places to visit on the east side



Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island of Hawaii is quite large in terms of size and places to see and visit. In order to give a more adequate coverage of key sites to visit, this post covers visiting the key attractions and historic sites on the east side of the Hawaii island from Volcano through the Puna district and into Hilo and the Hamakua coastline areas and places worth visiting. Covering a lush area, East Hawaii is green and full of tropical forests, beautiful waterfalls, botanical gardens and untouched verdant landscape. There’s so much to see and discover in this area, but here are some of my favorite and top places to visit on the east side of Hawaii Island.

What to see and do in East Hawaii island



petroglyphs at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park

Probably the most popular destination on the east side of Hawaii island would be Volcanoes National Park at Kilauea. It’s worth spending an entire day or even a few days to enjoy the national park and the vast area that it covers. There are a variety of activities, hikes and fascinating places to explore and experience within the park for tourists and even locals to visit. The visitors center is a good starting point where you can learn about many facets  about the volcano and the legends of the goddess Pele who lives in the crater of Halema’uma’u. If you can stay until evening time when the fumes and red glow of Halema’uma’u crater come’s alive along with the amazing amount of brilliant stars that come out at night – it’s an experience worth staying up for while you are visiting the park.




Hilo farmers market

East Hawaii Farmers markets

There are many local farmers markets worth visiting on the east side of Hawaii island which caters to locals as well as tourists. The most popular being the Hilo farmers markets occurring on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Other busy markets include the Macu’u and the Pahoa markets in the Puna district, and the Volcano markets on Sunday mornings. Uncle Robert’s in Kalapana has a very lively market night on Wednesdays with live music, dance and ono(delicious) local style food for sale. Don’t forget to try some of the local specialties, fresh produce and locally made products available at these markets, it’s so good to support small and sustainable companies on the island while you are visiting and try something unique from the island.


Places to visit in East Hawaii

Tropical gardens

Tropical Gardens of East Hawaii

The east side of the Hawaii Island is lush and filled with tropical splendor and bounty and the gardens here are pretty spectacular to visit. Some of the gorgeous botanical gardens are public like Akaka falls in Onomea, the Hilo arboretum, Rainbow Falls and Liliuokalani park in Hilo and even the Hilo zoo is an amazing botanical garden to visit. There are also private gardens to visit like the Hawaii Tropical Botanical garden in Papaiko and the World Botanical Garden and waterfalls in Hakalau. If your into orchids then don’t miss out on the amazing Cattleya and other varieties of orchids in bloom at Akatsukas Orchid garden in Volcano. A beautiful garden and art gallery is the Volcano Art Center in Volcano town, it’s a fun place to enjoy art, visit the scenic gardens  and enjoy a delicious organic lunch in their café overlooking the gardens.


Rainbow falls trail in Hilo

Scenic Waterfalls

East Hawaii has so many waterfalls that are easily accessible just off the side of the road or a short hike to reach them and capture some beautiful images. In Hilo, you can get to Rainbow falls and Pe’epe’e falls (also known as boiling pots area) with beautiful vista points. Akaka Falls in Honomu has a beautiful botanical garden and walk along with two large waterfalls to visit.  Also, driving along highway 19 on the Hamakua coastline are many waterfalls that you will also pass UmaUma falls and so many other falls just by driving down Highway 19 and passing any of the gulches along your route.



Hilo bay scenic view of downtown

Hilo town

Little Hilo town is charming like time stood still, and it is a little faded and worn but still maintains a wonderful and friendly atmosphere with lively people. Walking through the bayfront, check out the many interesting shops or have a local meal in any of the cafes. The farmers market is just on the end so try out some of the local delicacies or fresh tropical fruit while you’re visiting. There are many beautiful natural landmarks, waterfalls, parks and beaches to visit while you’re in town, so don’t miss out on some scenic places to photograph and enjoy spending some time relaxing.


Kapoho Kalapana Road

The Red Road/Puna loop

The gorgeous drive around the Puna coast on the highway 132/aka the Red Road  is a beautiful loop road of some of the most scenic and unspoiled areas of Hawaii Island. You can drive through lush forest canopies, visit sheltered coves with secret beaches, snorkel in amazing coral lagoons and even soak into warm ponds by the ocean. It’s worth the time and drive to visit this unique part of East Hawaii and see nature at its best. If you can spend a few hours or even a day discovering this unspoiled and scenic loop, you will discover another part of East Hawaii that remains unchanged and a nice diversion from busy or tacky tourist venues.

Kilauea ocean lava entry April 2013

Trek, boat or fly to see live lava

Anyway that you can see live lava on the Big Island is once in a lifetime experience. You can take a walking trek with various local touring companies from the area. You can also charter a helicopter or small plane to see the coastline and above views of the lava fields and lava entry or you can even take a boat tour along the Puna coastline to the lava entry into the ocean – it’s a spectacular experience to see nature in its most amazing moments with lava still active and emptying into the Pacific ocean and creating new land in East Hawaii. Depending on the time that you visit, you may still see lava pouring out into the ocean or along the cliffsides going down to the ocean.



Keaukaha aka Carl Smith beach in Hilo


 East Hawaii beaches

There are so many beaches on East Hawaii that have beautiful lagoons, crystal clear water and dazzling aqua colors with gorgeous views of the coastline.  Driving down Kalanianaole Avenue fronting the coastline from downtown Hilo is a string of sweet inlets and beaches including Reeds bay, Keaukaha beach park, Carl Smith beach park and Richardson beach park. The drive alone is wonderful and reminiscent of bygone days of traveling to an older part of island and beach cruising.

These are just some of the highlights of East Hawaii attractions, there are so many other wonderful areas, towns and scenic spots not mentioned but worth exploring if you have some free time. If you also spent some time here and had a unique experience, please share with us in the comments below.

I also posted recently about this wonderful hike to scenic Waipio Valley and some of the gorgeous areas to visit in the valley floor, come and take a look at this post if you haven’t done so yet.


If you enjoyed this post, please check out these other Big Island stories


Big Island key attractions on the West side

Things to do on the Big Island with kids

Akaka Falls on the Big Island

Big Island locally grown foods

Visiting Keauhou on the Big Island

Body Glove snorkel cruise

Punalu’u black sand beach

Road trip to the Hamakua district

Hapuna Beach in Kohala


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27 Responses to Hawaii Island, top places to visit on the east side

  1. Dakota April 29, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    Wonderful article! That is the type of info that are supposed to be
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  2. Suzanne Fluhr January 3, 2014 at 6:48 am #

    We visited the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden outside Hilo. Lush and beautiful. The micro-climates on the Big Island ensure that you will never get bored.

  3. Heather August 28, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Great photo essay! I’ve been to Hawaii about 13 times now. We just took my husband’s girls (my new bonus daughters) to Maui – their first time – last month! They’re dying to see the Volcanoes on the Big Island! Will definitely be showing your blog to them! Beautiful photographs.

    • Noel August 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

      Aloha Heather,

      Thanks for connecting, well I guess you do like Hawaii if you have been 13x, but please do come and visit the Big Island, it is different and gorgeous. Not to say the other islands are not stunning also 🙂

  4. Cathy Sweeney July 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Your photos are amazing. My personal favorite is the one with the gorgeous flowers and the man with the ukulele. I was in awe when I visited Volcanoes National Park. Beautiful and surreal.

  5. Marc Stich July 15, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Love your images. We will be visiting Hilo 9/13. What zoom range would you rec. to bring with my Nikon D3200 DLR, for landscapes, volcanoes, maybe wildlife? Thanks, Marc

  6. Nancie July 14, 2013 at 3:58 am #

    Stunning shots, Noel! The shot of the red road/puna loop is amazing!

  7. Iliahi July 12, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Love the great photos! Mahalo Noel!

  8. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} July 12, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    I especially like your lead photo with the flowers in the forground and the crater in the back. That lava flowing into the ocean photo is amazing, too. When we were there, the lava flow was way up above the viewing area, so we didn’t have a very good look at it.

    • Noel July 12, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      Definitely come back and visit our island. Thanks for dropping by meanwhile

  9. InsideJourneys July 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Thanks for this virtual tour. Hawaii is such a beautiful island. I’d love to see ‘live’ lava.

    • Noel July 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      It’s one of the most amazing experiences to see lava coming out from the mysterious areas to empty out into the ocean, amazing!

  10. louise butler July 11, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Loved the photos and article. Just an fyi, the Red Road is actually rte 137. Pahoa to Kapoho is rte 132.

    • Noel July 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      Thanks for catching that, appreciate it Louise

  11. budget jan July 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    All great shots, but the fiery lava flow and the canopy of trees over the road are my two favourites.

  12. Sophie July 11, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    My aunt has had a house on the Big Island for 20 years or so and I still haven’t managed to visit… Looks beautiful and fascinating, esp. the lava.

    • Noel July 11, 2013 at 11:09 am #

      You should definitely visit Sophie, you would both have a great time seeing the beautiful places here.

  13. muzachan July 11, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Beautiful photos 🙂

  14. Jennifer July 11, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    Oh my! I haven’t been to the Big Island but I really want to see live lava. Your list of the top attractions make me want to come to the Big Island.

  15. Rob Ledger July 10, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Always a dream of mine to visit Hawaii. Really impressive photos Noel.

    • Noel July 10, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks Rob, look forward to following more of your stories


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