There are plenty of activities on Hawaii’s Big Island that you and your kids will enjoy.
If travelling with kids, by all means make an itinerary. But be prepared to toss it if things go astray. Having a fairly flexible itinerary is a good idea even if you’re travelling to the Big Island without kids, but it is even more necessary when you have kids. With your time scheduled out to the hour, you will be met with disappointment and frustration as you find that everything takes longer than planned—especially getting from one place to another, and your kids don’t have the stamina to take it all in at warp speed.
You are best off prioritizing a list of things you would like to do and check them off one at a time. Here are some activities to consider adding to your list:
- · Boogie Boarding – This is a must for kids (if old enough). Kids can boogie board for hours if the conditions are just right. Adults can too but I have found that the more you weigh the more work it can be. If you are tiny and light, you can ride a boogie board for a long, long way. Kids are quick to learn where the best waves are in a certain area and how to master all the skills they need. If you are wondering where to go, try Mauna Kea or Hapuna beach.
- · Hilo Hattie – If you have never been to a Hilo Hattie, you gotta go. If you have been to one, I’ll let you judge if you want to go back or not. This shop covers every Hawaiian stereotype you might have. You can buy a bright bold Hawaiian shirt, a coconut bra, or a can of macadamia nuts. Some call the place cheesy and I would probably agree, but I still love the place. We stop there every time we visit a Hawaiian Island. Unless they have changed their policy since the writing of this guide, you will get a free seashell lei upon entry to the store. There are two Hilo Hatties on the Big Island. One is in Kona (5597 Palani Road). The other is in Hilo (111 East Puainako Street). They are open 365 days a year but their hours are slightly modified on holidays.
- · Pana ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens – This 12 acre zoo hosts over 80 animal species including a white Bengal tiger named Namaste. There is a petting zoo and a daily feeding of the tiger (see website for up to date schedule). The best part is that it’s free. You can find the zoo by driving south from Hilo on highway 11 and turning right on Mamaki Street.
- · ‘Imiloa – Learn about astronomy and Hawaiian culture in the award-winning astronomy center in Hilo (600 Imiloa place). There are over 100 exhibits and a state-of-the-art planetarium with plenty to see and do.
- · Liliuokalani Gardens/Coconut Island – Liliuokalani Park and Gardens is a 30 acre park with Japanese Gardens (said to be the largest outside of Japan). The park is tranquil and consists of bridges, koi ponds, statues, pagodas, and a Japanese teahouse. Coconut Island is a small island connected to the park with a small bridge. It is a great place for picnics and for little kids to splash in the water. It is located off of Banyan drive in Hilo.
- · Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm – This really is a seahorse farm that breeds 15 species of seahorses. It is a family business that started in 1998. Tours are given daily at noon and 2 p.m. and kids can feed and hold seahorses. This is a very unique experience that comes at a cost. See their website for up to date ticket pricing. You can save a few bucks by purchasing your ticket online. It is located just behind the Kona airport (4388 Ilikai Place).
- · Atlantis Submarine ride – Take a ride through a 25 acre coral reef aboard a 48-passenger submarine. Dive down 100 feet to see coral and marine life. You must be at least 36 inches tall to ride the submarine, though, so check your children’s height before you go to avoid disappointment.
- · Waipi’o Valley Wagon Tours – I listed Waipi’o Valley as one of the places you must experience. The trail down into the valley is steep and not really a good idea for little guys and little gals. An alternative to those young ones with short legs would be to take a ride down in a four wheel drive and a ride around the valley on a mule drawn wagon (both included in one fee). See the taro fields and the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii. Reservations are required.
What you will find when you visit the Big Island is that there are all kinds of kids’ activities all around you: eating shave ice, playing in the pool at your resort, or participating in the kid-specific programs at your hotel, like lei making or ukulele playing.
After one well-planned vacation to Disneyland and SeaWorld, I asked my kids what the best part of the vacation was. They both gave the same answer, “Swimming at the pool in the hotel.” Gee, we could have done that without leaving town. So you don’t always have to find something amazing to entertain your kids. They may surprise you with something extremely simple and cheap that you weren’t looking for.