How To Plan The Best Hawaii Family Vacation

There's a Hawaiian Island for Every Family — Find Yours

By Melissa Alvarado Sierra | Published on September 7, 2023

A Hawaii family vacation has something for everyone: Children will find a natural wonderland that will inspire curiosity, creativity and boldness, while parents can soak up the delightfully warm weather. Together, the whole family will enjoy the island culture and history, along with bountiful wildlife. A cruise adventure will expand your crew's horizons and understanding of what paradise really means. Welcome to island time, Hawaiian style.

Connect With Hawaii's Beauty

Island time is a concept you will find on many islands around the world. It basically means living at a slower pace, leaving worries behind and enjoying the moment. In Hawaii, it also means spending your time doing something you love, something that feeds the spirit and connects you to "Aloha ʻĀina," which means "love of the land." Mainlanders usually take some time to get used to the proverbial island time, but they always find that they are happier once they go with the Hawaiian flow.

Traveling with family means having the chance to not only get to know a new place but also reconnect with everyone. You want to create opportunities for that connection among your Ohana, your family. In Hawaii, the outdoors are an important part of daily life, with families eating, playing and even working outside. They honor and love the land, which is at the heart of Hawaiian identity. As you plan your cruise to Hawaii, focus on outdoor activities that the whole family will enjoy and think about it when you are packing and planning meals for your adventure out there in nature. Bring swimsuits, reef-friendly sunscreen, sunglasses, flip-flops, sneakers, hats and backpacks for when you're out on the road and might experience different activities on the same day. You can give your family different options and then vote to decide which adventure you'll all undertake together. Once you have your outdoor adventure visualized, you can make any necessary reservations and plan your day ahead of time.

Everywhere you look, Hawaii serves dramatic views and adventures in nature. One of my favorite things to do and one of the best vacation spots in Hawaii for families is the Lyon Arboretum, found in the rain forests of Mānoa Valley in Honolulu, Oahu (arguably the best Hawaiian island for families). It's a dramatic destination nestled in nearly 200 acres of tropical botanical gardens with abundant bird life. The kids will love immersing themselves in the forest and doing what some locals call "forest bathing" — a wellness practice with roots in Japan that is believed to be a form of therapy. The point is to sit quietly under a tree or walk slowly around the forest focusing on the fragrance, the natural sounds and the feel of the leaves and soil.

Another great way of connecting during your Hawaii family vacation is, of course, with a day at the beach. Hawaii is famous for its beaches and coastal beauty. In Oahu, you can choose among Waikiki, Waimānalo, Ala Moana and Yokohama Bay, or pop over to Kauai to dig your toes into the sand at Poipu, Hanalei or Nā Pali. If you're in Maui, there's also Lahaina, Kihei and Wailea. Your options for family-friendly beaches in the Hawaiian Islands are nearly endless. All are picture-perfect and offer just about everything. Think: flat water ideal for snorkeling, small swells perfect for learning to surf, beach-side bites to quell beach day hunger and more. Other amazing natural destinations include volcanoes, hiking trails and animal sanctuaries.

Here's a sample itinerary for outdoor exploration, especially if you only have a few hours available during your family vacation to Hawaii.


  1. Take a road trip from Honolulu via road 72.
  2. Make stops at Waimanalo Beach, Lanikai Beach and the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden. All three spots are celebrated for being stunning and immersive.
  3. Drive back to Honolulu via the H3 highway and take in the majestic scenery of the Koʻolau Range.

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Immerse In Hawaiian Culture

The Hawaiian Islands are a hub of different cultures and histories. It's home to descendants of Polynesia, Japan, America and more. You will notice this diversity as it manifests all around, and you'll see it in the beautiful multicultural festivals, music, food and even sports events. The history and culture runs deep here, and you'd be remiss not to learn all about it firsthand.

Hawaii is also a land of cowboys, which are called paniolo here. Your family can learn about their way of life with a visit to a paniolo ranch. You can ride a horse, play with farm animals and talk to a paniolo about what they do and why they love riding so much. One of the best places to experience this is at the Nalo Keiki Paniolo in Waimanalo, a magical place where young and old can experience life on a Hawaiian farm, ride together and then pet farm animals. You'll leave the farm knowing more about cowboy culture and the land of Oahu. You might even catch a paniolo competition!

Learning to hula is about much more than just dancing to beautiful Hawaiian beats; it's also a way to connect with Hawaiian culture through storytelling. The goal of this visual dance is to dramatize the words of a song, which is telling an important story. It incorporates six steps, moving the hips and making gestures to explain mythological characters, history and nature. This is the perfect opportunity to learn how to do something together in a new place and move the body. You can take lessons together or attend a luau that includes a short class. Most dancing lessons are interactive and typically open to all ages. You may be able to hire a private hula teacher if you prefer, too.

The best Hawaiian island for families depends a lot on what your group enjoys.

An Island For Everybody

The best Hawaiian island for families depends a lot on what your group enjoys. Get together and discuss the different activities available on each island and make a list of the ones that pique your interest. That way, you can all visualize your preferences and make an informed decision. Once you have an idea of what your family wants from this adventure, everything else will be much easier to plan. Pay close attention to departure cities, search cruises from Vancouver to Hawaii to find the latest itineraries, and arrive at least a day before embarkation, so you can enjoy Vancouver. You can also cruise to Hawaii from California if that's closer to you.

One of the best things to do during your Hawaii family vacation is to paddle like the locals do. You get to venture into the ocean in a traditional outrigger canoe, the ancient method of transportation of the Polynesians, and experience the island in a different way as you witness its beauty from the water. You will understand how the Polynesians first arrived in Hawaii and settled there and get a glimpse of their way of life, which was strongly influenced by the sea. You can book an outrigger canoe tour in Maui, Oahu and Kauai.

There are many islands in Hawaii, but the most popular and accessible for visitors are Kauai, Hawaii Island, Maui and Oahu. Kauai is where you'll find Poipu Beach, famous for the amazing snorkeling because of how accessible the snorkeling areas are from the beach. You can also go ziplining and attend impressive luaus, and if anyone in the family enjoys surfing, you'll be happy to know Kauai has some perfect waves.

Hawaii Island is famously home to a lava lake, but it's also home to secluded beaches, ancient petroglyphs, a magical valley known as Waipi'o and some of the most delicious coffee made on the island. If you only have a few hours here and want to experience something out of the ordinary, book a helicopter ride over the Volcanoes National Park or visit the park with your family. You will all witness the majestic beauty of Mauna Loa, the world's biggest volcano, as well as rainforests, meadows and deserts.

Maui is synonymous with gorgeous beaches, and for many, it's the best Hawaiian island for families. Why? The iconic drive to Hana, the view from Haleakala and swimming in Kaanapali Beach. Surfers, windsurfers and snorkelers will also love this destination.
Oahu is by far the most popular of all the islands, with iconic sites such as Waikiki, the Ala Moana Regional Park, Lanikai Beach, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, USS Arizona Memorial and the Waimea Bay Beach Park. Oahu beams with island life that includes the celebrated hula dance, the sounds of the ukulele and the salty air. This is also where you can find world-class dining and shopping. For all these reasons, Oahu might be the best place to vacation in Hawaii.

Written By

Melissa Alvarado Sierra is a journalist, author and sailor. She's been exploring coastal destinations around the world for more than a decade, always searching for authentic experiences to share with her adventurous readers. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Lonely Planet, Orion Magazine, AFAR, USA Today and others.

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