The Hawaiian Islands offer a huge variety of activities for families. We recommend the Big Island with kids as it offers the best diversity of Hawaii.
We drove around the entire island to explore and discovered cool things to do on the Big Island 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. Climbing the banyan trees became the favorite Big Island activity for my kids.
Many helicopter tour companies in Hawaii have an age requirement, and you probably don’t want to take a baby on a helicopter anyway, so this isn’t for everyone.
But dad took the older kids (7 and 10) on an amazing Big Island 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.
This Big Island activity was amazing, and admission is free!
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.
No Hawaii vacation with kids is complete without getting shaved ice. Walk around Hilo and you’ll easily find a shop.
There is nothing as refreshing as real Hawaiian shave ice!
One of the top things to do on the Big Island is 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 is a Big Island adventure that’s fun for the whole family. The beach has two cool things to see and do.
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 on the Big Island 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 activity.
Maunakea is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in about 2 hours. Altitude sickness is a strong possibility so children under 16 are discouraged from going higher than the Visitor Information Center. A 4 wheel drive vehicle with Low Range is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED to travel beyond the visitor center. Check with your rental car company to see if you are allowed to travel on Maunakea.
One cool Big Island adventure is experiencing most of the world’s climate types. Keep an eye out for the sudden changes of landscape every half an hour.
A Hawaii family vacation 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.
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.
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!