Ah, Hawaii, that most exotic of states. What do the islands call to mind for you? Perhaps you picture long days lounging on the beach with your special someone and late nights sipping fancy fruity cocktails in the mild evening air. Perhaps you’re thrilled by the prospect of adventure riding the waves, hiking to Manoa Falls, or snorkeling around in Molokini Crater.
Or maybe you’re just dreading the long flight with loud kids, the inevitable jet lag, and then a week of your children complaining that their legs are too tired for more walking, the sand is too hot for playing, and the loco moco, spam musubi, and huli huli chicken are too weird to eat.
Ah … kids.
Look, until they reach a certain age and level of self-composure, children are going to whine and moan even if you just stay home, so you might as well haul the family to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for your next vacation anyway. While many people think of Hawaii as a romantic getaway best reserved for adults, in fact, the islands are a wonderful place to go with the kids. And they’re not all that bad to have around anyway. Mostly.
Oahu is, far and away, the most populous Hawaiian island, with more than 876,000 of the estimated 1.42 million inhabitants of the state living there. It is home to the capital city of Honolulu and to most of the state’s main governmental, educational, and cultural institutions. Of course, there are plenty of beaches.
Visit Pearl Harbor
If your kids are old enough to discuss World War II and to confront the realities of conflict, then don’t miss the chance to visit the spot of Japan’s sneak attack on that infamous date, December 7, 1941. A visit to the USS Arizona memorial is somber but of great import for anyone with a love of history and of country.
Hike Diamond Head
Diamond Head, an extinct volcano overlooking Honolulu, is a great hike for families. A fit adult can easily summit and return to the parking area in less than an hour and a half, while the family with kids of pre-school age or older should only need two hours or so. And even with a baby in a pack, most hikers will only truly be challenged by the near 100 steps near the end of the trek.
Swim with Dolphins
At the Sea Life Park, you and the family can finally fulfill that dream of swimming with dolphins. You can also swim with sea lions. And swim with rays. And with sharks. And you can pet a sea turtle. And see penguins and various sea birds. And the place is just over a half-hour from Honolulu, depending on how you drive.
Visit the Dole Plantation
While not actually seen in Hawaii until the early 1800s, today the pineapple is a quintessential symbol of the islands. And the Dole Plantation gives you an up-close and family-friendly experience with this symbol. There’s a garden maze, a train tour, and a restaurant featuring both Hawaiian dishes as well as kid-friendly options like hot dogs and burgers.
Let Disney Do the Work for You
Disney’s Aulani Resort is just 25 miles due east of downtown Honolulu, but it’s a world apart from the most populous city on the islands. You and the gang could spend several days without leaving the resort and the kids still wouldn’t be bored. There are pools aplenty, shallow splash zones for younger kids, a beach complete with calm lagoon, frequent live performances, Disney character experiences, restaurants, a spa, and plenty more. Not cheap, but well worth it.
Southeast of Oahu and the second largest Hawaiian island in terms of size and the third most populous spot in the archipelago, Maui is a great place for the family that loves the water.
Snorkel in Molokini Crater
The crystal clear waters around surrounding the crescent of land jutting above Molokini Crater teem with sea life, from manta rays to moray eels to butterflyfish and more. And you can book a tour that brings you there on a comfortable yacht where meals are served, cookies on offer, and with an open bar for adults.
Go Under the Sea
An Atlantis Submarine tour can take you and the kids up to 100 feet under the waters around Maui, revealing the undersea world in a way you’d only seen in Nat Geo shows before. The standard tour is nearly two hours long and is guaranteed to make memories that linger for years.
Hang 10. Or More
Maui is a great place to try surfing, Hawaii’s native sport. So book a private lesson for the family with Hawaiian Paddle Sports, who can also hook you up with rented canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards if surfing isn’t your thing.
The Big Island
AKA simply Hawaii, the Big Island is indeed a very big island. It accounts for more than 60% of the entire state’s landmass yet has a population of less than 200,000. (This is true largely due to permanent agricultural zoning, but also because of the threat of volcanic activity.)
Yes, you can ski in Hawaii. You’ll need to drive the gang to the top of Mauna Kea, elevation nearly 13,800 feet, as there are no lifts or gondolas, but many days out of the year this massive extinct volcano has enough snow around its summit to allow for decent skiing or snowboarding.
Visit an Active Volcano
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is situated near the active volcanoes Kilauea and Mauna Loa, from which smoke, steam, and lava are almost constantly pouring forth. Kids will love to see the glow of the hot lava bubbling from the land as well as the amazing formations created by lava flows past.
Look to the Stars
The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center offers a large interactive museum, a planetarium with family-friendly shows, and a rich look into both the depths of the cosmos as well as a glance back at the history of Hawaii, both in terms of the cultural and the natural.
Fourth in terms of landmass and relatively sparsely populated with only about 67,000 inhabitants, Kauai is also more of an adult vacation destination than most of the other larger islands. That said, there are a few family-friendly opportunities not to miss if you’re there.
Eat Shave Ice
And don’t call it shaved ice, because that’s not what it’s called. It’s shave ice, and on Kauai, there are lots of little shave ice shops around. Try local flavors.
Visit a Chocolate Farm
Lydgate Farms is a working farm that produces high-quality cocoa beans used to create all sorts of top quality treats. While there, you can see the operations of the farm, sample chocolate sweets, try chocolate tea, visit the gift shop and, likely, buy some chocolate.
Go Mountain Tubing
Enjoy an adventurous float across a former plantation complete with winding canals, occasional fast drops, and trips through rock-cut tunnels thanks to Kauai Backcountry Adventures. The company also offers zip lining if you need more action.
- Understanding the Volcano Tourism Industry in Hawaii
- Hawaii’s Best Small Towns Have the Big Cities Beat
- What to Know About Environmentally Sustainable Tourism in Hawaii
- The Best Hiking Spots Across Hawaii, from the Big Island to Oahu
- The Ultimate Hawaiian Adventure Guide to Oahu and Kauai