Big Island vs Kauai: Which is the Best Hawaiian Island with Kids?

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!
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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.

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Hawaii Itineraries complete with daily schedules, kid-friendly activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Best Hawaii Island for Kids FAQs

Where are the best family resorts in Hawaii?

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.

Is Hawaii a good destination for kids?

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.

How do you travel between Hawaiian islands?

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.

The Big Island is also famous for outdoor activities like ziplining, ATV rides, volcano tours, hiking, snorkeling with Manta Rays, and so much more!

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.

Paddlers leave Kamakahonu Beach
King Kam Beach. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

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.

Image of a woman picking coffee berries on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Coffee plants on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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.

Image of a fresh coconut drink at the Hilo Farmers Market in Hawaii.
Coconut drink at the Hilo Farmers Market.

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.

Image of a tall waterfall on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Akaka Falls on the Big Island.

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

One of the coolest things to do in Kona with kids who are too young to snorkel is the Kona Atlantis Submarine. You can read my full Kona Atlantis Submarine review HERE.

Read this honest Kona Atlantis Submarine review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a boy inside a submarine looking at a sunken ship
Kona Atlantis Submarine on the Big Island. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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

One of the best Big Island ATV tours for kids is the one at Aloha Adventure Farm in Kona. You can read my full Aloha Adventure Farm ATV tour review HERE.

Find out the best Big Island ATV tour recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of ATVs in front of Aloha Adventure Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Aloha Adventure Farms ATV tours in Kona. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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

The Big Island has a ton of farm tours but the most delicious one is the Lavaloha Chocolate Farm in Hilo. You can read my full Lavaloha Chocolate Farm tour review HERE.

Image of a sliced open cacao pod with fresh meat inside.
Tasting cacao at the Lavaloha Chocolate Farm. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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

If you want to go swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, one of the best places to do that is at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island. You can read our full Big Island Dolphin Quest review HERE.

Image of a boy wearing a life jacket holding his hand up in front of a dolphin
Playing with dolphins in Kona. Photo credit: Dolphin Quest

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.

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.

Image of a woman and boy looking at a volcano crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Checking out the view of the crater. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

Waipio Valley

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.

Image of a green coastline with a black sand beach at the bottom at Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Waipio Valley Lookout on the Big Island.

There’s the Waipio Valley Shuttle tour that will take you on a guided tour of the valley. Or you can do a wagon tour of the valley or even go horseback riding.

Note: As of March 2022, Waipio Valley is currently closed to visitors due to a natural disaster. Re-opening is TBD.

Place of Refuge

One of the most impressive places to see on the Big Island is the Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (aka Place of Refuge). You can get my top tips for exploring with kids HERE.

Find out how to explore the Hawaii Place of Refuge (also called Pu'uhonua o Honaunau) by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of two tikis with a Hawaiian hut and sand in the background.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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

There are lots of Big Island luaus to choose from. We really enjoyed the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau at the Royal Kona Resort. You can read my full Royal Kona Resort Luau review HERE.

Image of men and women wearing orange grass skirts while doing Tahitian dancing.
Voyagers of the Pacific Luau in Kona. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

And another top pick is the Island Breeze Kona Luau at King Kamehameha Hotel. The luau takes place where King Kamehameha actually lived and they do a whole royal twist to a traditional luau. Check the latest rates 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.

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.

Kauai is also famous for outdoor adventures like ziplining, sugar cane canal tubing, whale watching, hiking, snorkeling, and so much more!

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.

Image of a calm beach on Kauai.
Lydgate Beach Park.

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.

Image of a boy posing for a photo on a surfboard and a fake wave.
Surfing at the Hawaiian Trading Post. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

Image of a bridge heading into the Kauai jungle.
Sleeping Giant Trailhead.

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.

A fun kid-friendly Kauai adventure is going mountain tubing
Photo credit: Kauai Backcountry Adventures

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

Waimea Canyon

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.”

You can hike ot see Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon or you can see it from the lookout.
Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon.

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.

Hanalei Town

If you drive up to the North Shore of Kauai, you’ll go through the surf town of Hanalei.

Stop at one of the many free lookouts over Hanalei Valley on the North Shore of Kauai to see taro farms.
Hanalei Valley on Kauai. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

There are tons of things to do in Hanalei for families. A few of our favorite activities include doing a North Shore food tour, relaxing at Hanalei Bay, and shopping at the boutiques.

Spouting Horn

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 in Poipu is an awesome free thing to do on Kauai with kids
Spouting Horn in Poipu.

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.

There are better luaus on Kauai vs Big Island according to top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a group of Tahitian dancers at Smith Family Luau on Kauai.
Smith Family Luau on Kauai. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

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!

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