While Hawaii is only a single state, its eight different islands make it a destination that invites repeated trips. From volcanoes to beaches, and high-rises to bungalows, variety is the spice of life in Hawaii. When you’re bringing kids along to the Aloha State, you should pick the best island in Hawaii for your family. Let’s look at which Hawaiian island is best for a family vacation, and why.
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Otherwise known as paradise, Hawaii is a dream destination for many couples. But once the kids come along, does that mean Hawaii is no longer in the cards? Absolutely not! One of our first family vacations was to the beautiful island of Maui, with our one-year-old in tow. But how do you choose the best Hawaiian island for your family vacation? Our TravelingMom experts are here to weigh in and help you choose.
Is Oahu the Best Hawaiian Island for Families?
Island Nickname: “The Gathering Place”
Airport: Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
“When we visited Hawaii for the first time and told people we were only going to be on Oahu, we were surprised to get a few responses that seemed as if people felt sorry for us. While Waikiki and Honolulu have earned their reputations as busy, often-crowded tourist destinations, the island is unparalleled for truly diving into Hawaiian culture.
We spent more than a week there, and it wasn’t nearly enough time to explore historical locations from the days of kings and chiefs, and the world’s most famous surfing destinations, or to try countless amazing food options.
Some of our favorite experiences included taking part in luaus, learning hula, sampling some of Motsumoto’s 45+ flavors of shave ice on a visit to the charming Haleiwa town, and truly experiencing the culture of a variety of island nations at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Oahu’s rich history and diversity means there is something for everyone to love!”
— Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding Traveling Mom
Where to Stay in Oahu
On my recent trip I was able to see a bit of Oahu and I have two easy options for families looking for a great place to stay in Oahu.
If you’re looking for deluxe accommodations with a true Waikiki feel and beach access, check out the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The property is truly a village, featuring a lot of great shopping and dining, plus it’s on the beach. They also have a popular luau show, and offer great watersport activities on site. We even spent one afternoon learning about lei making.
If you want to get a bit away from the business of downtown Waikiki, but still be close enough to enjoy the sights and attractions, check out the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Alana Waikiki Beach. You’ll be a bit away from the city center, and have some nice palm trees and green space, while still being close enough to walk downtown or grab an uber.
They also feature some 1 bedroom suites, great for families. But for a real splurge, consider one of their penthouse suites with a large outdoor deck that overlooks Waikiki. When you’re ready to unwind, take a dip in their rooftop pool, then order up a “Cookietini” from Earl at their TREES restaurant.
Why The Big Island of Hawaii is the Best Island in Hawaii for a Family Vacation
Island Nickname: “The Big Island”
Airports: Kona (KOA) and Hilo (ITO)
“The Big Island is the best Hawaiian Island with kids, especially pre-teens and teens. There is everything to do – and nothing to do at all. We love to rent a house in South Kona where with kids have access when they want to kayaks, a quiet beach and a neighborhood on the lava fields to explore. The Big Island also has the greatest diversity in ecosystems, allowing for kids to play in the snow and watch the lava hit the water all in one day, not to mention the rain forest.
The adventure for pre-teens and teens is endless. Our top three adventure activities are:
Helicopter Tour with Paradise Helicopter. We book a private trip through our local concierge and make stops to hike and enjoy hidden waterfalls.
- Surfing with FBI Surf School. We hire an instructor for the family and practice and explore the Islands top surf spots with our instructor.
- Snorkeling with Captain Zodiac. We hire Captain for the day to explore the hot spots off tour times so it is not crowded. “
— Dana Zucker & Sherry Wernicke, Luxe TravelingMoms
Another vote for The Big Island of Hawaii as the Best Island for Family
“For both excitement and value the Big Island can’t be beat. If you’re feeling cultural you can spot more Petroglyphs than you can imagine – for free – at the Fairmont Orchid. Follow the signs once you get near the resort to “Petroglyph Park.” There’s a nice display of at least 20 Petroglyphs that even the littlest kids could enjoy. After you’ve had your fill of history, take a walk along the beach path to the Fairmont’s poolside deli for a mango smoothie to cool off and some turtle watching from their pier.
Craving nature? Get yourself to the Sheraton Kona right after dark. As the snorkel boats clear out of the bay, the manta rays come in by the hundreds! The viewing spot right behind rays by the bay is family friendy and – you guessed it – totally free to visit.
Need to shake the sillies out? Higashiara Park has an enormous playground with more slides, ziplines, merry-go-rounds, swings, and playhouses than any kid could desire. But that’s not what makes it special. First, the entire playground is steeped in Hawaiian design, from the volcano of the climbing structure to the outrigger canoe made for hide and seek. The tiles decorating the seating areas are decorated with Petroglyphs and other Hawaiian icons. Then, once you’re done admiring the playground, you just have to look up – the entire park has a picture perfect view of the Pacific.”
— Dia Adams, Travel Hack TravelingMom
Perhaps Maui is the Best Island in Hawaii for Family Vacations
Island Nickname: “The Valley Isle”
Airport: Kahului (OGG)
“Known as the “Valley Isle,” Maui is dotted with quaint towns, artist communities and local favorites. Most family friendly Maui resorts are located on the sunny West Maui and South Maui, and families can enjoy activities such as whale watching, surfing, sunsets, volcano adventures, and relaxing on its many beaches. But the entire island is beautiful and waiting to be explored – and it’s totally worth renting a car.
Extend your Hawaiian experience with a day trip driving the lush (and often rainy) Hana Highway to East Maui. Families will love its winding and scenic highway, including so many amazing waterfalls along the way. Dotted along the highway are local fruit stands – and oh my, their home baked banana bread is not to be missed!
Coastal trails, legendary freshwater caves, and black sand beaches await you at the Waianapanapa State Park. On Maui’s south side, Makena Beach State Park is home to the island’s largest beach, perfect for a relaxing day of swimming and sunbathing.”
— Diana Rowe, Traveling Grandmom
Kauai might be the Best Hawaiian Island for a Family Vacation
Island Nickname: “The Garden Isle”
Airport: Lihue (LIH)
“Some of our greatest family travel memories are from spending time on the islands of Hawaii. While each individual island has so much to offer for families, we found Kauai to be especially easy to navigate with a young child.
The town of Kapa’a is our recommendation for a home base with plenty of restaurants, shops, and services, along with lovely beaches (don’t miss Baby Beach) to explore. Kapa’a is also centrally located on the east side of the island, so families don’t have to travel far to get to destinations north, south, and east.
On the north end of the island, two spots we love are the Kalalau Trail (Na Pali coast) and Kilauea Point Lighthouse. To the south and west, families should plan to visit Polihale State Park, Waimea Canyon, and the Spouting Horn blowhole. And lastly, know that Kauai’s nickname is the Garden Isle, so bring your raincoat!”
— Kate Spiller, Wild Tales Of
Check out my review of the Best Hotels for Families in Kauai, Hawaii – Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay if you need a great place to stay while visiting Kauai.
Hawaiian Airlines – the perfect start to your Hawaii vacation
And if you want to start your paradise vacation before you even touch down in Hawaii, book your flights with Hawaiian Airlines. My recent trip was the first time I flew them and I fell in love. From the flight attendants wearing the classic plumeria flower in their hair, to the complimentary meals, the aloha island spirit is alive and well at 30,000 feet.
From the people I met in Hawaii, to our well-traveled Traveling Mom writers, everyone repeatedly named these four islands as being the best for families. Reading through this post about Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai, should help you pick which Hawaiian island is the best for your family vacation.