With its phenomenal natural beauty, Hawaii appeals to families. Instead of hanging out in shopping malls, kids can play on sandy beaches galore, snorkel amid colorful tropical fish and even watch lava flow. Then get them out of the sun for a spell by visiting museums, aquariums and historical attractions.

Best Islands for Kids

  • Oʻahu

Waikiki Beach is stuffed full of family-friendly accommodations. Everything else on the island is less than a half-day's drive away, from hiking Diamond Head to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay to Matsumoto's shave ice on the North Shore.

  • Maui

Rent a family-sized condo and chill on Maui's sunny leeward shores. Kids' eyes will pop on a winter whale-watching cruise or when your family catches the sunrise high atop Haleakalā volcano.

  • Kauaʻi

Baby beaches allow the pint-sized to get wet, and older kids can learn to surf. Be sure to peer into the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific' and at the stunning sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast before you leave.

  • Hawaiʻi, the Big Island

Horseback riding like a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy), ziplining through forests and maybe even seeing red-hot lava flow are just a few of Hawaiʻi's unforgettable experiences for kids.

Hawaii for Kids

There's not too much to worry about when visiting Hawaii with kids, as long as you keep them covered in sunblock. Here, coastal temperatures rarely drop below 65°F and driving distances are relatively short. Just don't try to do or see too much, especially not if it's your first trip to Hawaii. Slow down and hang loose!

Eating Out & Entertainment

Hawaii is a family-oriented and unfussy place, so most restaurants welcome children; notable exceptions are some high-end dining rooms. Children's menus, booster seats and high chairs are usually available everywhere – but if it's a necessity at every meal, bring a collapsible seat.

If restaurant dining is inconvenient, no problem. Eating outdoors at a beach park is among the simplest and best island pleasures. Pack finger foods for a picnic, pick up fruit from farmers markets, stop for smoothies at roadside stands and order plate lunches at drive-in counters.

Grocery and convenience stores stock national brands. A kid who eats nothing but Cheerios will not go hungry here. But the local diet, with its variety of cuisines, brightly colored fruit and plethora of sweet treats, may tempt kids away from mainland habits.

Commercial luau might seem like cheesy Vegas dinner shows to adults, but many kids love the flashy dances and fire tricks. Children typically get discounted tickets (and sometimes free admission when accompanied by a paying adult).

If parents need a night out to themselves, the easiest and most reliable way to find a babysitter is to ask a hotel concierge, or else contact Nannies Hawaii.

Feature: Is Your Child Old Enough?

Parents will find plenty of outdoor family fun for all ages on the bigger islands. However, some activities require that children be of a certain age, height or weight to participate. Always ask about restrictions when making reservations to avoid disappointment – and tears.

To learn to surf Kids who can swim comfortably in the ocean are candidates for lessons. Teens can usually join group lessons; younger kids may be required to take private lessons.

To take a snorkel cruise Depending on the outfit and type of boat (eg catamaran, raft), tours sometimes set minimum ages, usually from five to eight years. Larger boats might allow tots as young as two to ride along.

To go ziplining Minimum age requirements range from five to 12 years, depending on the company. Participants must also meet weight minimums (usually 50lb to 80lb).

To ride a horse For trail rides the minimum age ranges from seven to 10 years, depending on the outfitter. It helps if your child already has some riding experience. Short pony rides may be offered to younger kids.

To ride in a helicopter Most tour companies set minimum ages (eg two to 12 years) and some also set minimum body weights (eg 35lb). Toddlers must be strapped into their own seat and pay the full fare.

Children's Highlights

Restaurants, hotels and attractions that especially welcome children and have good facilities for families are marked with the family-friendly icon.

Beaches

Kuhio Beach Sand, surf and outrigger canoe rides at Waikiki.

Ko Olina Lagoons Artificial pools for splashing around on Oʻahu.

ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach Sunsets on the Big Island's Kohala coast.

Wailea Beach South Maui's gentlest crescent-shaped strand.

Baby Beach Kauaʻi's shallow South Shore waters beckon.

Water Adventures

Hanauma Bay Snorkel in a giant outdoor fishbowl on Oʻahu.

Maʻalaea Bay Winter whale-watching cruises with Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation.

Hulopoʻe Beach Snorkeling and sailing in Lanaʻi's Manele Bay.

Na Pali Coast Ride a catamaran sailboat to see Kauaʻi's tallest sea cliffs.

Kailua-Kona Take older kids snorkeling at night with manta rays on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.

Hiking

Manoa Falls Oʻahu's family-favorite forest hike climbs above downtown Honolulu.

Diamond Head Summit an extinct volcanic tuff cone outside Waikiki, on Oʻahu.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Trek the Big Island's active volcanic moonscape or crawl through a lava tube.

Haleakalā National Park Step onto Maui's biggest volcano above the clouds and through a bamboo forest by waterfall pools.

Waimea Canyon State Park & Kokeʻe State Park Dizzying clifftop lookouts, native birds and flora await on Kauaʻi's Westside.

Land Adventures

Kualoa Ranch Movie and TV set tours and horseback trail rides on Oʻahu's Windward Coast.

Piʻiholo Ranch Maui's longest zipline adventure on the slopes of Haleakalā volcano.

Dahana Ranch Genuine paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) trail rides on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.

Silver Falls Ranch Ride horseback to a hidden valley waterfall on Kauaʻi.

Cultural Activities

Waimea Valley Botanical gardens, archeological sites and waterfall swimming on Oʻahu's North shore, with poi-pounding, lei-making and hula-dancing lessons too.

Old Lahaina Luau Hawaii's most authentic, aloha-filled luau comes with music, dancing and an imu-cooked whole roasted pig, on Maui.

Pearl Harbor Squeeze inside a WWII-era submarine; pace a battleship's decks; or become a virtual-reality pilot, on Oʻahu.

Kamokila Hawaiian Village Outrigger canoe rides, traditional craft demonstrations and replicas of ancient Hawaiian houses, on Kauaʻi.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Hike to petroglyph fields or watch traditional hula kahiko dancing and chanting on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.

Museums

Bishop Museum Polynesian war clubs, feathered masks, an exploding faux-volcano and eye-opening planetarium sky shows in Honolulu, on Oʻahu

ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi Hands-on multimedia astronomy museum and 3D planetarium in Hilo, on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.

Whalers Village Museum Let kids imagine themselves aboard a 19th-century whaling ship, complete with harpoons and scrimshaw carvings, in West Maui.

Hawaii Children's Discovery Center Best rainy-day indoor playground for tots and schoolchildren, not far from Waikiki Beach on Oʻahu.

Aquariums & Zoos

Maui Ocean Center USA's largest tropical aquarium has special kid-sized viewing ports.

Waikiki Aquarium University-run aquarium sits beside Oʻahu's most popular beach.

Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm Unique family-friendly tour spot on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.

Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens Free kiddie zoo with walking trails, outside Hilo on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.

Surfing Goat Dairy Take a tour and pet the goats, or join in evening chores and milking duties, on Maui.

Planning

When choosing the time of year to visit, keep in mind that the windward sides of the islands get more rain and much higher waves during winter, which may nix swimming for kids.

Useful Websites & Books

  • Travel with Children (Lonely Planet) Loaded with valuable tips and amusing tales, especially for first-time parents.
  • Lonelyplanet.com Ask questions and get advice from other travelers in the Thorn Tree's online 'Kids to Go' and 'USA' forums.
  • Go Hawaii (www.gohawaii.com) The state's official tourism site lists family-friendly activities, special events and more – easily search the site using terms such as ʻkids' or ʻfamily.'

Where to Stay

When setting up a home base, choose your accommodations carefully based on your family's favorite activities and sightseeing priorities. Resorts offer spectacular swimming pools and other distractions, along with kids' activity day camps and on-call babysitting services. But parents might prefer the convenience and cost savings of having a full kitchen and washer-dryer, which many condominiums and vacation rentals offer.

Always ask about policies and bedding before booking any accommodations. Children often stay free when sharing a hotel or resort room with their parents, but only if they use existing bedding. Cots and roll-away beds may be available (usually for an additional fee). At condos, kids above a certain age might count as extra guests and receive an additional nightly surcharge; at a few condos, children are not allowed. Kids and even babies are welcome at many island B&Bs and vacation rentals, but not all.

What to Pack

Hawaii's small-town vibe means that few places – apart from top-chef's restaurants and five-star resorts – are formal, whether in attitude or attire. There's no need to pack your kids' designer jeans or collector-worthy kicks. Let 'em wear T-shirts, shorts and 'rubbah slippah' (flip-flops) just about everywhere you go. On the rainy windward sides of the islands or when visiting higher mountain elevations, rain gear, a warm hat and a sweater or fleece jacket will come in handy. Bring sun hats for everyone.

Hawaii's main islands have tourist convenience shops, such as the ubiquitous ABC Store, and beachfront stands where you can buy or rent inexpensive water-sports equipment (eg floaties, snorkel sets, boogie boards), so there's no need to lug them from home, unless your kids have superspecialized gear. Baby supplies, such as disposable diapers and infant formula, are sold everywhere, but for the best selection and prices, shop in bigger island towns and cities.

If you do forget some critical item, Baby's Away, Paradise Baby Co and Baby Aboard rent cribs, strollers, car seats, backpacks, beach toys and more. Major car-rental companies are required to provide infant and child-safety seats, but you must reserve them in advance (typically for $10 per day).