Image of family activities in big island
Photo: Katie Young Yamanaka.

People come to the Big Island to slow down — to disconnect from the day-to-day madness that is life and reconnect with family and the beauty of nature.

The Big Island has more than its fair share of the latter, in fact, that you will need more than a few days to make it from one side of the island to the other. And there are things to do with your family here that you won’t get to do on any other island.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tops the List of Family Activities

At the top of that list is a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where you can go under the Earth to explore a dark, damp lava tube, stand at the edge of a massive volcanic crater, marvel at the mysterious plumes of steam that billow from cracks in the ground, and explore the largest petroglyph field in the Pacific.

After hiking or biking to your heart’s content, make an educational stop at the Jaggar Museum or the visitors center to learn all about volcanoes, Hawaiian rainforests, Hawaiian culture, and the fire goddess Pele.

Beachin’ It with the Family

The beaches on the Big Island are also different from other islands in the Hawaiian island chain. The west side has its beautiful white sand beaches, but on the east and south side of the island, you’ll find glistening black sand shores like Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach on the Ka‘u Coast. This stretch of beach is easily accessible and a favorite sunbathing spot for Hawaiian green sea turtles.

The Big Island also has all the fun beach activities you think of when you imagine spending your days in the salty sea: boogie boarding, snorkeling, and kayaking as well as stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).


Another unique family-friendly Big Island experience is a trip to Mauna Kea. At the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy visitor information station at 9,200 feet, you will find the best amateur observation site on the globe with free evening stargazing programs. (Children under 16 are not allowed past the visitor station.)

Horseback Riding and ATV Adventures

Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture still thrives on the Big Island. Families looking to explore this part of Hawaiʻi’s heritage can saddle up for a horseback tour of pastureland in Waimea or the historic waterfall trails of Waipiʻo Valley. Or, for the older kids, you can hop on the back on an ATV and try some off-roading.

Family Activities in Hilo

The east side of the island is the opposite of the dense resort areas of Kona and Waikoloa. It’s also far wetter. In Hilo, you’ll want to visit botanical gardens, Rainbow Falls, and Akaka Falls (both easy hikes for families).

Head to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, a 40,00 square foot exhibition and planetarium complex, where adults and children alike can learn about the universe and how ancient Hawaiians navigated over vast oceans with the stars as their guide.

Then there’s the Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, the only naturally occurring rainforest zoo in the U.S. They offer free admission, interesting rainforest animal exhibits, and the best playground in town.