Big Island things to do
Image by Paul Blessington from Pixabay

Top Things to do in Big Island, Hawai’i with kids

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The Island of Hawai’i, also known as the Big Island, is of course the biggest island of Hawaii and currently the island state’s youngest island too. This island has so much to offer its visitors and is simply magical. Volcanoes, manta rays, sea turtles, gorgeous beaches, and much more to do to enjoy the essence of this stunning island!

We have gathered a ton of useful tips and tricks from people who have traveled there before and lived there. Check out all the recommendations for things to do in Big Island, Hawaii from top travel bloggers.

1) Snorkel with Manta Rays

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: For a once in a lifetime experience, snorkeling with manta rays in Kona should definitely be on your Big Island bucket list. On these guided tours, you’ll be taken out in a boat to a spot in the ocean where manta rays like to feed, as daylight slowly fades to night. Your guide will then help each participant swim from the boat to a nearby floating light.

The light shining down into the water attracts plankton, which, in turn, draws in the plankton-loving manta rays. The group participants will hold on to the floating light as the manta rays swoop and feast just inches below your mask. 

Photo Credit: Jessica Schmit

Between snorkeling at night and the sheer size of the manta rays (with a wingspan of up to 12 feet!), the experience is probably better suited for slightly bigger kids, given that, while totally harmless, these gentle giants can be a bit intimidating. Most tour companies have age limits of five years of age and older.

Try this tour: Manta Ray Night Snorkel

2) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Megan from Next is Hawaii blog says: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a fantastic place to take your kids to foster fun, adventure, and an early appreciation for nature. Stop by the Visitors Center first to talk to the rangers, get information about the park, and pick up a Junior Ranger kit.

Through this program, your child can follow a series of activities to learn about the park. When they’ve completed it, head back to the Visitors Center where they can tell a park ranger what they’ve learned and earn their Junior Park Ranger badge and certificate!

Photo Credit: Megan Starr

There are many different hikes at Volcanoes National Park, but some of the most kid-friendly ones are the Devastation Trail, which is an easy, paved walkway through lava fields, and the Thurston Lava Tube, a cool cave experience any young explorer will be excited to discover.

Or, take a cruise down the Chain of Craters Drive, which has places to jump out, run around, and admire the fascinating landscape. It is a must when spending the day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Also, note that the weather at the park is often quite cooler than other areas of the island, so make sure to pack layers to keep the kids comfortable in the varying temperatures.

Try this Tour: Big Island in a Day: Volcanoes, Waterfalls, Sightseeing, History

3) Green Sand Beach

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: The Green Sand Beach on the Big Island is incredibly unique- in fact, there’s only four green sand beaches on the entire planet! It’s located along the Big Island’s southern coastline and is a good pit-stop for the kids to burn up some energy if you’re making the road trip from Kona, on the west side of the island to Hilo, to the east.

Photo Credit: Jessica Schmit

To reach the beach, you’ll need to hike two miles (one-way) on a dusty road along the coastline- while the trail is flat and easy, be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water, especially under the hot Hawaiian sun. 

Once you reach the beach, the kids will have endless amounts of fun playing in the uniquely colored sand and in the waves, which are perfect for boogie boarding. The waves can get quite intense at times, though, so keep a close eye on them!

4) Punalu’u Beach

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: If seeing sea turtles is at the top of your agenda on the Big Island, be sure to add Punalu’u Beach to your itinerary.  Turtles love to crawl up and bask in the heat radiating from the beach’s black sand and to munch on the red algae that grow in the bay’s waters. Accordingly, this is one of the best spots on the Big Island to see and snorkel with honu

Photo Credit: Jessica Schmit

Even if turtles aren’t there during your visit, the beach has a laid back and family-friendly vibe, with picnic tables, grills, and a lifeguard on duty during the day. Better yet, there’s plenty of shade cast by its towering palm trees, offering the perfect spot to take a warm and breezy midday nap.

Also read: Top things to do in Maui, Hawaii with kids

5) Kealakekua Bay

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: For the best snorkeling on the island, Kealakekua Bay (or frequently referred to as “Captain Cook’s Monument”, thanks to a commemorative marker on its coastline) offers a pristine coral reef, teeming with dozens of species of fish, turtles, and occasionally, even spinner dolphins! The bay has remained so largely untouched, thanks to the fact that it’s a bit challenging to get to, being only accessible via a challenging hike or, alternatively, via boat.

Photo Credit: Jessica Schmit

So, to explore this incredible bay, book a snorkeling tour to the Captain Cook Monument– along the way, your family will learn about the Big Island’s culture and history, as well as some of the biodiversity in the bay itself. There’s plenty of tours that are particularly great for kiddos, like Fair Wind Cruises, which has a boat with two 15-foot waterslides and a dive platform!

6) Kahalu’u Beach

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: For beginner snorkelers, Kahalu’u Beach offers some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. Conveniently located in Kona itself, the beach is actually protected by a breakwall, constructed by ancient Hawaiians.  Thanks to the wall’s protection, the beach now has a shallow and calm lagoon, which is perfect for learning to snorkel with the abundance of wildlife, including turtles, fish, and octopus, found underwater.

Photo Credit: Jessica Schmit

Because of its accessibility, Kahalu’u has been loved to death to the point that much of the coral in its waters has unfortunately been destroyed. So please be sure to bring reef safe sunscreen and to teach your kids the importance of not touching, kicking, or standing on coral, so that locals and other visitors will be able to enjoy Kahalu’u for years to come!

7) Two Step/Honaunau Bay

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: Honaunau Bay, commonly called Two Step, should absolutely be on your Big Island itinerary, offering some of the most jaw-dropping snorkeling on the Big Island. Two Step doesn’t have much of a beach to speak of- instead of a sandy shore, you’ll find a solidified lava field. Underwater, however, you’ll find a stunning world of colorful coral, vibrant tropical fish, and sea turtles. 

Photo Credit: Jessica Schmit

Two Step is a bit deeper and can occ/asionally get some larger waves than some of the popular snorkeling spots on the island, so this may be better suited for kids that are older and confident swimmers.If you need a break from the water, Honaunau Bay is literally right next to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, a culturally and historically significant site to Hawaiians. Your family can wander around the grounds and learn about how ancient Hawaiians thought about the sea, religion, and each other, all with the stunning backdrop of Honaunau Bay.

Try this Tour: Captain Cook /Kealakekua Bay

8) Chasing waterfalls

Sarah from Cosmopoliclan blog says: The lush decor of the Big Island’s east coast is the perfect playground little adventurers. In addition to botanical gardens and rocky lava beaches, this area is home to some of the most mesmerizing waterfalls.

Photo Credit: Sarah Vanheel

And the best thing is that several of the waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii are very accessible, even for families with children. Rainbow Falls, for example, can be admired from the parking lot. Even more impressive is 442-ft ‘Akaka Falls. Follow the well-paved loop trail that meanders ‘Akaka Falls State Park past fragrant flowers and giant ferns to reach the viewing platform.

For a dose of adventure, take your kids to Umauma Falls where they can soar over the waterfall during a thrilling zipline experience. Conclude your visit to this 300-ft waterfall with a self-guided garden and river walk or opt for a tour that includes access to the swimming hole.

Also read: Top travel secrets shared by travel blogging Moms

9) Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Lucy and Dan from Thoroughly Travel blog say: Located on the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park sits just south of Kailua-Kona and makes for a great trip out for all the family.

This sacred archaeological site preserves the Place of Refuge where Hawaiians who broke a kapu (an ancient law) could flee to for safety. Those who made it to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau could be absolved by a priest and freed to return to society, avoiding a death sentence.

Photo Credit: Lucy and Dan

Today you can tour the park, which was once home to several generations of Ali’I (powerful chiefs), immerse in Hawaiian culture and explore replicas of temples and buildings which have been rebuilt using traditional materials. Entry is $20 per car, $15 per motorcycle or $10 per person on foot or with a bike, but there are several public holidays per year when entry is free!

10) Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Tabitha from Travel Compositions blog says: Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Hilo is a fantastic place to bring kids on the Big Island. 

The 12-acre zoo has easy paved walking paths to view over 80 species of animals in the only natural occurring rainforest zoo in the United States. You can see animals like Bengal tigers, a two-toed sloth, lemurs, primates, an American alligator, poison dart frogs, and giant anteaters. Parrots of all kinds are scattered around the grounds, some will talk to you and others you might see skateboarding down the trail.

Kids might want to find all the animal shaped benches around the zoo, like a scavenger hunt.

Photo Credit: Tabitha Bailar

The zoo has a surprisingly large playground for kids to let out excess energy. Large umbrellas cover the climbing portions and soft AstroTurf is laid out below the toys. A large covered pavilion with picnic tables keeps parents and picnic food dry.

For an hour on Saturdays there is an open petting zoo where kids can pet animals like goats, pigs, emus, and box turtles.

The best part about the Pana’ewa Zoo is that the entrance is FREE!

11) Richardson Ocean Park

Brandon from Zimmin Around the World blog says: Some of the prettiest beaches with marine life are on the Hilo side of the Big Island. Just a short drive from Hilo there is Carlsmith Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park. Both ocean parks are stunningly beautiful and great for families.

If visitors are looking for a unique beach that is safe for kids and has the potential to spot sea turtles, then Richardson Ocean Park should be high on your priority list.

Photo Credit: Brandon

With its black sand beaches, abundance of tidal pools, picnic areas, and facilities Richardson Ocean Park is a great place for families to come to, relax, and not have to worry about dangerous ocean conditions.

Besides the beach itself and black sand, another highlight of visiting Richardson Ocean Park is the potential opportunity to spot sea turtles. It is possible to see the turtles laying on rocks or swimming within the tidal pools. In case there are turtles in the area, always remember to be respectful and give them space.

12) Stargazing at Mauna Kea Visitor Center

Anu from Destination Checkoff blog says: Big Island of Hawaii is known for its beaches and warm weather, but it is lesser known that it is home to Mauna Kea volcano mountain. There is an observatory at the Mauna Kea Summit and adults and kids older than 16 years can go to the Mauna Kea summit for stargazing. 

Photo Credit: Adrian Malec from Pixabay

If you have younger kids, you can still drive up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center and do stargazing from there. The visitor center is at a much lower elevation than the summit, but it is still at an elevation of 9000 feet. Stargazing at Mauna Kea summit or at Mauna Kea visitor center is a unique activity to try with kids on a trip to Big Island

The clear skies at Mauna Kea without light pollution makes it ideal for stargazing. Bring some warm jackets and winter caps, as it is very cold up there. Believe it or not, yes you will need winter jackets in Hawaii on Mauna Kea!

Try this Tour: Mauna Kea Summit Sunset and Stars

13) Waipio Valley

David & Intan of The World Travel Guy blog say: The Waipio Valley is easily one of the most scenic and famous views on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s a lush green valley with waterfalls and 2,000 foot cliffs, plus a black sand beach at the end of the valley.

This viewpoint is located on the Hamakua coast, in the north part of the Big Island. The road to go down into the valley is closed sometimes, but you can still enjoy the amazing views from the overlook above the valley. It’s free to visit, easy to reach, and very worthwhile for the postcard photos and wonderful scenery!

14) Submarine Tour

Enjoy this unique experience with your little ones and go on a submarine deep under the ocean to see an explosion of colorful sea life. Be mindful of age restrictions for little kids before booking your tour. Some tour operators offer parent swap, where you can swap your little babies between parents and the other parent can go on the tour. As you dive deep down underwater, the captain of the submarine gives an interesting talk about all the sea creatures you see there.

Try this tour: Atlantis Submarine Kona – Hawaii Island

More experiences:

Snorkel & Dolphin Watch Aboard a Luxury Catamaran
Big Island Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour
Historical Dinner Cruise to Kealakekua Bay
Voyagers of the Pacific Luau
Big Island Zipline Over KoleKole Falls

Have a wonderful visit to the Big Island. Aloha and Mahalo!

Also read: Best useful gift ideas for travelers that they actually like!

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About Priyadarshini Rajendran 202 Articles
Priyadarshini Rajendran is a travel enthusiast, avid reader and a passionate writer. She has a few of her books published and is writing more books. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software consultant taking breaks for her travels. Her blog is her passion and she writes about travel, books and food on the blog. She offers customized itineraries for South Indian destinations.

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