Mommy Needs A Mai Tai

Last Updated on January 22, 2024 by Florabeth Coble

Big Island With Kids, The Ultimate Guide

Curious about visiting the Big Island with kids? I’m a mama raising two kids in Hawaii, and I’m here to help you determine if Big I is the right fit for your family.

I recommend starting here to get a lay of the land and then heading over to my Big Island-specific pages to dig into the finer points of planning.

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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.

Baby touching Aloha Sign on the Big Island, Hawaii

Should You Visit the Big Island With Kids?

Yes! Listen, I’m a Maui girl for life. But the Big I stole my heart. The beaches alone are worth a visit!

Big Island’s rich culture, ever-unfolding land mass, and opportunity for adventure are the perfect recipe for families who want to experience Hawaii without crowds and overdevelopment. Not only does the Big Island see less tourism in general, but there’s a lot more room to spread out here.

The Big Island is twice the size of all the other islands combined! It has five volcanoes and eight of the world’s thirteen climate zones. It’s possible to experience tropical, desert, and tundra climate zones, all within a short drive.

The Big Island has waterfalls, zip-ling, snorkeling, camping, zoos, ATV farm tours, tons of kid-friendly beaches, and world-class resorts. Did I mention lava??

(Yes, you can actually bring your kids to an active volcano here. Certainly beats the stories I told as a kid returning from spring break..)

Mom walking to Hapuna Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii with kids
Hapuna Beach

What Is There To Do on the Big Island With Kids?

Aside from all of the kid-friendly beaches, there are so many great activities to do on the Big Island with kids! Our What To Do page has everything you need to plan out your days.

Here are my top ten recommendations:

  1. Visit Volcanoes National Park
  2. Snorkel With Manta Rays
  3. Visit Coconut Island
  4. Ride An ATV to a Waterfall
  5. Learn How to Surf
  6. Visit Ocean Rider and Hold a Live Seahorse
  7. Check Out the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo 
  8. Ride in a Real Submarine
  9. Go on a Zipline Tour
  10. Swim in a Waterfall
A mom visiting Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa on the Big Island of Hawaii with kids
Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa

What Is the Best Kid-Friendly Resort on the Big Island?

Many resorts on the Big Island allow kids, but only a few cater specifically to children and offer things like kid’s clubs, baby pools, and waterslides

Accommodation will eat up the majority of any vacation budget, so don’t settle when choosing a place to stay. Our Where To Stay page will help you find the right fit.

These are our favorite kid-friendly resorts on the Big Island:

  1. Hilton Waikoloa Village
  2. The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
  3. Mauna Lani
  4. Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa
  5. Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
A family standing in front of Rainbow Falls in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii
Rainbow Falls, Hilo

How Many Days Do You Need on the Big Island?

There’s a lot to do and a lot of ground to cover on the Big Island! I recommend a whole week to maximize your sightseeing potential while providing everyone in your crew with proper downtime. 

But, let’s be real, you may not need a full seven days if you plan to do nothing else but drink mai tais by the resort pool. (Save this girl a seat.)

A view from Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kohala Coast

Is the Big Island Expensive?

A vacation in Hawaii is not cheap, however you slice the pie. After factoring in hotels, rental cars, dining, and activities, a family of four can easily pay around $10,000 for a seven-day vacation.

If you’re on a strict budget, Oahu will be your best option. However, Big Island trails close behind when it comes to your ability to pinch pennies.

We have found that visiting the Big Island with kids can be done for around $5,000-$7,000 if you play your cards right. Simple things like using points to fly, staying in a condo, and cooking your own food can make a huge difference.

While we recommend staying on the west side (Kona), it’s important to note that staying on the island’s east side (Hilo) will make your money last longer.

Kids holding hands on a trail at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park

Is the Big Island Safe?

Yes. Hawaii continues to boast a lower crime rate than the rest of the United States. However, the Big Island does have a slightly higher rate than the other Hawaiian islands. Places like downtown Hilo represent a less privileged community and pose a higher risk for crimes like theft.

Be sure to lock your rental car, and don’t keep valuables in plain sight when parked. This is especially true when visiting popular visitor destinations like beaches and waterfalls.

The biggest threat in Hawaii comes from natural elements. Wear reef-safe sunscreen and apply it regularly, and use this blog to determine what beaches best suit your family’s level of comfort in the water.

Remember simple guidelines like “Never turn your back to the ocean” and “When in doubt, don’t go out.”

Volcanic Eruptions

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are two of the most active volcanoes in the world, erupting every two or three years. Luckily, these volcanoes are located within Volcanoes National Park, and the majority of the Big Island is not in immediate danger from an eruption.

Staying on the west side (Kohala/Kona) will ensure you are safe from any potential threat, as the Kohala volcano is now extinct. When visiting other parts of the island, check updates to see if a volcano is erupting and if it’s safe to go see the lava for yourself! 

Baby laying in a hammock on the Big Island

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Big Island?

I recommend visiting the Big Island during its “off-season.” April, May, September, and October will provide ideal ocean conditions, picture-perfect weather, and the best availability of accommodations.

Humpback whales visit the islands yearly to mate and give birth. It’s my favorite time of year! If you want to see them in action, visit during peak whale season: January-March.

If your main interest in visiting the Big Island is seeing Volcanoes National Park, please know there is no special time of year to see lava. Volcanoes don’t erupt on a schedule, but the park is always worth a visit!

A boy wearing sun hat while playing in the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kikaua Point Park Beach, Kona

What Part of The Big Island is Best For Kids?

If you are traveling to the Big Island with kids, stay in Kona or just north of it on the Kohala Coast. This side of the island is where most of the resorts are located. It’s hot and sunny, with just about every family-friendly restaurant and activity you can imagine. 

Places like Hilo and Volcanoes National Park are also great for kids and offer one-of-a-kind experiences for the whole family, but you don’t necessarily want to stay there the whole time. I suggest making Kona your landing pad and taking day trips to see the rest of the island.

People often refer to the Big Island as the “Kona side (west)” or the “Hilo side (east).” But it’s actually made up of six distinct regions: Kona, Kohala, Hilo, Hamakua Coast, Puna, and Ka’u. The entire island is incredibly beautiful and diverse.

[It’s important to note that Big Island is, well…big. If you’re staying in Kona, it will take an hour and a half to get to Hilo and over two hours to get to Volcanoes National Park. Luckily, there are many kid-friendly things to see and do along the way.]

Keep reading to learn more about what part of the Big Island you want to explore.

A view of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kailua-Kona

Kona

15 minutes to Kona Airport 

1 hour 45 minutes to Hilo Airport

Kona Graphic on visiting the Big Island With Kids

Kona is a sunny, lively seaside town with everything you hope for while on vacation: great beaches, restaurants, shopping, and good vibes. This is where you want to be while visiting the Big Island with kids!

The Kona district makes up over two-thirds of the entire west side of the island and is separated into North Kona and South Kona, with lively Kailua-Kona marrying the two together.

North Kona

North Kona is just south of the Kohala region, where most hotels, resorts, and condos reside.

We love North Kona because it has our favorite beach to visit with young kids: Kikaua Point Park Beach, accessible from Kukio Golf Resort. Three miles south, you will find the famous Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach), known for its sparkling, turquoise water. Kua Bay is a great spot for older kids who can handle bigger waves.

Visiting the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm was one of the coolest experiences we’ve ever had as a family! Kids (and adults) six and up have an opportunity to hold a live seahorse!

A boy holding a seahorse in Kona, Hawaii
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, Kona

North Kona is also home to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, a terrific national park for kids!

Kailua-Kona

Kailua-Kona is the epicenter of Kona and where most of the action takes place. Once a sleepy fishing village, Kailua has grown exponentially over the years and is now what you might expect a Hawaiian seaside town to be. Find endless restaurants, shopping, farmer’s markets, and activities along the pedestrian-friendly Ali’i Drive.

[FYI: There is another famous town on Oahu named Kailua, so to avoid confusion, the Big Island refers to this town as “Kailua-Kona.”]

The most popular activity in this area is an evening snorkel tour with Manta Rays. These gentle giants don’t hurt humans and are drawn to the underwater spotlights that light up plankton. The Travel Channel says, “It’s one of the top ten things to do in your lifetime.”

Kona is famous for its coffee. If you want to visit a coffee farm with kids, check out Mountain Thunder for a self-guided tour. Exploring and sampling the delicious 100% Kona coffee doesn’t take much time out of your day, and kids love to wander around the property and check out the lava tubes!

If you really want to make your kid’s day, consider riding in a real submarine or visiting the Hawaii Keiki Museum. Reward yourself with some good food and craft beer at Kona Brewing Company. This is by far the best (and most kid-friendly) brewery on the island!

A kid smiling at a table full of food at Kona Brewing Company, Big Island, Hawaii
Kona Brewing Company

Kid-Friendly Kailua-Kona Beaches

Kailua-Kona has so many great kid-friendly beaches to visit! These are our family’s favorites:

King Kam Beach: an easy beach to relax at with littles. It’s in front of the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, making it walkable to most things on Ali’i Drive. This is an excellent spot for small children because it’s free from waves. It’s also a great spot for snorkeling and watching the sunrise.

Old Airport State Recreation Area: This is a popular beach with locals and a semi-rocky shoreline. The southernmost point is referred to as “Keiki (kids) Beach” because it’s free from waves and has plenty of tide pools to explore.

Magic Sands Beach Park (La’aloa Beach Park): Magic Sands is another incredibly convenient beach if you’re staying in the Kailua area. It has small waves and gets its name from the disappearing beach in the winter when high tide rolls in. Use caution if it’s disappeared, as this can sometimes expose the sharp lava rock underneath. 

Mom holding hands with two kids at King Kam Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii
King Kam Beach in front of the Courtyard Marriott, Kona

South Kona

South Kona is located on the Big Island’s southwest shore. It’s more humid here, making it the perfect climate for growing Kona coffee. It also provides some of the best snorkeling on the island.

The absolute best way to explore this region is on an ATV. This ATV tour is family-friendly and allows you to swim in a private waterfall!

Just down the way is Kahalu’u Beach Park, one of the best places to snorkel, with lots of fish and green sea turtles. This is a great beginner spot, but you do have to navigate over some lava rock to get in the water. This is a great place to take kids who are interested in snorkeling or beginner surf lessons. Then, grab a bite in the adorable community of Kainaliu.

Further south, you will find Kealakekua Bay, home to the famous Captain Cook monument, Painted Church, and one of the very best snorkeling spots in the state! However, access to the bay requires a very hot, semi-strenuous hike that can be challenging with young kids. Skip the stress and explore the bay on this beautiful yacht. Everyone has an opportunity to get in the water to swim/snorkel if they wish.

End your South Kona tour at Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a beautiful historical site that’s a great place to learn more about Hawaiian Culture. This was once where people who broke the Kapu (forbidden) laws fled to stay safe! Structures from the 1600s still stand today.

View from Anaeho’omalu Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay)

Kohala 

30 min-1 hour from Kona Airport

1.5 hours from Hilo Airport

Kohala Graphic on visiting the Big Island with Kids

Kohala is located at the island’s northernmost tip and is where the Big Island first began! This extinct volcano created some of the most majestic beauty that the Big Island bestows.

The Kohala region is now separated into North Kohala and South Kohala.

North Kohala

In North Kohala, you will find the charming little town of Hawi and seven stunning valleys, including Pololu and Wapi’o Valley, both with easy-to-access lookouts that are attainable with kids. Hawi is home to little shops and art galleries and is a great place to stop on your way to the Pololu Valley Lookout. This is a terrific area to explore some waterfalls!

North Kohala also features the Lokahi Garden Sanctuary, which offers kid-friendly farm tours and healthy lunches. They even have a day spa!

South Kohala

South Kahola is made up of Waimea and the Kohala Coast.

Waimea town is the heart of the Big Island’s cowboy (Paniolo) country. It’s quiet, peaceful, and surrounded by gorgeous, green rolling hills. Waimea offers weekly farmer’s markets with dozens of local farmers and food trucks. We love Big Island Brewhaus, a great place to stop for outdoor dining. And you’ll find one of the best playgrounds on the island (Anuenue Playground) at Waimea Park.

Anuenue Playground in Waimea, Hawaii
Anuenue Playground, Waimea

The Kohala Coast contains some of the best beaches and snorkeling that the Big Island has to offer. It is also home to ten golf courses and Waikola Village: a resort community built on lava rock overlooking Waiulua Bay. Waikoloa Village has every creature comfort you could ask for and features plenty of shopping and dining, making it hard to leave! You can even swim with dolphins!

Kid-Friendly Kohala Coast Beaches

These are our favorite kid-friendly beaches on the Kohala Coast:

Spencer Beach Park: a small beach with calm water, free parking, shade, bathrooms, showers, and a picnic area.

Hapuna Beach Park: a large, golden sand beach with incredible sunsets and some fun waves for bigger kids to play/boogie board in. There are showers and bathroom facilities. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

Waialea Beach (Beach 69): a protected marine sanctuary great for snorkeling and letting little ones play. The water is calmest here in the morning. Be on the lookout for small rocks and coral. There are bathrooms and showers. Parking is $10/vehicle. 

Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay): a crescent-shaped beach popular with families that features a calm, protected bay. There are bathrooms, showers, and free parking. There’s even a Beach Hut that offers snorkels, paddle boards, and beach cabanas for rent. Check out our favorite place to eat on the island: Lava Lava Beach Club, located on the south end of A-Bay. 

[It’s important to note that the winter months on the Kohala coast can present some big swells that make it unsafe for swimming. If you’re visiting Kohala in the winter and want to swim/snorkel in some calmer waters, venture to South Kona.]

A Mom holding her kid on the footbridge of Coconut Island in Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii
Coconut Island, Hilo

Hilo

1.5 hours from Kona Airport

15 minutes from Hilo Airport

Hilo Graphic on visiting the Big Island with kids

Hilo is the capital of the Big Island. It’s three times the size of Kona and houses over 20 percent of the island’s residents. This is also where you will find the University of Hawaii Hilo campus, giving the town a young, laid-back vibe.

[ While visiting the Big Island, we love to spend a night or two in Hilo to explore the town and have easier access to Volcanoes National Park (only 45 minutes from Hilo). If you plan to visit Volcanoes National Park with kids, this can be a great way to break up the adventure while also seeing the island’s east side.]

The east side of every Hawaiian island is the rainy side, and Hilo is no exception, averaging 275 rainy days a year! In fact, it has a reputation for being the wettest city in the United States! That’s not to say the sun doesn’t shine here because it does. Most rainfall occurs at night, but you’d be wise to pack a jacket.

Onekahakaha Beach Park is the best family-friendly beach in Hilo, with calm waters and a lifeguard tower. And Rainbow Falls is a great waterfall to visit with kids because of its easy visibility from a paved parking lot. Go early for a chance to see rainbows reflecting off of the water!

Hilo is also home to the Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo, the only rainforest zoo in the United States! My kids love wandering around this small (free!) zoo that offers a playground and a botanical garden.

My favorite excursion in Hilo is visiting Coconut Island, a small island in Hilo Bay that can be reached by a footbridge. This is a great place to bring a picnic and swim/explore! I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time we were there.

If it’s raining, check out the Imiloa Astronomy Center!

A boy posing in front of a mural in downtown Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii
Downtown Hilo

Downtown Hilo

Hilo’s downtown vibe is slow and relaxed. The buildings are colorful, and you will find art in murals and galleries, bookstores, and boba tea. There’s a local vibe here, and with that also comes “island time.” People tend to move at their own pace.

Most kid-friendly activities in Hilo exist outside of downtown, but a few hours spent wandering around can be fun for everyone.

Grab a bite or pick up a gift at one of the many cute, locally-owned shops. Then, let your kids indulge in some cartoon-esque ice cream at Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack and/or get their wiggles out at Hilo’s small climbing gym. Downtown Hilo also features the best farmer’s market on the island (open every day, but the big days are Wednesday and Saturday)!

A dad hiking with kids at Akaka Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Akaka Falls

Hamakua Coast

Hamakua Coast Graphic on visiting the Big Island with kids

The Hamakua Coast is on the Big Island’s north shore, just above Hilo. You won’t find many sandy beaches here, but instead, there are numerous waterfalls, mountain hiking trails, and oceanside cliffs. This region receives around 84 inches of rainfall a year, creating sweeping green valleys and lush tropical rainforests.

[If you are traveling from Kona to Hilo, a shorter path (Saddle Road) runs through the middle of the island. The Hamakua Heritage Corridor requires an extra 30 minutes of drive time.]

While it would take you numerous days to really explore the Hamakua Coast, you can still experience its beauty just by driving the Hamakua Heritage Corridor, which will lead you through charming plantation towns, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, and Big Island’s most famous waterfall: Akaka Falls. This is a great waterfall to see with kids because of the paved path (lots of stairs, not stroller-friendly).

If your family wants to try zip-lining, the Hamakua Coast is the perfect place for it! This tour is amazing and allows you to see a whopping 14 waterfalls!

Kalopa State Recreation Area is a terrific area to explore and picnic. Be sure to save your appetite for the little town of Honoka’a, home to Tex Drive-In and Hawaii’s famous malasada (fried donut). These are the best malasadas we’ve ever had, and trust me, we’ve tried a lot!

A view from a small dirt path in Puna, Hawaii
Puna

Puna

2 hours to Kona Airport

30 minutes to Hilo Airport

Puna Graphic on visiting the Big Island with kids

Just south of Hilo, you’ll find the free-spirited, colorful region of Puna. Countless fruit, flower, and macadamia nut farms exist near miles of gorgeous, underdeveloped coastline. Lava has repeatedly devastated this fertile land, and many iconic places to visit have been swallowed and now exist only under volcanic rock.

Please move slowly and be as respectful as possible as you explore this area. People are still recovering from the most recent Kīlauea rupture of 2018.

It’s safe to say that it’s brave to call a place like Puna home. The residents here are warm, stubborn, and resilient beyond belief. They chose to live off the beaten path and, many of them, completely off-grid.

Step back in time and grab a bite to eat in the colorful town of Pahoa, or visit the iconic Makuʻu Farmers Market, which brings together over 150 vendors and 3,000 people in attendance on Sunday mornings.

I recommend visiting Lava Trees State Park, which was once covered by lava in the 1700s, leaving tall lava molds of previous tree trunks frozen and still standing. The whole situation feels very Dr. Suess-like. The 0.7-loop trail only takes about 30 minutes and is easy for kids of all ages.

If anyone in your family is interested in the destruction that lava can leave behind, drive around Kalapana and Kaimu to witness the humble rebuilding of history. If you happen to be in the area on a Wednesday evening, do not miss an opportunity to check out Uncle Robert’s Farmer’s Market, which turns into a full-on party around 6 pm. This is a great place to get a feel for what makes the people and culture of Hawaii so special and unique.

A dad and two kids at a lookout at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park

Ka’u

2 hours to Kona Airport

1 hour 20 minutes to Hilo Airport

Ka'u Graphic on visiting the Big Island with kids

Located at the southernmost tip, Ka’u is the wildest and most untouched part of the Big Island. It’s also the largest. This region alone is bigger than the entire island of Oahu (but still has less than 6,000 residents)! It’s quiet, rural, and home to artists seeking solitude and families who have been here for generations.

Many people venture to this region to visit Punaluʻu Beach, one of the best black sand beaches in the state. Black sand beaches are formed with tiny fragments of lava rock. This water can be challenging to swim in most of the year, but this is a great place to picnic and spot sea turtles. Just be sure to keep your distance!

Volcanoes National Park With Kids

Ka’u is also home to Volcanoes National Park and Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. 

If you’re wondering if visiting Volcanoes National Park with kids is possible, the answer is yes!

[It takes over two hours to get to Volcanoes National Park from Kailua-Kona. Most families make a day trip out of it. We prefer to break the journey up by staying in Hilo for a night and visiting Volcanoes National Park from there, as it’s only 45 minutes away.]

Determining what to explore in Volcanoes National Park depends on a lot of factors, including the age of your kids. I recommend putting aside an entire day for it, but if your kids are young, a half-day will suffice.

Check the weather before you go to ensure it’s not raining or too foggy to get a good view from the lookouts. And be sure to bring extra layers! It can be a full 20 degrees colder than Kona. Snow can often be seen on the top of Mauna Kea’s summit!

Not all hikes at Volcano National Park are kid-friendly. If you have young kids in tow, I recommend exploring the Kīlauea Iki Overlook/Trail and the Thurston Lava Tube (my five-year-old still talks about this epic experience). Devastation Trail is another easy walk that is mainly paved and allows you to see the aftermath of an eruption. And if you’re using a stroller, the path from the Volcano House to the sulfur banks is paved and totally doable.

If your kids are still napping or not cooperating (relatable), there is a lovely drive called the Chain of Craters Road that will take you past many of the park’s top sites and allow you to get out and look around whenever you wish.

Please know that there is no guarantee to see lava, but if a volcano happens to be erupting while you are there, you can see the red glow in the night sky! It’s possible to stay in the park overnight at Volcano House or check out adjacent properties like this adorable family-friendly treehouse just down the way.

Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!

A baby wearing a sun hat at Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa on the Big Island of Hawaii
Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa

Big Island With Kids Wrap Up

Whether your idea of a perfect vacation is laying by a resort pool while your kids go down waterslides, hanging out at some of the best beaches in the world, or spending a night on a volcano, the Big Island has you covered! 

We love Hawaii’s Big Island, and our kids do, too. Take a trip off the beaten path to the largest Hawaiian Island and give your family memories that will last a lifetime.

Helpful Resources

Flights: Expedia

Rental Cars: Discount Hawaii Car Rental

Baby Gear Rental: Baby Quip

Big Island Babysitting Service: Big Island Nannies Aloha

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Cheers, mama!

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.