Here’s a secret that few share – many of Hawaii’s best family activities occur on land. In fact, it is entirely possible to have a beach-free holiday in the Aloha state. Whether it’s rain or a wicked sunburn that makes sandy toes unappealing, these are the best Hawaii activities away from the beach.
And guess what?
We’ve found farm visits, zip-lining through jungles, museums that will blow your minds, and even some fun, kid-centered boutiques at Ala Moana Center and the Waikele Outlets. Those stunning sands of the islands stay the same, but this ever-evolving archipelago always has some new adventure to behold.
Birthed from a series of volcanoes, Hawai’i stretches over 2400 kilometres, and, thanks to the goddess of fire, Pele, the chain is still growing. Most travellers opt to visit one or two islands on their journey, with cosmopolitan O’ahu, lush Kaua’i, chilled out Maui, and the adventurous Island of Hawai’i all great family options.
For those looking to get off the beaten path, small Lana’i and Moloka’i have a few hidden adventures along their backroads as well.
The most populous isle lures those hunting for Hawaiian culture and outstanding food. The finest museum in the state, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, acquaints guests with the natural and cultural history of Hawai’i. But the real star of the museum, deep in Science Adventure Center, is the Meet Me at the Hot Spot theatre where you can watch hot molten lava in motion without burning your britches.
Afterwards, pick up breezy island gear for the keikis at Ward Center’s Hopscotch. Wander through Ala Moana Center’s 350 stores and cheery kids’ area – making it the state’s biggest shopping mall. Be sure to pop into the mall’s newly revamped Shirokiya Japan Village Walk for top-notch ramen, sushi and takoyaki.
Cap your cultural day off at the Polynesian Cultural Center for an entertaining luau, complete with fire dancers.
Over in Waikiki, at the Aquarium, kids can learn how to pronounce the state fish – it’s humuhumunukunukuāpua’a – while viewing native reef fish in the beachfront tanks. Just a short stroll through nearby Kapi’olani Park gets you to the Honolulu Zoo – bring an umbrella and go on a rainy day when the elephants become active.
Later, sit under the tiki torches at Eating House 1849 to dine on traditional plantation fare like smoked pork or butterfish, while the kids devour burgers and poke bowls.
Hiking into jungles without predators or snakes is one of the best kid-friendly perks of the islands. On O’ahu, the nearly two-kilometre round trip Judd Memorial Trail and Jackass Ginger Pool leads you through banyan, mango and ginger to a small swimming hole fed by a three-metre waterfall.
For families with older kids, take the Ka’ena Point trail from the North or South shores. Either way, the hike is long and hot, so bring lots of water.
The scenic overlook at the westernmost point of the island is a sacred space for Hawaiians, so make sure to pack up all rubbish. Some say the Hawaiian night marchers, spirits of the ancients, populate the trail after dark – sounds like a good way to keep your teenager moving.
For kiddos who want a peek at the rich sea life living offshore, pop into the Maui Ocean Center. Stand in awe before the living reef, walk through the shark tunnel, or learn about the local marine mammals.
Afterwards, head to Lahaina to let the kids climb the massive banyan tree before they sit down to enjoy a fabulous presentation of Hawaiian dance and culture at the Old Lahaina Luau. Not into all the song and dance? Then head up to the Maui Brewing Co for coconut shrimp and burgers in a festive atmosphere.
At Maui Dragon Fruit Farm, kids five and up can zip-line over the budding pink fruit, play in the aqua ball and then sample the local produce.
Pop into artsy Droplets in Makawao to shop for made in Hawai’i kids’ clothing and toys.
Afterwards head up to Haleakala, the dormant volcano, to watch the sunset, or hike through the lunar landscape – bring jackets, it gets chilly up there.
For dinner, the keiki menu at Bev Gannon’s legendary Hali’imaile General Store offers dishes like grilled teriyaki fish kebabs.
With only three per cent of the island inhabited, the Garden Isle promises plenty of natural adventures. Whether you want to kayak along the Wailua River to try and spot Kaua’i’s endangered birds, or hike along the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge to spot albatrosses, budding naturalists will find plenty of excitement.
Families with youngsters over 9, can zip-line through the north shore jungles and swim in waterfall pools with Princeville Ranch. Nearby in Hanalei purchase youth-sized aloha shorts and dresses at Kokonut Kids.
Over at Lydgate Farms, kids under 12 get a free tour of the chocolate farm. Afterwards let the littlies runoff that cocoa energy at Lydgate Park, where local kids designed and helped construct the wooden playground.
Grab hearty burgers at Duane’s Ono Char Burger—if the kids are starved, call and order ahead.
The state’s largest island might be still growing, but lava is only impacting a small portion of the Big Island, as locals call it. In fact, it’s still possible to visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s Kahuku Unit or see the lava from above with Paradise Helicopters.
Families with older kids can volunteer at Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative to learn about the island’s native dry forest.
Also, for teens is the Waipi’o Valley trail—a tough trek down to the sea, and then back up a steep ascent.
Short hikes to Rainbow and Akaka Falls get you up close to some of Hawai’i’s most stunning waterfalls and can easily be tackled with little tykes.
Here’s a fun fact: astronauts train on the Island of Hawai’i. And while your keikis might not be ready for dehydrated food and space suits, they’ll love the chance to explore the Imiloa Astronomy Center or motor up Mauna Kea to Onizuka Center for International Astronomy for epic stargazing adventures with trained guides.
On the Kona side, hitch a ride with Kohala Ditch to “go flumin’” on kayaks through the waterways. Don’t forget kids need to be over 5 to participate.
Pretend to be a classic Hawaiian cowboy, called a paniolo, to ride horses through the Waimea countryside with Paniolo Adventures.
Don’t leave Waimea without sampling the Kahua Ranch Wagyu Beef Burger at Village Burger.
New mums and dads surely need some pampering. On the privately-owned island of Lana’i, the posh Four Seasons at Manele Bay promises plenty of relaxation. Swim in the family-friendly pools and rest with epic views of the sparkling Pacific.
If you’ve got older kids, book the bumpy ATV off-roading adventure through the resort to explore the former pineapple fields. Up in Lana’i City’s centre square playground, the shady cook pines make a nice place to escape the warm coast.
The state’s least developed tourist destination proves exciting for adventurous families. Hike along the Halawa Valley’s waterfalls and travel back in time to when the first settlers planted roots against the stark cliffs.
Over on the east side of the island, pick up massive kites at the Big Wind Kite Factory.
Travelling with kids 16 and up and looking for an adventure? Book a mule ride down to the former leper colony of Kalaupapa. The path scales 26 switchbacks down (and later, back up) the highest cliffs on the planet. Prepare to ice those sore bums afterwards.
Where to go if you have…
Babies and toddlers
While O’ahu charms most visitors, one flight with a baby, or new walker, rather than making a connection, seems a do-able way to start immersing yourself in paradise.
Basing yourself in walkable Waikiki or over at one of the Ko Olina resorts makes exploration a breeze.
Easy hiking trails, the aquarium, Bishop Museum and the zoo, plus plenty of food options make The Gathering Place an easy escape for families with babes in arms.
Kaua’i’s low key atmosphere make this a top choice for parents of pre-schoolers. Use nap time to motor up to far-reaching parts of the island like Waimea Canyon, Poipu or Hanalei.
Then spend the afternoons hiking through Koke’e State Park, shopping in Hanalei, or exploring the otherworldly trees at the botanical gardens in Poipu.
Zip-lining, farm tours, a fab aquarium, plus the zig-zaggy Road to Hana packed with waterfall sightings – Maui safely turns up the heat on adventure for daring youth.
Kids interested in where their food comes from will love the tours at the Maui Pineapple Tours and Surfing Goat Dairy.
Tweens and Teens
The Island of Hawai’i, commonly known as the Big Island, might be the best outdoor classroom on the planet.
Beyond even the erupting Kilauea volcano, young people can view all stages of land development from lava to tropical vegetation.
Plus, the large distances around the island are better suited for more patient young people.
The best seasons for…
Wandering the island trails are great year-round, but rainy season (November-March) might make some trails slick and impassable.
As with all night sky watchers, the only way to see the planets is with a clear sky. Best viewing is with a new moon and during their summer season (June-September).
With a perfect climate, Hawaii grows produce year-round. However, if you want to sample dragon fruit, the best times are late summer/early fall. To see the goat kids on Maui’s Surfing Goat Dairy, come in the spring.
Some of our favourite hotels
At Alohilani chill by the pool overlooking the Pacific, stand in awe in front of the floor-to-ceiling fish tank, and then enjoy the resort’s proximity to Waikiki’s shops and restaurants.
Prefer to stay right on the beach? Head over to Disney’s lovely Aulani, where you can meet Moana, float down the lazy river, and get the kiddos makeovers after a day of playing in pools.
We also love the Embassy Suites Waikiki and the Embassy Suites Kapolei for their spacious family-friendly rooms and affordable prices.
Located near Lydgate Park, the Aqua Kaua’i Beach Resort offers family-centred pools, complete with a shave ice stand, a waterslide and a waterfall.
The Island of Hawaii
Perched on the edge of the Kohala Coast, families can swim with dolphins, snorkel or SUP (stand-up paddleboard) in their saltwater pool, zoom down the waterslide, ride the canal boat to watch fire dancers, and much more at the splashy Hilton Waikoloa Village—check out their new family-friendly restaurant, Nui Italian.
Over at the recently opened Grand Wailea, kids can hang at The Rock to learn lei-making and hula, slide down the waterslides into one of the many onsite pools, and enjoy the spacious landscaped grounds for a good ole game of hide and seek. Fronting one of the island’s most stunning beaches, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel features a whale-shaped pool, an onsite luau and ukulele lessons.
10 things you didn’t know about Hawai’i
The aloha shirt’s origins come from the Japanese kimono fabric, Chinese silks and the Filipino barong tagalongs that the plantation workers brought from their homelands.
More than one-third of the world’s commercial supply of pineapples comes from Hawai’i.
A new island is being created right now. It’s called Lö’ihi.
It sometimes snows on the Island of Hawai’i.
O’ahu’s ‘Iolani Palace had electricity and telephones installed before the White House.
If you measure from the sea floor to the summit, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on earth.
In ancient times, it was kapu (illegal) for a man and woman to eat together. The punishment—death!
Locals used to surf on wooden boards.
About 200 of the 680 types of fish in Hawaiian waters can be found nowhere else in the world.
Hawai’i is the only US state with a tropical rainforest.
Waikiki’s newest oceanfront experience
Located directly across Waikiki Beach, experience Waikiki in a resort unlike any other. Ideal for family and friends, The Residences at Waikiki Beach Tower offers newly renovated one-and-two-bedroom residences with remarkable ocean views, separate bedrooms, chef-inspired kitchens, spacious living rooms and the option to upgrade to spa-like, inspired master bathrooms. The views from every suite are simply breathtaking.
Enjoy looking out onto the surfers skimming the waves or the stunning reddish-pink sunset as the red glow of the sun disappears in the gleaming ocean, all from your private lanai. You can also pack light since each suite is equipped with a washing machine and dryer.
The resort’s amenities include a brand-new fitness centre overlooking Waikiki Beach featuring cardio and strength equipment, a hospitality lounge, two heated swimming pools including a kiddie pool, a jet spa, a motion studio for yoga along with spin classes, weekly hula fitness classes and ukulele lessons.
Dining out daily with kids could be tiring, so why not dine in? The recreation area now includes an area for entertaining including deluxe commercial-grade barbecues with outdoor dining area and prep station. Kids can splash around in the kiddie pool while dinner is being prepped for a spectacular sunset barbecue overlooking Waikiki Beach.
Pool cabanas are also available, so mum and dad can relax after a long day.
Ideally located, just steps away, there’s family attractions abound. Spend a day at the Honolulu Zoo and have a picnic at Kapi’olani Park with views of Diamond Head. Or if you’re ready for more adventure, check out the sea life of Hawai’i at the Honolulu Aquarium, all within walking distance.
Along with the newly renovated International Marketplace and other shops and restaurants just steps away, a stay and The Residences at Waikiki Beach Tower will give you a new experience of Waikiki.
An action-packed escape
Embassy Suites by Hilton – Waikiki Beach Walk beckons travellers to the heart of Waikiki for an action-packed escape. Beyond building sandcastles at the renowned Waikiki Beach, located steps away from O‘ahu’s only all-suite resort, families can shop and dine to their heart’s content at locally owned boutiques and a wide range of restaurants nearby.
For nighttime fun, guests can enjoy the Waikiki Starlight Luau, including an outdoor buffet and lively Polynesian entertainment, and receive a complimentary keepsake photo.
The ultimate getaway
Located on world-famous Ka`anapali North Beach, Honua Kai Resort & Spa provides the perfect blend of luxury accommodations with first-class service and amenities. The 38-acre beachfront property includes an aquatic playground – featuring a network of pools, hot tubs and a meandering lazy river.
Enjoy ample room for friends and families travelling together, as each suite opens up to a generous lanai with gorgeous views. Suites feature top-of-the-line appliances, washer and dryer, wireless Internet and flat-screen TVs. Housekeeping is provided every other day, as well as a full-service concierge.
On-property dining includes the casually elegant, oceanfront Duke’s Beach House and `Aina Gourmet Market, offering a relaxed environment for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Hoˋola Spa provides opportunities for added relaxation and a complete Fitness Center provides the latest equipment for a variety of workout needs.