This page covers things to do and see on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii with kids. You can also see the Full Itinerary for more information about where to stay, places to eat and more photos.
Reviews and Recommendations of Places on Kauai
On the south shore of Kauai, we love to walk down the beach to the public beach outside of Brennecke’s Beach Broiler at Poipu Beach. If you can get there early in the morning, it is the best snorkeling on the island. Go to the tip of the beach near the island of rocks where the two currents come together and there is a tip of sand. To the SW side of the tip there are always groups of beautiful tropical fish and sometimes a turtle or two down deeper. Even younger kids can float on a board or be held with googles on and see fish in the shallow water here. It is sandy for about five feet out and then there are rocks, so if you are swimming, water shoes or flippers are best. You can see fish all day here, but before 11 am or 12 N is best before the sun is high, the water is more choppy and it gets crowded.
One of our favorite things to do while on Kauai is to visit Hanapepe on a Friday night for gallery night. From 5 or 5:30 until 8 or 8:30 pm all of the shops in the town are open with artwork for sale. There are food trucks and music lining the main street and the atmosphere is festive. The best food in town is at the Hanapepe Café. It had been closed due to health issues of the owner, but it is newly reopened since Fall 2015 in half the space. The other half of the old space is now a bakery. As soon as you arrive in town, drop by and put name on list with your cell phone number. When they have a spot, they will call you. Their menu is a small selection of great food including sushi. The night we went, we waited only 20 minutes for a table for five around 6 pm. Their mushroom soup was one of the best I’ve ever had (The other was at Café Gandolfi’s in Glasgow, Scotland around 1990!).
If you are driving to Hanapepe on a Friday night for open studios and gallery night, head out early enough for it to still be light on the drive. If you are coming from the south shore, you will pass Waimea Canyon, which is Kauai’s “Mini Grand Canyon”. Even if you do not have time or energy to hike parts of it, the view from the road into it is a real treat, especially late in the day when the light on the rock brings the reds, oranges and greens out in the cliffs and trees. The view of the sea heading into Hanapepe is also beautiful.
A must stop in Old Koloa Town other than the Crazy Shirts chain for t-shirts (for more expensive, but well made, strong, long lasting cotton shirts with ever changing fun designs) is the Island Soap and Candle shop. I love their natural, handmade soaps and always take some for our rental place as well as some candles for gifts or home. You will probably find a smell or two you like and the variety of soaps they have is amazing. Each is good for your skin and gentle on sensitive skins.
From our usual Southern location on Kauai, we always take a day to head to the northern coast. Puff the Magic Dragon lives at Hanalei, so we also visit that area. On a rainy and foggy day, looking out over Hanalei Bay, it’s easy to see how anyone could imagine a dragon living in that area. It is mystic and beautiful. It’s fun to take younger kids there, but it is a long drive to the area and if you drive to the end of the road, do plan on taking all day there and back.
One year, we stopped at the St Regis Princeville Resort and had afternoon tea. It was very fancy and quite fun for my daughter when she was young. I am not sure if they are still offering this. But, if they are it can be a fun option. The view from the restaurant is the best of the Hanalei Bay.
Hanalei park, Ke’e, Hanea end of the road – We loved driving to the end of the road outside of Hanalei. The road becomes more and more covered with jungle as you wind towards the end of the road. As you turn, you glimpse small coves and beaches. The houses you see are up on stilts. Finally after a few enclaves of houses, you arrive at the last stop, the beach and State Park. When we got there it had been raining, but the sun shined through at sunset and everything was in a surreal golden glow. It was beautiful. There was a monk seal on the beach, very few people and we had a lovely half hour of sunset. It’s the Kauai shore at its best and the closest you can get to the Napali Coast on foot without hiking or helicoptering in.
Kauai Surf School with Kyle – The Kauai Surf School on Poipu Beach is one of the oldest surf schools in the area. Poipu is the best area for surfing, being on the south side of Kauai with the best and most gentle waves. We found the best time for a lesson is early in the morning. We took a lesson at 8 am on a Sunday with Kyle. Kyle is the son of one of the early teachers at the school. He is very relaxed and laid back. He is very specific in his guidance and gentle in his pushes with the waves. Both my daughter and I were up on our boards in the first few tries. We worked with him on land for a half hour and then in the water for an hour and half. We were both on our boards and had a feel for it for the last hour. He let us stay out on the boards trying on our own for another half hour to an hour. It’s harder without his push! Later in the day the waves can be rougher and there are more people swimming.
Gaylords Luau – I believe this is the best Luau on the island at the Kilohana Plantation. Gaylords is the restaurant and on the grounds they host a luau twice a week and you can book it in advance on the website. We book the dinner and luau option. You arrive around 5 pm, get a lei, walk around with drinks and visit vendors and see demos. If you come with kids, you can get a family photo and take a train ride around the property. My family and I always come early and visit the Clayworks on the property and decorate a clay tile, which they ship back to us. It’s an annual tradition. There are other shops on the property you can visit before the dinner is served around 6:30 pm. The dinner is buffet style and includes a roast pig along with noodle and rice dishes and other Hawaiian favorites and fruit. There is dessert. The luau is a series of traditional story dances for a half hour to hour until about 8:30 to 9 pm. The parking entrance and exit is very efficient. All ages are welcome and the whole event is run very well.
I love the drive to and from the south side of the island. To get to Gaylords, you drive through the “tree tunnel” on highway 520.
Clayworks on Gaylord Plantation – My family and I visit Clayworks each time we are on Kauai. Clayworks sells unique items made by potters there and they also offer pre-fired “naked” clay items that you can decorate with glazes yourself. They will then fire them for you so you can take them home or they will ship them home for you. My daughter and I have been decorating an annual Kauai tile each year for years since she was young and she loves this tradition. The three women who run Clayworks are very friendly and helpful. I recommend this place highly for anyone wanting to visit somewhere with kids to help them create something unique during their visit to the island.
Spouting Horn and Market – Another activity we do on and off when visiting Kauai is to drive down the south coast and visit Spouting Horn, the market there and the Botanical Garden near-by. Spouting Horn is a blast of water that shoots up through the rocks every once and a while. It is fun to see and the kids enjoy its randomness. Beware the soil around the rocks in this area is the famous “red rock” and sand. Even a spot of it on any light fabric will be permanent. The islanders use it to dye fabric that reddish color that you can purchase. But, it can be discouraging to get it all over your favorite white shorts or pants. There is always a jewelry and craft market near the parking lot of Spouting Horn, also. Roughly across the street is one of the Botanical Gardens of the island. It is nice to walk around and through to see native plants and birds.
Reviews and Recommendations of Places on the Big Island with Kids
After one week on Kauai, we flew to the Big Island to visit the Volcanos. We rented a car and drove via Hilo to stay in Volcano near the Kilauea Crater. It was beautiful to drive into the Hawaii Volcanos National Park and see the crater at night. The park was large and spread out. You can drive easily to the main crater to see the smoke. There is an excellent hike, covered below, which we walked (counterclockwise due to its hilliness with our kids), lava tunnels and the end of the road, from which you can see the end of lava flows. Our boys were interested in all of these areas, but they are each a drive within the park.
Kilauea Iki Trail Hike and Thurston’s Lava Tube in the National Park – We spent half a day hiking the 4.0 mile hike of Kilauea Iki from the parking lot along the rim of the rain forest, down into the crater and across the desolate land, back up through the rain forest of the other side. Crossing the road, you can then enter the lava tube, also. The key for us with kids was to do the hike counter clockwise. This direction meant that we did not climb so much and tire out the kids. Our two six year olds were able to complete the four mile hike in about two hours or so and they did enjoy it. After the tube, one six year old took a break and the other hiked the half a mile back to our car at the trail head.
Update: It’s important to note that both of these trails have been effected by 2018 eruptions since our visit and are currently closed. Please see the park websites for information about other trails and current hikes. I hope that other crater trails will be open instead.
The hikes are marked with piles of lava rocks and so are easy to track and can be fun for kids to follow.
Video at Visitors Center – The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park includes a video of the formation of the islands every half hour which is wonderful to see. I recommend it for kids so that they understand volcanoes and how the islands came into being and their fragile eco-system.
The scale of the valley left by the erupted volcanos is vast and interesting for kids to see.
Volcano Art Center – Within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just past the Visitors’ Center is the Art Center. It is housed in an old lodge, so it is a series of smaller rooms, filled to the brim with lovely local art. It includes oil painting, wooden bowls and furniture, pottery, woodblock prints, photographs, dishes, fiber art and weavings. There is a full array of artwork here in cost, color and taste. You are bound to find a gift or a souvenir to bring home. We brought home a woodblock print from a local artist we had seen displayed in one of the Volcano restaurants an evening before. Supporting a local artist and bringing home art is a wonderful way to remember a holiday.
On the day we were there they hosted a demonstration of making leis and flower headbands to all children.
End of the Road at Volcano Park – We loved this drive and stop. We drove this long road from the Kilauea Iki Hike down to the end of the road. It is fascinating to see the recent lava flows and how the island is expanding. At the end of the road, there are cliffs of lava and an arch where the sea is crashing into the land. We did not see any red hot lava, but the end of the road walk is beautiful in its own way. We walked down at the end of the day and no one else was there. As we walked toward the stand of palm trees, we could hear a rattling sound. There is a rattle pad plant along the road which makes a pretty sound in the wind. That along with the waving grass and the area has its own calming desolate peacefulness. There is nothing there and nothing to really see. It is just empty calmness and wind. The park website lists various stops and at times you can see lava flow and its effects at different places in the park.
Black Sand Beach and Turtles – We drove from Volcano to Kona for our flights home and one stop along the way is the Black Sand Beach. The turtles often come up on the sand here and so you can view them from about 20 feet away. It is a wonderful treat to see these beautiful turtles in the wild. The black sand beach is a treat as well. As the lava rock breaks up, it makes the entire beach black sand. It is very warm, which is nice on a cool day.
Before leaving the Kona area, we visited the native site, Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park and our kids loved running along the beach front here, seeing the old dug-out canoes used by native Hawaiians and the incredible carvings. It was a well-done and interesting site. There is a numbered walking trail with information at stops along the trail and a map you can follow, if interested in learning more about the people who lived there, how they lived and what the carvings were for. Native Hawaiians lived on the Big Island in traditional ways into the 1900s.