You may not like hearing the word tsunami when dreaming of your Big Island vacations, but because Hilo Bay is funnel shaped, it is particularly vulnerable to the destructive waves. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Alaska and the Aleutian Islands created a 46-foot tsunami wave that killed 160 people and devastated the downtown area in 1946. Another 61 people died in the 1960 tsunami, caused by a 9.5-magnitude quake off the coast of Chile. The latter was responsible for creating a number of parks and memorials along the Hilo Bay beaches where once there was city. These are now attractions, as is the respected Pacific Tsunami Museum, one of the few museums in the world of its type.
There are not a large number of Hilo Bay beaches for a few reasons. The first is due to the previous tsunami damage. Hilo is a relatively large city, and there are some issues with less-than-scenic structures, including the airport, and the normal city pollution. Finally, the geography of Hilo Bay on the windward and wettest side of the Big Island means its waves aren’t the best for surfing, and the swimming waters are colder than at beaches on the rest of the island.
On the other hand, there are many things to do Near Hilo Bay since the city is relatively compact. Wailoa River State Park stretches along the river, surrounds the Waiakea Pond, and is across from Kamehameha Avenue, right on the bay in the center of the downtown area. This is a large, 130-acre urban park with huge expanses of grass. It is also the location of one of the four impressive statues of King Kamehameha. The other three are located in front of Iolani Palace in Honolulu, in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., and in the little town of Hawi, the birthplace of the king, on the Kohala Coast at the far northern tip of the Big Island. Just next to the park is the Naniloa Golf Club, in case you want to get in a little golfing during your Big Island vacation. Other Hilo Bay beaches and parks include Hilo Bayfront Park, now cleaned up after widespread pollution. There is a long black sand beach here, but the waters are quite chilly. Coconut Island Park has good swimming, including a very calm, sheltered pool for children. Providing more things to do near Hilo Bay is the Liliuokalani Park and Botanic Gardens, next to Coconut Gardens. This is the largest ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan.
There are not a lot of hotels near Hilo Bay for many of the same reasons that there are few beaches. Few people stay here for any length of time, meaning there little demand for hotels near Hilo Bay. This is generally a one-night stopover where visitors stay only the first and/or last night of their vacation. Most people are heading west to the miles of beaches, resorts, and warmer, drier weather of the Kona Coast and Kohala Coast. But you will find some hotels near Hilo Bay, especially around the airport, which is actually located on the bay.