Hawaii with Kids: 13 Best Kid-Approved Family Activities
When it comes to planning your Hawaiian family vacation, it's hard to know where to begin. A day at the beach or submarine ride? Museum or tubing? We asked Hawaii travel expert Jeanette Foster, author of Frommer's Hawaii with Kids, to name her favorite family activities on the islands.
Don't miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near Hilo. As the name implies, the park is home to two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. While that may sound scary, the park is quite safe. Steam from lava can sometimes be seen flowing into the ocean; otherwise, the main reason to visit this park is to explore what the volcanic activity left behind. One of the most popular activities, especially with kids, is walking through the Thurston Lava Tube. A river of red lava once flowed through the area, and left behind a cave-like tube when the lava cooled. The whole family can enjoy this one. There is a $10 fee per car to enter the park.
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park was once known as a "Place of Refuge" in ancient Hawaiian culture. Those who broke the Kapu, or sacred laws, could face death, but if they could reach the "Place of Refuge," all would be forgiven. Today, visitors can explore what remains of Kiilae Village and the Royal Grounds, including ancient temples, salt vats, fish ponds and animal pens. There was even a royal canoe landing. Have the kids look closely in the water near the landing; sea turtles often frequent this area. The 180-acre National Historical Park has excellent signage, which make the visit more meaningful for everyone. There is a $5 per car entrance fee.
Kahalu'u Beach Park offers some of the best snorkeling for children in the state. Reefs protect the bay (the area is a marine preserve), providing calm waters for swimming and wading. Shallow tide pools are perfect for toddlers to splash in, surrounded by a plentiful amount of fish. Don't be surprised to discover sea turtles, spotted boxfish, bluespine and unicornfish swimming nearby. Want to try snorkeling? Kahalu'u is a good place to learn. Purchase snorkeling gear for around $30 at Target, Sports Authority or other local stores and head on in. Even little ones can do it.
The Atlantis Submarine on Maui, which dives more than 100 feet below the surface, is a consistent crowd favorite. This 2-hour Jules Verne-type adventure is especially popular with those who would rather view the fish from a warm, dry environment, and is best for school-age kids (kids must be at least 36" in height). Go between December and May for the possibility of a whale sighting. Book online to save a few dollars. Adults are $89.50; children 12 and under are $40.50.
The Maui Ocean Center is a compact, but engaging aquarium. It provides a comprehensive look at Hawaii's marine life, with a hands-on Tide Pool, a Marine Mammal Discovery Center and even a hammerhead shark exhibit. The Living Reef has more than 40 exhibits that take guests on a journey from the ocean's surge zone to the deep reef, which is home to shark, tuna fish and other deep water fish. Book online for discount pricing of $22.95 for adults and $16.65 for kids ages 3-12.
Not many visitors know about the Bishop Museum, despite the fact that it's the largest museum in the state. It houses an extensive collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms. The old brick structure looks like something out of The Adams Family. The Hawaiian Hall includes three floors of local history and culture, from exhibits on Hawaiian gods and legends to key moments in Hawaiian history. For kids, however, the newly-opened Science Adventure Center is the biggest draw. Hands-on, interactive exhibits explore the ocean and volcanoes. Kids can even visit the inside of a volcano and see how eruptions take place. Adults are $17.95, children ages 4-12 are $14.95.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the most popular attractions on the islands with visitors of all ages. General admission (adults $49.95, children $35.95) includes entrance to seven different "villages," each featuring a different Polynesian culture, from Tahiti to Samoa to Fiji. Interactive activities bring that culture to life. Kids can learn to hula in Hawaii, or try Tongan shuffleboard or Tahitian fishing. Young visitors receive a special "Passport to Polynesia" and collect a stamp for each village they visit. Kids who visit at least four villages receive a free souvenir.
The Hawaiian Kids Discovery Center in Honolulu is a perfect rainy day activity for families with kids between 2 and 10. The center often flies under the tourist radar, but it's popular with local kids. At "Fantastic You," kids get an inside look at the human body, and can learn about Hawaii in "Hawaiian Rainbows." In "Your Town," kids step into the roles of fireman, banker, mechanic and more. "Tot World" was created just for little ones age 5 and younger, providing a safe, sensory-filled environment. Adults are $10; kids ages 2 and up are $8.
Kids plus water usually equals a good time. That's especially true on the tubing adventure with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. Back when Kauai was a sugar-producing mecca, the plantations created irrigation flumes to bring water from one side of the island to the other. Those plantation days are long gone, but the flumes have been put to good use. Today, the company offers tubing adventures. Simply grab an inner tube, don a headlamp and hit the water. The trip includes a float past fields of wild cane, lush scenery and even through irrigation tunnels (that's what the headlamp is for). The whole experience takes about three hours, and kids need to be at least five years old. The cost is $102 per person. Gloves, tube, headlight and lunch are included.
Na 'Āina Kai Botanical Gardens is a 240-acre botanical paradise (guided tours are a must) on Kauai's North Shore. Take an hour-long walking tour of the Formal Garden, where children can feed the Koi fish in Ka'ula Lagoon and find their way through the hedge maze, followed by an hour of play in the "Under the Rainbow" Children's Garden. This fun-filled play area has a 16-foot-tall Jack in the Beanstalk statue and wading pool, as well as a tropical jungle gym, train, log cabin and covered wagon. Admission is $35 per adult and $20 per child. Tours run at 9:30AM and 1:30PM each day. Call 808-828-0525 to make reservations.
The tiny island of Molokai is home to only 8,000 residents. There are no stoplights or traffic jams here, and much of the island has been preserved in its natural beauty. One of the most popular ways to experience Molokai is on the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Ride. After a quick briefing in the Mule Barn, guests mount up and begin the three-mile journey down the hill to the once-forbidden village of Kalaupapa (kids must be 16 years or older to ride). Now a national historical park, Kalaupapa was once home to a large leper settlement. Some 100 people still make their home in the village, and the Mule Ride offers the rare chance to experience life on this isolated island. The cost is $199 per person and includes a light picnic lunch.
On the west end of Molokai is the Big Wind Kite Factory. Their specialty, of course, is selling kites of all shapes and sizes. This part of the island is very windy, and it's the perfect place to fly a kite. The folks at the store will even help kids get their kites up and running. Hawaiian-themed kites and windsocks run from $45 to $55 each
Hulopoe Beach on the south side of tiny Lanai is a natural playground for curious young minds. Tide pools can be found among the lava outcrops on the eastern end of this beautiful bay, and each pool is a treasure trove of tiny fish, crabs and other marine life. Restroom and picnic facilities are available, making for an easy family day at the beach.