There are so many fun things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Families visiting the Big Island with kids 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 activities 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.
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1. Hit Up Several of Big Island Beaches
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle | Photo by Sharlene Earnshaw
There are more than 260 miles of coastline to explore on the island of Hawaii. 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.
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 tide pools on the Big Island.
Best Big Island 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.
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, you might want to take a mule, horse, or ATV guided tour as the climb back up the canyon is incredibly difficult.
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.
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.
If you are looking to try your luck at securing your own dinner, there are dozens of fishing charters to choose from. 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. 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.
4. Take a Tour a Local Farm
Photo by: Katie Bodell
The Big Island is known for its agriculture. Farm tours are a great Big Island activities. See 125-year-old coffee trees, watch the roasting process, and sample varieties from local coffee cherry on a coffee plantation tour. 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, honey, and artisan goods. Visit markets in Hilo & Kona.
There are many things to do on the Big Island if you are an animal lover. Top animal interactions on the island include the Dolphin Quest encounter at the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the pricey but unique Seahorse Farm right next to the Kona airport. The Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo is a great (and free!) option while visiting Hilo on the east side of the island.
Don’t miss 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 and glass bottom boat tours. 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.
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 pics in front of a waterfall! 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 forewarned parents of boys!), and Hiilawe Falls.
If time allows, consider a zipline tour above some of the less accessible waterfalls. Umauama Falls Zip & Dip combo is available for kids as young as four. It takes you over stunning views of the falls with the chance to swim and kayak them later. Read my full review of Umauama Falls.
Paniolo Culture (the Hawaiian term for cowboy) is huge on the Big Island. Hawaii 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.
The Paniolos who learned to rope, wrangle, and corral cattle 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.
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.
9. Explore Historic Hawaii
Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw
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.
There are many educational things to do 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 that gets kids involved and learning with ease. Puukohola Heiau, Kaloko-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.
One of the most exciting things to do on the Big Island with kids is seeing 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 is a must!
Note: There are no current lava flows inside the national park. Check the park website regularly for updates. Conditions change often.
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.