Hawaii (aka the Aloha State) is a popular holiday destination for families and no wonder! Made up of 137 stunning volcanic islands and a coastline that stretches 750 miles – the fourth longest of any state in the USA – it’s a destination packed with exciting family friendly activities and things to do.
However it can be a hard deciding which is the best Hawaiian island for families. Especially as Hawaii is comprised of eight main islands, O’ahu, Maui, Hawai’i, Ni’ihau, Kaua’I, Moloka’I, Kaho’olawe, and Lāna’i, and there all very different!
Each one has something that sets it apart from one another. This is what makes them all so appealing to tourists, but it’s also the thing that can make it incredibly difficult when deciding which one to visit.
Luckily for you, we know Hawaii well! Here we look at what we believe are the four best Hawaiian islands for families. We show you why they make our list and what they have to offer. All to make your vacation decision a little easier.
The four best Hawaiian islands for families and why you should visit
This island is often referred to as ‘The Heart of Hawaii’, and ‘The Gathering Place’, and it’s definitely at the heart of things to do!
As most people in Hawaii live on O’ahu, we’ve found this island is packed with things to do, activities, and kid-friendly places. Hawaii’s capital of Honolulu is here too. And all of that is why it makes our list of best Hawaiian islands for families.
Like all the islands, the beaches here are fantastic, and provide plenty of opportunities for you and your children to relax and enjoy. Younger kids will definitely enjoy playing in the sand and the water, while for older kids (and adults too!) there’s lots of places on O’ahu to hire kayaks, learn surfing, try paddle boarding or go snorkeling.
Other water-based activities on O’ahu include swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Quest which is based in the Kahala Hotel and Resort complex. They offer a Family Swim Program, which is a private experience for up to six people that allows you to do things at your own pace as a family, and without having to share the experience with strangers.
You must go and enjoy a Hawaiian luau too, which is a fun way to introduce your family to the culture of these islands.
The iconic luau – a traditional Hawaiian feast with entertainment – will have delicious traditional food, colorful entertainment and dances. There’s many of these that take place on the island – sometimes organised by resorts – and children are often allowed to join in with the dancers.
If you want to introduce your children to a sombre, but important piece of American history, then we recommend a trip to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Here you’ll learn all about the attack on Pearl Harbor, which led the USA to enter World War II. They have kid-friendly activities – such as the ‘Be A Junior Ranger programme’, which allows your children to take part in a scavenger hunt, learn about the Tree of Life, and explore the bell of the USS Arizona.
Shave Ice is very popular thing on this island (and Hawaii in general) and is definitely something that your family can enjoy together. This delicious ice dessert comes in lots of fun colors and flavors and is bound to go down a treat! It will also keep you nice and cool under the O’ahu sun.
Also known as ‘The Valley Isle,’ Maui is definitely a family favourite, and for good reason too. This island has the perfect blend of serenity alongside opportunities for activity and adventure. A great mix if you’ve got children that want to have fun, but you want a relaxed holiday too!
And that’s why it makes our list of best Hawaiian islands for families. Simply put, Maui is a more laid-back island than O’ahu, it’s less crowded, and feels a bit more rustic. However it also has plenty of activities – many nature-orientated – that will allow you to see Hawaii at its best, but also tire your kids out.
When in Maui you should definitely head out on a snorkelling excursion to Molokini Crater. This 150,000 year old crater has an abundance of ocean life living in it. You may even spot Hawaiian green turtles and spinner dolphins when visiting. There are several companies that do snorkelling excursions to the crater and they’re known for being child-friendly and having safe and comfortable equipment.
For more outdoor adventures visit the Haleakalā National Park. Here you can hike, visit the summit of the beautiful dormant volcano Haleakala, and look out for nēnē – which is a Hawaiian Goose. There’s opportunities to camp here as well, adding another level of excitement for kids, whilst being budget-friendly for adults! (Recommended: Are There Snakes in Hawaii?).
There are also some great surf schools on Maui, with many specialising in beginner lessons for tourists. It’s a great way to have some family fun and get some awesome photos that will make friends and family back home jealous!
Lastly, you can’t leave Maui without eating pie at Leoda’s. The pies here are famous on the island and are often the highlight of many day trips! There are loads of different flavours to choose from, such as an apple crumble, Olowalu lime, banana cream, macadamia nut chocolate and coconut cream (our favorite!), just to name a few.
3. Big Island
Big Island (officially named ‘The island of Hawaii’) is often overlooked as many tourists go straight to Oahu or Maui, but this island holds a great deal of beauty and has so much to offer; especially for families.
The largest and most volcanically active island in Hawaii has plenty of unique things to do and tends to be more budget friendly than some of the other Hawaiian islands. Which is always a big plus when traveling as a family.
Home to the Volcanoes National Park, enjoy hiking amongst volcanoes in this beautiful natural landscape. There’s the opportunity for your children to learn all about volcanoes from park rangers and experts too.
You can also go flumin’ in the Kohala Ditch on Big Island! This is a 22-mile network of historic irrigation flumes and tunnels that make their way around the town of Hawi on the north of the island. Nowadays you can use kayaks, canoes and inflatables to traverse them, go through tunnels and have an incredibly unique vacation experience! Kids as young as 5 can enjoy this, but as it can take 2/3 hours per trip, it may be an activity more suited for older children.
If that doesn’t sound amazing enough, how about snorkeling and swimming with Manta Rays? You can do just that at a couple of coves close to the village of Kailua-Kona as they’re feeding spots for giant Manta Rays at night. The rays are very friendly and gentle, and it’s possible to book an excursion to swim alongside them!
It’s things like that which make Big Island one of the best Hawaiian islands for families – this place is full of unique activities and things to do that will create memories for a lifetime.
This island is also known as ‘The Garden Isle,’ and is definitely one of the best islands to visit for families with children. It’s also one of the more quiet and remote islands in Hawaii, making it perfect for those who are looking to relax and get away from big crowds.
However, just because it’s tranquil doesn’t make it any less enjoyable than the other picks on our list of best Hawaiian islands for families! This island has so much to offer, and a trip here makes for a really great family vacation! (Recommended: Are There Spiders in Hawaii?).
In particular, there’s some amazing kid-friendly beaches on the island such as Poipu Beach, which is just a five-minute drive from the Grand Hyatt Kauai. There are lifeguards on duty every day at this beach, and it is known for having calm waters. That makes it perfect for your little ones to enjoy a swim and a splash around in safety.
Hanalei Bay is also a great child-friendly beach. Located on the north side of Kauai, it is famous for activities like surfing lessons and bodyboarding. In the winter months the waves can be a little big, but during the summer this bay has perfect conditions for learning to ride the surf.
If you want to do something completely different, and have some cash to spare, then you can take a helicopter tour. This will allow you to see the island from a whole different perspective and is perfect for any Jurassic Park fans as much of the franchise was filmed on this island. In fact you can take a Jurassic Falls helicopter tour that includes landing at the spectacular Manawaiopuna Falls which is featured in the movie.
For something in the air, but is free, make your way to Hanapepe Swinging Bridge. You can find this on the way back from Waimea Canyon. Swinging and bouncing on the bridge is an activity local kids have been doing on the bridge for over 100 years!