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Hawaii is a tropical paradise and a dream destination for many families. With sunny beaches, amazing outdoor adventures, rich culture and delicious local cuisine, Hawaii offers something special for everyone.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to what to do in Hawaii with kids: Enjoy beach days and ocean activities like snorkeling, see an erupting volcano, experience Hawaiian culture at a luau, check out sea turtles on land or while snorkeling, visit shave ice shops and botanical gardens, and explore islands via helicopter tours.

In this extensive guide, we will provide a comprehensive list of the best things to see and do in Hawaii with kids. From exploring the islands to water activities and cultural experiences, we have covered all the most amazing activities families with children of all ages will love.

Have Fun at the Beach

Relax and Play in the Sand

The beaches of Hawaii offer the softest, cleanest sand that’s perfect for little hands to dig and mold into magnificent masterpieces. Let their creativity run free as they construct mighty sandcastles accessorized with sticks, stones and shells.

For more fun, bring along a few simple sand toys like buckets, shovels and sieves which can lead to hours of enjoyment. You’ll also likely find friendly local keiki who may be excited to join in on the sandy activities.

And when it’s time to take a break from engineering marvels, stretch out together on a beach blanket or towel and relax while taking in the soothing sounds of the waves and tropical breezes.

Enjoy Ocean Activities

Beyond the beach, the refreshing ocean waters open up a sea of opportunities for family fun. Take a splash in the shallows and ride some gentle waves together. With older kids, sign up for introductory surf lessons to learn how to ride the famously epic swells that Hawaii is renowned for.

Or rent boogie boards or stand up paddleboards (SUPs) for more family wave-riding excitement. You can also try ocean kayaking or sail a catamaran for a unique perspective cruising above the underwater wonderland.

Keen snorkelers will be thrilled to spot colorful fish and maybe even sea turtles among the coral reefs. At select beaches like Hanauma Bay on O’ahu, the protected waters create ideal conditions for first-time snorkeling.

Always adhere to lifeguard guidance and safety tips when enjoying ocean activities.

See Sea Turtles

A delightful highlight for many Hawaii visitors is sighting the gentle honu (sea turtles) who inhabit the islands’ warm tropical waters. The best chances are while snorkeling, but they can also sometimes be spotted from shore bobbing up to the surface for a breath before diving down again.

Some top spots where they frequently make appearances include Laniakea Beach (also known as Turtle Beach) on O’ahu’s North Shore, as well as many areas along the West Maui coastline like Kapalua Bay, Honolua Bay and Ka’anapali Beach towards Lahaina.

Be respectful by keeping your distance if you are lucky enough to cross paths with one of these ancient aquatic creatures so revered by Native Hawaiians.

Visit Tide Pools

For family-friendly ocean fun without even needing to get fully wet, pay a visit to Hawaii’s fabulous natural tide pools. Here, small pools of seawater get trapped by surrounding lava rock formations when the tide goes back out.

This allows an up-close glimpse at a fascinating variety of sea life including colorful fish, spiny urchins, swaying anemones and maybe even a feisty crab or two among the nooks and crannies. O’ahu’s Halona Beach Cove by Sandy Beach is a popular destination, as are Makena Beach’s “Turtle Town” pools and the Kapoho Tide Pools on the Big Island’s southeast Puna coast.

It’s like getting a sneak peek at an outdoor aquarium created by Mother Nature!

Discover the Islands

Experience Helicopter Tours

One of the best ways to discover Hawaii’s islands is by taking a helicopter tour. These tours provide unparalleled bird’s eye views of popular attractions like Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head crater, Hanauma Bay, and more.

Many companies like Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, Paradise Helicopters, and Mauna Loa Helicopters offer tours ranging from 30 minutes to over 2 hours.

According to Hawaii’s visitor stats, over 500,000 tourists take helicopter tours every year. The doors-off option offers the most thrilling experience as you’ll feel the warm breeze with ultimate photo opportunities.

Families with kids will love the excitement of soaring over tropical landscapes and snapping pics of sea turtles and humpback whales if visiting during winter.

Visit Botanical Gardens

For those looking to experience Hawaii’s lush tropical vegetation, visiting one of the islands’ magnificent botanical gardens is a must. On Oahu, Foster Botanical Garden and Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden offer gorgeous trails through trees and plants from around the world.

On Maui, Iao Valley State Park lets you explore trails with breathtaking valley views and foliage.

The 150-acre Maui Tropical Plantation also provides tram tours and hands-on activities like coconut husking that kids will love. And the Garden Island of Kauai is home to spectacular gardens like Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden – home to exotic plants and wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.

Your family will gain new appreciation for Hawaii’s amazing natural landscapes.

Hike to Waterfalls

Hiking to waterfalls is one of Hawaii’s most popular family-friendly activities. Spectacular falls like Manoa Falls on Oahu and Akaka Falls on the Big Island offer short scenic hikes to cascading pools surrounded by lush rainforest.

Or check out the “Seven Sacred Pools” at Oheo Gulch in Maui’s Haleakala National Park, with multiple falls to swim under.

Many waterfall hikes are fairly easy for kids while some have steep sections worth the stunning payoff. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, pack snacks and water, and respect safety barriers. Your kids will have a blast cooling off under refreshing waterfall spray – over 85% of visitors rank waterfalls as a top memory!

Ride the Tram at Diamond Head

No trip to Oahu is complete without visiting iconic Diamond Head crater. While the 0.8 mile hike to the summit is a bit intense for kids, you can still enjoy panoramic views by riding the Diamond Head Tram. The open-air tram takes you 300 feet up the crater’s interior slopes in about 3 minutes.

From the tram stop, a short walk leads to an observation deck with sweeping coastal vistas. Kid-friendly attractions like the Diamond Head Lighthouse and volcanic crater displays are also located nearby.

The tram runs every 10-15 minutes so waits are usually short – a perfect way to take in amazing scenery without exhausting the family!

Learn about Hawaiian Culture

Attend a Luau

Attending a luau is one of the best ways to learn about and experience Hawaiian culture when visiting with kids. Luaus are traditional Hawaiian festivals featuring food, dance, music, and more. Many resorts and hotels in Hawaii offer luau shows that provide a peek into ancient Hawaiian customs.

These engaging performances allow keiki (children) to see hula dancing, listen to Hawaiian music played on traditional instruments like the ukulele, witness skilled Polynesian drumming, and more. According to travel site Tripadvisor, the Old Lahaina Luau ( and the Chief’s Luau at Sea Life Park ( frequently rank among the best luaus for families.

Visit a Living Museum

Immerse kids in Hawaiian culture by visiting an outdoor Hawaiian village or living museum. These museums aim to replicate what life was like in ancient Hawaii through recreated structures, exhibits, and demonstrations.

The Polynesian Cultural Center ( on Oahu is arguably Hawaii’s most famous living museum. Spanning over 40 acres, it showcases seven different Polynesian cultures. Families can observe native arts and crafts, watch ceremonial dances, go on a canoe ride, and more.

According to Tripadvisor in 2023, an impressive 97% of visitors rated their experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center as excellent or very good. Other recommended living museums include the Maui Tropical Plantation ( and Hawai’i’s Plantation Village ( on Maui.

See Ancient Petroglyphs

Viewing ancient Hawaiian petroglyph carvings is an exciting way for children to connect with Hawaii’s rich history and culture. Petroglyphs are rock carvings etched into stone centuries ago by Native Hawaiians.

These carvings often depict humans, animals, canoes, and other cultural elements and served various purposes. Guided petroglyph tours allow visitors to view and learn about these carvings up close at sites like Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Keiki can try identifying different petroglyph shapes and patterns while hearing stories about their origins and significance. According to Hawaii’s official tourism site (, over 23,000 petroglyph images are documented across the Hawaiian Islands.

See an Active Volcano

One of the most exciting and educational things to do in Hawaii with kids is to see an active volcano. The islands of Hawaii were created by volcanic activity, so getting to see the raw power of a volcano firsthand can be an unforgettable experience.

The most accessible active volcano in Hawaii is Kilauea on the Big Island. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983, creating a stunning and ever-changing lava landscape. Visiting the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must for any family visiting the Big Island.

Drive to the Lava

The national park roads will take you right up to active lava flows when conditions permit. Glimpsing red-hot molten rock slowly creeping across the land is a primal and humbling sight. Going at night allows you to see dramatic rivers of lava glowing in the darkness.

Hike Across Old Lava Flows

There are several kid-friendly hikes in the park that traverse old lava fields. The uneven black rocky landscape looks almost alien and kids will enjoy scrambling over lava formations. Shorter hikes like the recently reopened Kilauea Iki Trail let you descend right down onto a previous lava lake.

Learn About Volcanoes

The national park’s visitor center has engaging exhibits teaching visitors all about the science and history of Kilauea and Hawaii’s volcanoes. Kids can learn how the Hawaiian islands were born out of eruptions from a hot spot deep in the earth’s mantle.

There are also displays showing Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, and the important role volcanoes play in Hawaiian myths and legends.

See Volcanic Activity Safely

Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes so there is a chance you will catch small explosive events. However, the national park service closely monitors volcanic conditions. As long as you follow park service warnings and advice, visiting Kilauea can be done safely. An eruption is all part of the exciting drama!

Exploring an active volcano zone creates visual memories that will stick with kids for a lifetime. While visiting Hawaii with your family, be sure to spend time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park learning about the unique forces that built this beautiful island paradise.

Go Snorkeling

One of the top things to do in Hawaii with kids is to go snorkeling. The clear, warm waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands offer incredible underwater views that will delight both children and adults. Here are some tips for an amazing family snorkeling adventure in Hawaii:

Choose a Kid-Friendly Snorkel Spot

For first-timers, it’s best to pick a shallow, calm area with lots of colorful fish. Great options include Hanauma Bay on Oahu, Kahaluu Beach on the Big Island, and the lagoons at Ko’ele on Lanai. These spots have shallow entry areas and lifeguards on duty. The fish tend to be quite friendly too!

Get the Right Snorkel Gear

Make sure little ones have a mask that fits properly without leaking, along with short fins that don’t cramp their feet. Bring silicone masks and defogging spray to prevent fog. Consider prescription masks if needed. For nervous beginners, inflatable float belts allow floating alongside parents.

Bring water shoes too for walking on sharp coral and sea urchins.

Check Ocean Conditions Beforehand

Pay attention to weather forecasts, wave heights, and warning signs. Search “(beach name) snorkel conditions” online for recent reviews. Avoid snorkeling at popular beaches for 2-3 days after a heavy rain which reduces underwater visibility. Safety first!

Start With a Snorkeling Lesson

If kids are feeling anxious about snorkeling, some one-on-one coaching can go a long way. Begin in waist-deep water practicing with masks on while standing. Have kids place faces in the water, breathe normally through the snorkel, then float comfortably.

Slowly venture into deeper water while you provide encouragement and support.

Pick a Boat Tour or Guide

For access to more exotic fish-filled spots, consider booking a snorkel cruise tour. Crew members serve as guides to the best viewing areas while shuttling passengers out to sea. Captain Cook Cruises and Blue Hawaiian Helicopters also offer snorkel tours via raft and seaplane.

Professional snorkel guides handle all gear and offer lessons too.

With age-appropriate spots, proper preparation, and a fun-first attitude, snorkeling with keiki in the Hawaiian Islands promises splashing great memories!

Eat Shave Ice and Tropical Treats

One of the best parts about visiting Hawaii with kids is enjoying delicious shave ice and tropical treats! Shave ice is a popular Hawaiian dessert that features finely shaved ice topped with sweet fruity syrups. It’s similar to a snow cone but the ice is much finer and fluffier.

Kids will love the bright colors and sweet flavors.

Some of the most popular shave ice shops in Hawaii include Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore, Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice with several locations on Maui, and the famous Waiola Shave Ice in Hilo on the Big Island.

These shops offer shave ice in a rainbow of flavors like pineapple, coconut, guava, lychee, passionfruit, orange, and more. You can also get shave ice cones dipped in chocolate or macadamia nuts. Most shops will have vegan and dairy-free options too.

In addition to shave ice, kids will love trying other tropical frozen treats as well. Popular options include shave ice cream, a cross between shave ice and ice cream, and frozen custard made with local fruit. You can also find tropical versions of popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and banana splits.

Some family-friendly shops to check out include Tropical Dreams on the Big Island, Oahu, Maui and Kauai, and Kawelo Aulila Shave Ice and Treats in Kapolei on Oahu.

Shave Ice Flavor Recommendations

When trying shave ice for the first time, some classic Hawaiian flavors we recommend include:

  • Pineapple – Sweet, tart and refreshing, it tastes like summer!
  • Coconut – Creamy and tropical
  • Passionfruit – A Hawaiian specialty, tangy and exotic
  • Guava – Tropical pink fruit flavor
  • Lychee – Sweet, floral and unique
  • Lilikoi (Passionfruit) – A local favorite, impressively tart

Some shave ice shops also offer “snow caps” where they top off your shave ice with sweetened condensed milk. It adds a nice creaminess to balance the icy texture.

Tips for Eating Shave Ice

Shave ice is the perfect cooling treat after a long day at the beach or out exploring the islands. Here are some tips to get the most out of your shave ice experience:

  • Mix up flavors – Choose 2-3 syrup flavors to drizzle over your shave ice to create your own tropical blend.
  • Add mixins – Toppings like mochi balls, sweet beans, coconut flakes or tropical fruits make tasty mix-ins.
  • Eat fast – The ultra-fine ice melts quickly, so enjoy it before it turns to regular ice or all liquid.
  • Share with friends – Shave ice portions are huge. Split one with the whole family.
  • Take pics – The colorful mounds of fluffy ice make great vacation photos.

Indulging in sweet, fruity shave ice is a quintessential part of the Hawaii experience. Thanks to year-round warm weather, it’s always shave ice season here! Let your kids try unique tropical flavors and create their own colorful, icy masterpieces.


With stunning scenery, family-friendly resorts, enriching cultural experiences, adventures exploring the islands, and delicious local treats, Hawaii offers the ultimate family vacation destination. From relaxing beach days to getting close to erupting volcanoes and everything in between, Hawaii has something amazing in store for kids and parents of all ages.

Use our guide to plan your dream Hawaii family getaway!

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