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- Best Family Friendly Things to Do in the Big Island
- 1. Go Snorkeling
- 2. Enjoy the Big Island's Unique Beaches
- 3. Tour the Waterfalls
- 4. Go Whale Watching or Take a Sunset Cruise
- 5. Experience a Luau
- 6. Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea Summit
- 7. Visit Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
- 8. Tour a Coffee Farm
- 9. Swim with Manta Rays
- 10. Visit Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park
- 11. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- 12. Take a Helicopter Tour
- More Activities and Tours
Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii? You can do as much, or as little as you like and have a wonderful time. Relax at luxury resorts or explore the beaches, waterfalls and volcanoes. Whether you visit to snorkel the clear water at your leisure or hike waterfalls, this is a place to relax and to experience unique culture and natural sights. Here are 12 of the best things to do in the Big Island with kids.
The writer was hosted.
The island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is the largest and most diverse of the Hawaiian islands. From white, green and black sand beaches to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it contains several different climate zones, and terrain.
The Big Island is large and there is a fair distance between the Kona area and Hilo area. The Kona Kohala coast is where the majority of luxury oceanfront resorts are located. Hilo is near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Many visitors will break up their visit to stay a couple of nights in the Hilo area and the remainder of their trip in the Kona Kohala area. Others may opt to stay on the Kona Kohala coast and then plan a full day trip to the Hilo area.
Best Family Friendly Things to Do in the Big Island
There are many, many things to do on the Big Island. While I often over schedule activities when we travel, I did not this time. I made a conscious effort to allow my family plenty of time to relax and enjoy the pool, beach and sunsets. Of course, this means that I still have a wish list of things I want to do and see on the Big Island. That’s okay. It means there may need to be a return visit.
These are a few things to do on the Big Island, both that we did and that are on my list for our return visit.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to book your rental car early as they are currently in short supply. A rental car will enable to you to explore the island at your own pace.
1. Go Snorkeling
Hawaii’s clear waters are known as some of the best for snorkeling. Bring your own snorkeling gear. Visit any of the many beaches on the island to snorkel. Both the Fairmont Orchid and Hilton Waikoloa have nice lagoon areas ideal for snorkeling. If you want easy access to snorkel, book a hotel such as these with a beach and lagoon attached.
Or, take a snorkel cruise. There are several boating companies who will cruise you out to the best snorkeling spot. We love having a guide. Not only can they find hidden gems, but you’re also sure to pick up tidbits about the local area, animals and culture. We snorkeled with Ocean Sports. The on board naturalist gave a fascinating talk about Hawaii’s unique marine life.
2. Enjoy the Big Island’s Unique Beaches
The Big Island is home to white sand beaches, green sand beaches and black sand beaches. In addition to relaxing and playing in the clear water, you may even be able to spot Hona or Hawaiian green sea turtles at some of these beaches.
Hapuna Beach is the largest of the white sand beaches on the Big Island. Waipio Valley is home to Waipi’o Black Sand Beach which will require 4-wheel drive and some hiking to reach. Punalu’u Beach Park is home to the most popular black sand beach on the Big Island. Here you might even be able to spot an endangered hawksbill turtle. Papakolea, green sand beach, requires a fairly significant hike to reach.
We stayed at resorts with attached or associated beached including the Fairmont Orchid and Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations. Some resorts will offer water sport rentals such as kayaks, SUPs and boogie boards. Or, just bring your own snorkel gear.
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3. Tour the Waterfalls
The Big Island is home to thousands of waterfalls. The combination of mountain peaks and lots of rain in the Big Island makes it home to the most waterfalls in the state of Hawaii. If you are lucky, you might even catch a rainbow at a waterfall.
You can easily visit most of the famous waterfalls such as Rainbow Falls or Akaka Falls State Park on your own.
But for a special experience take the Waterfall Tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail. They lease private land on the northwestern most tip of the island. Based in Kailua-Kona, they make pick ups on the Kona coast before heading north to check in at Kohala Zipline in Hawi. They’ll take you on a scenic drive filled with stories of local culture to the waterfall destination.
On private land near Hawi they maintain trails that lead you to several secluded waterfalls with one which you may even brave the cold waters to swim. Enjoy a picnic on a beautiful outlook at what may be the northeastern most point of the island. On this guided tour you will also have the opportunity to stop and see the statue of King Kamehameha and shop in Hawi.
4. Go Whale Watching or Take a Sunset Cruise
Maui may be considered the best place to whale watch in Hawaii. But North Pacific Humpback whales pass through the Hawaiian waters right off of the Kona coast on their annual winter migration during November to April, though peak season is January to March. If you visit during these months plan to take a whale watching cruise with Ocean Sports.
We were not fortunate enough to visit during peak whale watching season. So took a sunset cruise instead. It was a beautiful way to take in the island from a different perspective. The crew at Ocean Sports was so friendly and knowledgeable.
5. Experience a Luau
Attending this festive performance and dinner with traditional Hawaiian food and beverages is almost a rite of passage when visiting Hawaii. The two most popular luaus on the Big Island are the Hawaiiloa Luau and Legends of Hawaii Luau. The Hawaiiloa Luau at Fairmont Orchid offers thrilling hula performances, lively music and traditional Hawaiian food on the beautiful land known as Kalahuipuaa. The music, hula, fire dancing and story telling of Hawaii’s early days at the Legends of Hawaii Luau held at the Hilton Waikoloa keeps guests entertained.
6. Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea Summit
While you could do this on your own, it is probably one activity that is especially worth hiring a guide. Hawaii Forest and Trail offers a small-group sunset and stargazing tour to summit Mauna Kea on the Hamakua coast area.
Here you’ll experience a starlit sky unaffected by light pollution. The Hawaii Forest and Trail guides are very knowledgable and engaging. You will learn about astronomy, telescopes, observatories and Hawaiian culture and traditions. Enjoy dinner outdoors, a scenic sunset followed by hot cocoa as you view the night’s sky through an 11″ Celestron Telescope.
7. Visit Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
Home to the Captain Cook monument, Kealakekua Bay is a historic site and marine life conservation district. As such it is popular for scuba diving snorkeling, kayaking, picnicking and more.
8. Tour a Coffee Farm
The Kona area of the Big Island is known for their delicious coffee. In fact, you will find the 100% Kona coffee designation on the premium packages of coffee in the store.
Tour the Kona Old Style at Kuaiwi Farm to see growing and try Kona coffee, cacao (chocolate), macadamia nuts, avocados, bananas, pineapple and more. Kuaiwi Farm also offers a chocolate candy making class.
TravelingMom Tip: Check out other ideas of things to do on Hawaii’s Kohala coast.
9. Swim with Manta Rays
People come to the Big Island specifically to dive with manta rays. Several outfitters offer nighttime snorkel or dive experiences with the manta rays. At ages 8 and 12 at the time of our visit, I felt like our kids were not quite ready for this experience. But it is on my list for that return trip. Referred to as a nocturnal ballet, I am sure it quite an experience to be up close in the night ocean water with these huge and graceful creatures.
10. Visit Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park
At this historical place of refuge, head to the Visitor Center for a map and then explore the royal grounds. Here Hawaiians who broke kapu (law) could find refuge. Here there are several archeological sites — temple platforms, fishponds and some coastal villages.
11. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
When we were visiting the Big Island you weren’t able to see the lava flow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Check before you go. And, be sure to make a stop at the Visitor Center.
It is an interesting place to combine science and lore. Our son learned about Pele’s tears from a new friend who had just visited. These are tiny pieces of lava that cool quickly in the air and form a tear shape. They are named after the Hawaiian goddess of fire, whom you will anger if you take any shells or volcanic lava rock home with you from Hawaii.
Kilauea Volcano, the focal point of Volcanoes National Park, is the most active volcano in the world. Mauna Loa Volcano, also in the park, is the largest active volcano on earth.
Your family might be interested in exploring the lava tubes, caves formed by lava. The Thurston lava tube, a 500 year-old tube is a popular attraction here.
12. Take a Helicopter Tour
A helicopter tour of the volcanoes is on many bucket lists when visiting Hawaii’s Big Island. Sadly, we didn’t have the opportunity, so it remains on my “things to do when I return” list. Check out TravelingMom Keri Baugh’s report about why it’s a not to be missed adventure and more ways to splurge on a trip to the Big Island with kids.
More Activities and Tours