Part of Hawaii’s charm is the unique character of each of the islands. Four of the best for families include Oahu, Maui, Kaua’i and the Big Island.
Oahu offers amazing cityscapes, great food and stunning beachscapes. Take a stroll into Hawaii’s history at Iolani Palace, the historic residence of Hawaii’s last two monarchs. Learn to ride the waves in Waikiki, the birthplace of surfing, or spend up at enormous malls filled with designer brands and surf chic.
Renowned for waterfalls and warm waters, Maui is the spot for active families. Paddle board, kayak, snorkel or swim off white, red and black sand beaches. Watch the sunrise from the summit of a 3000-metre volcano.
Kaua’i is known for its laidback atmosphere, coral reefs, jungle valleys and mountains encircled by long beaches. Visitors can zip through treetops on a cable, trek the many hiking trails, kayak down cascades and experience ancient Hawaiian values immersed in nature. From the snow-capped heights of Mauna Kea to the jet-black sand of Punaluu Beach, the Big Island is as diverse as it is beautiful. Get an insight into Hawaiian culture at the Puuhonua o Honaunau historic park. Older, more adventurous families can get their thrills exploring the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or snorkelling with giant manta rays along the Kona Coast.
Hawaii For Every Age
An ideal age for getting active, you and your 9 to 12 year olds with take Hawaii’s great outdoors by storm. Kids under 12 swim for free at Hanauma Bay, where you can hire snorkel gear and swim with the fish in their underwater haven. Several hotels on Waikiki offer a free shuttle service. Learning to surf at a surf school like Hawaii Surf Lessons 101 or School of Surfing is a great family activity. Enjoy a day trip with Atlantis Submarines, who will take you on an undersea excursion with fish, coral, turtles and treasures 100 feet below the surface. They operate on Kona, Waikiki and Maui. Culture vultures might prefer a visit to the Bishop Museum, Honolulu’s science and history museum, or to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a theme park and museum split into six island regions – Tona, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Aotearoa and Hawaii. Join in a luau, play ancient games, throw a spear, go fishing without a net and watch amazing dance performances.
There is plenty to do for eager 5 to 8 year olds, especially as they become more and more interested in Hawaii’s natural and historical attractions. Climb the Diamond Head hike for panoramic vistas of Waikiki. Be aware that there are lots of stairs, but the walk is definitely doable for primary schoolers, especially if you allow a couple of hours. The Dole Plantation on Oahu is a historical pineapple plantation offering families a Pineapple Express Train Tour, Plantation Garden Tour and a Garden Maze experience.
Hawai’I with tiny tots is made easy by the relaxed approach to kids on the islands. Hawaiian people adore keiki, or small children. It isn’t hard to find restaurants with high chairs, or hotels with reputable babysitting services. Self-contained condos are a good alternative for families who want their own space. When it comes to sheltered beaches suitable for babies, try the Wall, Ko Olina lagoons, Lanikai Beach and Waikiki, all on Oahu. Animal encounters are also perfect for the pre-schoolers, so check out Honolulu Zoo for a wide array of animals, including Hawaiian hawks, geese and other native species. The Sea Life Center is a fantastic family aquarium on Oahu offering up-close encounters with seabirds, sharks, penguins and more. Maui’s equivalent, the Maui Ocean Center, is just as fun. On Kauai, venture into Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, 240 acres dotted with more than 200 bronze sculptures. Among its many gardens is the ‘Under the Rainbow’ Children’s Garden – one day a month you can actually enjoy a special ‘keiki’ playday for $10 per person. The Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center is a kid-focused museum with interact exhibits designed for littlies.
Let loose with teens on the high-speed, high-octane thrills available across the Hawaiian Islands. Take a famous Hawaiian road trip. Follow the Chain of Craters Road on the Big Island to explore the Kilauea craters and Pu’u Loa petroglyphs. Conquer the Hana Highway to see the Pipiwai Trail’s bamboo forest, the Three Bears Falls and the Waianapanapa black sand beach. Take your pick of adventure sports such as horse-riding, high ropes courses and ziplining. For the latter, try CLIMB Works Oahu, Koloa Zipline Kauai, Jungle Zipline Maui and Kohala Zipline or Skyline Eco Adventures Akaka Falls on the Big Island. Teens will appreciate the culture behind Hawaii and will find a sobering stop at Pearl Harbour Memorial worthwhile. They will also love attending a chief’s laua to experience Hawaiian food, dance and tradition. This is your chance to explore beyond the beaten path, so perhaps skip Oahu, Maui and the Big Island altogether for lesser known beauties like Lanai and Molokai.
Things to do in Hawaii
Hawaii Travel Info
December, January and February are peak season. The wettest and coolest months, this time of year attracts flocks of tourists fleeing Northern Hemisphere winters and making the most of school holidays around Christmas and New Year. Consider visiting in shoulder season. Bargain rates for accommodation and flights can be found from April to June and from September to December, especially in May and October when prices are especially low and weather is good.
Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park – follow more than 200 kilometres of trails through lava tubes and around crater-tops in this explosive national park. Climb Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest volcano for some stargazing. Waimea Canyon – known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific,’ Waimea is Kauai’s most famous landmark. Walk the Kaluapuhi Trail and make sure to check in at the Waimea Canyon Overlook. Akaka Falls – found on the Big Island in Akaka Falls State Park, Akaka and Kahuna are the archipelago’s most famous waterfalls. Na Pali Coast – there are no roads taking you to see the sharp cliff faces, plunging waterfalls and deep valleys of Na Pali. Take a family-friendly boat cruise leaving from Hanalei Hanauma Bay – arrive at this popular destination early, rent your snorkelling gear and then just keep swimming! You’ll see loads of fish in this protected marine conservation park. Waikiki Beach – Honolulu’s most famous beach is also its primary hotel and resort region, with heaps of shops, activities and restaurants. USS Arizona Memorial – the memorial to fallen sailors and Marines killed during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour is a powerful historical site worth visiting. Road to Hana – in actual fact, there are several awesome scenic road trips you can take on the Hawaiian islands. This one is tricky, narrow and hair-raising in parts, but rewards you with amazing waterfalls, coastal lookouts, Black Sand beaches, fresh pineapple stands and delightful encounters with locals.
Tasting your way around Hawaii is an awesome cultural introduction to the archipelago’s diverse influences – you will find Filipino pork, Japanese teppanyaki and classic American establishments like Dave and Buster’s. Duke’s Waikiki and Tiki’s Grill are both a family hit, as are most of Waikiki’s eateries. Hawaii’s laidback, non-fuss approach means most restaurants heartily welcome ‘keiki,’ or children, with Kid Menus and high chairs. To the uninitiated, ‘shave ice’ might seem like a snow cone. This refreshing Hawaiian dessert is made with thin, flavoured ice shavings and must be tried during your visit. Mutsumoto’s Shave Ice on Oahu attracts quite the queue, as does Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice on Maui, while Anuenue makes a name for itself experimenting with more interesting flavours. Seafood is another popular staple, so try some ahi (yellowfin tuna) or mahi-mahi. You should also picnic on poke (a salad of raw, marinaded fish), huli-huli chicken and other BBQ meats, and loco moco, a rice dish with a fried egg and meat patty. Why not attend Old Lahaina Luau on Maui for the real experience.
January – Chinese New Year celebrations are big especially on Honolulu in Chinatown. Expect big parades and fireworks. March – Honolulu Festival celebrates intercultural harmony in the Pacific. Cultural performances and parades escalate the family fun. April – Waikiki Spam Jam is a bizarre street festival in honour of the canned meat. Benefits go to Hawaii Foodbank, a charity providing food aid to those who need it. March/April – Merrie Monarch Festival is all about national pride in traditional Hawaiian culture. In honour of King David Kalakaua, there is a whole lot of music, arts and crafts and parades. The main focus is the range of hula contests conducted at the week-long festival. September – the Aloha Festivals are huge month-long celebrations shared across the Hawaiian islands. They involve huge floral parades, hula dancing and music. There are free activities all over, revelling in local customs.