The Kaanapali Beach area on Maui is a popular destination for honeymooners and families alike. With beaches, pools, boats, and Hawaiian cultural activities, there is plenty for folks of all ages to enjoy. Our TravelingMom with Daughters explores 9 of the best things to do on Maui with kids.
Things to Do on Maui with Kids
TravelingMom goes to Maui! We sent eight of our writers to Kaanapali Beach to learn about Maui, explore the area and find the best things to do on Maui with kids. It wasn’t difficult – this area seems made for families to enjoy the outdoors together. Whether you prefer to spend your time in or on the water, or would rather stay on dry land, there’s something for everyone. Here are our top 9 picks for family-friendly things to do on Maui.
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Outrigger Canoe Ride
The staff at Ali’I Maui Outrigger Canoes knows how to create a fun and uniquely Hawaiian experience, whether you’re an expert paddler or have never been inside a boat before. They begin with a quick paddling lesson on dry land and then get right out onto the water. Each canoe holds up to six, including two guides. If you have a larger family you may need to split up into more than one canoe as our group of eight did. Kids aged 5 and above are welcome to join in and life jackets are available for those who need them.
Being out on the ocean in just a simple canoe was an incredible experience. Paddling was easy with six of us working together. Switching sides every few minutes helped keep our arms from getting too tired while gliding across the water. The highlight of our trip was the pair of bottlenose dolphins that joined us to play and cavort alongside and underneath our canoes. We stopped paddling to gaze in awe and take lots of pictures and video, of course. There’s no guarantee that dolphins will join every canoe ride, but there’s always a chance! After a short swim break to cool off, we set back out and raced the other canoe back in a friendly competition.
Outrigger Canoe Ride: Another Perspective
Julie Thompson-Adolf described her first outrigger canoe experience:
“There’s a reason I’m the Garden Geek TravelingMom: I like land beneath my feet. Although my discomfort on the water is high, it also really ticks me off. I WANT to love the water. Ali’i Maui Outrigger Canoes provided a perfect experience for this water wimp. I always joke about my water fears, and our guides were very sweet about easing my worries. They showed us how to quickly enter the boat (butt first, then whip the legs into the canoe), plus they kept up a lively banter, making me laugh at their stories and distracting my worried brain.
After we paddled awhile, the crew suggested we hop out of the canoe to swim. Ummm—no, thank you. My biggest worry wasn’t swimming—it was how the heck I’d get back IN the canoe! My friends played the ultimate game of peer pressure, encouraging (taunting?) me to join them in the water. Once the crew said they’d pull the canoe up onto the shore for us to re-enter, I hopped in the water, happy to know I didn’t need to awkwardly hoist myself back up into the canoe after swimming. It was delightful. Best of all—I didn’t drown. Hooray!”
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Stand Up Paddleboarding
I grew up swimming and boating in the Midwest but hadn’t had a chance to try the relatively new sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding until now. Slightly concerned that the Pacific Ocean might not be the best option for a newbie, I was still excited to give it a try. I went in with little to no expectations about being able to actually stand much less paddle.
We rented our paddleboards at the Royal Lahaina Resort in north Kaanapali Beach. The beach here is perfect for water sports of all kinds. Some families were splashing in the ocean, others were snorkeling near Black Rock and then there were the three of us on our paddleboards. We had been warned that the wind was picking up a bit so the current was strong. Nasreen is an experienced paddleboarder and managed her board easily, even while pregnant with twins. She even showed off a few yoga poses on the board!
I tend to have fairly good balance, but even so I definitely found it difficult to balance on the board on my feet. In fact, the act of balancing on them actually hurt my feet. So while I was able to stand and paddle successfully, I didn’t do it for very long. I also realized that I’d much rather be in the water on a beautiful, sunny Hawaiian day than struggling to stay upright on top of it. The paddleboard is also good for hanging onto while floating in the cool water.
“Diary of A Wimpy Mom”
Julie best explains her own experience with stand up paddleboarding:
I didn’t want my fears to master me—I wanted to conquer them. So, out I went, hopping awkwardly onto the board, getting on my knees…and staying there. It wasn’t bad. I contemplated trying to stand, but with a bad knee, I decided not to push my luck. I paddled a bit, felt OK…and even started acting a bit confident.
And then, the breeze kicked up. Suddenly, my board had a mind of its own. While I tried to steer back toward my friends, my board drifted straight at a gaggle of people bobbing at the breakers. Panicked that I’d decapitate a vacationer with my SUP, which would be very bad PR for TravelingMom, I tried to hop off—and wiped out.
The good news? Once again, I didn’t die.
So, according to Nasreen, I lasted 90 seconds on the paddleboard. Not true. I stayed on for at least 10 minutes. That was plenty for me.
My kids, however, would love SUP. They’d completely embrace the aloha spirit, and probably could paddle back from the nearby islands if blown off course without thinking twice. (Note: the water gets deep quickly. Be careful with younger children or less confident swimmers.)
Stand Up Paddleboarding is a fun activity but probably best for older kids who can control the board in potentially strong currents on the ocean. Kids who are experienced on a paddleboard would also probably do fine. One option for younger ones would be to have them sit on the board in front of a parent instead of managing their own board. Pay attention to the winds and the currents so that you’re not blown too far away.
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Parasailing
Kids are welcome to parasail or ride in the boat, as long as they are age 3 or above. You have to be at least 160 pounds to parasail solo, but tandem or triple flights are available as well. That way kids can have a parent right up there with them.
Parasailing Thoughts from a Non-Wimpy Mom
Here is what Allison Taylor, Research TravelingMom, thought of her parasailing experience:
“My journey to Ka’anapali was for certain a trip where I stepped out of my comfort zone (read: wimp zone) and allowed myself to spread my wings a bit. I signed up for a parasailing trip with UFO Parasail.
In the moments leading up to my parasailing I thought to myself, what the heck was I thinking?! I mean I am a 30 something mother of two, I had no business parasailing!
Boy was I wrong.
Once I got over my initial butterflies, I knew that I was in the best, extremely knowledgeable hands. In fact, UFO has been taking so many people on parasail tours, that they have built (and sell) the boats that are used for parasailing.
If that doesn’t instill confidence, I don’t know what does!
A typical parasailing adventure lasts 6 minutes, which doesn’t seem like a tremendously long time, but once you are up there, time seems to just float away.
Speaking of being up in the air, I was so surprised by how quiet it was. I had anticipated needing to yell at my buddy who went with me, but we chatted in a normal tone of voice for the duration of the trip.
I would highly encourage anyone who is on the fence about stepping out of their comfort zone to just do it. Fly high, especially when it involves seeing Maui from a bird’s eye view. ”
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Teralani Snorkel/Sailing Adventure
Hands down, this was my favorite of our Maui adventures on this trip. The day with Teralani Sailing Adventures includes skimming over the water on a large catamaran, enjoying the sun and ocean breeze. They make two stops along the way with plenty of time to get down into the water and view the incredible coral reefs. A recipe for Hawaiian perfection for all ages.
Kids of any age are welcome, although you are the best judge of whether your child is comfortable enough in the water to snorkel. On our trip there was one boy who was unsure of swimming where there were fish, but with some encouragement he did finally give snorkeling a try.
The boat has kid-sized masks and prescription snorkel masks. That was a revelation for Cindy Richards, Empty Nest TravelingMom. She loves being in the water, but snorkeling was always sort of lost on her since she can’t see much without her glasses. When she mentioned that on the boat, one of the mates overheard her and produced a prescription mask. For the first time, she could really enjoy the wonders beneath the waters.
Even for those who opt to not snorkel or swim, there are opportunities to see ocean wildlife. A large pod of small spinner dolphins joined us along the way, racing our boat and streaking alongside through the water. They were so much fun to watch! And although we were not on Maui during whale season, Teralani offers plenty of whale watching cruises from mid-December through mid-April.
Teralani also offer snuba for an additional fee. That’s a scuba-like experience for people who have not learned to scuba. You are connected to an air hose so you can stay below the surface. Check the health warnings before trying snuba.
Snorkel Sail: Fun above and below the water
The crew of the Teralani 3 did a wonderful job of making sure we all felt comfortable with our equipment and understood the safety rules before boarding the boat or entering the water. They also offered an ingenious soapy spray inside the snorkel masks to keep them from fogging up. My view of the coral, fish and turtles was perfectly clear. Flotation belts are available for those who prefer to just float on top of the water watching. This was my favorite part – floating along while watching the amazing sea life below.
And there was definitely plenty to see! Fish of all different sizes and colors swam by underneath us, along with a few sea turtles having snacks down in the coral.
In between snorkeling stops, the crew served a continental breakfast and a hot BBQ lunch, along with offering an open bar. You can ride down in the cabin interior, or if you prefer to be out in the sun and breeze, there’s plenty of room on deck to relax. If you prefer a shorter snorkel sail, there is a West Maui option that begins later in the morning, without breakfast.
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Luaus
When you think of a Hawaiian family vacation, one of the first things to come to mind is the luau. It’s a key part of Hawaiian culture. The resorts along Kaanapali Beach do not disappoint, with several luau options available. Our group split up and attended three separate luaus.
Drums of the Pacific
The Drums of the Pacific Luau at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa definitely puts on an incredible show. We were greeted at the entrance with a lei and optional Mai Tai. Family-style seating let us meet and chat with new people. While we were waiting to eat, we could see the gorgeous sunset over the water right from our seats.
The women in the crowd definitely enjoyed watching the hot guys in traditional Hawaiian luau dress dig up the pig (“puaa”) and carry it away to be prepared for the meal in the traditional Hawaiian Imu ceremony. Drums of the Pacific offers a buffet meal, complete with traditional Hawaiian fare. For kids with a less adventurous palate, there are some separate children’s (“keiki”) options as well. This luau works for all ages; we saw little ones dancing along with the traditional Polynesian hula dances. At one point they bring audience members right up on stage to learn some hula moves as well. The luau ends with a dramatic fire knife dance that is thrilling to watch.
Dia Adams, Travel Hack TravelingMom, and Allison Taylor, Research TravelingMom, loved the Wailele Luau at the Westin Maui.
Says Dia: Hula? Check. Fire Dancers? Check. Add in a buffet I’d return to eat and you’ve got a winner. The MC brought just the right touch of humor and pacing to the jam-packed proceedings. The Wailele is friendly for all ages: I especially appreciate that ages 5 and under are free.
Says Allison: The Luau at the Westin was beyond what I had expected. To be totally transparent, I was anticipating a cheesy show with a subpar buffet. What I experienced couldn’t have been farther from that. The food was very well done, especially since they are tasked with feeding such a large number of visitors.
Echoing what Dia said about her experience, the MC really made the show he was engaging and he had a bit of luck in picking a member of the crowd that was equally entertaining.
Myths of Maui
Julie attended the Myths of Maui Luau at the Royal Lahaina Resort:
The Myths of Maui proved perfect for my first luau. Touted as the oldest luau on the island, every aspect of the experience was a pleasure. From the shell lei and festive Blue Hawaiian cocktail upon arrival to the lovely beachfront setting to the beautiful performers, The Royal Lahaina Resort knows how to throw a party. Included in the luau is an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, with complimentary cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages, as well as a “keiki,” or children’s, buffet for picky eaters.
However, the best part of the evening, besides the amazing sunset over the ocean, involved the performers. From a charming hostess, who explained the various dances that originated in Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and New Zealand (which, to be honest, was a little scary) to the enthusiastic performers, the luau celebrated the history of Maui through dance and music. Plus, I met adorable newlyweds from Australia, who added to the fun of the evening.
Guests can select from VIP Access, which includes premier seating and priority access to the buffet, or General Admission, which does save money.
While the luau can get pricey for a family, I found the experience worth it—and not cheesy at all.
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Surfing
Admittedly, I have never surfed. Nor is the Ka’anapali Beach area where the pro surfers look for those ‘big’ waves. But that’s what makes this area perfect for beginners and families. Surfboard rentals are located all along the resort area beach path. The south Ka’anapali Beach area seems to have better waves and that’s where I saw folks out on surfboards on my windy final morning on Maui.
Along with the folks catching a wave here and there on their own was one father and son who rode their surfboard together. The little guy excitedly ran out into the water, climbed on the front of the board and rode in front of his dad when they caught wave after wave. What a great experience for parent and kid to have together and I’m sure they created memories that they’ll share for years to come. I know I loved watching them!
Best Things to Do on Maui with a Family: Swimming
Whether you enjoy the ocean waves or prefer to do your swimming in a pool, the Ka’anapali Beach area has you covered. Every resort and hotel has both beach access as well as one (or even multiple) pools. Kids will be thrilled by the waterfalls, water slides, and water play equipment. Parents can relax poolside in a lounge chair or cabana with an adult beverage if so desired.
There are no lifeguards so wherever you enjoy your family’s water time, please make sure to keep a close eye on your little ones. Some beach areas are better for older kids, with bigger waves and stronger currents. The further north you go along the Ka’anapali Beach path, the better the beaches seem to be for younger kids or those who aren’t strong swimmers. There’s plenty of sand though, so don’t forget the beach toys!
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Stargazing
Although stargazing may not be first on your list when thinking of what to do on Maui with kids, it’s definitely an experience you can’t get in any city. The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa offers the Tour of the Stars program twice nightly, at 8 pm and 9 pm. Kids are welcome, although parents are the best judge as to whether they would be OK on a rooftop with few lights. The rooftop area is adjacent to the hotel’s helicopter pad and is fully fenced in, but it is still (out of necessity), very dark.
The Hyatt’s Director of Astronomy explains what you’re seeing and positions the two large telescopes several times to offer views of planets like Saturn and constellations such as Sagittarius. Even with the naked eye, I could see more stars there than I’ve ever seen in the night sky before. We could even see the Milky Way!
If you’re looking for an option for a romantic evening (and have childcare available), they also offer a Romance Tour of the Stars every night at 1o:00 pm. This viewing is for ages 21 and over only and provides sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries along with the star tour. I have it on good authority that at least one couple has become engaged under the stars on the roof of the Hyatt. I can’t imagine a more romantic setting to offer a ring to your loved one than while looking at Saturn’s rings.
Best Things to Do on Maui with Kids: Flora and Fauna
If staying in the Ka’anapali Beach area, you don’t have to go far to find wildlife. Several of the resorts have live animals onsite in their lobbies and public areas. We saw flamingos, swans and koi fish in the lobby pond at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa Kaanapali. The Westin also has a blue macaw named Bob and other birds out at various times. Taking kids through the various resort lobbies to explore and find wildlife would be a fun activity.
The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa has wildlife tours every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning at 10:00am. The resort has various species of birds, including cranes, swans, and parrots. The most popular wildlife attraction though is definitely the family of seven African Black-Footed penguins that live in the open-air lobby. You can stop by and see them anytime, day or night. Every morning at 9:30 am you can also watch the penguins being fed. Yes, these are warm climate penguins, so they love the Maui weather!
Along with wildlife, the Ka’anapali resorts offer beautiful botanical gardens that are a fun experience to explore and wander.
Coming Soon: Bonus Thing to Do on Maui with Kids
The popular Whalers Village Museum has been closed for renovations, but will be reopening sometime in 2018 as the new Whale Center of Hawaii. We got a sneak peek of this charming attraction, including a chance to try the virtual reality exhibit. It proved to be quite popular with us moms and is sure to be a big hit with kids as well.
The Whale Center of Hawaii is housed in the popular oceanfront Whalers Village shopping center and entertainment center that sits in the middle of Ka’anapali Beach and is easily reached by many of the resorts via a beachfront walking path. It’s recently been renovated and includes lots of free entertainment, shopping and family friendly restaurants.