Are you trying to decide between visiting Big Island vs Kauai on your next family vacation? We’ve compared the two so you can make an informed decision about the best Hawaiian island with kids. Scroll to see the results!
This post about Big Island vs Kauai was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Have you already visited Oahu or Maui and want to check out one of the quieter Hawaiian islands?
In this article, we’ll compare the Big Island and Kauai – two of the less popular islands for families.
Both islands have their pros and cons, but ultimately it depends on what your family is looking for in a vacation.
If you want to experience Hawaii’s lush rainforests and stunning waterfalls, then Kauai is a perfect choice. But if you’re looking for more rugged excitement and adventure, then the Big Island is definitely the right pick.
By the end of this article, you’ll know which island is right for your family. So keep reading to find out more about the pros and cons of each one.
Keep scrolling to find out the pros and cons of Big Island vs Kauai.
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Best Hawaii Island for Kids FAQs
Maui and Oahu are most famous for having the most family resorts in Hawaii. However, you can still find some amazing kid-friendly Hawaii resorts on Kauai and the Big Island.
Absolutely! There really is something for everyone in Hawaii. Whether you like outdoor adventures like ziplining or riding ATVs, awesome pools with water slides, or indoor activities, Hawaii has it all! Plus, it’s easy to get around and there are lots of family-friendly restaurants and places to go.
While some people think there is a Hawaii ferry, that is not true (except for the Maui to Lanai ferry). You must fly between Hawaiian islands. You can use Hawaiian or Southwest commercial flights. Or hop on a Mokulele commuter flight for a real adventure!
Is the Big Island the Best Hawaii Island for Kids?
Most people want to visit the Big Island of Hawaii specifically because of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s the best place to see lava in Hawaii.
But, the East Shore of Hawaii Island is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii. It’s also the cheapest place to stay on the Big Island with several budget-friendly hotels. That’s one reason why it’s a popular destination for families visiting this Hawaiian island for the first time.
And Kona is the premier Big Island resort town where you can find the best Big Island hotels with incredible swimming pools and amenities.
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Free Things to Do on the Big Island with Kids
Best Big Island Beaches for Kids
One of the easiest beaches in Kona for kids is King Kam Beach. It’s right in front of the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. It has a small lagoon and it’s great for families with little ones who just want to splash around.
If you like tide pools, Old Kona Airport State Park is an awesome option. Here, you’ll get a huge beach area with plenty of parking. Kids will love walking on the lava rocks and searching for creatures in the tide pools.
Hapuna Beach is another great option. It does cost $5 to park here, so it’s not exactly free. But, it’s definitely a cheap thing to do on the Big Island with kids.
Located on the Hilo side, Onekahakaha Beach Park is a great choice for kids because it has shallow water perfect for safe swimming and learning how to snorkel.
Tour a Coffee Plantation
The Big Island is known for growing some of the best coffee in the world. That’s because it has the perfect climate for coffee plants to thrive.
There are currently more than 650 coffee farms on the Big Island and many of them offer free tours of the property and coffee tasting.
It’s a fun way to learn about the process of growing coffee in Hawaii.
Check out the Hilo Farmers Market
One of the best farmers markets on the Big Island is the Hilo Farmers Market. It’s located right in town and it’s the perfect place to get fresh Hawaiian fruit, tropical flowers, and even handmade items.
It’s free to walk around and even get a few free samples. However, I recommend bringing some cash so you can purchase fresh fruit and bakery items to enjoy.
Kid-Friendly Big Island Hiking
The paved trail that goes to Akaka Falls is perfect for kids. The loop trail is short and there are plenty of places to stop to look at the plants, see a hidden waterfall, go across bridges, climb stairs, and marvel at Akaka Falls.
If you’re heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Kilauea Iki trail is the ultimate hike for families who want to see the crater. There’s also the Thurston Lava Tube that’s easy to explore with kids.
The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is another favorite short hike for families on the Big Island. It’s located near Hilo and the paved path meanders past a waterfall, tiki statue, a wishing well, a reflection pond, and so many amazing Hawaiian flowers.
Things to Do With Kids on the Big Island
Kona Atlantis Submarine
You’ll take a 5-minute boat ride out to the submarine and get sweeping views of the Kona coast. Then, you’ll climb into a real submarine and see shipwrecks and tons of tropical fish. Check the latest rates and more information.
Aloha Adventure Farm ATV Tour
Teens ages 16 and older can drive their own ATV through the jungle. Kids ages 5-16 can hop inside a UTV and have a guide drive them around. Check the latest rates and availability.
You’ll stop at a few cultural “villages” where you’ll experience hands-on activities and demonstrations to learn about Polynesian culture. It’s one of our favorite things to do in the Big Island with kids.
Note: There are ATV tours on Kauai, but none offer the cultural component that this one does.
Lavaloha Chocolate Farm
You can hop inside an electric minibus and get a tour of the cacao farm (and even get to taste cacao fruit). Then, you’ll see the process for drying cacao beans. Finally, you’ll get to taste a bunch of different Big Island chocolate.
Swimming with Dolphins
They have programs for kids of all ages (and even grown-ups) and they even have a professional photographer capturing once-in-a-lifetime photos of your kids. Check the latest rates and more information.
Book a Family Photo Shoot
Whenever we travel to Hawaii, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND it guarantees that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.
Family-Friendly Big Island Attractions
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
One of the most impressive things to do see on the Big Island is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than 500 square miles! There are actually two volcanoes here: Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
There are tons of things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can take a lava tour, go hiking, see the sulfur banks, walk through a lava tube, and so much more.
This is why the Big Island is the best island in Hawaii for families who want to explore a volcano.
One of the most beautiful places on the Big Island is Waipio Valley. You can either just go to the scenic lookout, or you can take a tour to explore the valley.
Place of Refuge
It’s a cool place to learn about Hawaiian history and culture. They have replica buildings, tiki statues, and so much more.
I recommend downloading the National Park Service app so you can learn all about this park as you walk around. They even have a Junior Ranger program for kids who want to earn a badge.
Family Friendly Big Island Luaus
It takes place next to the beach with a gorgeous sunset view. They have the best luau food I’ve ever tasted (I almost licked my plate) and the show was fabulous. Check out the latest prices and more information.
There’s also the Legends of Hawaii Luau at Hilton Waikoloa Village. This is a convenient option for families staying in the Waikoloa area. It’s a highly rated show and they have lots of kids activities. Check the latest prices and more information.
Kid Friendly Big Island Resorts
Hilton Waikoloa Village
This is probably the most popular place to stay on the Big Island with kids. It’s just north of Kona and it’s a massive resort for families. The main perks are on-site shopping, restaurants, luau, a massive pool area, and Dolphin Quest. You can read my full Hilton Waikoloa Village review.
Royal Kona Resort
This is a great option for families looking for an affordable resort in Kona. It’s in an awesome location right on Ali’i Drive. You can read my full review HERE. The top features are the location, on-site luau, on-site restaurants, pool area, private lagoon, and laundry facilities.
Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
Another convenient location is the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Kona. It’s also right on Ali’i Drive.
The main features include the on-site luau, Kona Atlantis Submarine, Ululani’s Shave Ice, kid-friendly beach, and pool area. You can read my honest review here.
Is Kauai the Best Hawaii Island for Kids?
Kauai is known as the most beautiful island in Hawaii, which is why it’s on so many people’s Hawaii bucket lists. It’s full of lush mountains and gorgeous beaches.
The East Shore of Kauai has tons of Hawaii vacation rental options and budget-friendly hotels. That’s why it’s a popular destination for families visiting this Hawaiian island for the first time.
And Poipu is the premier Kauai resort community where you can find the best Kauai hotels with amazing swimming pools.
Free Things to Do on Kauai with Kids
Best Kauai Beaches for Kids
On the North Shore of Kauai, Pu’u Poa Beach is close to the resorts in Princeville. While a lot of beaches in Princeville have large waves, the waters here are calm and great for kids.
There’s also Hanalei Bay and Anini Beach which are always a huge hit with my boys. The waves are super gentle.
Lydgate Beach Park on the East Shore is another great option. Not only is there a man-made saltwater pool for kids but they also have two playgrounds.
For families visiting the South Shore of Kauai, Poipu Beach is a popular kid-friendly Kauai beach.
Complete with lifeguards, snorkeling, and shallow wading spots for toddlers, Poipu is one of the best options for families with kids of varied age ranges. And head a bit further and check out Salt Ponds.
Take Photos at Hawaiian Trading Post
If you love touristy photo-ops, then you’ll definitely want to head to the Hawaiian Trading Post in Lawai.
They also have a bunch of tiki statues and a huge metal pineapple that you just have to see to believe!
You can also go inside and check out the store there. It’s a great place to get Aloha shirts or jewelry.
Check out the Kukuiula Culinary Market
Another fun thing to do on Kauai with kids is to check out the Kauai Culinary Market at The Shops at Kukuiula.
Every Wednesday from 3:30 pm – 6 pm, guests can see live cooking demonstrations and take a look at Kauai grown food and treats.
Plus, there are live musicians and activities.
Kid-Friendly Kauai Hiking
Sleeping Giant Trail is located near Wailua and is a short, out and back trail. It offers gorgeous mountain views and it is perfect for a day trip and afternoon picnic.
The Kuilau Ridge Trail is another popular kid-friendly Kauai hiking trail that goes for 3.7 miles.
There’s also a really cool Bike Path along the East Shore. You can rent bikes and ride up the coast, or just go for a walk. It’s perfect for families with strollers.
Personally, I think that Kauai is the best Hawaiian island for hiking because there are so many options and they usually aren’t as crowded as the hiking trails on Maui.
Read more Free Things to do on Kauai
Things to Do With Kids on Kauai
Kauai Mountain Tubing
If you’re looking for a mini-adventure with kids on Kauai, try tubing down an old sugar cane canal. We did it with a 5-year-old and it was incredible. Read about our experience HERE.
It’s really more of a lazy river float, but you’ll get to wear headlamps and go through some tunnels, which is fun. Check the latest rates and more information.
Kauai ATV Off-Road Tour & Waterfall Swim
This is an awesome 3-4 hour ATV tour that goes through plantation lands, a hidden tunnel, Jurrasic Park filming sites, and ends with swimming at the base of a waterfall.
Kids as young as 5 years old can participate. It’s quite the adventure and it’s one of the most popular tours on Kauai! Check the latest rates and more information.
Wailua River Kayak, Hike & Waterfall Swim
Adventurous families will love this 5-hour tropical waterfall adventure. You’ll get to kayak down the Wailua River, hike through a Kauai rainforest, and even discover a secret waterfall!
We did this tour when I was a kid and I still remember how cool it was! It’s geared for kids at least 6 years old. Check the latest rates and more information.
Family-Friendly Kauai Attractions
One of the most impressive things to do see on Kauai is Waimea Canyon State Park. This Hawaii park stretches for 10 miles and has a depth of 3,000 feet. It’s often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Most families visit Waimea Canyon as a day trip since it’s a bit of a trek. You can either just drive to the scenic viewpoints to take photos or you can hike some of the trails.
If you drive up to the North Shore of Kauai, you’ll go through the surf town of Hanalei.
Another cool feat of nature that kids may enjoy visiting is Spouting Horn. This blowhole often shoots water 50 feet high as waves crash underground and through a hole on the coastline.
Spouting Horn is a great stop off to visit from the overlook on your way to or from Poipu Beach on the South Shore of Kauai. It’s also one of our favorite Kauai toddler activities.
Family Friendly Kauai Luaus
The Smith Family Luau has been around since I was a kid and I’ve been at least 5 or 6 times. It’s a 4-hour luau experience with a traditional Hawaiian buffet. Check out the latest prices and more details.
They feature an open bar for guests over 21, a tram tour of the gardens, and a performance that includes dances from Asia and Polynesia. Plus, you can take a boat ride to Fern Grotto before the luau. Read my Smith Family Luau review.
There’s also Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana Plantation. This luau has really good food and they do a theatrical Polynesian presentation instead of a traditional luau show. And you can do a train ride before the show. Check out the latest prices and more details.
The newest luau on Kauai is the Ahi Lele Fire Show up on the North Shore. It’s definitely one of the most unique luaus in Hawaii that I’ve been to and I highly recommend it!
Read about all the kid-friendly Kauai luau options
Kid Friendly Kauai Resorts
Grand Hyatt Kauai
This is one of my favorite Poipu resorts on Kauai for families. You can read my full review HERE. The main perks are the on-site luau, restaurants, and incredible pool area.
Royal Sonesta Kauai
Formerly the Kauai Marriott, the Royal Sonesta Kauai is the best place to stay in Lihue with kids. You can read my full review HERE. The top features are the location, on-site luau, restaurants, massive pool, and beach access.
Aston Islander On The Beach
This is a great budget-friendly option for families. It’s right on the beach and is near a lot of restaurants, grocery stores, shops, etc. Plus, it has easy access to the Bike Path.
So, Kauai or Big Island? Which is the Best Hawaiian Island for Kids?
Honestly, the best island in Hawaii for kids to visit will totally depend on your own family’s interests and vacation goals.
The biggest difference between the Big Island and Kauai is the size of the island. You can easily drive to different parts of Kauai while staying in one area. However, it’s helpful to change hotels on the Big Island to avoid driving too much.
Both islands have pretty amazing boat tours, snorkeling options, ATV adventures, awesome beaches, fantastic restaurants, and plenty of cool photo ops! The Big Island and Kauai are two of the best Hawaiian island for families.
Whether you choose to visit the Big Island or Kauai with kids, you’re sure to come home with experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. Both are perfect for a Hawaii family vacation.
Want to do Both Kauai AND the Big Island?
If you want to island hop for a Kauai to Big Island day trip, it’s really easy to travel from Kauai to the Big Island or vice-versa. Big Island to Kauai flights usually cost about $80-$100 each way.
The flight from Kauai to the Big Island is only about 1 hour non-stop, so you have tons of time to explore if you want to do a day trip from Kauai to the Big Island or the Big Island to Kauai.
I recommend booking a really early morning flight to maximize your time on the island, especially if your kids tend to fall asleep early in the evening. And be sure to check how many days in Kauai is ideal.
Oahu vs Maui vs Kauai vs Big Island
If you are also considering visiting Oahu or Maui and debating between all the four main islands, you’ll probably want to read my full posts about Oahu or Kauai, Kauai vs Maui, Maui vs Oahu, and Maui vs Big Island.
Oahu and Maui are much more touristy than Big Island or Kauai and they have a TON of attractions, activities, tours, and more.
I hope this post helps you figure out the best island for kids in Hawaii for your next family vacation!