By Sunny Fitzgerald
Jun 6, 2022
`OHANA (FAMILY) IS CENTRAL to Hawaiian culture, and the islands are an incredibly family-friendly destination. No matter what things your kids like to do best, be it surfing or crafting, Hawaii has plenty of activities for your active, quiet, curious, bold, studious, creative or athletic keiki (children).
The rich history and culture, varied terrain, majestic views, tropical weather, abundant wildlife and flavorful cuisine make this place a paradise for all ages. And the myriad experiences to entertain and engage your kids means that a stay in Hawaii is heavenly for parents, too.
Here are 15 of the best things to do in Hawaii with kids.
1. Go stand-up paddleboarding with a pup.
How do you make surfing and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) even more fun? Add a furry friend. Guests of Turtle Bay Resort, located on Oahu’s North Shore, can book a Surf or SUP With a Pup session. On the south side of the island, the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikiki is a great home base for those who want to stay and surf with their dogs — the hotel is pet-friendly and partners with SUPDog Hawaii to arrange SUP and surf lessons.
2. Live the cowboy life.
Hawaii has its own kind of cowboys, called paniolo, and children can learn about their history, lifestyle and daily activities with a visit to a working ranch. On the Island of Hawaii, head to Kahua Ranch for an immersive experience that includes a Hawaiian “talk story,” line dancing, roping demonstrations, a sunset barbecue, live music, and an evening around the campfire. On Maui, you’ll find cowboy culture in Makawao and the surrounding upcountry area where you can book a horseback ride, or if you’re visiting in July, experience the Makawao Rodeo, the largest paniolo competition in the state. On Oahu, reserve a table at the Paniolo Pā’ina for an evening of storytelling, hula, keiki activities, and a pig roast at the Turtle Bay Stables.
3. Eat your way around town.
There are so many ono (delicious) eats in Hawaii that it’s hard to know where to start. Thankfully, you don’t have to navigate it alone. Native Hawaiian chef and comedian Lanai Tabura guides guests on Aloha Plate Food Tours — the only Hawaiian food tour in the world — to local flavors while providing history and laughs along the way. Private bookings can be customized, so if there’s something specific your keiki are craving, be sure to inquire when booking.
4. Experience the ocean after dark.
Your children will love the magic of staying up late to stargaze and snorkel with manta rays on an Anelakai Adventures after-dark activities trip off the Kona coast on the Island of Hawaii. All ocean experiences with this Native Hawaiian-owned tour company are people-powered (no motors used), so participants can enjoy the quietude with stars above and manta rays, plankton and other marine life below. Smaller kids and those who prefer to stay in the boat are also welcome; you can catch a glimpse of the magical mantas and sea plankton right from your seat.
5. Learn how to hula.
Hula brings together important elements of Hawaiian culture, including dance, music and storytelling, and it’s a great way to get everybody moving. When booking a hotel, ask if they offer on-site hula lessons, like the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko’olina, where Native Hawaiian kumu hula (hula teacher) La’akea Perry offers an interactive workshop for ages five and up.
6. Try forest bathing.
Help your kids build comfort and confidence in the outdoors and develop a relationship with the natural world through forest bathing. The term forest bathing comes from the Japanese wellness practice of shinrin-yoku (immersing in the forest atmosphere). Forest Bathing Hawaii founder and guide Phyllis Look can lead children through a series of sensory-based activities in an outdoor setting, with the aim of connecting to the land and environment. Families can book a private, two-hour forest bathing session at Lyon Arboretum for kids five years old and up (accompanied by a guardian), or a private, three-hour hike and forest bathing at Camp Palehua for kids 12 and up (also accompanied by a guardian).
7. Paddle the Polynesian way.
Courtesy of Ka’anapali Beach Hotel (2)
Experience the ocean in an outrigger canoe. This traditional form of transportation used by the first Polynesians that arrived in Hawaii is still a significant part of Hawaiian culture, and one of the best, most thrilling things to do to get your kids acquainted with it. Book an outrigger canoe tour at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel or Fairmont Kea Lani Maui (free of charge for guests of this property) and learn about the popular ocean sport and its history while paddling Maui’s shoreline. Or, sign up for a paddling and snorkeling excursion through the Ka’aumoana program at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko’olina — led by Native Hawaiian Nakoaokalani Prejean, a former navigator with the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Smaller groups (three or fewer people) can catch waves near Waikiki in a four-person outrigger with Kapakahi Tours. Keep an eye out for wildlife — you may spot sea turtles, fish and whales on your ocean adventure.
8. Get crafty.
There are ample opportunities across the islands to learn a traditional craft from a local and take home your own souvenir. Create a keepsake with a master woodcarver at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach. At Grand Wailea Maui, kids can weave a lauhala bracelet or ti leaf lei and collect stamps for each cultural activity in their Grand Passport. Book a Hawaiian kapa-making workshop and design your own tote with kapa (bark cloth) practitioner Dalani Tanahy. Meanwhile, families staying at Kaimana Beach Hotel can join Native Hawaiian Kalei Scoggins every Tuesday and Thursday morning to try their hand at making traditional leis.
9. Catch your lunch or forage for dinner.
A local fisherman can teach guests how to throw a net for a fresh catch on the Four Seasons Resort Lanai Holoholo Island Tour. Or, join a Jungle Plant Foraging trip with Kauai Nature School and sample some of the Garden Island’s bounty. If you’re on Oahu, book a special culinary experience through The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach for a chance to spend the day immersed in farmlands, a taro patch and an ancient Hawaiian fish pond at Kualoa Ranch before returning to the hotel for a private dinner featuring dishes created from the fresh produce, beef, and seafood highlighted during the excursion. This package is customizable based on guest preferences, so families can also partake in the cooking and ingredient sourcing if they choose to.
10. Snorkel everywhere.
Hawaii is a paradise for ocean-loving keiki, opportunities for snorkeling are endless around the islands — and coming face to face with cool animals and other beautiful things beneath the waves is one of the best ways to get your kids interested in conservation. Options abound from protected bays perfect for beginners to full-day excursions on the open ocean for more advanced swimmers.
Beginners and children just getting comfortable with the water should look for intro activities like the one offered at Fairmont Orchid on the Island of Hawaii, which includes the basics of snorkeling and ocean safety. Families with more experience can head out on a full-day adventure off the coast of Kauai (and the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau, if you opt for the Super Tour) with Holo Holo Charters.
11. Sample some sweet treats.
Hawaii has some of the best fruit in the world, kids love dessert and these two things make for giddy bliss. With tropical weather ideal for growing fruit year-round, and an unmistakable the Asian- and South Pacific-influence, the sweets here delight. Start your day with a fresh fruit smoothie at The Sunrise Shack, a surfer favorite. Grab a post-snorkel shave ice made with organic fruit from Kula Shave Ice, or try Nicoco’s vegan gelato (both dairy and gluten-free), handcrafted with seasonal and local ingredients like durian, pineapple, hibiscus, mango and more. Or, book a candy-making class with Kuaiwi Farm and take a tour of the grounds (where cacao, coffee, macadamia nuts, pineapple, and other fruits and vegetables are grown), enjoy a chocolate tasting, and make your own sweet souvenir.
12. Take a hike.
The diverse and scenic terrain of Hawaii offers hiking activities for children of all ages. Families with keiki in strollers can enjoy coastal views — and whale watching November through March! — from the paved Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail on Oahu. Iliau Nature Loop in Kauai affords Waimea Canyon views without tiring out little legs, and those more advanced (ages eight and up) can set out on a guided Hidden Craters hike on the slopes of Hualālai volcano with Hawaii Forest & Trail.
Families with kids five years old and up can also visit this sacred volcano and plant a koa tree on a combination — part 4×4, part hike — Hualālai Crater Experience led by Native Hawaiian Kimo Duarte. Opting for a locally led hike in Hawaii, rather than setting out on your own, creates a mutually beneficial experience: Tourism dollars go back into the local economy and visitors get the chance to learn about the historical, environmental, and cultural significance of the sacred lands they traverse.
13. Catch a wave.
Obviously any list of the best things to do in Hawaii for kids of all ages is hanging 10. Known for having some of the best swells and surf instructors in the world, Hawaii is the place to catch your first wave. Look for family-friendly surf schools, like Faith Surf School and North Shore Surf Girls, that tailor lessons to your child’s skill level. Private lessons geared toward families such as Kauai Surf Schools’ Da Ohana three-day clinic are also a great opportunity for the whole brood to ride waves together.
14. Malama Hawaii.
One of the best things to do as a family when traveling is taking some time to give back, and here you can get your kids involved in Malama Hawaii activities to help malama (or care for) this piece of paradise. Discounted hotel packages paired with voluntourism experiences, like a tree-planting initiative with ‘Alohilani Resort, beach cleanup kits provided by Koa Kea Hotel & Resort, an immersive eco-cultural experience in partnership with Outrigger Hotels and Kualoa Ranch, and more, are available in multiple locations across Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Island of Hawaii.
15. Have some fun for free.
While many popular activities in Hawaii come with a high price tag, there are also plenty of experiences for children that won’t cost you a dime. Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, for example, offers a daily Kids for All Seasons camp free of charge to guests, and it includes outdoor games, swimming, and arts and crafts. Meanwhile, the Fairmont Orchid has a range of complimentary activities such as hula, Hawaiian language lessons, mo’olelo (storytelling), and traditional Hawaiian games.
Aston Waikiki Beach Tower and Aston Ka’anapali Shores invite guests of all ages to give the ukulele a try during complimentary one-hour lessons. And those staying at Outrigger Waikiki, Outrigger Reef, and Waikiki Beachcomber receive free admission for up to four guests at the Honolulu Museum of Art, as well as one free children’s admission ticket when purchasing an adult ticket at Waikiki Aquarium and Bishop Museum (where kids can join outdoor activities such as scavenger hunts and Native Hawaiian games). When choosing a hotel in Hawaii — as anywhere — be sure to ask about complimentary activities that are for children or kid-friendly.