Maui vs Big Island: Which is the Best Hawaiian Island for Kids?

Are you trying to decide between visiting Maui vs Big Island on your next family vacation? We’ve compared the two so you can make an informed decision about the best Hawaiian island for kids. Scroll to see the results!
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Are you looking for a new island to visit with your family?

There are so many beautiful islands in Hawaii, but which is the best one for kids? The Big Island and Maui are both great options. They’re very different from each other, though.

If you’re looking to visit Hawaii, there are many things to consider before booking your trip. One of the most important factors when choosing an island is whether or not it will be a good fit for your family.

There are some islands that are better suited for families than others and today we’ll take a look at Big Island versus Maui and find out which one is the best Hawaiian island for kids.

Today we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of each island to see which one might be right for your own family.

You can find everything from waterfalls and black sand beaches on the Big Island to world-class resorts on Maui—and everything in between! It all depends on what you want out of your trip.

Let’s get started by taking a closer look at the two islands that will help you decide where you should go next time you travel with kids!

Keep scrolling for my comparison of the best island for kids in Hawaii.

Best Island for Kids in Hawaii FAQs

Which island is best for first time in Hawaii?

Typically I recommend that families start with Oahu. That’s because this island has the most hotels/resorts, tourist attractions, and famous landmarks than any other island in Hawaii. However, you can’t go wrong exploring Kauai, Maui or the Big Island.

Which Hawaiian Island is the least touristy?

If you really want to get away from crowds, head to Molokai. It’s pretty much the only Hawaiian island that doesn’t rely on tourism. You’ll also find fewer crowds on Lanai. As for the main four islands (Kauai, Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island), you’ll get a lot more space if you visit the Big Island.

What are some tips for traveling to Hawaii with kids?

If your kids are old enough, include them in your Hawaii vacation planning by having them choose some of your activities. I’d also suggest finding a hotel/resort that has a nice pool area and plan on spending a few afternoons hanging out there.

Is the Big Island the Best Hawaii Island for Kids?

The Big Island of Hawaii is on a lot of travel bucket lists 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 most affordable area with several budget-friendly hotels. That’s one reason why it’s a popular destination for families visiting the 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

For an easy beach in Kona for kids, head to King Kam Beach. It’s right in front of the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. It’s a small lagoon and it’s great for families with little ones.

If you like tide pools, Old Kona Airport State Park is an awesome option. It’s a huge beach area with plenty of parking. Kids will love walking on the lava rocks and looking for creatures in the tide pools.

Hapuna Beach, Kona, Big Island
Hapuna Beach on the Big Island.

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.

Kona Coffee Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kona Coffee plantation.

There are currently more than 650 coffee farms on the Big Island and many of them offer free tours and coffee tasting.

It’s a fun way to learn about the process of making coffee.

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.

Hilo Farmers Market on the Big Island
Hilo Farmers Market. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

It’s free to walk around and even get a few free samples. However, it’s great if you can spend a few dollars to buy some fruit to snack on.

Kid-Friendly Big Island Hiking

The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is one of my favorite short hikes 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.

Akaka Falls Hike review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a boy standing at the Akaka Falls Scenic Lookout.
Akaka Falls on the Big Island. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The paved trail that goes to Akaka Falls is perfect for kids. The path 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.

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.

Image of a boy with his hand on a round window inside the Kona Atlantis Submarine on the Big Island of Hawaii.
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.

Note: There’s also an Atlantis Submarine Ride on Maui, but we think this one is better.

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.

Check out this Lavaloha Chocolate Farm Tour review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a woman showing a little boy a Cacao pod while they hold umbrellas at a Big Island chocolate farm.
Learning about 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.

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.

Image of a mom and boy riding in a UTV on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Riding in the UTV at Aloha Adventure Farm.

Kids under 16 years old can ride in the UTV with the guide through the jungle. 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.

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 doing sign language with a dolphin at the beach in Hawaii.
Playing with dolphins on the Big Island. 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 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 boy and woman sitting on lava rock looking into a lava tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 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.

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 on the Big Island. 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.

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 the Big Island coastline of Waipio Valley in 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.

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.

Check out this honest review of the Royal Kona Luau on the Big Island by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of male and female Tahitian dancers on stage at night.
Royal Kona Resort Luau on the Big Island. 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 Maui the Best Island for Families in Hawaii?

Many families insist that Maui is the best Hawaiian island with kids. That’s because it’s a great mix of resort towns and natural beauty.

The island of Maui has so much to offer, including 3 main resort areas: Wailea, Lahaina, and Ka’anapali. But there’s also Kihei, which has an array of vacation rental homes for families on a budget.

If you’re looking to enjoy some outdoor activities with kids on your trip (and who isn’t?), this could be just what you need. There’s amazing ziplining, horseback riding, whale watching, hiking, snorkeling, and so much more!

Be sure to read my top 101 things to do on Maui with kids!

Click here for step-by-step Maui travel planning help

Free Things to Do on Maui

Best Maui Beaches for Kids

There are a variety of kid-friendly beaches on Maui that are great for babies, toddlers, and kids of all ages.

One of the best beaches in Maui for kids is baby beach up in Paia. It’s got a protected lagoon and sandy white shores that are perfect to build sandcastles on or wade out into! And it feels pretty secluded.

Kapalua Bay on Maui is great for snorkeling
Kapalua Bay on Maui.

One of the best beaches in Maui for kids in West Maui is Kapalua Bay. It’s on a reef, so the water is fairly calm.

And don’t forget about Makena too-it might not be as big/busy, but what makes matters better? There IS a lifeguard here so even if your little one gets scared easily (or has any other special needs), they can enjoy themselves without worrying too much.

Get my complete Hawaii beach packing list for babies!

Drive the Road to Hana with Kids

One of the most unique things to do on Maui is to drive the famous Road to Hana. This is a twisty, highway with a ton of one-lane bridges that takes you to the remote town of Hana.

Image of a palm tree and greenery with a turquoise blue ocean behind.
Scenic view along the Road to Hana.

But the point of the drive isn’t to actually get to Hana but to enjoy some of the fun Road to Hana stops along the way that kids will love.

Several of the stops include kid-friendly Maui hikes that will take you to pretty waterfalls or amazing scenic viewpoints. And there’s even a black sand beach you can explore!

While this is technically free, understand that you’ll be using up a lot of gas. So, consider this a cheap thing to do on Maui!

Hike to a Maui Waterfall

There are so many spectacular waterfalls on Maui that are totally worth checking out.

You can see several waterfalls just off the side of the road as you’re driving the Road to Hana, or you can do easy (or difficult) hikes to find some pretty cool Maui waterfalls.

A trip to Maui is not complete without a visit to at least one of the gorgeous waterfalls that can be found along this beautiful island.

Twin Falls, Maui, Hawaii--Twin Falls is one of the best Maui waterfalls
Twin Falls on Maui. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

One of the most popular waterfalls on Maui for kids is Twin Falls. It’s perfect if you’re looking to stretch your legs while driving the Road to Hana or are looking for an easy Maui hike for kids.

Punalau Falls is also close by. This makes it another great option when visiting with kids who need something safe yet still stimulating before calling home.

Lastly, there’s Alelele Falls which stands at 50 feet tall. It’s just a 10-15 minute hike where you’ll hop across streams to get to this Maui waterfall.

Things to Do on Maui with Kids

Sunrise at Haleakala Crater

One of the top things to do in Maui is to visit Haleakala National Park. A big reason for this is that it’s the best place to see the sunrise on Maui.

Find out how to see sunrise at Haleakala National Park by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of Beautiful sunrise scene on Haleakala volcano, Maui island, Hawaii
Haleakala at sunrise is spectacular.

Now, this will be a really early day because you’ll need to start driving while it’s still dark out to get to the crater. As the sun peaks over the crater, you’ll be in total awe. People say it’s the best sunrise in Hawaii.

You can either drive up on your own (you’ll need to reserve a parking ticket ahead of time) or join a Haleakala sunrise tour. Some of them even let you bike down the mountain after sunrise. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Ziplining on Maui

Maui is one of the most beautiful Hawaiian islands and you can get a unique viewpoint of it by going ziplining!

There are actually quite a few Maui zipline tours for families who are feeling adventurous.

Image of a woman ziplining on Maui.
Ziplining on Maui Hawaii.

This Maui zipline tour is available for kids who are at least 5 years old. This makes it one of the best Maui kids activities that the entire family can enjoy! Read our full Maui zipline tour review.

Plus, there are obstacle challenges and a Camp Maui museum that’s worth checking out. That’s why it’s the best Maui zipline for kids. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Maui Hike to See I’ao Needle

When you’re heading to Hawaii with kids, it’s always nice to know some easy hikes. Well, the I’ao Needle is probably the most kid-friendly hike on Maui. And it’s a personal favorite.

Image of a grassy steep mountain on Maui
Scenic viewpoint of Iao Needle on Maui.

One reason why it’s a great Maui hike for kids is that it’s just over half a mile long. Plus most of the hike is either paved or has stairs to get to the scenic viewpoint of I’ao Needle.

I’ve done it solo with a toddler and he walked the entire thing on his own.

Not only is it the perfect Maui adventure for little kids, but it’s also a fun stop for families driving around Maui.

There’s a $5 fee to park, otherwise, this is a free thing to do on Maui.

Snorkel Molokini Crater

If you want to go snorkeling on Maui, the most famous spot is Molokini Crater. Part of why families love this Maui activity is that you need to take a boat ride to get there.

Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids.
Molokini Crater near Maui.

The boat cruise is pretty fun. However the highlight is jumping into the water and swimming with sea turtles and other tropical Hawaiian fish.

Many boat tours also have water slides on board as well as kid-friendly flotation devices where kids can see underwater with a little help. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Family-Friendly Maui Attractions

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center is probably the most popular thing to do on Maui with toddlers and preschoolers.

Maui Ocean Center
Maui Ocean Center. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tommy Lundberg

This is one of the handful of aquariums in Hawaii and the coolest one (in my opinion). It houses both indoor and outdoor marine life exhibit areas, tidepools, and indoor aquariums.

Plus, you can walk through a fish tank immersion tube where you feel like you are walking through the ocean!

My favorite thing about the Maui Ocean Center is all the Hawaiian Cultural Programs they offer throughout the day. Find the best prices here.

Surfing Goat Dairy

One of the most unique things to do on Maui with kids is to check out this cute goat farm in Upcountry Maui.

Visiting Surfing Goat Dairy is one of the top things to do in Maui with toddlers. Image of a girl feeding goats.
Surfing Goat Dairy. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

Surfing Goat Dairy offers a range of tours where families can help take care of the goats and learn how to make goat cheese.

Even if you don’t do a tour, it’s fun to stop and say hi to the goats and taste some amazing goat cheese chocolate truffles!

It makes a great side trip after you’ve explored Haleakala Crater.

Maui Pineapple Tour

Maui has one of the last remaining working pineapple plantations in Hawaii. In fact, they are pretty famous for their Maui Gold pineapples.

So it makes sense that one of the best things to do with kids on Maui is taking a Maui pineapple tour! You can only really do this on Maui or Oahu.

Fresh pineapple on a table
Taste yummy Hawaiian pineapple

Here, you’ll have the opportunity to walk around the pineapple plantation, learn about Maui’s agricultural history and even see how pineapple cultivation has adapted throughout the years.

Plus there’s lots of yummy pineapple tasting, of course!

Kids as young as 2 years old can participate in this Maui tour and everyone takes home an “airport-ready” pineapple!

If you want an authentic pineapple tour, Maui is the best island for kids in Hawaii. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Maui Tropical Plantation

One of the coolest places on Maui for toddlers and young kids is the Maui Tropical Plantation in Wailuku.

Here, you’ll find a fun tram tour that takes you all around the property. You’ll even hop out for a 15-20 minute coconut husking demonstration that is sure to entertain your kids.

Find out what to do at Maui Tropical Plantation by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a green motorized tram at a Maui botanical garden
Maui Tropical Plantation. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They also offer a family-friendly zipline for kids ages 5 and older and one for thrill-seekers ages 10 and older.

Plus, they have an awesome coffee shop, market filled with made on Maui items, and one of the tastiest restaurants with an incredible view.

Best Maui Luaus for Families

While you can see a Hawaiian luau on any of the major Hawaiian islands, Maui has a ton of kid-friendly luau options.

The most popular luau on Maui for kids is the Old Lahaina Luau. It’s been around for decades and they have a good reputation for hands-on kids activities. Plus families can sit on mats on the ground. Check latest rates and availability.

The Feast at Lele is one of the best luaus on Maui
Photo credit: Feast at Lele

For families who have already done a traditional luau on another island or who are looking for something a little different, check out the Feast at Lele.

It’s the same organization that produces the Old Lahaina Luau, but it’s a plated dinner with Polynesian performances scattered throughout the meal. And it’s easy to let kids get some wiggles out at the beach during the show. Check the latest rates here.

The Myths of Maui Luau is another great option for families looking for an oceanfront Maui luau in West Maui. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Kid Friendly Maui Resorts

Honua Kai Resort & Spa

This is usually where we stay on Maui with kids. You can read my full review HERE. The main perks are Duke’s Restaurant, access to Kaanapali Beach, condo-style rooms, and their incredible pool area.

Hyatt Regency Maui

This is one of the top-rated family resorts in Maui Hawaii. It’s located in one of the best areas to stay in Maui. The main perks are their full-service spa, 5 on-site restaurants, and a water park. This is one of the best family resorts in Hawaii.

Marriott Maui Ocean Club

This is one of the most popular places to stay in Kaanapali Maui. You can read my full review HERE. The main amenities include the amazing pool area, on-site restaurant, kitchenette, free laundry, and kids activities.

So, Big Island or Maui? Which is the Best Hawaiian Island for Kids?

Truth be told, the best island in Hawaii for kids to visit will entirely depend on your own family’s interests and vacation goals.

The biggest difference between Maui and the Big Island is the sheer size of the island. Maui is small enough that it makes sense to stay in one place and do some day trips. However the Big Island is so huge that you’ll probably want to do a split stay to avoid spending all day in the car.

Both have pretty amazing boat tours, snorkeling, awesome beaches, fantastic restaurants, and plenty of cool photo ops! Maui and the Big are two of the best Hawaiian island for families who love adventure.

Whether you choose to visit Maui or the Big Island 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 the Big Island AND Maui?

If you want to island hop for a Big Island to Maui day trip, it’s really easy to travel from the Big Island to Maui or vice-versa. Maui to Big Island flights usually cost about $80-$100 each way. These are some of the best Hawaii islands for kids.

The flight from the Big Island to Maui is only about 45 minutes, so you have tons of time to explore if you want to do a day trip from Big Island to Maui or Maui to Big Island.

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.

Big Island vs Maui vs Kauai

If you are also considering visiting Kauai and debating between Maui vs Kauai, you’ll probably want to read my full post about Maui or Kauai and my post about Big Island vs Kauai.

The Big Island is much more laid back and rural than Maui or Kauai and they have a TON of attractions, activities, tours, and more.

Want more Hawaii travel resources? Find out how to rent a car in Hawaii, Oahu vs Kauai, things to know before you go to Hawaii, a breakdown of all the Hawaiian islands, and my step-by-step Hawaii planning guide!