How Small Explorers Can Discover Hawai‘i, the Big Island
Follow this family-friendly itinerary on Hawai‘i Island to leave a big impact on little travelers.
Both my husband and I are lucky to have visited Hawai‘i Island with our families over the years, and now as parents, we take every long-weekend opportunity to hop over from O‘ahu to share this cherished place with our 5-year-old son, Duke. With volcanoes, rainforests and wide-open spaces, it’s so different from our home in urban Honolulu, and there’s always something new to do and see. Read on for our favorite kid-friendly must-do’s of the moment.
SEE ALSO: ✈️ Our Tips for the Best Family Staycation in Hawaiʻi
Day 1: Mauna Lani
We usually stay on the Kona side of the island, with its beautiful beaches, drier weather and plenty of resorts with fantasy pools that kids go crazy for, plus a variety of vacation condos outfitted with all the comforts of home. Located 30 miles north of Kailua-Kona town, the resort area of Mauna Lani is known for its luxe, newly renovated resort and championship golf courses, but you don’t have to be a hotel guest to have fun.
Golfing is popular here and you can take a whack at it by booking a tee time on the Wikiwiki Course, a no-pressure nine-hole challenge that can be played in an hour by people of all skill levels. Afterward, walk the nearby paved historic trail through lava fields to view petroglyphs and venture inside a lava tube featuring a skylight. Continue makai on the trail to wander around the peaceful Hawaiian fishponds of Kalāhuipua‘a.
Day 2: Waimea
Discover paniolo culture in this quaint town with rolling green hills and plentiful farms. Browse the numerous farmers markets (our favorite is Waimea Town Market at Parker School on Saturday mornings) for local strawberries, ruby red tomatoes and ‘ono goat cheese. Then take the kids to Ānuenue Playground to burn off some energy. Duke loves the myriad slides and climbing walls with a castle-like feel, and I love that it is completely fenced in for safety.
Skip the been-there-done-that lū‘au, and head upcountry to Kahuā Ranch for its Paniolo BBQ dinner at sunset. Keiki will learn to rope with a lasso, line dance to a live country band, brand a souvenir shingle, and roast marshmallows over a campfire. But the best part is the sunset view!
Day 3: Volcano
Perhaps the highlight of the trip is a visit to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. When conditions are right, the best time to see the glow of lava in Halema‘uma‘u crater is dawn or dusk, but with kids in tow that’s difficult. No worries! During the day you can still walk through steam vents to feel the Earth’s heat, hike into an underground lava tube and view the massive Kīlauea caldera. Make sure to stop at the visitor center to pick up a Junior Ranger workbook and badge!
Day 4: Hilo
The sleepy bayside town of Hilo is worth a stop. Spend a morning meeting the animals of Pana‘ewa Zoo and Gardens. Visit the white tiger and friendly monkeys and admire the creative collection of animal-shaped benches. And don’t miss the impressive playground on-site that rivals the one at the Honolulu Zoo. And did I mention that it’s FREE?
Fuel up at Café Pesto, a bayfront institution in Hilo, serving up pizza, pasta and kid-friendly favorites. If your keiki have behaved themselves, treat them with a stop at Sugar Coast Candy, located on the next block over. It’s an old-fashioned confection shop oozing with charm.
For a truly unique experience, continue up the coast to Baumkuchen Farm, a family-run farm and bakery highlighting the traditional German tree cake. Here you can tour its vanilla and cacao crops, taste the delicate cakes packed with island flavors, and bake your own baumstriezel over an open fire. Tip: Eat it right away, warm and dipped in the farm’s homemade chocolate sauce!