Aloha, fellow family vacation planners!
I’ve been on a mission to uncover the ultimate Hawaiian island for your next unforgettable family holiday. You know, that perfect paradise where kids and adults alike can unwind, explore, and create lifelong memories together?
For months, I’ve been researching and preparing like crazy for this family adventure with my boyfriend. We took our nieces and nephews (and their parents too!) along to experience firsthand the best each Hawaiian island has to offer. We checked out splendid resorts, frolicked on miles of sugary sand beaches, swam alongside mesmerizing marine life, and hiked to breathtaking waterfalls.
Now I’m ready to share all the valuable insights we gathered during our tropical escapades so you can make an informed decision and choose the ideal island tailored just right for your family’s unique preferences.
Warning: Once you discover the ins and outs of these enchanting islands through this article’s lens, it might be nearly impossible to resist daydreaming about your upcoming trip during work hours. Not responsible if caught by boss!
Time to dive in – let’s embark on this virtual island-hopping journey together!
Oahu – Best Hawaiian Island for Kids
When it comes to visiting Hawaii with family, there’s no better island than Oahu, as it has activities for children of all ages, from toddlers to teens. My boyfriend and I always take our nieces and nephews to Oahu, and they can never get enough of the island’s seemingly never-ending attractions.
Some great activities you can do in Oahu are; taking kids to Waikiki to swim in its great beach, seeing marine life up close in the Sea Life Park, and shopping in the island’s best malls on the South side. On the North shore, you can visit the island’s best surfing beaches and the Polynesian Cultural Center for an amazing luau.
In addition, Oahu is more budget-friendly for families than the other islands and has more comfortable accommodations for large groups, like the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Disney Aulani Resort, and the Turtle Bay Resort.
So if you’re a first-timer in Hawaii or even need a failsafe for your family vacation, there’s really no better island than Oahu for an all-around fun time.
Family-Friendly Activities in Oahu
Below I’ve listed some fun activities you can try out in Oahu with your family and the best places for them on the island.
Go surfing on the North shore
Oahu’s North Shore is infamous for its surfing beaches which have surfing tournaments each year in the winter. So you can watch the epic display of experts riding the waves and even try your hand at surfing from the North shore’s best surf schools.
Some great beaches for surfing in Oahu for beginner and advanced surfers are Haleiwa beach, Waimea Bay on the North shore, and even Waikiki beach on the South side.
My boyfriend and I like taking refresher classes in surfing at these beaches whenever we visit and booking a one-on-one lesson for the kids where they can learn the basics.
However, make sure to come during the summer months for surfing in Oahu, as this season has the calmest waves.
Visit the Kualoa Ranch
A wonderland for the family who loves outdoor activities is the Kualoa Ranch on Oahu’s East shore. This privately-owned ranch extends for 4000 acres from the lush Ko’olau Mountain range and has been the filming site of famous Hollywood movies like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Pearl Harbor, and many others.
We love taking the kids to Kualoa Ranch for horseback walking trips, ziplining over the valley, and taking an ATV ride through gorgeous rainforests.
However, you have to book tours to visit the ranch, which includes exploring the valley and learning about the ranch’s rich history from expert guides.
Have Breakfast with Disney characters
For the young and the young at heart, Disney’s Aulani Resort on the West shore offers a family breakfast with a Disney character Meet-and-Greet every weekend.
The likes of Mickey, Goofy, Daffy, and Minnie will grace each table with hellos and high-fives and take kids to a stage set up in the dining area for fun activities. So while the kids engage in Disney songs and dance, adults can enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet setup.
My boyfriend and I love taking our nieces to the Disney breakfast at the Aulani resort since they’re die-hard fans, and you can always leave with a family photo with the characters.
Swim with sea turtles
It’s no trip to Oahu without spending time with the island’s native marine life, especially the Hawaiian green sea turtles which frequent its shores. You can spot a ton of turtles on the Laniakea beach on the North shore, which is infamously called Turtle beach.
Laniakea beach has calm waters perfect for kids to swim and snorkel with the turtles, especially during the summers. And if you can’t go in the water, the turtles also lounge and sunbathe on the sand, and you can spot dozens at a time.
So what makes Oahu the best Hawaiian Island for families?
Our family loves Oahu, and we could go on about its charms forever, but here are a few reasons why it’s the best place for your family too:
- Most family activities are in the Waikiki and downtown Honolulu areas which are within walking distance from the main hotels and accessible through public transportation.
- Oahu is the most budget-friendly island in Hawaii for families.
- There are often discounts for children on admission fees and tickets to places like luaus, aquariums, zoos, gardens, etc.
Maui – Best Island for Family Beaches
The next island on our list (but first for many people) is Maui, Hawaii’s second-largest island, with the most outdoor activities for families. Maui is also the best island for families with teens, as they can enjoy scuba diving, hiking to waterfalls, and even riding bikes down a volcano.
However, you can find great activities for the whole family in Maui, as the West and South shores have incredible swimming and snorkeling beaches, the East side has a terrific road trip leading to Hana town, and a hike up the dormant Haleakala volcano.
As for places to stay, Maui is known for its luxury resorts and villas like the Grand Wailea, the Four Seasons, and the Ritz-Carlton, which is where most people stay. But you can also find great budget accommodations in Kihei on the South shore, like Airbnbs and hostels, which are comfortable and spacious.
In addition, families should consider that Maui is the most expensive island to stay in Hawaii, and the lack of public transportation around the island means you’ll need to rent a car. However, if you stick to outdoor activities in public places and visit during shoulder season when there are great discounts, you can save a lot on your trip to Maui.
Family-Friendly Activities in Maui
Below I’ve listed the most fun activities in Maui for the whole family, which you’re bound to enjoy as these are the best of the best.
Exploring the terrific beaches
As promised, Maui is the best island for the beach-loving family as it has amazing beaches on the West and South shores. There are gentle waves, protected waters, and lifeguards on duty all day on Maui’s beaches, making them ideal for families with kids.
You can take younger children to Baby beach, known for its calm and safe waters, and older kids for cliff-diving from Black Rock and incredible snorkeling at Ka’anapali beach.
Some other great beaches are Kamaole I, II, and III, Charley Young beach, and Makena beach, which stretch for miles of golden sands, have warm waters, and are great for a long walk, having a picnic, or for children to run around on.
Snorkeling with marine life
There’s no doubt that Maui promises the best snorkeling in Hawaii, as its shores house the most marine life and have great underwater visibility. Some sea creatures you’re bound to see while snorkeling in Maui are green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, schools of colorful fish, monk seals, and even humpback whales during winter.
If you want to try snorkeling within the island, head to Black Rock at the Ka’anapali beach, which has an incredible coral reef, Napili Bay, and Kapalua Bay. My boyfriend and I tried snorkeling here with our nieces and nephews, and they loved seeing so many tropical fish and turtles up close.
But the real spots for snorkeling in Maui are a short boat ride away at Turtle Town, the Molokini Crater, and Coral Gardens. You can book a snorkeling tour to visit these places, accompanied by experienced crews who lead you to the best spots for hanging out with marine life and helping kids ease into the activity.
Taking the Road to Hana
A highlight of every Maui trip is driving the Road to Hana, a 64-mile road trip that moves past East Maui’s most beautiful beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails, and towns to the town of Hana and back. You can rent a car for the ride, which is a 7-10 hour round trip, and stop along the way wherever seems most fun!
Some great stops are Paia town for a hearty breakfast, the Twin Falls for swimming directly under a rushing waterfall, the Ho’okipa beach to see windsurfers in action, and the Waianapanapa state park to see a gorgeous black sand beach.
The kids especially loved stopping at roadside stands on the way for tasty local fares like Huli Huli chicken, fresh banana bread, and shaved ice.
Bonus: If you’re up for an early morning, then the dormant volcano in the Haleakala National Park offers an incredible sunrise view, which you can drive to with a tour or on your own.
Going on a day trip to Lanai
Hop on a boat early in the morning and sail to the neighboring island of Lanai from Maui, a small but beautiful place to take in Hawaii’s natural beauty. Also known as the ‘Pineapple Island,’ Lanai is home to a serene stretch of shore, Manele Bay, where you can swim, snorkel in calm waters, and relax on the soft sands.
On the boat ride to Lanai, you can spot spinner dolphins breaking the shore or swimming along your vessel, and if it’s winter season, expect some humpback whale sightings too!
A day trip to Lanai is a super fun way for families to try out many activities away from crowded spaces in Maui, such as taking an ATV ride and exploring the secluded island through guided tours.
So what makes Maui the best Hawaiian Island for families?
Aside from being tourist heaven, Maui also has other perks mentioned below, which make it the best island for your family vacation.
- Maui is much more spacious and less packed than Oahu, even in peak seasons, so you’ll never feel crowded here.
- The weather in Maui stays stable, so you can enjoy days in the sun without much rain, especially on the West shore.
- Maui has a rustic feel to it as parts of the island remain free from urbanization, so you can see the island’s original beauty.
Kauai – Best Island for Nature Lovers
Known as Hawaii’s Garden Isle, Kauai is a great place for families who love being surrounded by nature, as the island has tropical rainforests, stunning coasts, and lush vegetation undisturbed by urbanization.
So you can take your family to explore Kauai’s deep valleys at the Waimea Canyon, go kayaking on the stunning Na Pali coast, spend days lounging on its calm beaches, and trekking on easy hikes.
In addition, Kauai is still largely unexplored by land, so you can book a helicopter tour to explore hidden parts of the island, which takes you over deep valleys and dense forests.
Kauai is also the more peaceful of the four main Hawaiian islands, so you’ll never feel packed here, even during peak season. My boyfriend and I love bringing our families to Kauai during Spring, as the weather in these months is ideal for outdoor activities, and the accommodations are cheap as well.
Although Kauai doesn’t have as many amenities as the bigger islands, we still consider it a premier destination for families looking for a break from tourist hubs and wanting a quiet vacation.
Family-Friendly Activities in Kauai
Below I’ve listed the best activities in Kauai for your family, which cater to kids of all ages, and will become the highlight of your family vacation.
Enjoy the island’s best family beaches
Kauai is regarded as the island with the best family beaches, as they have calm waters for children to try plenty of water activities like swimming, snorkeling, and board sports.
You can take children to the Lydgate Beach Park on the island’s eastern shore, which is a favorite family beach. The water at this beach has enclosed ponds that create safe pools for swimming and a fine stretch of golden sand for kids to run around on.
Another great beach for families is Poipu Beach Park, whose clear and calm waters offer terrific snorkeling conditions. Children will love splashing in warm waters and swimming alongside marine life like turtles and tropical fish at this beach.
We love going to Hanalei Bay with our family, which is also considered the best beach in Hawaii for families. Although it can get crowded, the beach has great water and a wide stretch of shore, so you’ll have plenty of space to move around.
Visit the Waimea Canyon State Park
Found on the island’s West side, the Waimea Canyon is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and is a fantastic place for families to try outdoor activities. You can take your family hiking around the Canyon’s red-soil depths, visit the beautiful Waipo’o Falls, or just drive around and take in the views.
If you want to experience the Canyon’s beauty up close, we recommend hiking the Canyon trail. Lined with shady trees from the Koke’e rainforest, colorful tropical birds flying above the treetops, and the occasional wild goat crossing your path, this is an easy and scenic hike everyone will love.
Of course, you can also drive around the Canyon, stopping at the many scenic lookout points to take in the beauty.
Bonus: Drive to the nearby Koke’e State Park for even more waterfalls, hiking trails, and lush forests – it’s like finding the Road to Hana in Kauai!
Ride the Koloa Zipline
Ziplining over Kauai’s Koloa rainforest is an unmissable activity for the family seeking thrill on their trip or just some island-style fun. The Koloa zipline is also the longest in Kauai, extending from 200 to 2600 feet in length, and soars over beautiful views of the island.
The adventure is completely safe for children aged five years and above, as there are instructors present onsite who show you the ropes of ziplining and stay with you throughout the activity.
So all you have to do is get in position and fly over Kauai’s terrific landscape, taking in views of the Pacific Ocean and trying some daredevil moves from the hands-free harness.
Take a boat tour or ride kayaks on the Na Pali Coast
Kauai’s most beautiful sight is undoubtedly the Na Pali Coast – seventeen miles of shore with hidden caves, towering sea cliffs, cathedral spires, and crystal-clear waters. The coast is also home to Kauai’s most abundant marine life, so you’re bound to spot turtles, dolphins, and whales swimming past your vessel.
You can explore the Na Pali Coast by taking a boat tour which sails through the best spots for seeing marine life or rent kayaks to take a self-guided trip.
We prefer the kayak option with a guided tour as you can paddle through caves and under arches, taking in the sights up close and enjoying marine animals swimming right next to you.
A terrific way to time your trip to the Na Pali Coast is in the late afternoon, as you can take in Kauai’s infamous sunset views right from the shore, which is a breathtaking sight.
So what makes Kauai the best Hawaiian Island for families?
Aside from quaint shores and a lack of urbanization, Kauai has great perks which make it an ideal destination for a family holiday; mentioned below:
- There are great opportunities for camping on the island from well-maintained campgrounds, like at the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
- Kauai is close to the closed-off Ni’ihau island, which you can explore through snorkeling and helicopter tours.
- The island is more budget-friendly than Maui or Oahu for families to stay.
Big Island – Best Island for Family Adventure
There’s no Hawaii without volcanoes, and a trip to the Big Island will reveal four active ones which you can visit with your family. The island is also the largest in Hawaii and is mostly untouched by modernization, so you’ll enjoy a rustic family vacation here.
Some incredible activities on the Big Island include taking a day trip to the Volcanoes National Park to see lava formations, visiting the island’s unique black and green sand beaches, and taking a helicopter tour over parts of the island unreachable by land.
In addition, the Big Island is a great educational site for children, as they can learn about the island’s history of eruptions, its geological significance, and about the active Kilauea volcano, which increases the island’s surface area from its constant flow.
As for accommodations, the Big Island is the cheapest in Hawaii for staying in hotels, traveling, and exploring the island. You can stay in hotels and Airbnb in Hilo and Kona, where most families go as they’re close to the island’s main attractions.
So if you’re looking for some adventure among Hawaii’s most famous tourist attractions, bring your family to the Big Island and enjoy exploring its rough terrain and volcanic rock formations.
Family-Friendly Activities on the Big Island
Below I’ve listed some of the best activities on the Big Island for your family, so you’re bound to have fun no matter which one you try.
Visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There’s no shortage of attractions at the Volcanoes National Park, the biggest of which are the two active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Volcano enthusiasts can spend the night in accommodations in and around the Park and easily spend a few days exploring its sights.
Families will like taking a single-day trip and seeing the Thurstone lava tubes, taking a hike up the rocky terrain, passing steam vents on the Crater Rim Drive, and enjoying aerial views of the Park from lookout points at the Halema’uma’u Crater.
You can also learn about the island’s volcanic history from the Jaggar Museum, which features volcanology exhibits, and has guides who explain the volcanic activity in interesting detail.
Depending on when your trip falls, you may also see active lava flows in the Park from a safe distance, which is always a favorite sight among kids.
Swim with Manta Rays
Each Hawaiian island has its unique marine life, and for the Big Island, that’s manta rays. So you can take a night snorkeling trip to swim next to manta rays at the Manta Ray Village from Kona’s shores.
This trip is ideal for families as they can swim close to manta rays and watch them feeding on plankton, turning, swirling, and doing barrel rolls in the water. Sometimes the manta swims within inches of you, which is an incredible experience.
There are guided tours for swimming with manta rays where instructors accompany you in the water and even teach children how to best interact with them.
Try Stargazing from Mauna Kea
Ancient Polynesians used to stargaze for wayfinding, and it’s a popular activity in Hawaii even today. So you can take your family for a night under the stars at the dormant Mauna Kea volcano, whose 13,000-foot elevation offers the perfect view of Hawaiian skies at night.
You can book tours that take you to an observatory on the volcano with state-of-the-art telescopes for the best viewing. Onsite astronomers explain the star formations and help you single out star clusters, nebulas, galaxies, and planets.
Stargazing is a great way for kids to learn about astronomy from this trip and see a sky blanketed with stars on the Big Island.
Have a Fun Beach Day
Of course, it’s no trip to the Big Island with your family without a beach day, but the real fun is exploring the island’s gorgeous colored-sand beaches. You can take kids to marvel at the black volcanic sands at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and the green crystal sands of Papakolea Beach.
The Big Island also has terrific family beaches where you can swim in protected waters, snorkel with the island’s marine life and sunbathe on quiet shores. Some favorites are Hapuna beach, Onekahakaha beach, and the old Kona Airport beach, where families can have a fun beach day.
Bonus: The Kealakekua Bay in the town of Captain Cook is the best spot for snorkeling on the Big Island. You can take guided boat tours to the Bay, which offer sightseeing and terrific snorkeling.
So what makes Big Island the best Hawaiian Island for families?
Aside from its mysterious aura and varied terrain open for exploration, the Big Island is the best choice for your family for the reasons mentioned below:
- This is the cheapest Hawaiian island for accommodations, and you can stay comfortably in resorts and villas here at reasonable prices.
- It’s much less crowded than the larger islands and very peaceful despite the crowds in Kona, so you can have a more laid-back trip here.
- The Big Island has incredible hospitality offered by its locals, which adds a feeling of familial love to your trip.
Which Hawaiian island is the most family friendly?
For first-time visitors to Hawaii with their families, Oahu is the best choice as it offers great accommodations within a budget, has terrific public beaches, and tons of activities from its malls, parks, and recreation centers that are less common in other islands.
Where is the best place to go in Hawaii for families?
Depending on what your family wants from a Hawaii vacation, you can find islands to perfectly fit your needs. Oahu has the best family resorts and facilities, Maui has the best beaches and marine life, the Big Island is more budget-friendly and has active volcanoes to explore, and Kauai has quiet shores and unmatched natural beauty.
Is Oahu or Maui better?
If you want a Hawaii vacation with the perks of city life, head to Oahu and enjoy its nightlife, budget-friendly resorts, and historical and cultural sites from state buildings. However, if you’re looking for an island with great beaches, the best snorkeling, more outdoor activities, and closeness to nature, Maui is the right choice for you.
Is Maui or Kona better for families?
Maui’s terrific resorts, miles of shoreline, and many water sports and island activities make it ideal for the outdoorsy family looking for an exciting vacation. The island is also smaller, easier to get around, and has more modern facilities. As for Kona, you can enjoy great beaches, nature hikes, and the chance to explore volcanoes, all in a budget-friendly environment. So whichever place ticks the right boxes for your family is the one you should visit.
Winding Up The Best Hawaiian Island for Families
Let’s be honest; no matter which island in Hawaii you visit with your family, you’re guaranteed the best time under the sun and sand. However, each island offers something unique for each family, like the most outdoor activities, the best facilities, abundant marine life, and family-friendly resorts, which you can read about in this article.
Looking for a Hawaiian island for your family with the best activities? Visit Maui for the best outdoor and Oahu for the best indoor activities.
Searching for the best Hawaiian island for your family on a budget? Head to Oahu for cheap accommodations and the Big Island for overall cheap rates.
Want to see Hawaii’s infamous volcanoes on your family vacation? Visit the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and the Haleakala National Park in Maui.
The best Hawaiian islands have something fun for every family!
Last Updated on April 3, 2023 by Brigitte