Top 10 Things for Families to do on the Big Island, Hawaii

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 dry, arid deserts; humid, tropical monsoons, and even polar tundra on the tops of its mountain peaks. The island is a geological and ecological wonderland 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.

Families visiting the Big Island of Hawaii can choose their own adventure. From visiting farms, ranches, and saddling up to the cowboy culture, to exploring black sand beaches full of colorful fish and wildlife, to hiking rain-forests or dried lava flows, seeing the stars at observatories, or sitting with drinks in hand while watching manta rays climb to the water’s surface, the island of Hawaii is a destination island that offers something for every member of your family.

Explore the top 10 Big Island with Kids!

10. Hit the Beach


Photo by: Katie Bodell

There’s more than 260 miles of coastline to explore on the island of Hawaii, and while a large majority of it is covered in black lava rock instead of powdery sand (thanks to the island’s young history), there are still plenty of family-friendly places to hit the water.
Best Beaches for Powdery Sand: Finding soft, powdery sand on the Big Island of Hawaii can be a bit tricky. Explore the Best Kid-Friendly Sandy Beaches on the Big Island (including finding white, black, and even green sand!)
Best Beaches for Kid-Friendly Snorkeling: Snorkeling on the Big Island is a fun adventure where families can experience calm waters in numerous bays, hundreds of brightly colored fish, stunning masses of coral, sea turtles galore, and even rays and eels. Check out Trekaroo’s picks for the Top Kid-Friendly Snorkeling spots on the Big IslandIsland Hopping? Visit these 7 great snorkeling spots across the Hawaiian islands.
Best Beaches for Tide Pool Exploration: Thanks to the vast amount of lava rock, low tide brings a wealth of tide pool exploration all across the Big Island’s shores. To help you narrow down your list, check out the best Kid-Friendly Tidepools on the Big Island.

Best Beaches for Sunset Views: Thanks to the western facing Kailua-Kona coast, there are plenty of opportunities for amazing sunset views while visiting Hawaii. Trekaroo families 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). Numerous ocean-front restaurants and hotels along the western shore offer tables with stunning views. The Kona Inn (Restaurant) and Lava Lava Beach Club are among the favorites.

9. Explore Hawaii on Foot (or mule)


Photo by: Katie Bodell

The island of Hawaii boasts miles and miles of trails that get you in 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, you might want to take a mule, horse, or ATV guided tour as the climb back up the canyon is incredibly difficult.
Top kid-friendly hikes include: walking to the fish ponds at Honokohau Beach | trails within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (see below) | Pololu Valley trails (although some are quite steep and best for older kids)

8. Take a Boat Tour


Photo by: Katie Bodell

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. Fishing charters can be rented from dozens of companies if you are looking to try your luck at securing your own dinner. The Atlantis Submarine Cruise is a family-friendly hit; it gets kids under the water without the requirement of masks, snorkels, and wildlife encounters.
My family loved our Body Glove Dolphin & Snorkel cruise. The half-day excursion from Kailua-Kona brought us dozens of dolphins swimming in our wake, the opportunity to snorkel in a secluded bay we never could have reached on our own, as well as two full meals. Read my full review to discover more details of this family favorite.

7. Tour a Local Farm


Photo by Katie Bodell

The Big Island is known for its agriculture. You’ve probably heard of Kona Coffee, but there is nothing like visiting a Kona coffee farm with 125-year-old coffee trees, watching the roasting process, and sampling the varieties from local coffee cherry. But the island grows a lot more than just 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. Check out some of the island’s best farm tours.
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 options, nuts, honeys, and artisan goods. Visit markets in Hilo & Kona.

6. Make Friends with the Local Animals

Manta on Reef in Hawaii

Photo by: Bigstock/swimswithfish

The Big Island of Hawaii is a great place to take your animal lover. Top animal interactions on the island include the Dolphin Quest encounter at the Hilton Waikoloa Village; the pricey but unique Seahorse Farm right next to the Kona airport; the Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo a great (and free!) option while visiting Hilo on the east side of the island; and the chance to see massive manta rays most nights outside the Sheraton Kona at Rays on the Bay. A variety of in-the-water experiences are offered including snorkeling, glass bottom boat, and more, but timid viewers can also check out the manta talks, stunning photography, and 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.

5. Ooh and Aah at the Waterfalls

The Big Island of Hawaii's stunning Akaka Falls

Photo by: Bigstock/vacclav

It isn’t a trip to Hawaii if you don’t snap a few pics in front of a waterfall. And the big island doesn’t disappoint. Akaka Falls is one of the island’s most famous; it falls down an average of 422 feet, so it is pretty darn impressive (more impressive are the shrimp that make the annual swim UP the waterfall to spawn- take that, salmon!). Other must-see and easy to get to waterfalls for legs of all stages include Rainbow Falls, PeePee Falls (be forwarned parents of boys!), and Hiilawe Falls.
If time allows, consider a zipline or swim & zip tour above some of the less accessible by foot waterfalls. Umauama Falls Zip & Dip combo is available for kids as young as 4-years-old and takes you over stunning views of the falls with the chance to swim and kayak them later. Read my full review of Umauama Falls here.

4. Saddle up to the Cowboy Culture

Paniolo Culture on the big island of hawaii

Photo by: Bigstock/GBurba

Paniolo Culture (the Hawaiian term for cowboy) is huge on the Big Island that boasts some of the largest cow pastures in the United States. Introduced in the 1500s by the Spaniards, cows have been a part of the Hawaiian culture for hundreds of years, and the Paniolos who learned to rope, wrangle, and corral them have a startling similarity to Mexican vaqueros (where the name came from). Families visiting the island can enjoy the Paniolo culture by visiting ranches, taking horse-back rides through the pasture-lands, eating a cowboy cookout meal, or even chowing down on some of the best grass-fed beef you’ll find in the Pacific.

3. See the Stars


Photo by: Bigstock/rb506

Visitors arriving from urban destinations around the world will marvel at the night sky views no matter where you are on the 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 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 MaunaKea to the MaunaKea Observatory. Common altitude sickness– and a guarded ranger station– keeps little ones out of this area. The road 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 dinner/sunset/stargazing combination.
Have a star lover in your family? Don’t miss a trip to the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo with hands-on exhibits and daily planetarium shows.

2. Explore Historic Hawaii


Photo by: Katie Bodell

The history of the Hawaiian islands dates back much farther than the state’s adoption into the United States Union in 1959. Throughout the Hawaiian islands, visitors can get a sense of the native Hawaiian culture at various events, cultural exhibitions, and museums. On the Island of Hawaii, don’t miss a stop at the three national historic parks scattered throughout the western shore of the island where you can complete the hands-on Junior Ranger program that gets kids involved and learning with ease. Puukohola HeiauKaloko-Honokohau, and Puuhonua o Honaunau (my girls had to say the name correctly to receive their Jr. Ranger badge!) all offer the free program; the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail system also offers a badge and interactive exhibit experience.
Ready for the royal treatment? Visit Huliheʻe Palace in downtown Kailua-Kona.

1. See the Lava

See the lava flow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Photo by NPS

One of the biggest reasons to head to the big island with your family is to see the active lava flow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As one of the few places on planet earth where this phenomenon can be observed by traveling families, a visit to this national park, located on the southern most point of the island, is a must! In fact, we’ve got an entire guide dedicated to exploring the national park including tips on how to see the lava (either by hike, air, or boat), what else you’ll discover (steam vents, sulfur fields, and dormant lava tubes that you can hike through), where to stay, what to eat, and much more.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

where to stay big island hawaii

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 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. 

Featured photo by: Shutterstock

Top 10 must-do family fun activities on the Big Island of Hawaii,  including the best sandy beaches, best snorkel spots, & more. #trekarooing
About the author

Katie Bodell is Trekaroo’s Blog Editor, a freelance writer, a happy wife to her best friend, and a mom to three sweet California girls. She loves the Bible, learning & research, musical theater, indy music, artsy films, languages, and diverse cultural encounters. Her husband is thankful that google can now answer all of her perpetual random questions.

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