The Hawaiian Islands offer a huge variety of activities for families.
If you are interested in seeing the best diversity of Hawaii, visit the Big Island.
We drove around the entire island to explore and discovered fun activities to do with our four kids.
The number one favorite Big Island activity for our entire family was Rainbow Falls.
The rainbows in the falls are mostly visible early on sunny mornings. However, that was only a small part of the draw for us (especially since we visited on a cloudy afternoon).
At the top of the falls are the Boiling Pots – basins collecting the river water as it rushes toward the falls. You can wade and climb on the rocks and enjoy the cool water. Wear water shoes, if you can – the rocks are slippery.
Along the five minute hike to Rainbow Falls are some enormous Banyan trees that are irresistible to climb. My kids played in these trees for an hour, and could have stayed much longer.
Many helicopter tour companies do have an age requirement, and you probably don’t want to take a baby on a helicopter anyway, so this wasn’t for everyone.
But dad took the older kids (7 and 10) on an amazing helicopter tour. They departed from Hilo airport and soared over the active volcano, watching lava and steam rising from the crater.
They also got to see lava and waves crashing into each other along the coast! It was unforgettable.
During the two hour helicopter tour, I took the two younger kids (1 and 4) just south of town to the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo.
Admission is free, and it was amazing.
There were tigers, anteaters, alligators, lemurs, monkeys, and all kinds of incredible tropical birds and plants.
It also has a few really nice playgrounds. The zoo was the highlight of the trip for my four year old.
Hilo is a good place to find shaved ice. There are many places around, just search for one nearby and walk over.
There is nothing as refreshing as real Hawaiian shave ice!
When you visit Hawaii, you must explore a volcano!
From the viewpoints along the main road you can see the volcanic crater, with steam rising up from the exposed lava. Within a five minute walk you can walk right up to natural steam vents in the ground.
We also went through the Thurston lava tube – a short 20 minute round trip walk that takes you through an actual (extinct) lava tube. Bring a headlamp for this!
Although we love hiking with kids, we have two very young children and were aiming for a more relaxing vacation, so none of our hikes were longer than 20-30 minutes.
However, the adults were pining to explore some of the longer trails in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Highly recommended.
Note: Be sure to pack your National Parks Pass. And remember, fourth graders get in free to all National Parks. Just make sure you print and bring an Every Kid in a Park pass.
Punalu’U Beach has two main draws. First, the sand is black!
Many of Hawaii’s colored sand beaches are difficult to access, but you can drive right up to this one.
Stepping on the black sand of the beach was incredible. Second, this is a popular stop for sea turtles!
You can also swim and snorkel, but stay out of the water at high surf.
This bakery is famous for their Hawaiian sweetbread, or Portuguese malasadas – donuts.
They were delicious and the prices weren’t bad. It’s definitely a must-stop.
Mauna Kea Observatory – Children under 16 (and rental cars) are discouraged from going higher than the Visitor Information Center.
Climate Zones – We drove entirely around the Big Island, which contains most of the world’s climate types! Keep an eye out for the sudden changes of landscape every half an hour.
Plan for Downtime – Hawaii is very exciting and there is a lot to do. But it’s also a great place to relax and the beaches in Hawaii are amazing.
We alternated days with big activities or lots of driving, with days where we scoped out a nearby beach and relaxed. Using public access at resort beaches will give you access to rental gear for snorkeling, kayaking etc. You can also buy day passes to a resort to use their pools.
Get a Kitchen – We HIGHLY recommend booking an Airbnb or a hotel suite with a kitchen. Kids are such picky eaters, and food is very expensive on the Big Island. We made a trip to Costco on our arrival day, and visited Walmart halfway through our trip, and fed our kids meals at our condo most days. For cultural experience, we sometimes got take out for the adults and fed the kids familiar food at home.
Get a Pool – As I mentioned above, we did several lounging days where we visited nearby beaches, or used a resort pass. But we also had a pool at our condo that was convenient for some winding down time after a long day of driving.
Get a Washer – We travel lightly, and our trip to Hawaii was no exception. We brought one checked bag, one carryon, and a few back packs for our family of six – including rain gear, swim gear, water shoes, and hiking shoes for everyone. We were able to accomplish this by doing laundry in our condo each evening.
Bring Car Seats – As fun as it is to haul car seats and boosters around the airport, they are free to check, and quite expensive to rent with your rental car. Traveling lightly allowed us to handle carrying the car seats with ease. There are simple tips to help you travel with car seats and not lose your cool!
Reference these articles to further help you plan the perfect trip with kids:
We use Airbnb (here’s a $40 coupon) or Hotels.com to rent accommodations that have a kitchen. Cooking our meals saves us quite a bit of money compared to eating out, and it’s much healthier! If we can’t find somewhere to stay with a kitchen, we find places that have a microwave and fridge at the minimum. You would be surprised the meals you can prepare in a microwave.
We utilize Pinterest to organize the information when researching travel locations. Photo Jeepers has a USA Travel board, Hawaii Travel board and Family Travel board where we only pin things we have read and find worthwhile. Use our board to help you plan a trip to Hawaii. Save this to your travel and family travel boards and share with your friends!
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