Family-Friendly Activities on Hawaii’s Big Island

  • 01 of 10

    Dolphin Quest

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

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

    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.

    We've chosen 11 activities which offer a wide assortment of things to do and see. There are plenty of other choices, but these should give you a good idea of what the Big Island has to you and the entire family.

    Dolphin Quest
    Hilton Waikoloa Village
    425 Waikoloa Beach Drive
    Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
    (808) 886-2875

    Dolphin Quest website

    Featuring one of the world's largest natural dolphin habitats in the world, Dolphin Quest has programs for children 5-12, teens as well as adults allowing participants to get up close and interact with the dolphins.

    Space is limited and advance reservations are required for the children's and teens' programs. The adult encounters are handled through a daily lottery.

    Even if you are unable to participate in one of the programs, there is plenty of room for all to watch.

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  • 02 of 10

    Fun at the Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

    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.

    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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  • 03 of 10

    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

    Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
    27-717 Old Mamalahoa Highway
    P.O. Box 80, Papaikou, HI 96781
    (808) 964-5233

    Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden website

    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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  • 04 of 10

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    Lava Ocean Entry, Kilauea, Hawaii
    Justinreznick / Getty Images

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
    P.O. Box 52
    Hawaii National Park, HI 96718-0052
    (808) 985-6000

    National Park Service website

    Read our driving tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    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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  • 05 of 10

    Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure with Hawaii Forest and Trail

    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

    Hawaii Forest & Trail
    74-5035B Queen Kaahumanu Highway
    Kailua-Kona, HI 967407
    (800) 464-1993

    Hawaii Forest & Trail's website

    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.

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  • 06 of 10

    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), Namaste, a white Bengal Tiger, giant anteaters, two-toed sloths, lemurs, and spider monkeys. Best of all, admission is free.

    View our gallery of 21 photos taken at the Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo.

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  • 07 of 10

    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

    Punaluʻu Beach Park
    Kau District
    Big Island of Hawaii

    website

    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.

    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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  • 08 of 10

    Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

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

    Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
    (City of Refuge)
    P.O. Box 129
    Hōnaunau, HI 96726
    (808) 328-2288

    National Park Service website

    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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  • 09 of 10

    Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides

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

    Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides
    78-7130 Kaleiopapa Street
    Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, HI 96740
    (800) 677-9461
    (808) 345-0268

    Fair Wind Big Ocean Guides website

    Read our review of Fair Wind Cruises' Hula Kai - Snorkel & Whale Watches Along the South Kona Coast

    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 and, without question, the most modern boat sailing in Hawaii today. Fair Wind has definitely "kicked it up a notch" with the Hula Kai.

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  • 10 of 10

    Waipiʻo Valley Wagon Tours and Waipio Naʻalapa Trail Rides

    Waipio Valley
    Steven Greaves / Getty Images

    Waipiʻo Valley Wagon Tours
    P.O. Box 1340
    Honokaʻa, HI 96727
    (808) 775-9518

    Waipiʻo Valley Wagon Tours website

    Waipiʻo Naʻalapa Trail Rides website

    Read our article on the Waipiʻo Valley - The Valley of Kings

    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 - (808) 775-0419.

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    Whatever you and your family choose to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, we're sure that you'll have the vacation of your life and one that you and your entire family will long remember.