Family-Friendly Activities on Hawaii’s Big Island

Away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu and far different from the crowds of tourists that flock to Maui, Hawaii's Big Island has something to offer everyone in the family.

While the entire family can enjoy a vacation on the Big Island by just sticking close to the resorts on the Kona coast, if you do so you'll miss most of what makes the Big Island so special.

Allow yourself a full week to really get to know and appreciate the island. In order to really see and enjoy the Big Island you'll need to rent a car. Car rentals, when reserved on a weekly basis, are quite reasonable. Most resorts offer free parking for guests.

The Big Island of Hawaii is the perfect place for a vacation that the entire family will remember and treasure forever.

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Dolphin Quest

Dolphin Quest, Big Island, Hawaii
Hilton Waikoloa Village / Dolphin Quest

Featuring one of the world's largest natural dolphin habitats in the world, Dolphin Quest has multiples programs to choose from for children as young as two-years-old, teens and adults. Participants are able to get up close and interact with the dolphins, and even swim or kayak with them. Space is limited and advance reservations are required.

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Family-Friendly Beaches

Families Enjoying Hapuna Beach
Jon Hicks / Getty Images

The Big Island of Hawaii has some of the best beaches not only in Hawaii but also in the world.

The Big Island's beaches come in many colors, black, gray, green and white. One of the most popular beaches is Hāpuna Beach near the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on the Kohala Coast. This beach has excellent snorkeling and boogie boarding as well as all the sun you could ever ask for.

Spencer Beach Park is a white-sand beach in Waimea. The calm water is protected by a reef, making it great for children when the surf is low.

While the Big Island's leeward (eastern) side is lush due to frequent rain, the windward (western) coast is dry and sunny almost every day of the year.

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Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Close-up of orchid flowers in a botanical garden, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii, USA
Glow Images, Inc / Getty Images

Located at Onomea Bay, just north of Hilo, off of Highway 19 the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located in a valley bordering the ocean.

It is without question, one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii. As you wander the trails throughout the Garden, you pass through many different environments, including coconut groves, mango and monkeypod trees, palm jungles and a giant fern tree forest.

You pass waterfalls, streams and at several points, you even reach the ocean. There are over 2,000 different species of plants in the Garden.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Lava Ocean Entry, Kilauea, Hawaii
Justinreznick / Getty Images

Located 30 miles south of Hilo and about 96 miles and a two-hour drive from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 218,000 acres and stretches from sea level to the summit of the earth's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa, 13,677 feet above sea level.

Included in the park is Kīlauea, the world's most active volcano which is constantly in a state of eruption. Depending on changing volcanic activity, you may have an opportunity to view an active lava flow.

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Mauna Kea

The Canada-France-Hawaii and Gemini Telescopes Located at the Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island of Hawaii
Julie Thurston Photography / Contributor / Getty Images

For parents with children 16 years or older, there can be no better adventure than seeing the islands of Hawaii, the sunset and the stars from the summit of the tallest mountain on earth, rising 32,000 feet from the ocean's floor.

A trip to the summit of Mauna Kea is a long, and somewhat physically demanding adventure but one well worth the trip. A group to the summit consists of about ten folks, usually of all ages.

The guides are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They are combination naturalists, culturalists, geologists, and astronomers.

For those with younger children or less time, a visit to the visitor's center at Mauna Kea is a great place for stargazing and watching the sunset.

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Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo

White Bengal Tiger named Namaste at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo
Photo by John Fischer

Situated about 4 miles south of Hilo off of Highway 11, this 12-acre zoo is the only tropical rainforest zoo in the United States. The grounds are filled with tropical palms, orchids, clumping bamboos and tropical rhododendrons.

The Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo is home to more than 80 animal species including the endangered nene (Hawaii state bird), a white Bengal Tiger, giant anteaters, two-toed sloths, lemurs and spider monkeys. Best of all, admission is free.

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Punalu'u Beach Park

Green Sea Turtle on the Beach, Punaluu Beach Park, Kau District, Big Island of Hawaii
Keven Osborne / Fox Fotos / Getty Images

Located off of Highway 11 near the 56-mile marker, about 20 minutes driving time from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you'll come to a turnoff for Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach in the town of Hauula.

This is the most easily accessible black sand beach on the island. It is also a home to many endangered green sea turtles. There is an excellent chance that you will find one lying in the sun on the beach.

There is excellent swimming and snorkeling. The beach has a picnic area, pavilion, restrooms, and showers.

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Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Vaughn Greg / Getty Images

Located about 22 miles south of Kailua-Kona off of Highway 11 on Highway 160, Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park preserves the site where, up until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke a kapu (one of the ancient laws against the gods) could flee and avoid certain death.

The 182-acre park includes a number of archaeological sites including the great wall, temple platforms, royal fishponds, and the site of a coastal village. Several structures have been reconstructed.

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Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides

Hula Kai - Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides
Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides

Fair Wind makes daily snorkel and scuba dive cruises (and whale watch cruises in season) along the South Kona Coast of the Big Island, departing from Keauhou Bay, just a 15-minute drive from Kailua Kona.

Fair Wind operates two boats. The Fair Wind II is their older boat, having entered service in 1994. It's a 60-foot aluminum catamaran with covered deck, 15-foot water slide, high jump platform and most of the amenities you'll find on other similar vessels in Hawaii.

Their other vessel, the Hula Kai, is, quite frankly, unlike any other boat you've been on. Fair Wind has definitely "kicked it up a notch" with the Hula Kai.

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Tour the Waipiʻo Valley

Waipio Valley
Steven Greaves / Getty Images

When you visit the Waipiʻo Valley you not only step into a place steeped in the history and culture of Hawaii, you are entering one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth.

As you travel through the valley you see taro fields, lush tropical vegetation, breadfruit, orange and lime trees. Pink and white impatiens climb the cliff walls. If you are lucky you might even see wild horses. You ride across streams and the shallow Waipiʻo River.

For families with young children we recommend the Waipiʻo Valley Wagon Tours. For families with teenagers or more adventurous adults we recommend the Waipiʻo Naʻalapa Trail Rides.