Planning a family vacation to Hawaii and wondering what things to do in Big Island Hawaii with kids?
I lived on the Big Island for a year, exploring the nooks and crannies to help families have a memorable Hawaiian vacation.
The Big Island is one of the more rugged and untamed Hawaiian islands, compared to Oahu or Maui. It’s all about nature here, not so much about fancy entertainment, though there is still some of that.
While it might not be as flashy as Disneyland, the Big Island offers an authentic look at the real Hawaii with raw nature, tangible history, and island-style fun!
Families with children of all ages will find plenty of things to do like visiting volcanoes, swimming with dolphins, or attending a Hawaiian luau.
Let’s see what else the Big Island has in store for families!
Manta Ray Night Snorkeling
One of the most unique things you can do is night snorkel with manta rays. This goes down as my most memorable Big Island memory!
This nocturnal adventure gives you and your children the opportunity to observe these graceful, gentle giants as they glide through the water, performing their nightly ballet.
As the manta rays come to feed on plankton drawn to the glowing underwater lights, you can observe these magnificent creatures up close. You are not supposed to touch them, but don’t be surprised if they bump into you like they did to me!
Snorkeling alongside these majestic rays is not only a captivating experience but also an excellent opportunity for kids to gain firsthand knowledge about marine life and the importance of preserving these remarkable creatures.
With the guidance of experienced professionals in the water with you, children can feel safe and comfortable swimming with these gentle giants.
Check with your snorkel company’s minimum age requirement. Most are 4 years old and up, but some allow younger ones to come along for the boat ride.
Side Note: If you don’t want to take a tour, you can visit the Outrigger Kona Resort for their manta ray viewing deck. The hotel shines lights into the ocean to draw the manta rays closer to shore where hotel guests can see them from the balcony.
Recommended Manta Ray Night Snorkel Tours:
- Hawaii Island & Ocean Tours
- Hang Loose
- Hawaii Oceanic
Humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii and can be seen from November-March. While you can sometimes catch glimpses of their silhouettes against the horizon from the shore, taking a tour is the ideal way to see these giant mammals up close!
It’s a thrilling experience to see these gentle giants breach the water near the boat and hear their songs through a hydrophone.
Some tours even offer a “whale guarantee,” where if you don’t see any whales, you can go on another tour for free!
Check with your tour company for their age minimum requirements, mostly dependent on the type of boat they use. Some allow infants while others have can have an ages 4+ minimum.
Recommended Whale Watching Tours:
- Hang Loose
- Dolphin Discoveries
- Captain Zodiac
For thrill-seeking families, ziplining on the Big Island is a fun activity. Experience the exhilaration of soaring through the lush Hawaiian canopies or over gushing waterfalls.
Ziplining tours often include not only a series of exciting lines, but suspension bridges and treetop platforms. It’s a perfect way for kids to overcome any fear of heights or new things, and bond with family members over an exciting, memorable adventure.
Friendly guides ensure that everyone feels comfortable and secure throughout the entire ride.
Check with each ziplining company for their minimum requirements. Some allow 4 years old and up to zipline while others have a weight minimum.
Recommended Zipline Companies:
- Umauma Experience
- Kohala Zipline
Kona Glassbottom Boat
For little explorers who can’t snorkel, the Kona Glassbottom Boat tour is a dry and safe way of getting a similar underwater view.
Perfect for all ages, it’s a fantastic trip that lets you marvel at the stunning beauty of the ocean floor through the boat’s glass bottom floor. You’ll spot an array of sea creatures like turtles and colorful fish amongst the flourishing coral reef all without getting your toes wet.
The crew keeps the passengers informed and entertained with their knowledge of local marine life and history.
And, no need to worry about small bladders; an onboard restroom has got you covered.
Taking a snorkel tour offers families an exciting day of sailing and swimming. As you sail on the open seas, keep an eye out for whales and dolphins. When you reach the snorkel spot, you’ll get underwater views of sea turtles and an array of tropical fish and coral.
Most snorkel tours go to Kealakekua Bay, a State Historical Park and Marine Life Conservation District.
Tour companies will provide necessary equipment and instruction, and the guides are fantastic at helping the kids feel safe and comfortable, making snorkeling a perfect family-friendly activity.
Each tour company will have their age minimum requirements, but you’ll find some companies that allow kids as young as 4 years old allowed to snorkel. Infants can sometimes be allowed to join and stay on the boat with an adult as well.
Recommended Snorkel Tours:
- Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides
- Body Glove Hawaii
- Dolphin Discoveries
All Ages with Minimum 36″ Height
Families can embark on a journey with Atlantis Submarines, where they descend 100 feet below the ocean’s surface, immersing themselves in the wonders of a 25-acre natural coral reef filled with marine life and modern shipwrecks.
A knowledgeable and entertaining narrator ensures that learning remains enjoyable, while the submarine accommodating 48 people avoids any feelings of claustrophobia.
This is a great substitute to snorkeling for those who don’t want to get wet.
There is no age minimum on this tour, just a height requirement of being at least 36 inches tall.
Attending a traditional Hawaiian luau on the Big Island is an entertaining family-friendly activity that offers a rich cultural experience and an unforgettable night.
They can feast on an endless buffet of Hawaiian cuisine, savoring local flavors like kalua pig, poi, and fresh tropical fruits.
Kids will be enthralled by the vibrant Polynesian music and dance performances, including the mesmerizing hula and fire knife dancing.
Luau hosts often include interactive activities to engage children, such as lei-making, hula lessons, getting a Hawaiian (stick-on) tattoo, or games.
Recommended Big Island Luaus:
- Voyagers of the Pacific
- Island Breeze
- Legends of Hawaii
Taking an ATV tour is an exciting family adventure.
Drive your ATV through the island’s diverse terrain, from the Hamakua coast’s lush rainforests, Kohala’s spacious fields and scenic vistas, to Polynesian informational sites in South Kona. Some even have mud pit area to get muddy or will bring you to a waterfall where you can take a dip to cool off!
With experienced guides leading the way and well-maintained vehicles, safety is a top priority, ensuring a fun and comfortable outing.
Each tour has an age minimum requirement for riding and a separate minimum requirement for driving solo.
Recommended ATV Tours:
- Kohala ATV Adventure
- Umauma Experience
- Aloha Adventure Farms
Escape rooms offer a fun, mind-challenging activity for families. These interactive games involve solving a series of puzzles and riddles using clues around a themed room.
It’s an excellent opportunity for families to foster teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills in a fun, engaging environment.
Remember, you only have 60 minutes to escape – the clock is ticking!
Escape rooms are booked per private party and all ages are welcome. However, I would check with the company for the recommended age skill for their current puzzle as it varies.
Recommend Escape Rooms:
- 808 Escape
- Escape Hilo
Does your kid like chocolate? Hawaii is the only state where cacao is grown commercially in the U.S. and there are plenty of chocolate farms to visit on the Big Island.
From growing on trees, to fermentation, to the drying process, to the candy stage, these tours offer an engaging and educational way of exploring the journey from cacao bean to chocolate bar.
Of course, what’s a chocolate tour without chocolate samples? Taste the various stages of the cacao bean, from bitter nibs to sweet chocolate bites.
Some tours will have a walking tour while others have a ride-along tour in a “golf cart bus”.
Recommended Chocolate Farms:
- Kuaiwi Farm
- Original Hawaiian Chocolate
With Hawaii being the birthplace of surfing, there’s no better place to learn this sport as a family!
Local surf schools offer lessons tailored to all ages and skill levels, both in group lessons or private lessons.
Under the guidance of friendly instructors, you will learn the basics of surfing, from paddling to standing up on the board. You’ll be catching your first waves in no time!
Each instructing company has their own age minimum, so check ahead of time if your child meets it.
Recommended Surf Lesson Companies:
- Ohana Surf Lessons
- Kona Town Surf Adventures
See the Big Island from a bird’s eye perspective by taking a helicopter ride!
Regardless of age, everyone on board will be captivated by the breathtaking views of flying over lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, volcanic craters, and postcard-perfect coastlines.
Experienced pilots narrate the journey with facts and tales over the headset, making the experience both educational and exhilarating.
As with airplanes, all ages are allowed to fly in helicopters, most with a lap child flying free.
Recommended Helicopter Companies:
- Paradise Helicopters
- Blue Hawaiian
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
One of my favorite places to visit and arguably one of the most unique things to do with kids on the Big Island is visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
When Kilauea is active, geology comes to life as you witness molten lava spewing and flowing from the crater floor. There aren’t many places on earth where you can do this.
Besides that, there are steam vents to see, sulphur banks to smell, petroglyphs to discover, and a lava tube to walk through.
There are also a numerous amount of hikes in moon-like landscapes that range from easy to difficult.
The park offers an informative and interactive visitor center with rangers on hand to answer questions. It’s a chance for kids to learn about geology, Hawaiian culture, and the importance of preserving natural wonders.
Kids can also become a Junior Ranger by completing a series of activities around the park and sharing their answers with a park ranger who will then present them with an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate.
Something most people don’t know about is that the Kilauea Military Camp inside the park has a bowling alley and arcade that is open to the public. How cool would it be to say you went bowling next to a volcano?!
The Big Island has 4 different kinds of sandy beaches to visit: white sand, black sand, salt and pepper sand, and green sand.
White sand beaches and slat and pepper beaches are perfect for families with kids because they have shallow and calm water, ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and sand castle building.
Black sand beaches are great for exploring tide pools teeming with marine life. Sea turtles are often spotted at black sand beaches as the black sand and lava rocks absorb heat from the sun that they like to nap on.
The famous green sand beach is only one of five in the world. It is best for older kids as it is a 5 mile roundtrip hike to access the beach and even to get down to it is a bit of a steep climb. You might want to consider hiring a truck ride at the trailhead for younger kids.
With warm, clear waters and the chance to swim with tropical fish, the Big Island’s beaches provide endless opportunities for families to spend the day.
- Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area
- Punaluu Black Sand Beach Park
- Papakolea Green Sand Beach
- Kua Bay Beach
- Magic Sands Beach
- Richardson Ocean Park
Swim with Dolphins
What kid’s dream isn’t to swim with dolphins?
Dolphin Quest, located at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, lets families swim with dolphins and interact with them in a safe environment. Have a “get to know you” session where you meet and touch a dolphin, wear a diving mask as the dolphin swims alongside or below you, and pose with a dolphin for the perfect photo-op.
There are various programs for all ages. Some require adults to accompany their child while others allow the kids to participate on their own. Kids 10+ can be a Marine Mammal Trainer for a day, participating in dolphin health exams, training and play sessions, and preparing the dolphins’ buckets of food.
There is a grassy knoll next to the dolphin pool that I enjoy watching from the sidelines for free. It has great viewing for watching the dolphins jump and play and interact with guests.
Kids can become a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) with a day of horseback riding. With guides leading the way, families can trek through lush valleys, canter across wide open plains, and ascend into the rolling hills on docile horses.
Some tours even offer a trail picnic or a refreshing swim break at a waterfall.
Guided horseback rides cater to riders of all skill levels, guaranteeing a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Most companies require children to be 8 years or older, though there are exceptions.
Recommended Horseback Riding Companies:
- Wailea Horseback Adventure
- Kahua Ranch Adventure
- Waipi’o on Horseback
- 4D Quarter Horses
Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo
The Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo is quite the hidden gem and great thing to do on the Big Island for kids. It’s actually the only zoo in the United States located in a tropical rainforest. Plus, admission is FREE!
The zoo is home to over 80 animal species including exotic animals like lemurs, anteaters, nēnē (Hawaiian geese), and tigers.
On Saturdays, they open up a petting zoo area where kids can get up close and personal with some of the animals.
The grounds also have a large playground where kids can run and climb and expend extra energy.
The Big Island is home to some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in Hawaii. Take the opportunity to visit and explore these natural wonders with your kids.
Some recommended waterfalls for families include:
- Rainbow Falls: Located just a short drive from Hilo, this 80-foot waterfall gets its name from the rainbows that appear when the sun hits the mist of the falls.
- Akaka Falls: A 0.5-mile paved hike through a lush rainforest will lead you to this 442-foot waterfall, one of the tallest on the island.
- Umauma Falls: This series of three waterfalls can be viewed from a scenic overlook or experienced up close by taking a zipline tour.
- Wai’ale Falls: upstream from Rainbow Falls, this lesser known waterfall can be viewed from the road bridge. Older kids can handle taking a short and rugged trail to the top of the waterfalls.
Hawaiian petroglyphs are essentially old etchings on rock surfaces, showcasing various symbols and scenes, most with unknown meanings. These fascinating artifacts often depict humans, animals, and abstract patterns, providing a glimpse into the life of ancient Hawaiians.
Take your kids on a petroglyph hunting adventure, exploring vast fields of lava rock carved with these intriguing symbols of the past.
Recommended locations for petroglyphs:
- Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve
- Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve
- Puʻuloa Petroglyphs (largest collection in all of Hawaii with 23,000 petroglyphs)
- Kaloko-Honokōhau Petroglyphs
The Big Island has many farmers markets throughout the week. It’s my favorite way to meet locals and buy fresh produce and handcrafted items.
Food trucks or food tents serve fun foods for lunch or a snack and often live music will entertain shoppers. I even attended one with a free hula lesson.
The size of farmers markets varies per location, but most have a busy, festive atmosphere.
Recommend Farmers Markets:
- Hilo Farmers Market
- Kamuela Farmers Market
- Waimea Town Market
- Ho’oulu Community Farmers Market
Eat Fun Hawaiian Foods
Hawaii is home to an array of delectable foods that kids with all tastebuds should find delicious!
Shave ice – A Hawaiian classic, shave ice is a bowl of ice that has been shaved into a soft, fluffy texture with your choice of flavored syrups poured over it and toppings like sweetened condensed milk or haupia cream (coconut pudding cream).
Malasadas – These Portuguese-style fried doughnuts have become synonymous with Hawaiian treats and come coated in sugars or filled with fruity jellies and creams. Lilikoi glazed is my favorite!
Musubi – A popular snack for Hawaiian locals, musubi is made with spam, rice, and nori seaweed. They are ideal for a quick snack on the go.
Tropical fruit – you won’t find fresher tropical fruit than from farmer’s stands. Freshly picked papayas, bananas, avocados, lilikoi (passionfruit), pineapples, mangos, and lychee, to name a few. Don’t be surprised if you find fruits you’ve never heard of as well!
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm
Ocean Rider’s Seahorse Farm in Kona is a unique attraction where you will learn about seahorses but also get to hold them! See firsthand what efforts are being made to breed this endangered species to save it from extinction and bring awareness to the issue.
The 3-acre seahorse farm includes an interactive tide pool and the world’s only 100% sustainable marine aquarium.
See all stages of seahorse’s life from pregnant males to babies to fully grown. Over 20 species are represented here from Hawaii to Australia.
The most exciting part of the experience is being able to feed and hold these tiny sea creatures. It’s so cute and fun having a seahorse’s tail wrap around your finger; you won’t want to let go!
Kona Kat Cafe
Visiting the Kona Kat Cafe is great place to please your cat loving child.
Play in a room of adoptable cats while drinking some Kona coffee and snacks.
To ensure a purr-fect visit, it’s advisable to secure a reservation online. They do leave room for walk-ins but it’s not guaranteed.
It’s important to note that, in the best interest of the felines, children must be 7 years or older to access the ‘catio’.
However, cat enthusiasts of all ages are welcome to sit outside the ‘catio’ at look through the windows, allowing them to observe and enjoy the adorable cats behind the glass.
Macadamia Nut Tour
There’s nothing more quintessentially Hawaiian than the macadamia nut, so I always make sure to buy some when I visit. The Big Island plays host to a couple of macadamia nut factories that you can visit.
These factories offer interactive exhibits and educational displays that engage young minds in learning about the nut’s history and the unique agriculture of the island.
Windows into the kitchens offer a glimpse into the nut packing processes.
Kids can test their strength to see if they have what it takes to crack a macadamia nut shell.
And of course, there’s the free samples of the buttery, crunchy macadamia nuts in all kinds of flavors, from classic salted to chocolate-covered to Spam!
Recommended Macadamia Nut Factories:
- Mauna Loa
Big Island Candies
If you’re chasing the ultimate sugar rush, then a trip with the kiddos to Big Island Candies is an absolute must. This candy factory has been producing scrumptious, high-quality treats since 1977.
They have a wide assortment of candies, cookies, and chocolates, all made with aloha. I tend to not like shortbread cookies, but their macadamia nut shortbread cookies are to die for!
You can ask to sample almost any sweet treat they make, and more than one too!
Kids will enjoy watching the confectionary kitchen in action through viewing windows in the back of the store.
This visitor center is full of perfectly packaged cookies and candies that make for a fantastic souvenir or gift.
Imiloa Astronomy Center
The Big Island has a strong astronomy presence and is home to world-class observatories like the Keck Observatory and Subaru Telescope. The lack of light pollution on the island and reduced atmospheric interference up on Mauna Kea make it an ideal stargazing destination.
While it is dangerous for children under 13 years old to go up to Mauna Kea due to the extremely high elevation (I even got altitude sickness), families can still enjoy learning about astronomy at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.
There are abundant hands-on activities suitable for children of all ages, along with informative stations and engaging reading materials. All of it is done in a way that is catered to kids so it’s palpable for them to learn about this scientific field.
The theater dome is cool, featuring different shows geared towards kids with a live, knowledgeable narrator.
Hilo Laser Tag
Hilo Laser Tag offers fun for the whole family to work as a team or pitted against each other as you are armed with top-of-the-line laser tag equipment in a large combat arena.
Unlike other laser tag games, you’ll need to aim your weapon accurately, not just in the general direction of your opponents. Players have a certain percentage of health, and it takes multiple shots to take a person out, making the game a test of your strategical skills and accuracy.
Each game round is only about 10 minutes long.
They also offer immersive virtual reality games for an alternative gaming experience.
Games are walk-in. You do not need a reservation unless you want a private game.
My favorite farm to visit on the Big Island is Paradise Meadows.
If you want to be overwhelmed with free samples, this is the place for you! They have so many coffee, honey, chocolate, macadamia nut, and cookie samples that I’d be willing to bet you start turning samples away.
Afterwards, walk around the farm, seeing their aquaponics setup, their garden and coffee orchard, their colorful parrots, an art gallery, and wild or domestic animals that wander the property.
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, often regarded as ‘ The Place of Refuge’, offers families a unique chance to explore ancient Hawaiian culture.
Watch a 20-minute movie about the site and its history in a covered, outdoor amphitheater before strolling through ancient Hawaiian holy grounds. Marvel at the ancient temples replicas, make friends with tikis, and challenge a partner to a game of konane (Hawaiian checkers).
Kids will enjoy checking out the expansive tidepools to search for fascinating marine creatures.
The park is a Big Island highlight and is a popular thing to do for families.
Field Trip With a Shelter Dog
Hawaii Island Humane Society offers the chance for families to “rent a dog” for a day.
You can reserve a time and pay a fee…i mean donation…to take adoptable shelter dogs out on the town for the day, giving them some physical and intellectual exercises while you all explore the Big Island together.
You’ll be given all the accessories needed to walk the dog.
If your kids are missing their own pooch at home or you wanna test drive what it would be like to add a furry friend to your family, this might be a good family activity for you.
For the safety of the dogs and your kids, they require kids to be ages 8 and up.
Lapakahi State Historical Park
Think of Lapakahi State Historical Park as a free version of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. It’s located on the Kohala peninsula and is a mile long historical walking trail taking you through a 600 year old Hawaiian fishing village.
You’ll see remnants of old buildings, a hale replica, and lava bowls making salt from sea water.
Seasonal festivities on the Big Island offer a delightful blend of cultural, sporting, and festive events that families can enjoy together. A few of them to keep an eye out for are:
Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival (February) – Celebrate Japanese culture with traditional performances, mochi pounding and origami classes, and cherry blossom viewing in Waimea.
Merrie Monarch Festival (April) – a week-long competition of ancient and modern hula dancing with a celebratory parade in Hilo at the end of the week (the best parade I’ve ever attended).
Iron Man World Championship (October) – cheer on the world’s best athletes compete in this famous Kona triathlon.
Lighted Christmas Parades (December) – find lighted Christmas parades during the holiday season, especially the Kailua Kalikimaka Lighted Boat Parade!
Final Thoughts on Things to Do with Kids on the Big Island
There you have it!
From observing new earth being born in Kilauea to making friends with a seahorse, from flying high in a chopper to taking a submarine below the ocean’s surface, there are tons of things to do on the Big Island with kids. You will make lifetime family memories adventuring and exploring the Big Island’s natural wonders and cultural attractions.