Let’s face it, traveling with kids sometimes feels like that Dickens quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Best of times because children delight in the simple things, like jumping on a fluffy hotel bed or building a sandcastle. But they can easily get tired or bored, and hello, we’ve entered Whine City.
Hawaii, though, is such a family-friendly destination, it’s not a question of finding great things to do with the kids so much as narrowing down all the activities.
Here are some of the best kid-friendly activities in the Islands.
Check Out the Lava
Twice a day, it’s gonna blow! Well, in a controlled manner. The daily lava show at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, near downtown Honolulu, lets kids get up close and personal with molten basalt cinder rock, poured out by a staffer wearing a cool space suit.
Then take the littles to play inside the giant volcano model before heading to the museum’s planetarium to learn how Polynesian wayfinders navigate by the stars.
Meet a Seahorse
A pregnant male? Whaaat? Blow the kids’ minds during a one-hour tour of an eco-friendly aqua-farm, where, yes, the daddy seahorses are the ones who give birth.
At Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm on Hawaii Island, near Kona, more than 25 species of seahorses are bred and hand-raised. Learn about breeds like the sea dragon, and maybe even get to hold a seahorse.
Eco-bonus: The family-owned company works to help vulnerable wild seahorse populations.
Hawaii takes its noodles very seriously, and no island more so than Maui. Sam Sato’s, in business since 1933 and famous for its “dry mein” noodle dish, is in Wailuku and is considered by locals a must-do pilgrimage.
Insider’s tip: It’s only open for breakfast and lunch. For noodles at dinnertime, try Star Noodle, near Lahaina. It makes its ramen, udon and saimin noodles in house, daily. Parents will appreciate the sake options.
Spend All Day in the Water
What’s better than the beach? A mind-blowing pool…steps from the beach. Sheraton Waikiki has your family covered with two distinct pool areas, including Helumoa Playground, the property’s beachfront water experience — and a family favorite.
Older kids might take a wet and wild spin down Helumoa’s 70-foot-long water slide or play in the interactive fountain area, while the youngest of kiddos can wade in the shallow pool.
As for the adults? Rest easy in chaise water loungers or an oceanfront cabana, as you watch your little ones make a splash.
Hike to a Waterfall
Burn off kids’ energy with a hike through a lush rainforest. Oahu’s Manoa Falls Trail is just over three miles round-trip. The pièce de résistance is the 150-foot waterfall, though the bamboo thicket is impressive, too.
For safety’s sake, avoid the trail after heavy rain, and always stay on the path. The path can be muddy, so leave the brand-new white sandals at the hotel.
Watch Chocolate Grow
If they’ve been reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” kids might be interested to find out where chocolate really comes from. Hawaii is the only state that grows cocoa beans commercially.
Lydgate Farms, on Kauai’s east side, has a “branch-to-bar” tour and tasting, where a guide takes you through the process of growing cacao trees and harvesting and processing the cacao beans, with extensive tastings of chocolate and exotic fruits, like sapodilla and eggfruit. Bonus: Kids under 12 are free.
Paddle to the Turtles
Turtle Town is just off Makena Beach on Maui. This stretch of coastline has coral reefs favored by Hawaiian green sea turtles — gentle giants who can grow to four feet long and up to 350 pounds.
An outrigger canoe tour lets your family get close (respectfully, as these are a threatened species) and learn about Polynesian culture. Hawaiian Paddle Sports has a tour specifically for families with small children or first-time paddlers.