5 Fantastic Things to do in Hawaii’s Big Island with Kids
The Big Island of Hawaii is the destination for big dreams, big adventures and big moment after big moment. It’s one big playground for the whole family! And my family dove right in: climbing atop the world’s most active volcano, spotting gigantic humpback whales, swimming with the most lovable dolphins, roasting our very own organic coffee, and exploring dreamlike black sand beaches teeming with sea turtles and other magical marine life!
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Here are our family’s recommendations for the top 5 best things do in Hawaii’s Big Island:
1. WATERFALLS, WAVES, VOLCANOES & ADVENTURE!
Looking for adventure combined with education? Head to Hawaii Forest & Trail (HFT). At HFT, they pride themselves on being “Your guide to big adventure.”
In 1994, Rob Pacheco, a well-known naturalist, and his wife Cindy created HFT to share their passion for Hawaii’s natural history while helping to conserve endangered environments through education. Their small group and private tours allow you to discover Hawaii’s unique natural elements — waterfalls, volcanoes, coffee farms — while expertly guiding you off-the-beaten-path to find some hidden gems.
My gang opted for the Twilight Volcano Tour. And it was AMAZING!!! We started our adventure by boldly hiking over a quarter mile into a lava tube. At one point, we all turned off our flashlights, stood in complete darkness and absorbed the eerie silence — totally cool!
Then we entered Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to explore the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. While there, we visited the fantastic Jaggar Science Museum, learned about Hawaiian mythology, walked along hardened lava fields, saw smoke vents, and watched the breathtaking ocean waves crash fiercely into a beautiful sea arch.
To top off our unforgettable experience, at the end of a deserted trail we sat under the twinkling stars listening to the sounds of the night as we enjoyed a tasty picnic feast. For the grand finale, we watched the caldera smolder fiery red in the night sky. Wow! A Hawaii Forest & Trail tour is a must-do while on the Big Island!
2. Swim with Dolphins!
Oh those adorable dolphins — my girls fell in love with them! And being able to swim with them was an enchanting experience.
We met our dolphin buddies at Dolphin Quest, located at Hilton Waikoloa Village’s ocean-fed lagoon. The passionate trainers educated us on the dolphins’ lives, habits and care. Not only are these splashing guys delightful, but they are really smart! Watching them jump in spirals 15 feet in the air, respond to our hand signals, eat the fish we hand-fed them, and speedily swim beneath our legs truly lived up to all the hype.
And I think the dolphins loved us back. They let us rub their smooth skin and then puckered up for some dolphin smooches! Because you’re going to want to capture every magical moment, Dolphin Quest provides pictures from professional photographers which are available to purchase. You are also welcome to take your own photos and videos from designated viewing areas. Before swimming with the dolphins, you can eat at the yummy Lagoon Grill as you watch the dolphins at play.
As an added bonus, plan your dolphin experience on a night that Hilton is hosting its famous Legends of Hawaii Luau, which presents ancestral Hawaiian songs (mele) and dance (the famous hula) while telling the epic stories of Hawaii under the stars, all while you feast on a lavish Hawaiian buffet. We loved our new dolphin BFFs and our enchanting luau. What an exhilarating day on the Big Island that we will always remember!
3. This Tour’s Not Just Exciting…IT’S EPIC!!!
The ideal way to add some adventure into your touring of the Big Island is to book with Epic Tours. We joined James, the owner, for a three-hour exploration of gorgeous Hilo. What makes Epic unique is that every tour is customized for adventurous clientele. Snorkeling, off-roading, exotic food tasting, hiking, cliff-diving, waterfall hunting: you name it — it can all be arranged!
James calls himself a “genie in a jeep” and aims to make your wishes come true. My girls had their wishes all ready: find sea turtles, hunt for waterfalls and, most of all, have fun! James delivered his magic and granted all three wishes.
We climbed lava rocks and tidal pools to find five sea turtles, discovered eight magnificent waterfalls, went swinging from the branches of a humongous banyan tree, discovered some locals-only spots in Hilo and ended our tour at a famous candy store. (Who wouldn’t wish for that?) When you book, be sure to specify how much adventure you seek and how active your party is! Our Epic Tour had all four of us smiling with delight!
4. THAR SHE BLOWS!
Sail the seas looking for humpback whales; our whale-watching excursion totally blew us away! Our early morning whale-watching cruise with Ocean Sports was incredible.
We began sailing the serene blue waters on a beautiful spacious catamaran with a cheerful crew. The relaxing mood continued with Bob Marley reggae tunes playing softly in the background. We all laid back in the sun as our captain and the crew of trained naturalists quizzed us about whales.
And then, the whale experience began. My girls were amazed to be able to listen to the humpback’s haunting songs when the crew set up the hydrophones. Suddenly, there they were; we spotted at least a half-dozen different humpback whales in only two hours! The crew was wonderful at calling out all whale sightings and everyone on the boat was so excited pointing and snapping pictures. You feel part of a team of whale watchers, all working together to track the whales. It was a humongous good time!
Tip: Morning trips are guaranteed to see a humpback or you can ride again for free. Kids ages 6-12 ride for half price and kids under 6 always ride for free.
5. COOL BEANS!
Visit a coffee farm and roast your own beans! My girls may not be coffee lovers just yet, but they sure loved being coffee roasters. A short ride from Kona, way up in the cloud forest, we visited Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, the largest organic coffee farm in the nation.
We booked one of their three-hour VIP tours. The fascinating tour included exploring the lush orchards, picking organic coffee “cherry” berries from the trees, learning the steps of the complicated harvesting process, and then training for how to roast our own coffee beans. We were shocked to learn how many steps are involved with growing, harvesting and roasting coffee beans.
My girls listened intently, and then each roasted her own bag of beans. It smelled simply wonderful! The girls got to take home their coffee creations (a great souvenir for their parents!). When our tour ended, we recalled our roasting adventure as we sat outside in the charming picnic area and ate a delicious lunch provided by Mt. Thunder.
Tip: Mt. Thunder also offers a brief complimentary tour at the top of every hour, Monday through Sunday from 10 am until 4 pm. The tour includes free samples of their award winning 100% Kona Coffee.
Where to Stay
Hawaii may very well be the most stunningly beautiful place in the world! We found the perfect home base to begin our exploration at Hilton Waikoloa Village. We absolutely loved our 8-night stay! Right on the ocean, the resort offers all sorts of fun adventures of its own: multiple pools, water slides, lagoon activities, mini-golf course and even some fun classes on Hawaiian culture. The restaurants are delicious and very family-friendly.
So we’ve shared some of our favorite personal adventures, but there’s so much more to do on the Big Island: great snorkeling, swimming with manta rays, horseback riding, zip-lining, submarine rides, and just lounging on the beach under the Hawaiian sun. So get ready to start checking off things on your family’s bucket list and creating some life-long memories for you all to share.
You may also enjoy:
- Parasailing in Hawaii
- Horseback Riding in Hawaii
- Big Island Day Trip! Things to Do in Hilo, Hawaii
- My Child’s Healing Make-A-Wish Trip to Hilton Waikoloa Village
Lisa’s family was provided with discounted and/or complimentary tours so that she could review them for your information. Lisa chose the above tours based on their solid TripAdvisor and other reviews.
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
Know Before You Go
- Hawaii consists of eight main islands: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and The Big Island.
- Hawaii has its own time zone (Hawaiian Standard Time). This time zone is 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time. Hawaii also doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time!
- It is considered rude to refuse to wear a Lei if someone offers it.