1/5 Hawai’i (The Big Island)
As the name implies, Hawaii is the largest and most diverse of the islands. Try to spend the majority of your visit on the Kona side (west) with its stark lava fields and mega resorts, but also book a few days on the Hilo side (east) where it’s wetter, more lush and closer to Volcanoes National Park.
A visit to Volcanoes National Park is a must. Kilauea has been erupting since 1983 and the red-hot lava flows are sometimes visible, especially after dark. When hiking here, make sure to wear closed-toe shoes and make sure the kids don’t pocket any lava rocks, or Pele, the goddess of the volcano is said to curse you with bad luck!
Tour the Kona Coffee Living History Farm near Captain Cook to understand why coffee is king on the Big Island. Take the twisting Saddle Road to the top of Mauna Kea for stargazing at the observatory. From Hilo, it’s a 90-minute drive (keep in mind, you’ll be driving back down in the dark). And dress warmly! It’s cold at the 14,000 ft summit.
Accommodation: Surprisingly, not every beachfront hotel has beach access; the Fairmont Orchid near Waikoloa does, though. Green sea turtles even bask on its sugar-sand beach every afternoon and the hotel has a pool, outrigger canoes, paddle boards, snorkeling, tennis and golf.
The Keiki Aloha children’s program caters to kids aged 5-12. The hotel offers lei making and weaving classes, plus archeological hikes to the nearby petroglyph fields. Starting at $240 per night.
On the Hilo side, consider a stay at Treehouse Skye. Perched 20 ft up in a rainforest canopy, this one-of-a-kind resort for adventure-seeking families is just outside the national park. Children must be at least 8 years old. Starting at $157 per night.
A popular destination for visitors, the Valley Isle of Maui is the perfect playground for an active family.
For older kids who aren’t afraid of the water, board America II, an authentic America’s Cup racing boat in Lahaina, for a wild ride. Dress warmly and bring dry clothes – you’ll get soaked!
Or for families of any age, take a snorkeling trip with Four Winds II out of Ma’alea Harbor to Molokini, a submerged crater and marine preserve, or Coral Gardens. The catamaran even has a waterslide and glass bottom viewing room! If you’re feeling independent, snorkel Black Rock near the Hyatt Regency on your own. Learn to surf with Maui Beach Boys or watch the pros on the world-famous North Shore.
There’s plenty of adventure on land with Maui Zipline. The plantation has tandem lines, so you can experience flight with your kids (they must be aged five and up). Or, hike the Twin Falls Trail, featuring waterfalls, swimming holes and one of the better snack stands on the Road to Hana.
Accommodation: The pool area at the Grand Wailea is unbeatable. It’s actually nine pools on six different levels with caves, slides, waterfalls, lazy river, rope swing and swim-up bar. On the beach, you can kayak, paddle board and snorkel. The resort also has a kids’ center and teen lounge. Starting at $209 per night.
The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, located in Kaanapali, offers a kid-friendly pool with slides and a lazy river, hula lessons and lei-making classes. Or your kids can boogie board the day away on the hotel beach. The restaurants at nearby Whalers Village are a less-expensive option to hotel dining, too. Rates start at $178.
Oahu, nicknamed the Gathering Place, is the most urban and most visited of the Hawaiian Islands. Along with history, it offers families a hefty dose of Hawaiian hospitality.
Skip the overpriced hotel luau and head to legendary Duke’s Waikiki, named after Hawaii’s father of surfing, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
And don’t leave Maui without trying the tropical flavors of Hawaiian shaved ice.
Visit Pearl Harbor’s historic sites to fully understand the events that finally pulled the US into WWII. Buy your tickets in advance online.
The most popular hike on Oahu is the Diamond Head Summit Trail, but it may be too strenuous for young families. Alternatively, consider an easier trek to Pali Lookout for panoramic vistas or Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail for tide pools and possible glimpses of whales breaching offshore.
Famed Waikiki Beach boasts the best weather on the island. But the white sands of Kailua Beach offer something for everyone, without the huge crowds.
Kailua’s west side is blessed with non-threatening waves, but enough surf to keep the kids entertained on boogie boards. The east side is protected by an outer reef, making it ideal for smaller children.
Accommodation: If your family is looking for the comforts of home with a fully-equipped kitchen and washer/dryer, try Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. It boasts a child-friendly private lagoon and three swimming pools. Starting at $314 per night.
Of course, no one does family-friendly better than Disney. Aulani, a new Disney resort, has a mind-boggling list of kid amenities, but the price tag is on the steeper side. Starting at $350.
Once a secret paradise, Kauai, also known as the Garden Island, has been discovered! If your family is looking for unparalleled Hawaiian beauty, Kauai is your destination.
If you’re going to take a helicopter tour, Kauai is the island to do it, as much of Kauai’s beauty can only be seen from the air. Fly over Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the breathtaking Na Pali coast.
Explore sea caves along the Na Pali coast in a Zodiac raft boat with Kauai Sea Tours. Tours include snorkeling and don’t be surprised if you’re led by a pod of dolphins! Waters can be a little rough, so kids must be aged seven and up.
Accommodation: Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is an ideal family retreat. While it doesn’t have a swim beach, it does have a saltwater lagoon and gorgeous pool with waterfalls and slide. There’s also kayaks, tennis, golf and Camp Hyatt with its colorful parrots. Starting at $298.
Lanai is the smallest Hawaiian island open to visitors, and as of 2012, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, owns 98% of the island with the remaining 2% owned by the State of Hawaii. If your family is looking for a quiet, no-crowds vacation, Lanai can serve as your own private island.
Take a free shuttle to Manele Bay’s sister property, Four Seasons The Lodge at Koele, where in this countryside setting you can enjoy horseback riding, golf, miniature golf and croquet.
Getting there: It’s best to combine a trip to Lanai with Maui. From Maui, you take a 40-minute ferry to Lanai. If you travel from December to April, you’ll have an excellent chance of spotting whales along the way, too – and means you can skip the rental car on this island.
The luxury family choice is the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay. Perched atop a red lava cliff, the hotel caters to families with a kids’ camp, teen center, tennis and golf, plus gifts for the kids and free use of snorkeling gear. Starting at $370.