Imagine the perfect family travel destination, one with waving palms, a stable tropical climate, gorgeous beaches, fragrant flowers, sparkling waterfalls, lush rainforest, epic volcanoes, mesmerizing national parks and the most amazing family hotels and resorts. If that’s the kind of holiday you’re dreaming of, then Hawaii holidays for families are what you’re looking for. There’s no better destination to unplug and discover nature’s wonders. If time is not an issue then you could go island-hopping in Hawaii. But for most families, that’s is not an option. And that’s okay because one week is perfect to discover one Hawaiian island of your choice. But which is the best island in Hawaii for families? And what are some fun things to do in Hawaii with kids? Continue reading to find out which island in Hawaii to visit.
There are over 140 islands in Hawaii, 6 of which can be visited. Most tourists, however, only visit the 4 largest islands – Maui, Oahu, Hawaii Big Island and/or Kauai – so, we’ll zoom in on each of these destinations.
The best island in Hawaii for families with young kids: Maui
If you’re traveling to Hawaii with kids aged 0 to 6, we’d certainly recommend to spend your family vacation on Maui. Why? Because Maui is home to some amazing family-friendly resorts, has some cute little towns and offers plenty of options for little explorers. It’s perfect for a Hawaiian vacation with toddlers because you can enjoy the island to the fullest without compromising on comfort. That’s exactly what makes Maui the best Hawaiian island for families with young kids.
Fun things to do on Maui with kids
We dedicated an entire post to the best things to do in Maui with kids with detailed information and plenty of pictures. Here’s an overview:
- Explore the first stops along the Road to Hana, such as Twin Falls. Don’t push it. Halfway to Hana is as fun for the kids.
- Join a lei-making class in your Maui resort.
- Go snorkeling at Black Rock or Kapalua Bay. Better yet, go on a snorkeling trip to the Molokini crater.
- Hug the giant Maui banyan tree in Lahaina.
- Attend a Maui luau.
- Visit mystic ‘Iao Valley State Park.
- Watch the sunrise from the volcano summit at Haleakala National Park. Optionally, book a tour that includes zip-lining and a volcano bike tour.
- Take a family-friendly Maui hike such as the Kapalua Coastal hike.
- Join a whale-watching cruise.
- Explore Maui’s verdant nature at the Maui Tropical Plantation.
- Visit the Maui Ocean Center.
- Learn how to surf as a family.
- Try the local delicacy, a shave’ ice. (And no, that’s not a spelling mistake. Check out our article on the Hawaiian language to find out why it’s written this way.)
- Take a day trip to the remote island of Lanai.
Best Maui resorts for families
We dedicated an entire article on the best places to stay in Maui but basically, you’ll want to spend your family vacation in either Kaanapali (West-Maui) or Wailea (South-Maui). Here are our favorite Maui resorts for families:
The Grand Wailea Resort & Spa, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, with its beachfront location and amazing pool complete with waterslides, a lazy river and a swinging rope. An alternative is the Four Seasons Resort Maui, which is pricey but smaller in size, yet offering the same child-friendly amenities.
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa with beachfront access, a fabulous pool with waterslides, resident flamingos and koi’s to feed. It’s located at Kaanapali beach, known for its perfect boogie boarding conditions, next to Whaler’s Village, where you can find plenty of shops and restaurants.
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa with its lagoon pool, lazy river and, again, beachfront access. This Maui resort is located at Black rock, known for its perfect snorkeling conditions, and next to Whaler’s village.
Downsides of this Hawaii island for family vacations
- You need a rental car to discover Maui’s highlights. We can highly recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental for a hassle-free booking and highly competitive rates (based on personal experience on several islands).
- All resorts charge resort fees so it’s recommended to compare which ones offer most added value to your travel style.
- Several family-friendly activities in Maui require advance reservations. Much to our regret, we missed out on the Haleakala National Park sunrise because we didn’t book beforehand.
The best island in Hawaii for families looking for a carefree holiday and tour services: Oahu
If you’re traveling to Hawaii with kids and look forward to a mix of city life, world-class shopping and exciting excursions then we’d recommend spending your Hawaii family vacation on Oahu. This is the only Hawaiian island where you can visit many tourist sites without renting a car, thanks to a variety of excursion options and public transport. Your hotel concierge can assist you in selecting the most family-friendly tours and routes.
Fun things to do on Oahu with kids
- Interact with the animals at the Honolulu Zoo.
- Go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.
- Visit Pearl Harbour with skip-the-line access.
- Take a dip in Waimea Falls.
- Take a family surfing lesson at Waikiki beach.
- Get your dose of pineapple at the Dole Plantation.
- Explore the breathtaking Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens.
- Discover the underwater world from a glass-bottom boat.
- Build a sand-castle at Lanikai Beach.
- Discover the amazing performances while learning all about Hawaiian culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
- Go horseback riding at Kualoa Ranch.
- Visit the Japanese Buddhist temple Byodo-In.
- Watch an Oahu Luau.
- Hike to the Diamond Head crater.
- Have a shave’ ice at Matsumoto’s.
Best Oahu resorts for families
Honolulu hotels and resorts come in all shapes and sizes but you’ll find some amazing kid-friendly resorts on other locations as well so don’t limit yourself to Waikiki.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, with its enchanting vibe, meet and greet with Disney characters, amazing pool with waterslides and snorkelling reef, private marina and family pool parties. This fabulous Oahu family resort is located in tranquil Ko Olina, away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu.
This category is very well represented in Honolulu. The Hilton Hawaiian Village is known to be the most popular choice for families but it’s super-big, making it too crowded for our taste.
We loved our stay in the Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach, with its small but elegant pool area, lei-making classes, hula lessons, giant aquarium with tropical fish and amazing food choices (the breakfast buffet was just fabulous). Check out our review of the ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach to learn more.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds all-together, then the North Shore is where you want to be. The Turtle Bay Resort is a family favorite thanks to horseback riding, outrigger canoe trips, ukelele lessons, windsurfing and the wonderful pool with waterfall and slide.
If you’re not necessarily looking for the best-equipped pool but prefer a convenient location and easy beach access, then the Hotel LaCroix and The Surfjack Hotel are solid and fresh options.
Downsides of this Hawaii island for families
- Traffic can get bad, especially during rush hour.
- This is the most popular island and you can tell from the lines at some of the must-see spots.
- Several family-friendly activities on Oahu require advance reservations.
- Honolulu is a city so it comes with the typical city problems. We noticed homeless people hanging around at Waikiki, especially near Kapiolani park, but never felt unsafe.
The best island in Hawaii for families with older kids: Big Island
If you’re traveling to Hawaii with kids and look forward to explore the real Hawaii, then we’d recommend spending your Hawaii family vacation on the Big Island. It’s the place to be for exciting adventures and unique experiences with kids aged 7 and up. This island sure brought out our inner adventurer. Don’t expect the same style as you’ll find on the previous Hawaiian islands, though. The Big Island is all-natural, lush and wild.
Fun things to do on Big Island with kids
- This island is home to 6 volcanoes, including the Mauna Loa, the Mauna Kea and the Kilauea. Check out more record-breaking features about this volcano in our list of facts about Hawaii volcanoes. No better place to start your Big Island adventure than in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can even explore the crater of the world’s most active volcano. We hiked the Kilauea Iki trail and it was an epic experience.
- Explore the unique Papakolea green sand beach.
- Dip you toes in sparkling black sand beaches.
- Swim with turtles at Carlsmith Beach Park.
- Chase the wonderful waterfalls of the Big Island, such as Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls.
- Feel on top of the world by taking one of the amazing Big Island hikes.
- Learn about Hawaiian culture at the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park.
- See the Captain Cook monument at Kealakekua Bay.
- Join a Manta Ray Night Dive.
- Go star-gazing at the top of the Mauna Kea.
- Dance the night away during a Big Island luau.
- Go on a horseback tour in of the seven valleys along the Kohala coast, such as Waipio Valley a.k.a. The Valley of the Kings.
Best Big Island Hawaii hotels for families
We dedicated an entire article on the best places to stay on Big Island but basically, you’ll want to split your time between the windward coast near Hilo and the leeward coast in Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa. You won’t find any family resorts on the windward side, though, just one decent hotel and that’s the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton. Here are our favorite Big Island resorts for families on the leeward side:
The most popular family resort in Hawaii is the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Enjoy the sprawling grounds complete airconditioned trams, resort gondolas, waterfall pools, a Dolphin Quest lagoon and a suspension bridge.
For a less theme-park like atmosphere, head to the The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, with its enviable location along the island’s most popular white sand beach, or the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, with its massive oceanfront pool.
The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is a haven of tranquility, located between some of the most mesmerizing bays of the Big Island. This luxurious resort has plenty to offer for kids too, such as a snorkeling pond, cultural classes and tennis courts. Guests of this little gem enjoy a wonderful garden with a pool and the most amazing ocean views, a sumptuous breakfast and spacious rooms. This is one of the most romantic retreats in Hawaii for families with teenage kids.
Downsides of this Hawaii island for family vacations
- If you want to make the most of your visit, we’d recommend splitting up your stay. There are no resorts in the Hilo area, simply because you won’t find any sandy beaches there and this area gets quite a bit of rain.
- This island is called Big for a reason. Highlights are spread out over the island, resulting in long drives. Traffic at Kailua-Kona is really bad, even outside of rush hour. Be prepared to spend quite some time in the car. Look for a comfortable one here.
- The windward coast is known for its unpredictable weather and frequent showers. Then again, this is exactly what creates the lush nature and waterfalls you’ll find on this side of the island.
- Just like in Maui, all resorts charge resort fees so it’s recommended to compare which ones offer most added value to your travel style.
The best island in Hawaii for outdoorsy families: Kauai
If you’re traveling to Hawaii with kids and look for a more off-the-grid experience, then we’d recommend spending your Hawaii family vacation on Kauai. It’s the place to be for long and challenging hikes, thrilling adventures and secluded beaches hidden in between rugged cliffs. Kauai, the oldest and northernmost of Hawaiian islands, is just as all-natural as the Big Island but even more lush and untamed.
Fun things to do on Kauai with kids
- Take a boat ride along the jaw-dropping cliffs of Na Pali Coast State Park.
- Explore the quaint surfer’s town of Hanalei on the North shore.
- Go river tubing on the grounds of an old sugar plantation.
- Take an airplane or helicopter tour above Waimea Canyon State Park or, for a more active experience, try one of the spectacular Waimea Canyon hikes.
- Explore Wailua River State Park with its fern-lined grotto and sparkling waterfalls.
- Go snorkelling in the Tunnels a.k.a. Makua Beach.
- Explore the Kilohana plantation by train.
- Discover the tropical flowers in the Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden.
- Attend a Kauai luau performance.
- Take in the Waimea Canyon views from the Kalalau lookout.
Best Kauai resorts for families
Kauai is the only island in this list that we haven’t visited ourselves. But, since we did consider it for our family vacation in Hawaii, we actually did quite some research on this amazing island. Here’s an overview of the places we’d consider staying at:
The ISO (Island – Sky – Ocean) with its gorgeous views and central location.
The renovated Sheraton Kauai at Coconut Beach with its wonderful pool area which is entirely torch lit at night.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort with its spacious rooms, beachfront location and massive pool complex complete with waterfalls and slides.
Downsides of this Hawaii island for families
- Depending on the seasons (and your mindset), the weather can be somewhat of a dealbreaker. Kauai is so tropically lush thanks to the rainfall. This island is even home to the wettest place on earth: Mount Waialeale. May to September are usually the driest months and Poipu and Lihue the drier areas.
- Driving times add up on Kauai, even for short distances, because the lay-out of the land only allows a limited number of roads. Parking space is limited for most attractions and parking spots are notoriously small. We’d strongly recommend renting a smaller car. You’ll find plenty of options on Discount Hawaii Car Rental.
- Only a handful of beaches are suited for swimming. dangerous currents, rip tides, and hammering surf.
How about Molokai and Lanai?
Two other Hawaiian islands that are open to tourists are Lanai and Molokai. Since these are rather small and very off-grid, we don’t recommend them for Hawaii vacations for families. But that doesn’t mean you can’t visit these islands on a day trip.
- Lanai makes for an excellent day trip from Maui. You can get there by ferry from Lahaina.
- Molokai can be reached by plane from Honolulu but you need a permit to access.
Which island in Hawaii will you choose for your next family vacation?
Well, that’s it for this article on the best Hawaiian islands for families. if you have been on a family trip to one of these islands then, we’d love to hear all about it. And if you’re yet to visit, we can’t wait to find out which Hawaiian island appeals to you the most. The comment box is all yours.
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