Pacific Tsunami Museum
Location: Hilo, Hawaii (130 Kamehameha Ave.)
When to visit: Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm (Closed Sun & Mon)
Cost: $8 adults, $4 kids
Time needed: 30-60 minutes
Tsunamis aren’t frequent in Hawaii, but when they do happen, they can be devastating. The city of Hilo on Hawaii Island (“The Big Island”) has experienced two significant tsunamis (tidal waves) in the past 80 years that resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.
At the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, you can read about these tragedies, hear survivors’ stories, and learn how the islands have since worked to protect themselves from future tsunamis.
Exhibits on Display at the Hilo Tsunami Museum
From the videos to the exhibits loaded full of good information, you could spend up to an hour in here educating yourself. The 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 people is a major focus of the museum, as is the 1960 tsunami that took another 61 lives. In both cases, downtown Hilo saw massive damage, and some nearby small towns were completely wiped out.
While reading about natural disasters can be a bummer, the Amazing Rescues exhibit highlights the stories of folks who were saved from past tsunamis. These stories put human faces on the disasters and offer some optimism regarding the resilience of humans on this planet.
On display are a handful of photos taken just as the 35-waves crashed ashore, and plenty more pics of the aftermath. The museum also has a section dedicated to other tsunamis around the world, including the 2004 event that killed a shocking 170,000 people in Indonesia.
You can see evidence of how tsunamis form with the interactive wave machine.
Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, Hawaii: Hours, Tickets, Price
The modest but informative museum is open Tuesday through Saturday. As of this writing, its hours are 10 am to 4 pm. It’s definitely worth a visit if you make it to Hilo.
Admission price is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $4 for kids. It’s free for kids under 6 years old. You can buy your tickets right at the door. The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located right in the heart of Hilo, and parking is easy.
The museum was founded in 1993 by Dr. Walter Dudley and Jeanne Branch Johnston. Its stated mission? “We believe that through education and awareness no one should ever again die in Hawai‘i due to a tsunami.”
That’s a noble goal, and one that is worth working towards. We rarely think of tsunamis affecting the U.S., but this facility will open your eyes to the threat to these islands.
Hilo Bay is especially vulnerable to tsunamis. Check out the Hilo Bay webcam to see the palm trees and ocean waves as they appear right now.
For more Big Island content, see also our guide on Kona vs. Hilo, my report from visiting the southernmost point in the United States at Ka Lae, hiking Pu’u Loa Petroglyph Trail, and other things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, including helicopter rides of active lava flows!