Mommy Needs A Mai Tai

Last Updated on January 4, 2024 by Florabeth Coble

There are so many fun, family activities to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

I’m a mom raising two kids in Hawaii, and this curated list is designed to keep both kids and parents happy.

The Big Island is the largest Hawaiian island, and its size creates a rare opportunity to spread out and experience Hawaii without encountering a lot of tourism. From visiting national parks to black sand beaches and breweries, this is the perfect choice for families wanting to experience a version of Hawaii off the beaten path.

In addition, there are numerous family-friendly resorts and restaurants. If you want to know more about if the Big Island is the right choice for your family, check out Big Island With Kids: The Ultimate Guide.

Here are 27 family-friendly things to do on the Big Island.

Some of these links are affiliates, meaning I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. Your trust is always my priority. Without it, this wouldn’t be any fun.

A kid standing in the Thurston Lava Tube tunnel at Volcanoes National Park.
Thurston Lava Tube, Volcanoes National Park

Visit Volcanoes National Park (Ka’u)

Most people visit the Big Island for a chance to see an active volcano! Volcanoes National Park is a great place to see with kids, with many paths and lookouts that can be accessed with a baby carrier or stroller.

It’s impossible to know if lava will flow when your vacation rolls around, but the park is always worth visiting. I highly recommend staying overnight at the Volcano House to see the red glow in the night sky.

If you want to take the hassle out of planning, check out this volcano stargazing tour that lets you see Hawaii’s famous Punalu’u black sand beach and a coffee farm.

Night Snorkel With Manta Rays (Kona)

Only a few places in the world allow you to swim with manta rays, and Kona is one of them. People visit the Big Island just to have this experience. Manta Rays don’t hurt humans and are drawn to the underwater lights that light up plankton, allowing you to get up close and personal with these gentle giants. 

This tour allows kids three and up to join you, and ride-along tickets are also available for those who don’t want to swim. This is the most popular activity in Kona.

A baby playing in the sand at King Kam Beach in Kona, Hawaii.
King Kam Beach, Kona

Explore Kid-Friendly Beaches 

While many people think of the Big Island as rugged and rocky (and while this is true in many ways), it’s also known for its white, sandy beaches.

There are so many amazing kid-friendly beaches on the Big Island, appropriate for babies to big kids. As a mom with young children, visiting a beach free from huge waves is instrumental in helping me relax. 

A kid holding his arms out at Coconut Island on the Big Island.
Coconut Island

Visit Coconut Island (Hilo)

When you’re in Hilo, don’t miss an opportunity to visit Coconut Island! This is a small island located in Hilo Bay that is accessible from a footbridge. 

The bay is free from waves, making this an excellent location for paddle boarding, and there are a lot of small tide pools for little ones to explore and play in. Grab something from the Hilo Farmers Market beforehand and enjoy a picnic in the grass or at one of the many picnic tables. 

Coconut Island provides a gorgeous photo opportunity with the best view of downtown Hilo. On a clear day, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanos love to show off in the background.

There are restrooms and showers available. There is no lifeguard. Parking is accessible just off the island. Park on the street if the lot is full!

Learn How to Surf (Kona)

You never forget the experience of catching your first wave, and I can’t think of a better place to make this kind of memory with your kids. The absolute best spot for beginner surfers on the Big Island is Kahalu’u Bay. It’s easy to get in, and the waves are close to shore. 

Take lessons if it’s your first time!  

Go Horseback Riding (Hamakua Coast)

The Hamakua Coast is the perfect place to saddle up and take in Big I’s beauty.

I’m the kind of mom who needs plenty of downtown on vacation, so I’m all about combining two adventures into one. This allows us to see everything we want without sacrificing lazy resort and beach days.

Wailea Horseback Adventure allows kids eight and older to join you on a leisurely tour with gentle horses, followed by a short hike down to secluded waterfalls where you can snack, swim, and even paddleboard!

This kind of experience is a double win in my book.

A baby looking at a seahorse at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm

Visit Ocean Rider and Hold a Live Seahorse (Kona)

Ocean Rider is a Hawaii-based aqua farm that works hard to save these magical, endangered species. Their tours do a great job of keeping everyone engaged, and kids (and adults) six and up can even hold a live seahorse! 

Our experience on this tour was amazing, and we loved supporting their mission.

Ride in a Real Submarine (Kona)

As a kid, I always wanted to ride in a real submarine and I had so much fun taking my six-year-old, Wilder, this year.

We had a great experience with Atlantis Submarine. The staff was super helpful and I never felt claustrophobic when we were underwater. Atlastis is doing some impressive things with sustainable tourism. This is a cool opportunity to go 100 feet below the surface and explore marine life and the coral reef.

Listen, if Mama wants to explore the ocean without getting her hair wet, it shall be so.

A kid standing in front of the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo on the Big Island.
Pana’ewa Zoo

Hang Out With Exotic Animals (Hilo/Kona)

The Pana’ewa Zoo is the only rainforest zoo in America! It’s located just south of Hilo, making it a fun excursion if you are going to Volcanoes National Park from that direction. The zoo isn’t huge, making exploring it in a couple of hours possible. There’s also a botanical garden and a big, covered playground. This is an excellent place to break up the day with a stroll and a picnic.

If you’re not into zoos, you may want to consider visiting Three Ring Ranch, an exotic animal sanctuary in Kona. This place is doing some incredible things in the world by saving animals who have been injured and giving them a good life. Visits are by appointment only and provide an opportunity for hands-on learning and empathy-building behavior. Their mission statement is “to positively impact the environment while educating Hawaii’s children about their place in the natural world.”

Go on a Zipline Tour (Hamakua Coast)

The Big Island offers numerous ziplining opportunities, and I can’t think of a better place to try it out. 

The Umauma Experience allows you to fly over the famous Umauma Falls on nine different ziplines. Kids four and up are encouraged to participate if they’re brave enough!

A view of Rainbow Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Rainbow Falls
A dad pointing to Akaka Falls in Hawaii on a long staircase with two young children.
Akaka Falls

Visit a Waterfall

Seeing a waterfall should be high on your bucket list while visiting Hawaii. But if your kids are young, you may want to see one from afar. Big Island provides two easy opportunities to do so.

Rainbow Falls is located in Hilo. It is an excellent waterfall to visit with young kids because of its easy visibility from a big, paved parking lot. Go early in the morning, and you might see the famous rainbows reflecting off the falls. You don’t need much time here: 30 minutes-1 hour will suffice. Parking is free.

A 30-minute drive north will take you to Akaka Falls, Big Island’s famous 422-foot waterfall. This is one of our favorite experiences on the Big I. The falls are accessible from an easy, paved trail loop just off the parking lot.

Akaka Falls’ 0.4-mile hike takes you through a lush rainforest and only takes about 30 minutes to complete. However, there are numerous stairs, so it’s not stroller friendly. The parking fee is $10/vehicle, and the entrance fee is $5/person.

In addition, the Kohala Coast is loaded with waterfalls you can swim in. Still, many are dangerous to get to and/or challenging to find alone. For this reason, I recommend taking a family-friendly guided tour. Spend the day off-roading on an easy trail walk that leads you to a private waterfall and picnic-style lunch.

Find a Scenic Lookout (Kohala)

If guided tours aren’t your thing, there is still plenty of jaw-dropping Big Island beauty to discover on your own, including two easy-to-access lookouts on the Kohala Coast:

Pololu Valley is a great place to spot humpback whales during winter (Dec-March) and catch an epic sunrise. The lookout is accessible by car, and there is a small lot with limited parking. This valley has a (very steep) trail down to a gorgeous black sand beach unsuitable for swimming. There are no bathrooms.

Wapi’o Valley was once a heavily populated dwelling and also home to Hawaiian Kings! These days, you’ll find a few dozen inhabitants among the taro (Hawaiian food staple) fields. This is an extremely popular lookout because of its accessibility by car. Wapi’o Valley has bathrooms and a small picnic area. Hiking down is only permitted to residents (or if you are part of a tour), but the lookout is still worth checking out!

Anuenue Playround on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Anuenue Playground

Play on a Playground (Kohala)

The best playground on the island is Anuenue Playground at Waimea Park. Anuenue translates to “rainbow” in English, and this colorful, wooden play structure is just as inviting as it is fun. 

Anuenue Playground provides many opportunities for kids to explore, jump, swing, and crawl (and plenty of benches for parents to sit and take a load off). Enjoy the view of Waimea’s rolling hills while you sip on some hot coffee from Waimea Coffee Company, just down the way. 

Take an ATV Tour (Kona)

Big Island’s landscape is as vast as it is rugged. Exploring this kind of terrain is the most fun on an ATV, and the Umauma Experience does it right.

Why just ride an ATV when you can ride an ATV to a waterfall?? I love this tour because they have single and multiple passenger ATVs. Kid’s four and older are encouraged to ride along. When the offroad ATV portion is done, you can cool off in your own private waterfall.

A kid standing in front of a climbing wall at Big Island Climbing Gym in HIlo, Hawaii.
Big Island Climbing

Climb (Hilo)

Downtown Hilo only has a few kid-friendly activities, so I was happy to discover Big Island Climbing, a small indoor climbing gym.

Big Island Climbing allows kids of all ages, and they have a wall just for children. However, the smallest rental shoes they have available are 8s. There is no repelling here, just bouldering, so knowing how to fall is essential. And kids seven and under must be accompanied by an adult on the mat. 

Tour a Coffee Farm (Kona)

Kona is famous for its coffee, and people come to the Kona coffee belt from around the world to try it. A lot of love goes into growing and sourcing it for shelves. Kona coffee is hand-picked from volcanic soil, which explains the hefty price tag you see in grocery stores. The flavor is rich, and a cup will surely kick any parent in the butt, as it’s also high in caffeine. 

While your kids probably aren’t drinking coffee, a farm tour can still be a fun experience. Mountain Thunder offers self-guided tours that don’t eat up your entire day and allow you to explore an easy trail and even some lava tubes on your way to tasting a cup. The fee is only $10 for the whole family and includes a tasting and souvenir guidebook.

Ride On a Glass-Bottom Boat (Kohala)

If you get anxious snorkeling or your kids are too little to do so, consider getting up close and personal to the coral reef on a glass-bottom boat!

This is a great way to explore the ocean without getting wet, and children of all ages can participate. Kids 0-5 ride for free!

Visit Hawaii Keiki Museum (Kona)

The Hawaii Kieki Museum is a fun nonprofit located in Kona. The museum is sheltered, making it a great, affordable option if it rains. They cater to children 10 and under with hands-on exploration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM).

Malasadas from Tex Drive-In on the Big Island of Hawaii.
A boy with long hair standing in front of a sign that says "Malasadas" at Tex Drive-In on the Big Island.

Try Malasadas 

A malasada is a Portuguese donut. Malasadas are fried, covered in sugar, and typically stuffed to perfection with various chocolates, creams, and custards. Absolutely sinful in all the right ways. A donut wishes it could be as cool as a malasada.

Our favorite place to find them on the Big Island is on the Hamakua Coast at an iconic little pit stop called Tex Drive-In, which also made our list for the Best Restauants on the Big Island.

If you want to try a more traditional version, check out Punalu’u Bake Shop. This can make for a fun stop while driving to Volcanoes National Park from Kona. Punalu’u Bake Shop proudly claims to be the southernmost bakery in the United States! 

Check Out a National Park

The Big Island contains four (of five) of Hawaii’s national parks. Aside from visiting Volcanoes National Park, you may want to check out:

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park (Kona): A great place to learn about Hawaiian culture. This is where people who once broke forbidden laws would flee to stay safe! Structures from the 1600s still stand here today!

Kaloko-Honokohau National Park (Kona): Just a few minutes from the Kona airport, this can be an excellent place to visit before flying out. Most people come to explore Hawaiian fishing ponds and observe Green Sea Turtles.

Puukohola Heiau (Kohala): A smaller park that is rich in history. This national historic site is home to the largest temple in Hawaii and was initially built by passing lava rocks hand-by-hand in a human chain from Pololu Valley, located 25 miles away!

A baby cheersing at Kona Brewing Company on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Kona Brewing

Visit A Brewery

What can I say? Our family loves a brewery! They are almost always more kid-friendly than restaurants, allowing us to mellow out while the kids play. 

While I do wish the Big Island had a brewery with more space for kids to explore, there are some great options worth checking out. The most obvious choice is Kona Brewing Company. The food is terrific, the beer is award-winning, and the swag makes for great souvenirs. 

Ola Brewing is a smaller operation, but it’s fun and delicious. Same for Big I Brewhaus in Waimea. And although we loved Hilo Brewing because of the good beer and industrial vibe, it was the least kid-friendly and didn’t have many food options.

All of the Big Island’s breweries allow children and provide outdoor seating.

Support a Local Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Markets are great for families because of the many choices and ample room for kids to wander and play outdoors. Luckily, the Big Island’s square footage provides plenty of space for Farmer’s Markets to pop up just about anywhere.

Buying directly from a farmer is a terrific way to support the local community and purchase something that didn’t have to be flown in.

Sip on a fresh coconut, buy famous banana bread, or try fruit you’ve never had. If you’re on a budget, skip the restaurant and save money by purchasing a fresh, locally sourced meal from one of the many vendors.

There are far too many farmer’s markets on the Big Island to list them all here, but, in my opinion, these are the best:

Hilo Farmers Market (Hilo): the biggest and best with the most variety.

Kona Farmers Market (Kona): a popular market with 40+ vendors. This is the best place to buy Kona coffee!

Maku’u Farmers Market (Puna): a massive market well known for its craft and food vendors. When traveling to Hilo, you may want to detour into the Puna region to check it out.

Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar and Farmers Market (Puna): a unique stop also located in the Puna region. More than just a Farmers Market, this is a full-on Hawaii-style party with music, food, and dancing. Open only on Wednesday nights, starting at 6pm.

The slushie bus at Lava Lava Beach Club on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Slushie Bus as Lava Lava Beach Club

Eat at Lava Lava Beach Club (Kohala)

This is not only made the very top of our list for our favorite places to eat on the Big Island, but it has the best setup for kids and adults while you wait. 

Lava Lava Beach Club doesn’t take reservations, which surprised me initially because this place is BUSY. But once you get your name on the list, you are directed to a beachfront area with large yard games like Connect Four, Jenga, and multiple ping pong tables. 

I’d be lying if I said that the “Slushie Bus” wasn’t what sold me on the whole experience. Sip on a drink while your kids play, or walk the gorgeous A-Bay beach while you wait for a table and listen to live music.

Visit Imiloa Astronomy Center (Hilo)

This is a great place to infuse a fun learning activity into your vacation. Hawaiian culture and the study of the stars meet!

It rains a lot on the Hilo side of the island (averaging 275 days a year!), so if it happens to be coming down when you’re there, the Imiloa Astronomy Center can make for a fun day trip to keep your family dry, happy, and learning something new.

Walk Around a Botanical Garden 

Hilo and the Hamakua Coast are overflowing with tropical flowers you don’t get to see daily. One of the easiest ways to experience this beauty is by visiting a botanical garden. Many of them are free or offer admission at a minimal price. Being outside and enjoying nature is a win for our family. 

Our favorite family-friendly botanical gardens are the Big Island are:

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Gardens (Hilo/Hamakua)

Botanical Gardens at the University of Hawaii (Hilo)

Liliuokalani Gardens (Hilo)

Check Out Lava Trees State Park (Puna)

This site was once covered by lava in the 1700s, leaving tall molds of trees that no longer exist still standing today! An easy 0.7-mile loop only takes about 30 minutes to walk. If you’re in the Puna region, this can make for a quick, memorable experience for the whole family.

A kid eating shave ice at Ululanis Shave Ice in Hawaii.
Ululanis Shave Ice

Eat Shave Ice (Kona)

Visiting Hawaii without trying Shave Ice should be a crime! These super thin ice shavings soak up the sweet syrup, creating a melt-in-your-mouth kind of situation that a snow cone could never complete with. However, what makes shave ice truly special is how you order it: ice cream on the bottom with sweetened condensed milk on the top! 

There are many great places to try, but Ululani’s Shave Ice is a staple in our house. They have a location on the Big Island at the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.

Helpful Resources

Big Island with Kids: The Ultimate Guide

Flights: Expedia

Rental Cars: Discount Hawaii Car Rental

Baby Gear Rentals: BabyQuip

Big Island Babysitting Service: Big Island Nannies Aloha

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Picture of Aloha, I'm Florabeth Coble

Aloha, I'm Florabeth Coble

Most people call me Flo. I'm a busy mama raising two young boys in Hawaii. We share our adventures, travel tips, itineraries, and honest reviews so that you can plan your own family-friendly trip to Hawaii.