Top 10 things to do in Hilo for new (and not-so-adventurous) Moms

by MaruMaru Hawaii

When Anne first asked Kara and I if we wanted to do a guest blog on Living Hilo Style, we were stoked! I mean, hellooooo we’re ALL about that #hilolove! haha! The only stipulation was that it needed to be after Merrie Monarch because we have less-than-usual brain function before and during our biggest craft fair of the year.

But alas….we forgot that we are moms, so things never really “settle down” enough to think straight. After months of prepping, planning and packing for the craft fair…then three long days of selling, smiling, and sweating…we went straight back to reorders and reprints because we ended up selling out of everything! Then Kara (finally!) had her baby five days after her due date….little Koa Oliver was born on April 28, 2017! So, of course, everything gets put on hold for a bit because, well, BABY! haha! So as if things weren’t busy enough before, now with a newborn and three toddlers in tow, life is basically straight-up craaaazy for MaruMaru Hawaii!

Thus, with our totally exhausted and half-running brains, we decided to focus our guest blog post on something easy that we know all too well….the struggle of figuring out what to do in Hilo with little kids! haha! I mean we love our little Hilo town, but sometimes we do wish there was a bit more to do without having to drive across the island (or fly over to the next island). And while we dream of being those cool #chillmoms who can be on their way to the beach in 1.2 minutes flat with just a diaper in her purse and kids following behind, that’s sooo NOT us. We are the total worry-wart, overbearing, overprotective, over-packing, over-everything #helicoptermoms. All Brody, Kai, and Mia hear is “be careful,” “don’t touch that,” “watch out,” and “don’t do that”, so finding easy, safe and relatively worry-free things to do in Hilo can be a little challenging.

So if you love trying new things and going new places with your babe slung in your cool Tula (or is it a Moby? Or Bjorn?), this blog post probably won’t interest you. While we envy your easy-going nature and adventurous spirit, we will ‘like’ your #mamaandbabevolcanoselfies from the safe bounds of our living room couch. However, if you like easy, safe and relatively worry-free activities for kids and you’re a (relatively) new mom in Hilo (we’re talking kids ages 0-3 yrs)… attention!

Thus, without further ado, here’s our “Top 10 things to do in Hilo for new (and not-so-adventurous) Moms”! (PS, since Kara has a newborn on her hands at the moment, this blog is written by Tania, but of course with input and final approval from Kara. haha!)

1. Target

So I know this one is totally obvy, and if you have kids you probably already hit up Target on the regular, but it really is our #1 place to go (like alllll the time), so we had to include it on our list.

First off….what did moms used to do before Target came to Hilo?!?! I mean where did you go to buy baby stuff? And $1 junks that you don’t need? And how did you know what season it was without buying an adorable (but unnecessary) $3 sign? And how did you shop without a Starbucks in your hand? And did someone say Cartwheel?!?!

Once we had kids, we realized we literally could not survive without Target. I had the luck of having kids who wake up early….like 5 a.m. early. So we would be at Target promptly at 8 a.m. (when they open) because mama needed a coffee and the kids needed to get out of the house. Since the store is still pretty empty, you can get the perfect parking next to the cart return, there is no line at Starbucks, and the kids can have a blast running up and down the clean, spacious aisles without worry because nobody is around. And the best part? I can leisurely sip my skinny mocha while buying kids clothes (that are totally unnecessary but oh-so-cute and 50-75% off), more plastic storage bins (because I need someplace to put all the unnecessary clothes I just bought for next season), a gallon of milk (because I realized that morning the kids were drinking milk that expired 2 days ago), and 3 boxes of Cheerios (because it was on sale and it’s a great way to “stretch” snacks). Speaking of snacks, I also bring snacks to Target. I know it sounds insane, but after about 30 minutes, the kids are over running around (or maybe I’m just tired of trying to keep track of them), so I bust out the snacks and they sit quietly in the wagon so that I can finish shopping. And if you forgot to bring their water, Starbucks actually gives water for free, and don’t forget to ask for that handy drink holder for your wagon! Some people might think this is over-doing it, but I already told you, we ARE those “over-everything” moms! Oh and before you leave Target, don’t forget to check Cartwheel to see all the other stuff you don’t really need stuff, but it’s on sale, so hey, why not! Then 1-1/2 hours (and $125) later, the kids are ready for their morning nap and we can leave before everyone else starts their shopping! The perfect morning outing!

2. The Plaza

This is another no-brainer, but Prince Kuhio Plaza is a total ‘go-to’ place for us ever since we had kids….and it’s not for the shopping. haha! There’s always lots of parking at the plaza, it’s air-conditioned, stroller-friendly, and it’s ‘contained’, which is very helpful if you have a little one who’s a “runner”. And the best part is you don’t need to wait until 10 am when the stores open. As long as you go through a non-store entrance, it’s open from early (not sure exactly what time, but it’s for the mall-walkers) and you can let your kids roam free, worry-free! And trust me, they won’t care that the stores aren’t open. They will be happy just running around like maniacs!

There’s also those quarter rides at the plaza, which are fabulous when your kids are young because you don’t even need to put money in! (Unfortunately, once they turn around 2 yrs old they smarten up, so start your quarter collections now.) Garfield and the ice cream truck have become family favorites and we can even see the kids’ growth comparing various pics over the years. haha! Oh and the pet store right next to Garfield is always a great attraction for the kids. And I dunno why, but my kids love ‘playing’ that yellow redemption game outside of Old Navy (aka running around the machine pressing buttons and holding the joystick)….and anyone else’s kid stands in front of the TVs outside of Hallmark totally mesmerized? haha! Gotta love free fun!

Once your kids get a little older, the train, Halihali rides and Tilt are great too. It can get a little expensive though so those should only be used sparingly as bribes, I mean treats! :p And if your kids get cranky you can just hop on over to Zippys for Napples, get some furikake arare popcorn from that kiosk by Lids (don’t forget your chopsticks!), or my friend introduced us to the skinny spam musubi rolls (perfect for little hands and mouths) at Sunlight Express. There’s also Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and Yogurtland outside, but if it’s pouring rain, you’re out of luck because (oddly enough) the sidewalks around the plaza are not covered. (I mean hellooooo, it’s Hilo! EVERY sidewalk should be covered!)

We haven’t tried taking the kids to the theater yet. Maybe we’ll try when they have cheap matinees during the summer. And we’re so excited to see what’s opening up at the old Hilo Hatties location. We heard maybe a Genki Sushi? We love Genki because it’s fast and the kids love the cheap hot dog, spam and egg sushi!

3. Indoor Playspace

This one is something (relatively) new to Hilo…Na Manu Lii Playspace is an indoor play space located in downtown Hilo! Its been around for a little over a year and it’s the most awesome thing for those rainy Hilo days! It’s air-conditioned and TOTALLY toddler-friendly, with all kinds of big blocks to build, walls to climb, and things to do. They offer Keiki Camp, Open Play, Date Nights and lots of other fun activities for toddlers! And we heard they will be expanding their services and moving to a bigger location soon, so we’re totally stoked for them!

So far we’ve only tried the Open Play sessions on the weekends, and every single time our kids always have a blast. It’s basically like taking your kids to a playground, except it’s safer, indoors (no worrying about the rain), and there’s a clean bathroom! haha! And while we haven’t tried it, their Keiki Camp seems like the perfect solution for stay-at-home moms and dads or anyone on a long maternity leave. You can drop off your kids for a few hours while you take care of some errands or appointments. They will have fun doing arts, crafts, and play, and you can get some things checked off your to-do list!

[Not sure if you’ve noticed, but our top three picks are all indoor, air-conditioned, ‘contained’ spaces with clean bathrooms that are readily accessible. haha! That’s because we’re in Hilo. So basically after you take 30 minutes to pack up your snacks, water bottles, extra clothes, diapers, and wipes, then take another 30 minutes to get everyone ready, packed into the car, and drive to your destination, that’s when it’s going to start pouring rain. #hilodaswhy And only then will you realize you forgot your umbrella. But you can’t carry an umbrella anyway because you have your two kids and all your crap. ugh! If you have little kids and you live in Hilo, I’m pretty sure this has happened to you! But we digress…..on to the rest of the list.]

4. Educational Infant/Toddler Programs

If you are a stay-at-home mom or dad, a grandparent, a babysitter, or you are just on a longer maternity leave, there are some awesome programs in Hilo for infant/toddlers. The Keiki Steps and Tutu & Me programs both involve having an adult present with the child, so it’s a great way to get out of the house for a couple hours and bond with your little one (and other children) while learning through arts, crafts and play. Plus, they are FREE!

My kids went to Keiki Steps at Kapiolani School with their first babysitter. She would send us the cutest videos of our kids doing all sorts of activities and getting to interact with the other kids! (Sorry but I can’t seem to find the old pics and going through thousands of pictures just isn’t gonna happen right now. haha!)

Kara is thinking about taking her new baby to Tutu & Me in Panaewa once he’s old enough. We’ve heard only good things about the program, and whenever we pass by Panaewa Gym they look like they have such a great setup, so she’s excited!

(PS – You’ll see a lot of retired school teachers taking their grandkids to both Keiki Steps and Tutu & Me, which is definitely a sign they are great programs! Haha!)

5. Infant/Toddler Activities

Since we live on an island in the middle of the Pacific, learning to swim is kind of a must-do. But I had a lot of trouble trying to find swim lessons for infant/toddlers in Hilo. I recall going to the Hilo High School pool during summers, but that’s for older kids. And we used to have the YWCA pool, but that closed in 2013. UH Hilo offers swim lessons, but the minimum age is 4 years old. Then finally we found Hilo Ocean Adventures. They’re located just across the street from Kens Pancake House and it’s an indoor heated pool, so you don’t have to worry about the weather. We tried a group lesson first where an adult has to go in with the child. That was more just for fun/basics to get the kids used to being in the water.

Recently we started private swim lessons, so each child has their own teacher one-on-one. (That means the parent doesn’t have to get into the water! Yeeesssss!) It’s only 30 minutes and if you have a “water baby” on your hands, they actually take kids from age 6 months! The teachers we’ve had so far have all been super sweet and friendly, so it’s been fabulous! (Well…..we did have one session where my 2-year-old didn’t want to get into the pool, but that has nothing to do with the program and has everything to do with #terribletwos! ugh!) It’s a good idea to book a package because it’s cheaper per lesson, and if you schedule far ahead in advance you’ll have a better chance of getting the same teacher.

Kara also tried a Gymtot class at Pantheon School of Gymnastics with Coach Pattie and Jerry. It’s open for kids ages 18 months – 5 years old, but you must have an adult participating because it’s a group format. Classes start with stretching in a circle on the mats, then the kids go through an obstacle course in a circle. Afterward, they rotate through different stations like the gymnastic bars, balancing beams, trampoline, and hoops. This builds their large motor skills, hand-eye coordination, social skills and it’s also a great introduction to gymnastics!

Home Depot has free DIY workshops for kids on the first Saturday of every month. You just register online prior and they provide you with all the materials, tools and instructions for the DIY item of the month (ie, flower pot, frame, basket, etc). An adult must be there to assist and this is probably best for 2+ years old, but it’s definitely a fun hands-on way to start a Saturday morning!

[So, we covered the easy + air-conditioned things-to-do, as well as the educational + learning things-to-do….now for the “other stuff”. The rest of our list includes things that are outdoors, so you’re subject to the Hilo rain and you may not have a clean bathroom nearby (for those potty-training tots), but they are still relatively safe and easy, and lots of fun for the kids!]

6. Airport cell phone lot

This is one of those #hilokinetings because you won’t find “Airport cell phone lot” on anyone else’s things-to-do list! haha! But we really do pick up lunch (or bring some snacks), and sit in the back of the van at the airport cell phone lot, so the kids can watch the helicopters and airplanes take off and land! Sounds a little weird, but the kids LOVE it! And since the lava has been flowin’, there are always helicopters around, so you don’t even have to wait long for some action! There is even a small grassy area where a fence blocks off the landing area, so the kids can actually run around waving at the tourists getting on and off the helicopters. Only in Hilo! Haha!

7. Feed the ducks

On the weekends when the kids would wake up super early and nothing is open yet, I would often take them to feed the ducks at Wailoa State Park. I don’t know why, but it’s just one of those things you do in Hilo. haha! #hilodaswhy

First, you grab all your old bread out of the freezer. If you were too busy getting everyone into the van and you forgot your bread, no worries because Manono Mini Mart sometimes sells their “duck bread” (all the loaf ends) or Loves Bakery is sometimes open. Then you head on over to Wailoa (turn left to the boat dock side).

Now here’s a warning…if you go early in the morning, you might find yourself in the middle of a MASS of hungry ducks! And when we say mass, we’re talking like 30+ honking geese and quacking ducks! It’s pretty crazy (and gross!) and all I can think is “bird flu”! haha! It’s gotten to the point that I make the kids feed the ducks from the van because I’m so freaked out at the mass number of ducks!

However, if you go later in the morning or afternoon after “the lady” feeds the ducks (I don’t know who she is, I’ve just seen her a couple times), then you might have a more enjoyable and leisurely duck-feeding experience. And you might even chance getting out of your vehicle to go to the boat docks. haha! Just watch where you’re stepping. I swear the duck doodoo got bigger since I was a little kid! haha!

8. Okazuya, park and ice shave

So once in a while, when we have those beautiful hot Hilo days, there’s nothing better than picking up okazuya from Hilo Lunch Shop and heading over to Japanese Park (aka Liliuokalani Gardens) for a picnic. Granted, this has only actually happened a handful of times for us because a kid will end up falling asleep or it starts pouring rain, which results in a van-picnic, but it’s still something that we try to do because it totally reminds us of small-kid-time. #letsgoholoholo

The kids love running around the park and sometimes we even bring their bikes and scooters when we’re feeling “adventurous” (haha!). Or they also enjoy looking for guppies and crabs in the water, and even though I have fond memories of doing that myself, it also gives me sooooo much anxiety! When we were kids, Kara mistakenly fell into the disgusting murky water at Liliuokalani Gardens while we were having crab races and that has traumatized me to no end. Now I’m always worried one of my kids will fall in……because that means I’ll have to jump in behind. ugh! Haha!

After the park, I remember we used to get rainbow #iceshave from Kawate’s or Itsu’s. But sadly enough, just within the last year, both of those iconic Hilo shops closed because the owners were ready for a much-deserved retirement. So nowadays we head on over to Yogurtland or Jamba Juice. While it’s not as nostalgic for me, it’s somewhat healthier for the kids, and still the perfect bribe, I mean, treat, for any hot Hilo day. (Oh and both places just happen to be air-conditioned. haha!)

9. Go to the playground

Whenever we have friends and family from Oahu come to visit, it never fails….their kids always want to go to the playground because apparently, Hilo playgrounds are better than Honolulu. I’m not sure if it’s because of overuse, misuse, or just the distance it takes to get to a good one in Oahu, but whatever the reason, going to the playground while visiting Hilo has become sort of a must-do.

Truth be told, playgrounds are definitely not my favorite thing to do. While my kids love it, being a total #overprotectivemom, I’m constantly worrying and watching and following the kids because I think playgrounds are just plain dangerous. I’m sure those structures are all government-approved, but why in the world do they make those big open spots at the top where kids can fall 10+ ft down to the ground?! And even though my kids aren’t the dare-devil type, just one misstep or an accidental push is enough to cause broken bones or worse. ugh!

But…….I try and push my #worrywart fears to the side and I still do take them once in a while. And I must admit, we do have some nice playgrounds. Our favorite is Panaewa because that’s one of the only playgrounds that has the baby swings and it’s fully fenced in (remember we love ‘contained’ places?!). They also have an awesome gym where Kai loves to play basketball in the evenings. We also go to Ainaola Park and Waiakea Uka playground. We also like Machado Park if your kids just want to run around. It’s basically just a big grassy area with bike/walking paths!

The Panaewa Zoo also has an awesome playground and it’s FREE admission! I think a lot of people actually go to the zoo more for the playground than the animals because our zoo is very different from most others. We call it “eclectic”. haha! It doesn’t have elephants or lions or zebras…but at least it has tigers again…and two of them! (We miss you Namaste!) It also has a lot of monkeys, parrots, anteaters, a sloth….haha! The petting zoo is on Saturdays but we always miss it because of nap time. (Ya that’s way more important!) It also has a pavilion for parties. But bring lots of water because it always seems to be super hot! And bring snacks because even though there’s a small gift shop, it’s far from the playground area.

10. Walk around downtown Hilo

And last but not least on our list is walking around downtown Hilo. #hilolove This is something we definitely don’t do enough (probably because it’s not air-conditioned or contained, and I have no idea where the nearest clean bathrooms are!), but whenever we go, the kids always have fun “exploring”! And while parking might be challenging depending what time you head down, it’s always FREE, so that’s a plus!

If you go #downtownHilo with kids, you need to check out Crib Hawaii on Waianuenue Ave. It’s a baby/toddler gift boutique and consignment shop so you can buy gently used items for your little ones or made-in-Hawaii boutique items as unique gifts. (That’s also the ONLY shop in Hawaii that carries a few of our MaruMaru HI tees and totes!) Then a few doors down is the Mokupapapa Discovery Center. Our kids love the big aquarium, small light table, and seeing all the cool displays. From there, walk along Kamehameha Ave and we usually pop in at Basically Books, Aloha Grown, and The Most Irresistible Shop – all of which have great stuff for both keiki and adults. (If I’m NOT with the kids, I might also make a pit stop at Sugar Coast Candy. They don’t need all that sugar right?!) Then we usually end at the Hilo Farmers Market to pick up some veggies for the week. (PS the next time we do a downtown Hilo run, we also want to detour up Furneaux Lane to check out Saucy Dogs Hilo. It definitely looks like the kids would love it!)

11. Seasonal things-to-do in Hilo

We already gave you our Top 10, but here’s a bonus listing because we thought it was important to include the ‘seasonal’ things-to-do in Hilo with little kids. These events happen once a year but are always things we look forward to because family-friendly community events in Hilo are kind of a big deal. #hilodaswhy #hilolove #hilokinetings

Heart Walk – This event raises money for the American Heart Association and usually happens around February. It consists of a walk around Liliuokalani Garden and Bayfront and includes a health fair and various activities post-event. Whether walking or in the stroller, our kids always have fun seeing all the people, music and eating all the ono post-walk snacks!

Bon dances – During the summer months, bon dance (bon odori) festivals are held almost every weekend across the island. And while it is traditionally a Japanese Buddhist custom, bon dance has become much more of a community event that is enjoyed by all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds! Our kids always have soooo much fun dancing to the music, eating all the local favorites – spam musubi, andagi, ice shave, saimin…..and they especially LOVE the taiko performances, along with “Betcho” because of the drums! #betchobetchobetcho Oh and just a note, while I used to think the Hilo Hongwanji bon dance just “wasn’t the same” because it’s in Sangha Hall now (instead of outdoors), let me tell you, it’s AWESOME when you have toddlers! Haha! No worrying about the (inevitable) rain, it’s very spacious, clean bathrooms are nearby, there are chairs to sit, and because it’s not as dark, you can more easily keep an eye on your kids! We also like the Hilo Meishoin bon dance because they have the hall open to sit and eat before you go outside for the bon dance!

Relay for Life – This event raises money for the American Cancer Society and usually happens in July. It’s a truly heartwarming event that allows the entire Hilo community to come together and pay tribute to those who have been affected by cancer. Our kids love walking (actually riding) around the Wong Stadium track, going to everyone’s booth to play games and buy snacks, and listening to the music. They never managed to stay up for the luminary ceremony yet, but maybe in a few years!

County Fair – This four-day event is organized by the Hilo Jaycees every September. It’s Hilo’s only fair with rides by EK Ferndandez, a great line-up of entertainment every nite and ono food booths! Before 2 years old, you can probably get away with the free stuff (seeing the lights, people and music, and checking out the booths), but after that, the fair will definitely start racking up the $ bills because you need to pay for 2 seats (adult and child) whenever you ride anything!

– Parades – While finding parking and a space to sit can be a total hassle when you want to go to parades in Hilo, in the end, it’s actually kind of worth it because the kids enjoy watching parades a LOT. So far our favorite is the Christmas parade because the floats are all lighted up and they can sing along to all the Christmas music…and of course Santa! And the Merrie Monarch parade is also great because the kids love the horses in the pa`u units and the hula dancers! But people go super early for both to get good parking and kapu their space, so you probably need to do the same. Or you can chance it and squeeze in, but expect some dirty looks. haha!

So there you have it! Our “Top 10 (actually 11) things to do in Hilo for new (and not-so-adventurous) Moms”! We know it might not be the most interesting list (haha!) and I’m pretty sure we missed some stuff that we’ll remember later, but my brain is shot and this is the best it’s gonna get for now. (Plus I’m pretty sure there are only like 5 people still reading this overly long blog post – one of which is our mom. haha!) But hopefully, there were at least one or two things you never tried before. And while we hope to one day be a little more adventurous with our kids, for now, we’re ok with our list. Truth be told, most times the kids just want to stay at home to play outside and we end up just making hibachi in the garage, which is just fine with us! Plus, we know that just around the corner are the years of organized sports and after-school activities, so we will no longer have the problem of ‘figuring out what to do this weekend!’ haha!

Oh and here’s our cheap plug……if you have little ones and you’re looking for fun + modern tees for your Hilo tots, visit! We are in the process of reprinting a bunch of our tees, tote bags and trucker hats (and we’re gonna have something NEW for all you mamas!), so sign up for our email newsletter (scroll to the bottom of our website to subscribe) and you’ll be first to know when we’re restocked! If the meantime, you can visit us on Instagram or Facebook! And keep sending us those adorable #marumarumini pics!

Mahalo and much love to you from MaruMaru Hawaii! ~ Tania & Kara 🙂



  1. Ooh – LOVE this post! Thank you so much. Just what I needed to help me feel less stressed/anxious about our next trip to Hilo with 2 little ones. My husband loves going to the beach but I find it to be such a pain and logistically challenging .
    I’m the same as you – tend to get anxious – These indoor spaces look great, hah! Thank you super mommy!! 🙂
    Cheryl of ainabrunch


  2. Aloha! Thank you for this hilarious and accurate post. Stumbled onto your blog after searching for toddler activities in Hilo. We are driving from Kona side for a weekend staycation for my birthday. It’s hard to think of things to do with a 2.5 year old while the zoo and museums are closed. I’m so excited to take him to watch airplanes and feed ducks now. Big mahalo!


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