There are so many fun things to do on the Big Island with kids! As a matter of fact, there is so much to do that families can choose their own adventure.
Visit farms, ranches, and saddle up to the cowboy culture. Explore black sand beaches full of colorful fish and wildlife. Hike through rain forests or dried lava flows. See the stars at observatories or sit with drinks in hand while watching manta rays climb to the water’s surface. Big Island family vacations can be as adventurous or as relaxing as your family prefers.
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FUN Things to do on the Big Island with Kids
Things to do on the Big Island are as varied as the island itself. Diversity reigns on the island of Hawaii, known to most mainlanders as “The Big Island.”
The youngest of the Hawaiian islands, Hawaii boasts 8 of the world’s 13 climate zones including arid deserts, tropical rainforests, and even polar tundra on the tops of its mountain peaks.
The island is a geological and ecological wonderland. It is bursting with unique flora and fauna, active volcanoes that add to the island’s landmass each day, and even the highest mountain peak in the world when measured from the sea floor.
1. Spend Lots of Time at the Beach
There are more than 260 miles of coastline to explore on the island of Hawaii. Thanks to the island’s young history, a significant portion of the island’s coast is covered in black lava rock, but there are still plenty of family-friendly places to hit the water.
Finding soft, powdery sand on the Big Island of Hawaii is just a matter of knowing where to go! We have a full guide to the best beaches on the Big Island. Below are a few of the highlights.
Magic Sands is a good spot in Kailua-Kona. It is a popular local place in the summer and there is good snorkeling as well. The beach earned its nickname because winter storms often consume the beach and the sand disappears. It is a good place to boogieboard when the swell is up.
Waikoloa Beach is the best spot to swim in Waikoloa Village. It is a nice beach with protected waters, and there is some snorkeling on the southern end of the beach. The beach is in front of the Waikoloa Beach Marriott.
Hapuna Beach is the largest of the island’s white sand beaches, next to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort . It offers consistently good conditions for swimming, body-boarding, sunbathing, strolling and snorkeling. The south end of the beach is the most protected area.
Mauna Kea Beach a perfect crescent shape and extends for almost a quarter mile. A natural rock reef provides some protection from the surf. There is usually good bodyboarding and swimming here unless the surf is too big. You can also see Mauna Kea Volcano from the beach if the sky is clear. The beach is in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel but all beaches are public in Hawaii.
If you are looking for black sand and sea turtles, check out Punalu’u Black Sand Beach on the south end of the island. This black sand doesn’t stick to your skin, making post beach cleanup a breeze. There is a small concession stand on the beach where you can grab snacks and rent snorkel equipment, but check water conditions before swimming.
If it is green sand you are after, head to the southernmost point in the United States at Papakolea Beach. The green is a dull olive shade formed by olivine present in the lava. The 2.5-mile trail that leads to the beach is beautiful but hot so arrive early if you want cooler temps and the beach (mostly) to yourselves.
Due to the vast amount of lava rock, low tide brings a wealth of tide pool exploration across the Big Island’s Shores. Here are our favorite tide pools on the Big Island for families.
Thanks to the western facing Kailua-Kona coast, there are plenty of opportunities for amazing sunset views while visiting Hawaii. We recommend seeing the views via hammock at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, or hiking to a striking mountain top view at Mauna Kea (or the Visitor Information Center halfway up the summit).
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3. Go Snorkeling and See Sea Turtles
One of our favorite things to do when staying on the Big Island with kids is go snorkeling and spot sea turtles. Of all the Hawaiian Islands we have visited (and we have visited five), we have found the most sea turtles while vacationing on the Big Island.
The sea turtles seem to be attracted to the algae growing on the lava rock that hugs much of the Big Island coastline.
Snorkeling on the Big Island is a fun adventure where families can experience calm water in numerous bays, hundreds of brightly colored fish, stunning masses of coral, sea turtles galore, and even manta rays and eels!
Kahaluu is a shallow cove in Kailua-Kona that is full of fish and is a popular sea turtle hangout. Since most of the cove is only neck high and the waters are usually calm it is a great place for first timers snorkelers.
There is also a good snorkeling spot off the beach at Magic Sands that is better for more experienced snorkelers. The reef is about 100 yards offshore (flotation devices for safety with kids are suggested) and is filled with big fish!
Kiholo Bay is a great place to snorkel with sea turtles at a black sand beach. The walk is about 25 minutes to the beach from the park along the highway, but this special place is worth the effort.
Another highlight of this beach is the partially submerged lava tube that you are able to swim in. You can go back pretty far but you will need a flashlight because it is pitch black once get back in there.
Wand more suggestions? We have an entire article dedicated to the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii.
2. Explore Hawaii on Foot (or ATV, or Mule)
The island of Hawaii boasts miles of trails that lead you into the back-country of this stunning island. Since roads that traverse the island are fairly limited, be mindful of trail distances before setting out, and be sure you have packed enough water for your adventure.
To explore the amazingly beautiful and secluded Waipi’o Valley, we suggest you take a mule, horse, or ATV guided tour as the climb back up the canyon is incredibly difficult and it is the steepest paved road in the US. You definitely don’t want to miss exploring this special places which is so stunning that it was once the former retreat of Hawaiian royalty.
Some of our favorite kid-friendly hikes include walking to the fish ponds at Honokohau Beach, trails within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (see below), and the Pololu Valley trails.
3. Take a Boat Tour off the Hawaii Coast
One of the great things to do on the Big Island with kids involves getting on top of the water. From sunset dinner cruises and dolphin excursions to parasailing, kayaking, taking off in an outrigger canoe or even venturing into the depths in a submarine, there is a boating experience for just about everyone.
The Atlantis Submarine Cruise is a family-friendly hit, especially for more cautious kids. It gets kids under the water without the requirement of masks, snorkels, and wildlife encounters.
If you are looking to try your luck at securing your own dinner, there are dozens of fishing charters to choose from. There are private charters that allow for up to six people and focus on catching mahi mahi, marlin, and tuna.
My family loved our Body Glove Dolphin & Snorkel Cruise. During this half-day excursion from Kailua-Kona, we saw dozens of dolphins swimming in our wake. We also snorkeled in a secluded bay we never could have reached on our own.
Another great option is the Hang Loose Boat Tour of Kealakekua Bay. It is one of the best places to snorkel on the island and gear and picnic lunch is provided. There are also great opportunities to spot dolphins on the way.
If you prefer to sail on a catamaran to your Kealakekua Bay snorkeling adventure, there are options for that as well.
For those who like to kayak, you will please to know there are great kayak and snorkel tours available on the Big Island as well.
4. Learn Something While Having Fun on a Farm Tour or Exploring Historic Hawaiian Sites
The Big Island is known for its agriculture. Farm tours are unique and fun things to do on the Big Island with kids.
See 125-year-old coffee trees, watch the roasting process, and sample varieties from local coffee plantations on a coffee plantation tour. At Kona Coffee Living History Farm, learn about the history of coffee-making at Greenwell Farms, see coffee trees, and sample coffee.
From macadamia nut plantations that feature walk-through tours to orchid farms boasting vanilla bean harvesting, the island is alive with produce and vegetation. The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Mill is a good place to see macadamia processing in action, enjoy some refreshing macadamia nut ice cream, and buy some nuts at a discounted price.
If you are interested in beekeeping, you won’t want to miss this Honey Farm and Beekeeping Tour with Big Islands Bees. On this tour families go behind-the-scenes of a traditional honey farm and get an up-close look at the hives from a secure viewing are while meeting the beekeeper and learning about the honey-making process. And, of course, there are honey samples.
Trekaroo Tip: To explore a variety of farms without making the trek to see all of them, visit one of the island’s many farmers markets where local farmers showcase their fresh produce, coffee, nuts, honey, and artisan goods.
The history of the Hawaiian islands dates back much further than the state’s adoption into the United States in 1959. Throughout the Hawaiian Islands, visitors can get a sense of the native Hawaiian culture at various events, cultural exhibitions, and museums.
There are many educational things to do in on the Big Island with kids. Don’t miss a stop at the three national historic parks scattered throughout the western shore of the island.
You can complete the hands-on Junior Ranger program at all these national park sites. The program gets kids involved and helps make learning more approachable.
Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is an easy drive 20 minutes north of Waikaloa Village and protects the ruins of the temple of King Kamehameha built around 1790.
Not far from Kailua-Kona, the Kaloko Honokohau National Historic Park is the site of ancient Hawaiian fish ponds. It is also an extremely popular place for sea turtles to hang out. We saw at least a half a dozen feeding on algae covering the shoreline rocks.
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park is a nice place to learn about the traditional Hawaiian lifestyle and culture. Ancient temples and ki’i (wooden images) help tell the stories of Hawaii’s past. The park is also adjacent to a really popular snorkeling site with lots of turtles and fish.
Ready for the royal treatment? Visit the Hulhe’e Palace in downtown Kailua-Kona.
6. Make Friends with the Local Animals
There are many things to do on the Big Island if you are an animal lover. Top animal attractions on the island include Dolphin Quest at Hilton Waikoloa Village and the unique Seahorse Farm right next to the airport in Kailua-Kona.
The Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo is a great (and free!) option while visiting Hilo on the east side of the island. It is a tropical zoo with monkeys, Hawaiian Nene geese, and even tigers!
One of the most memorable experiences is taking a tour which allows you to snorkel with the manta rays. Hang Loose boat tours guarantee sightings on their trip which includes a sunset on the water, snacks, drinks, and snorkeling with harmless manta rays in their natural environment.
If you aren’t up for snorkeling, don’t miss the chance to see massive manta rays most nights outside of the Sheraton Kona at Rays on the Bay. Water timid travelers will be happy knowing they can check out the manta ray talks, and enjoy the above the shore views of the manta rays who make their way to this region nightly to feed on plankton attracted to the hotel’s lights.
7. Ooh and Aah at the Waterfalls
One of the more epic things to do on the Big Island with kids is visit a legendary waterfall. After all, it isn’t a trip to Hawaii if you don’t snap a few pictures in front of a waterfall.
422-foot Akaka Falls is one of the island’s most famous and impressive. Even more impressive are the shrimp that make the annual swim up the waterfall to spawn- take that salmon!
Other must-see and easy-to-reach waterfalls include Rainbow Falls, PeePee Falls (the name alone will peak most kids’ interest), and Hiilawe Falls.
Another great option is taking a zipline tour to see some less accessible waterfalls. Umauma Falls Zip Line Tours are surely an experiences your family won’t forget.
Umauma Falls Zip and Dip combo is available for kids as young as four. It take you soaring across the canyon with stunning views of the falls and also includes a chance to swim and kayak at their base. There is also a giant swing on property and hiking trails throughout the grounds.
If you would like to take a tour which visits several of Hawaii’s major waterfalls and includes a stop at Waipio Valley, this small group waterfall tour is a good choice. Your tour will travel along the Hamakua Coast to Akaka Falls, Hi’ilawe Falls, Rainbow Falls, and even includes a swim at a private waterfall.
8. Saddle Up to Cowboy Culture
Paniolo (Hawaiian for cowboy) culture is huge on the Big Island. Hawaii boasts some of the largest cattle pastures in the United States. Introduced in the 1500s by the Spaniard, cattle have been a part of the Hawaiian culture for hundreds of years.
The Paniolos who learned to rope, wrangle, and corral cattle have a similarity to the Mexican vaqueros (where the name came from). Families visit the island can enjoy the Paniolo culture by visiting ranches, eating a cowboy cookout meal, or even chowing down on some of the best grass-fed beef you have ever had.
If they want to get out on horseback and enjoy spectacular scenery on an 11,000-acre working cattle ranch. There are a variety of horseback riding options for families with children ages eight and older and all include views of the ocean, the coastline down to Waikoloa, and all the major volcanoes on the island.
Are you planning on island hopping and visiting the Garden Isle as well? Check out the 10 best things to do in Kauai with kids.
9. See the Stars
Visitors arriving from urban destinations around the world will marvel at the night sky views no matter where you are on the Big Island. The small amount of light pollution makes for some stunning stargazing.
If you are looking for a more hands-on experience, consider taking the road to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. A nightly stargazing party is held every day of the year and special events are offered throughout various seasons.
We were able to spot the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s moons, and up-close views of the moon through free-to-use telescopes during our visit. The center also boasts educational exhibits, a gift shop, and clean restrooms.
Kids over the age of 16 are allowed to make the climb to the summit of Mauna Kea Observatory. Altitude sickness and a guarded ranger station keep little ones out of this area.
The road to the observatory is dirt, rough, steep, and a thrilling adventure on its own. If you don’t want to brave the drive yourself, consider booking a trip with one of the many tour operators who will package the event into a lovely sunset and stargazing combination tour.
Have a star lover in your family? Don’t miss a trip to the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. It is hands-on exhibits and daily planetarium shows.
10. Visit a Volcano
One of the most exciting things to do on the Big Island with kids is see the active lava flow of a volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is one of the few places on planet earth where this phenomenon can be observed by traveling families, so a visit to this national park is a must.
There is so much more to get excited about at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park besides lava. Among the fun at this great national park are great trails, sulfur banks, and lava tubes to explore.
There is so much to cover at this exciting park that we have a full guide to exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which includes tips on how to see the lava (either hike, air, or boat) along with what else to do, where to stay, what to eat, and so much more.
Where to Stay on the Big Island with Kids
Most of the major resorts are located on the west side of the island (hello, gorgeous sunsets!), although you will find a scattering of bed and breakfasts, and smaller, independent hotels on the wetter Hilo (eastern) side.
On the western side, families can fly directly into the Kona International Airport (KOA) for easy access to most hotels and resorts within 30 minutes of drive time via hotel shuttle or rental car.
Trekaroo families can explore the best-reviewed, parent-approved hotels with this Guide to the Best Family-Friendly Hotels on the Big Island of Hawaii. One of them made our list of the best hotel pools in the USA!
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