Wholesome Fun: Family-Friendly Activities on the Big Island

Hawaii Things to do

perfect big island vacation

The Big Island of Hawaii, officially known as Hawaii Island, is a treasure trove of natural wonders, cultural experiences, and family-friendly activities. From volcanic landscapes and lush rainforests to pristine beaches and charming towns, the Big Island offers a myriad of opportunities for families to create unforgettable memories. Whether planning your first visit or returning to explore new areas, here are some of the best family-friendly activities on the Big Island that will delight visitors of all ages.

Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-visit destination that offers a unique blend of adventure, education, and awe-inspiring natural beauty. The park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Families can embark on various hikes, explore volcanic craters, and even witness lava flows, depending on volcanic activity.

    • Kilauea Visitor Center: Start your visit here to gather information about the park, current volcanic activity, and safety tips. The rangers offer educational programs and guided tours that are both informative and engaging for children and adults alike.
    • Thurston Lava Tube: This easily accessible lava tube provides a fascinating glimpse into the island’s volcanic history. A short walk through the lush rainforest leads to the tube, which is illuminated for safe exploration.
    • Crater Rim Drive: A scenic drive around the Kilauea Caldera offers stunning views and several stops with short walks to lookout points. The Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks are particularly intriguing for curious minds.

    Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay

      Kealakekua Bay is one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island, known for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life. The bay is a protected marine sanctuary, making it an ideal location for families to enjoy snorkeling and kayaking.

      • Captain Cook Monument: The monument is accessible by boat or a challenging hike. However, many families prefer to join a guided snorkeling tour that provides equipment, safety instructions, and fascinating insights into the bay’s history and ecology.
      • Marine Life: Snorkelers can expect to see colorful coral reefs, schools of tropical fish, and even spinner dolphins. The calm waters make it suitable for younger children and novice snorkelers.

      Visiting the Hilo Farmers Market

        The Hilo Farmers Market is a vibrant and bustling market in the heart of Hilo that offers a delightful experience for the whole family. The market features a wide variety of fresh produce, local crafts, and delicious food.

        • Fresh Produce: Kids will love exploring the colorful stalls filled with exotic fruits like rambutan, lychee, and dragon fruit. Many vendors offer samples, allowing families to taste the flavors of Hawaii.
        • Local Crafts: From handmade jewelry to traditional Hawaiian quilts, the market is a great place to pick up unique souvenirs and support local artisans.
        • Food Stalls: Enjoy a meal or snack from one of the many food vendors offering Hawaiian specialties such as poke bowls, malasadas, and fresh coconut water.

        Discovering the Wonders of Akaka Falls State Park

          A visit to Akaka Falls State Park is a perfect way to introduce children to the beauty of Hawaii’s natural landscapes. The park is home to two stunning waterfalls: Akaka Falls, which plunges 442 feet, and the smaller Kahuna Falls.

          • Scenic Hike: The short, paved loop trail is an easy walk for families and offers breathtaking views of the falls and lush tropical vegetation. Along the way, interpretive signs provide information about the local flora and fauna.
          • Photo Opportunities: The viewing areas at Akaka Falls are ideal for family photos, capturing the majesty of the waterfall and the surrounding rainforest.

          Learning at the Imiloa Astronomy Center

            The Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo offers an engaging and educational experience for families interested in astronomy and Hawaiian culture. The center combines state-of-the-art exhibits with traditional Hawaiian knowledge to provide a comprehensive understanding of the stars and the universe.

            • Planetarium Shows: The center’s planetarium features immersive shows that take visitors on journeys through space, exploring the night sky and the stories behind the constellations.
            • Interactive Exhibits: Hands-on exhibits allow children to learn about astronomy, space exploration, and the unique connection between Hawaiian culture and the stars.
            • Gardens and Trails: Families can explore the native gardens and walking trails outside, which showcase the island’s diverse plant life and offer beautiful views of Hilo Bay.
            Hapuna Beach

            Relaxing at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

              Hapuna Beach is one of the Big Island’s most popular and family-friendly beaches, known for its soft white sand and clear, gentle waters. It’s an ideal spot for a day of relaxation and fun by the ocean.

              • Swimming and Snorkeling: The calm waters make Hapuna Beach perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The gentle slope of the beach ensures that even young children can safely enjoy the ocean.
              • Picnic Areas: The park offers shaded picnic areas with tables and barbecue grills, making it a great place for a family picnic.
              • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, and lifeguards are available, ensuring a comfortable and safe beach experience for families.

              Exploring the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens

                The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens in Hilo is the only tropical rainforest zoo in the United States. It offers a unique and enjoyable experience for families. The zoo is home to a variety of animals, including endangered species, and features lush botanical gardens.

                • Animal Exhibits: Children will be thrilled to see animals such as tigers, monkeys, and exotic birds up close. The zoo also has a petting zoo area with friendly animals like goats and sheep.
                • Botanical Gardens: The beautifully landscaped gardens showcase a wide array of tropical plants, including orchids, bamboo, and palm trees. The walking paths make it easy to explore at a leisurely pace.
                • Educational Programs: The zoo offers educational programs and interactive exhibits that teach children about wildlife conservation and the importance of protecting natural habitats.

                Stargazing at Mauna Kea

                  Mauna Kea, one of the highest points in Hawaii, offers unparalleled stargazing opportunities due to its clear skies and minimal light pollution. Families can enjoy a magical night under the stars, learning about constellations and the wonders of the universe.

                  • Visitor Information Station: Located at 9,200 feet, the station provides information about Mauna Kea and offers guided stargazing programs. Telescopes are available for public use, and knowledgeable staff are on hand to answer questions.
                  • Warm Clothing: Temperatures can drop significantly at higher elevations, so it’s important to bring warm clothing, especially for children.
                  • Safety Tips: The road to the summit can be challenging, and altitude sickness is a concern. It’s advisable to spend some time acclimating at the visitor center before heading to higher elevations.

                  Cultural Experiences at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

                    Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, also known as the Place of Refuge, offers a fascinating glimpse into Hawaiian history and culture. The park preserves an ancient site where Hawaiians sought refuge during times of conflict.

                    • Historical Sites: Families can explore the reconstructed temple, royal grounds, and ancient fishponds. Interpretive signs and exhibits provide insight into the significance of the site and its cultural importance.
                    • Ranger Programs: Park rangers offer educational programs and guided tours that bring the history of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau to life. These programs are engaging and informative, making them suitable for children.
                    • Cultural Demonstrations: Traditional Hawaiian crafts, games, and practices are often demonstrated by local artisans, providing an interactive learning experience for visitors.

                    Ziplining Adventures in Kohala

                      For families seeking a bit of adventure, ziplining in the Kohala region is an exhilarating way to experience the island’s natural beauty. Several companies offer family-friendly zipline tours that cater to beginners and provide a safe and thrilling experience.

                      • Canopy Tours: Ziplining through the lush canopies of the Kohala rainforest offers breathtaking views of waterfalls, valleys, and the coastline. The tours are designed to be safe for children and provide all necessary equipment and instruction.
                      • Family Bonding: Ziplining is a great activity for family bonding, as it encourages teamwork and builds confidence. It’s an unforgettable adventure that will be a highlight of your trip.
                      • Safety First: Reputable zipline companies prioritize safety with well-maintained equipment, professional guides, and thorough safety briefings.

                      Whale Watching Tours

                        From December to April, the waters around the Big Island are home to migrating humpback whales. Whale-watching tours offer an incredible opportunity to see these majestic creatures up close and learn about their behavior and conservation.

                        • Boat Tours: Many tour operators offer family-friendly whale-watching excursions that provide a safe and comfortable way to view whales. The tours often include informative commentary from marine biologists and naturalists.
                        • Educational Experience: Children will be fascinated by the sight of whales breaching and tail-slapping. The tours also teach about the importance of marine conservation and the efforts to protect these magnificent animals.
                        • Photography: Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the spectacular moments of whales in their natural habitat. The experience of seeing a whale up close is one that your family will treasure forever.

                        Exploring the Waipio Valley

                          Waipio Valley, known as the Valley of the Kings, is a place of stunning beauty and rich cultural significance. Families can explore the valley on guided tours that reveal the area’s history and natural wonders.

                          • Scenic Overlook: The overlook provides a breathtaking view of the valley and its dramatic cliffs. It’s a great spot for family photos and to take in the majesty of the landscape.
                          • Guided Tours: Guided tours offer a deeper understanding of the valley’s history and significance. Options include horseback riding tours, ATV tours, and cultural hikes that are suitable for families.

                          Visiting the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm

                            The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona offers a unique and educational experience for families. The farm is dedicated to the conservation of seahorses and provides an opportunity to learn about these fascinating creatures up close.

                            • Interactive Tours: The guided tours at the seahorse farm are highly interactive and allow visitors to see various species of seahorses, learn about their breeding and conservation, and even hold a seahorse.
                            • Conservation Education: The tours emphasize the importance of marine conservation and the efforts to protect endangered seahorses. It’s an engaging and educational experience for children.
                            • Gift Shop: The gift shop offers unique seahorse-themed souvenirs and supports the farm’s conservation efforts. It’s a great place to pick up a memento of your visit.
                            Puako petroglyphs

                            Discovering Ancient Petroglyphs

                              The Big Island is home to numerous petroglyph fields where ancient Hawaiians carved symbols and images into the lava rock. These petroglyphs offer a fascinating glimpse into the island’s history and culture.

                              • Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve: Located on the Kohala Coast, this preserve features one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Hawaii. A short, easy trail leads to the petroglyphs, making it accessible for families.
                              • Educational Signage: Interpretive signs along the trails provide information about the petroglyphs and their cultural significance. It’s a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about Hawaii’s ancient history.
                              • Self-Guided exploration: The petroglyph fields are best explored at a leisurely pace, allowing families to discover the carvings and imagine the stories behind them.

                              Enjoying Kona Coffee Tours

                                Kona is famous for its coffee, and visiting a coffee farm is a fun and educational activity for families. Several farms offer tours that showcase the coffee-making process from bean to cup.

                                • Farm Tours: Guided tours take visitors through the coffee orchards, processing facilities, and roasting rooms. Children can see how coffee beans are grown, harvested, and turned into delicious coffee.
                                • Tastings: While parents enjoy coffee tastings, kids can sample other farm-grown products such as chocolate and tropical fruits. It’s a tasty experience for everyone.
                                • Learning Experience: The tours provide insight into the history of coffee in Kona, sustainable farming practices, and the hard work that goes into producing high-quality coffee.

                                The Big Island of Hawaii offers a wealth of family-friendly activities that cater to a wide range of interests and ages. From exploring volcanic landscapes and pristine beaches to delving into the island’s rich cultural heritage and engaging in thrilling adventures, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, education, or excitement, the Big Island promises a memorable and wholesome experience for the entire family. So pack your bags, gather your loved ones, and embark on a journey to discover the wonders of Hawaii’s Big Island.


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