Visiting the Big Island

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi, we are taking two 14 year old girls to the Kailua/Kona area in August and need ideas about the best things to do. We did find out about the night snorkel which sounds great, and we'd love to tour the volcano.  What else do you recommend as far as beaches, sites, and things that don't cost alot? 

    We were just on the Big Island with two kids (though younger than yours) and we brought our breakfast to the beach and snorkeled every morning at Beach 69 in Hapuna. I grew up in Hawaii and I've never seen fish like that. Definitely not at Hanauma Bay. You need to go early to get parking (we got there no later than 8:30 all mornings) and to get prime shady beach space. This is great to do when jet-lagged. I'm pretty sure most families stayed through lunch and the afternoons, if they packed in enough food. 

    In the afternoons, after being out and about, we had access to both pool complexes at the Hilton Grand Vacation Club and the Hilton Waikoloa and that's where we saw teens. In the pool, swimming and going down pool slides, and just hanging out. The Big Island is great; have fun!

    My 17 year old son and I just returned from the Big Island and can't wait to go back already! Our favorite things, in no particular order, were:

    Night snorkeling with the Manta Rays 

    Driving to the southernmost point in the US and watching people jump into the ocean

    Eating at Super J's

    Swimming at Beach 69  We could have spent every day at this beach. Absolutely gorgeous and such calm swimming. 

    Eating malasadas at the same beach from the Malasada truck roadside

    Driving aimlessly to explore off the beaten track (we went to the northernmost point, southermost point, and westernmost point. We did not travel all the way to the Hilo side)

    4 wheel drive was a must for a lot of the places we accidentally found ourselves!

    There are a ton of free parks that have ruins of the Hawaiin kingdom to explore and find. 

    If I were to go back today, I would have either brought snorkeling gear or rented it for the whole week. Around every corner was another beautiful cove to snorkel. I would have figured out how to bring a beach umbrella and chairs. 

    I highly recommend swimming with manta rays. You get to see the beautiful sunset and then hang on the side of the boat while the manta rays swim by your feet. We had an amazing time and I recall there being a few teenagers and pre-teens on our boat. Not sure on cost, because a local friend arranged everything as a gift, but I think it should be affordable. Have a great trip! Stay safe.

    Check out the snorkeling trips to Captain Cook, it is a great place to snorkel and we took a trip there in the afternoon that was about 3-4 hours and was cheaper than the morning trips. There is also good snorkeling at Kahaluu Bay just south of Kona. It gets crowded so go early in the day. (Bring water shoes as the entry here is rocky.) Hapuna Beach is a beautiful beach with picnic tables, lifeguards, etc. north of Kona. It is a bit of a drive but was just named "The Best Beach in America" and is a great beach for swimming and playing. ($5 fee to park) I also suggest you download the National Park Service app and (assuming you have a rental car) do your own self-guided tour of Volcanoes Park as the van tours are really expensive, and the app gives you a lot of information about what you are seeing. Stop at Punalu'u Bake Shop on the way for sandwiches and have a picnic. You can also look at the other historical parks on the island which are quite interesting. Just be sure to bring hats, water and sunscreen as some involve a lot of walking around and it can be hot in the middle of the day. Another tip: don't buy sunscreen until you get there as they want you to use only reef-safe sunscreen and that is pretty much all they sell there. Have fun!

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is hands-down my favorite place in the Sandwich Islands.

    If you can afford to stay at the historic Volcano House hotel, with a room that overlooks the Halemaumau Crater, it is totally worth doing. There is also a campground.

    We have not been there since 2015 and there have been some eruptions of Kiluea Volcano since then, but check to see if the one-mile trail across the caldera is open. You can hike around the crater and across the crater. It is a very special experience.  Nearby, the town of Volcano has restaurants and art galleries. There is also a restaurant in the Volcano House hotel.

    If you go as far north as the cattle ranching country of Waimea, horseback riding is available at the famous Parker Ranch. There are grocery stores in the town of Waimea - an inexpensive place to get chocolate covered macadamia nuts to bring home as gifts.

    The nearby town of Honoka'a is home to Tex Drive In, where you can get scrumptious malasadas - stuffed Portuguese-style doughnuts - and other fine local delicacies. "Please call 808-775-0598 to get your order placed for pick up. No phone orders after 5:45pm. Check out our great menu! TEX DRIVE IN located on the Big Island, in beautiful Honoka'a."

    On the Kona Coast are historic parks with petroglyphs and fishponds; Ahuena Heiau (an ancient spiritual retreat) is a special place worth visiting.  Tours of coffee plantations may not appeal to 14-year-olds, but are fun for adults.

    Have fun!

    We were there in April.  As other posters mentioned, Hapuna beach is beautiful.  Our resort was right on it.  It's a great swimming beach.  However, my two teen boys felt the waves were too wimpy (at least at the time of year we went) for boogie boarding and body surfing.  We ended up at Kua Bay (aka Manini'owali Beach) and they loved it!  It's one of the smaller beaches, but it has the bluest water, the softest sand, and great waves.  Some local kids brought a giant air mattress and were riding the waves like an intense amusement park ride.  We always find it much cheaper to buy bodyboards and other beach gear at Costco or Walmart instead of renting.  For instance, we paid $29 for Morey boards at Costco in Kona, and it probably would have cost about $20 an hour if we rented.  We then pass our gear along to another random family on our last day.  In the past we have been "gifted" gear from other vacationing families and love the idea of paying it forward.  Have a great time!

  • Kona HI area with teenagers

    (3 replies)

    We are planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii which includes two days in Kona before we head to Naalehu. I'd love some suggestions as to where to stay in Kona and what to do with two teenage boys, ages 14 and 17. Mahalo!

    We visited Kona with teen boys in December 2019 and their absolute favorite thing was a night snorkel with manta rays - they still talk about it. There are several companies that do it; we used Be aware that sometimes the outing gets postponed due to high seas, so you have to be a little flexible - we ended up going a day later than we had planned. We also rented snorkel gear for the week and hit up beaches around the island, which they enjoyed - I'd say overall the water/beach stuff was their favorite part of Kona. We drove to Volcanoes National Park and hiked across the caldera there, which was cool, if you have time (although I'm not sure how the recent-ish eruptions have affected availability). Tours of coffee or cacao plantations can be fun depending on your kids - I'm not sure what's near Kona. We just stayed at a bare-bones AirBNB in Kona, since we planned to spend most of our time outside. Have fun!

    If for some reason you end up down by the Place of Refuge, aka Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, 22 miles south of Kona, there is a great snorkeling spot one block away.  It's called Two Step.  It's not the easiest water access, you have to step down from a lava shelf, and climb back up when you come out, but it's not too hard to do unless the waves are really strong. 

    The Place of Refuge itself I found very interesting, but not sure teenage boys would.  Lots of info about Hawaiian culture, taboo rules, etc.

    Snorkel cruise, rent kayaks or SUPs, eat shave ice. If pool access is not a big thing for you, lots of options in town or closer to town (as opposed to the South Kohala resort plexes) would probably be more fun for the teens.

  • Hawaii in February with 12 & 14 year olds?

    (4 replies)

    We are planning a trip to Hawaii and would like some advice. We are a family of four (kids 12 and 14) not drinkers or beach-goers. nor do we surf.

    We are interested in hikes - either on a trail or guided;  biking, caving and kayaking. I understand there are some beautiful parks and areas where we might go to see volcanic activity. which island would be best for this?

    Is there a good AirBnB or bed and breakfast?

    If you're not beachgoers or ocean lovers, not sure you'd get your money's worth out of a trip to Hawaii. Also, each island is different. Kauai and the Big Island probably have the most selection of hikes, and the Big Island is the one with current volcanic activity, sort of, you have to check the NPS site for the current updates and it's a very fluid (ha ha) situation that changes in terms of public access. Finally, I have considered going in February before, but always concluded losing that extra hour or two of sunlight makes it less cost-effective. I love Hawaii, literally just got back from a week in Maui, and would go again in a heartbeat, but it is expensive - both the flights and the cost of living there, so you really want to be confident you'll get your money's worth. We love to snorkel and it's fantastic for that.

    We stayed at a place on Champagne Pond on the Big Island on a February trip and found it a lovely, drama-free launch explorations.  We found it via VRBO or homeaway but then rented it cheaper though a property management place... so we learned to look for places on multiple listing services as prices for the same place can really vary!  While Champagne Pond was quiet, it is also remote - there is no breakfast service without a drive back to the small town.

    If you want volcanos, you want the Big Island (Hawaii). Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the place to go for volcanic activity. Things can change dramatically over time, but it is my understanding that there is currently a lava lake in the Halema'uma'u crater. I was there four years ago, and the glowing red plume from the crater was pretty dramatic. You can hike across the Kilauea crater with its steam vents, explore Thurston Lava Tube, and visit more craters than you can shake a stick at on Chain of Craters road. There is a hike to a field of pictographs, If you're lucky, there may be surface lava flows within hiking distance.

    Definitely try snorkeling--the underwater sights are amazing, with the west side of the big island having unbelievable clear water and an abundance of colorful tropical fish. You can kayak from Napoopoo to Captain Cook Monument, which is known as a great snorkeling location. I signed up for an organized kayak tour, which was great (I think the company I used is no longer in business). Rainbow falls, Akaka falls, Kiholo Bay, and Kaumana caves are awesome. The top of Mauna Kea is eerily alien and very cold if you are inclined to brave the altitude. For history, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau, the aforementioned pictographs, Pu'ukohola Heiau, Mo'okini Heiau, Laupahoehoe, and the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Ten of the world's 14 different climate zones can be found on the Big Island. It is truly amazing. 

    On one two-week trip with husband, mom, aunt, and brother, we rented houses or condos in three different locations around the island. We used VBRO. Sorry, no specific recommendations as the place I liked in Honomu doesn't seem to be listed any more. But I definitely recommend choosing at least two base points around the island. It is a long drive from the west side of the island to the east, and many visitors end up giving short shrift to the volcato (southeast) and east side of the island (much less touristy with a larger local population) by trying to do everything out of one resort on the Kona coast.

    There are more amazing places on the island than I could possibly list here. I highly recommend the book "Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed" by Andrew Doughty. It doesn't stint on the islands many historic and natural attractions, far beyond beaches.

    I think you would like the Big Island. Because it is the newest island, there aren't a lot of sandy beaches, so it isn't the white sand vacation spot that a lot of people look for in a Hawaii trip. It's also pretty rural, but that makes it feel very relaxing. We always stay on the Kona side near Captain Cook because an old friend of mine lives there. One place we stayed that we really liked was called Aston Kona by the Sea. It's a small 1960s-style condo complex on the rocky shore and has large comfortable rooms and is close by some good snorkeling beaches. City of Refuge is a short drive away and is a wonderful place to spend the afternoon walking around. There are many small rocky beaches tucked in here and there where people go snorkeling or just look at the sea. If you want to buy some flipflops or a muumuu you can drive up the road a bit to Kailua Kona and have a low-key Hawaiian tourist experience.  I really like the Kona side.

    Usually we go to Volcano National Park for a couple days. It's hard to drive there and back on the same day from Kona, so it's worth spending a night or two in Volcano.  There are lots of places in the park to hike and explore, from active distant steam vents to a walk around the caldera to fern-lined trails through lava tubes!  When we were there last year, Kilauea was active -- going to see it at night was just spectacular, and there is a very good observation area with a visitor center where you can look from afar. There is also a lodge inside the park where you can have a nice dinner overlooking the caldera or stay there overnight - I've never had good luck finding anything on AirBnB in or near Volcano so maybe the lodge is the best bet.  

    I also like visiting Hilo. It's the biggest city on the Big Island but it feels more like a small rural cowboy town.  It's very green and lush. There is a fantastic tsunami museum in Hilo that's well worth a visit, and the Hilo bay is really pretty, with lots of people on paddle boards - that might be a fun activity for your teens. Not too far from Hilo is another volcano - Mauna Kea. It is so tall that it has snow on top and you drive through the clouds to get to the visitor center. Further up is the observatory which you can also visit but the altitude is really intense.  I have not hiked in that area but I'm sure there must be trails.

    And there is also really great snorkeling on the Big Island! You can rent gear there. I don't much like traipsing around on coral and sea urchins but I'm really glad I got to see what it looks like underwater - it takes your breath away (no pun intended.) 

    On the Big Island there is also a resort area called Waikoloa which I tried a few years ago when my kids were little and they just wanted a giant swimming pool and unlimited (expensive) burgers. We haven't been back, but it's there for people who like the resort scene! There are also many interesting places to explore, such as the birthplace of King Kamehameha which is in the middle of nowhere on a windy plateau overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  I think that would be an interesting place to hike!

    Enjoy your vacation.

  • hi, we're planning 3 wks on the Big Island, and through recommendations here on BPN are thinking of staying in the Kapaho area- with the naturally warm lagoons. We're starting with 10 days in a condo in Kohala, where we're really excited by being near the beach, near a couple pools, hot tubs, and not too far from everything.  We want to explore the Hilo side as well, but with a 1 yr and 5 yo, we're really looking for a kid-friendly situation. I'd like to plop the kids down and not worry too much about them- beach seems easier than rocky lagoons.  And we're thinking of 2 days in Volcano to check out Volcano NP.   Don't want to have to move around too, too much.  We've been told Kapaho for more than 3-4 days is a bit long. But in posts here on BPN people seemed to love it. So- how long is too long in Kapaho?  And, any other ideas for staying on the Hilo side?

    Any thoughts or ideas?  Thanks!

    I started down the road of planning a big island trip for this year with my 6 & 8 yos. We were planning on about a week near Kailua, 3 nights in Hilo, and one night in Volcano. Have been there before, although not with kids, so just sharing FYI. May still do the trip next year with the same breakdown.

  • Looking for recommendations for lodging for 5 nights on the Big Island in early May, also things to do. Would like to rent a place with a small kitchen so we don't have to eat out every meal. Airbnb is fine. We've never been, we're psyched! Thanks :) 

    Eat at Merriman Big Island.

    Volcano National Park - Drive the Chain of Craters road and hike the Kīlauea Iki Trail. 

    We just got back!  We also spent 5 days, and it was sooo fun.  We did 2 nights in Captain Cook, one night in Volcano, 2 nights in Hilo - all Airbnbs.  We drove the perimeter of the island, stopping along the way for poke, malasadas, waterfalls, hiking, and beaches.   Captain Cook has great beaches and snorkeling.  Volcano National Park was so amazing, and the main crater has active lava right now so it's extra cool.  I recommend getting dinner in the hotel there at the park - you can have a cocktail and watch the sunset over the crater while you wait for your table.  The Kailiua Iki crater hike is also very cool.  Then we spent a day exploring Puna, which was warm and pretty and super groovy.  Over evening beers, some hippies at Uncle Awa's bar told us that you can rent bikes up the street and bike to the active lava flow.  Recommend!!  It was amazing.  We ditched our beers, rented 2 bikes with baskets and bottles of water ($15/each) and did the 4 mile ride over the lava bed to see the tube flowing (exploding!) into the sea.  There is also active lava flow oozing down the mountain side, so we hiked up about a mile and saw that.  You can hike, but the bike made the rather boring 4 miles in much quicker.  Sunset was a great time to do this.  I think we left after 5pm, and biked back in the dark but it was fine.  Then off to Hilo, which was nice.  We stayed right in the middle of town.  The farmer's market was lovely, and there are some great antique stores, too, if you're into that.  Ohhh I want to go back....

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Dec 2014

RE: Hawaii in May with our 6 and 8 y o
We went to the Big Island in May about 3 years ago and stayed in Puna. It was really lovely and driveable to the volcano, which is super cool. We rented a house via VRBO: It was paradise. It rains a bit in the Puna area, but the Kapoho area tends to be a sunny microclimate. Our house was on the water, with tidepools that had amazing fish and little crabs. Our 5 year old was in heaven. We also stayed at a big resort on the other side of the island, but our time in Kapoho was really the best. We could cook our own food and just relax. If that sounds like fun to you, I would definitely recommend it. Wish I could go back

Infant/Toddler Care on Big Island Hawaii

Feb 2014

We are taking our 10 month old and 2.5 year old to the Big Island of Hawaii in early April and are looking for a reliable nanny/mothers helper/babysitter to care for the kids while my husband and I attend some of the day and night activities sponsored by his company. Would love any/all referrals from families who have been to Big Island recently and had a good experience with one of the local caregivers. Nikki

We just got back from the Big Island and had a great experience with a sitter from Mahilini Keiki Care. She walked into a chaotic environment (a 5 year-old, a 4-year old, a 2 year-old, and an 8 month-old, two grandparents, & 4 parents), and just made everyone (kids and adults) comfortable right away. She gave the kids dinner, put all 4 down, no problems whatsoever. We parents were comfortable within minutes of her arrival that the kids were fine and we could all enjoy our fancy dinner out. The agency was easy to book with, she was on-time and completely professional. Ours was for nighttime sitting, but they'll send sitters who will take your kids to the pool or do other activities during the day. We got the recommendation from friends who used a sitter from Mahilini Keiki Care multiple times on their trip last year. She was with their kids for several days -- swimming, playing, etc -- while the parents went hiking, went to dinner, etc. The only thing I wish I could tell you was our sitter's name -- I had it in my phone, and unfortunately, my phone later went for a swim in the ocean! Nostalgic already

March 2013

RE: Maui was too windy

I had to respond after seeing the previous poster's response regarding the Big Island. Perhaps it was the area that they stayed in but there are plenty of things to do with kids on the Big Island and it is no more impoverished than the rest of Hawaii. We have been going with our kids who are now 7 and 11 since they were babies. We stay on the Kohala Coast. There are lots of great condo complexes that have areas for your kids to run around and pools. There are lots of great beaches for both older kids (Hapuna Beach) and younger kids (the Mauna Kea beach or the Mauna Lani beach). There are also plenty of kid activies including the great astronomy museum in Hilo, a trip to Mauna Kea to see the stars (you might not be able to go all the way up with young kids but you can go most of the way for their star shows).

If you can stand it you can also take your kids to the Hilton Waikaloa Village. It is a little like Disneyland with a monorail, boats and dolphins. My kids love it still and we go once every trip. There are also plenty of good restaurants (both high end and inexpensive). We love the Big Island since it has much less traffic than Maui and is generally less congested. As for the wind, you can get it anywhere in Hawaii depending on the weather pattern. Last time we were on the Big Island it was very windy but we drove about 10 miles south and there was no wind at all. Loves the Big Island

Where to stay on Big Island (Hawaii)?

Jan 2012

Our family will be visiting Hawaii in February, and I'm looking for recommendations on where to stay near Kona and/or Volcanoes National Park. Please tell me if there are specific hotels, condos or houses on the Big Island you used that you really loved (or ones you'd avoid!), especially kid-friendly ones. Something near a beach with our own kitchen would be ideal, but I'm open to other suggestions. Thanks! Dreaming of Warm Beaches

Kona Magic Sands is a condo complex. The pictures at the website pretty much say it all. Inexpensive, tidy condos with kitchen right next to Magic Sands (also called White Sands) beach. The beach sometimes magically disappears, though, washed away by a storm only to be returned by one days, weeks or even months later. It once disappeared and reappeared when we were staying there. There is a salt water pool. The snorkeling right off the complex is very good, which means that one parent can duck down and snorkel while the kids nap.

The beach, when it is there, is small, but great for building sand castles. It is nice to have such a convenient beach.

Make sure you get The Big Island Revealed. The website has reviews of places to stay.

We always split our stays between the volcano side and the Kona side. If you go to the volcano side and your kids are up for a 4 mile hike the Kilauea Iki hike is fantastic--kids love it. Susan

You should look into renting a house in Puako, a little one-road community north of the Kona airport. It's almost all privately owned homes (both small and big ones), either ocean front or just across the street. Public access is plentiful if you are across the street. The coastline is more lava/snorkeling than sandy beach (which is typical of the Kona coast). There is a small, locally owned market on the street, and you're biking (or a short drive) distance to both 'Beach 69' (a somewhat local secret) and Hapuna State Beach - if you need to get your pure, sandy beach fix. For the most part you'll only find accommodations right on sandy beaches at the resorts.

We had a great time at the White Sands Village condos on the Big Island. I had some very specific criteria: two bedrooms, one with twin beds (otherwise my kids fight, and don't sleep as well), a pool, wifi, quick access to a beach (but didn't have to be on the water), air conditioning (We didn't need it much, but I like to know I can cool off the place at bedtime.), and a full kitchen. I searched VRBO, and White Sands Village met all these requirements. It's right across the street from White Sands beach. We had a large, back unit, which came with two bathrooms, parking, boogie boards, fins, beach mats, towels, and a washer and dryer. I highly recommend it. The listing is

You do need a car, though. Karen check out this condo near mauna kea. we stayed there last april. its really nicely done and comfortable, everything brand new but only downside is you can't walk to beach. (trade off is the view) but we actually found a really cool new beach that is outside of all the resorts this past time so it didn't really matter where we stayed because we drove to that beach every day anyhow awesome infinity pool, hot tub and really nice workout place is right down the road

Big Island - where to stay with kids (ages 2 & 4)

April 2011

We are going to be on the Big Island in October for a week. We were going to stay at Kona Village but it was closed after the tsunami. Any suggestions for alternatives would be greatly appreciated as we have our flights already booked. Thank you!

I just did extensive research on condos on the Big Island and would recommend a condo over a hotel unless you feel room service is critical. It seemed like Fairway Villas were pretty child friendly in Waikoloa. If you can afford it, Kolea has the best views, beach access and amenities in Waikoloa. The Waikoloa Beach (not village) development has several condo complexes and two hotels. It has great beaches, lots of fun stuff like outrigger rides etc and shops and restaurants. Apparently the Hilton is like a dream for kids but has downsides, like it's huge and hard to get around. South of Kona, we stayed at the Outrigger Kanaloa a few years ago and our oceanfront lower unit was spectacular-- dolphin show every morning and evening and fun to watch Dragon Boat teams practicing too. Convenient supermarket/drugstore but nothing special as to food or activities within a mile. Lots of availability on condos on the Big Island. Have a great time! Big Island Aloha

Hightly, highly recommend the Hapuna Prince Resort on the Kona side. We lived on the Big Island (Hilo side) when my kids were 2 & 4 and we used to go to the Hapuna for mini weekend vacations. It's got a great pool (nothing fancy, just great), hot tubs, awesome poolside cafe where you can order then wait in the pool for them to deliver your salads, sandwiches & Arnold Palmers. Hang out on the grass in a hammock or lounge chair. AND there's a great sandy beach (good for swimming) that you can walk to from the pool. Staff are really nice and the grounds are gorgeous for walking around. You won't spend much time in your room, but it'll be great too! Here's a link: Aloha

We love the Kona Hawaiian Resort and have been going there for many years. Everyone is very nice, the units are spacious and well decorated, and it is quiet, as the units are spaced out. All the units are the same: 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, full kitchen, lanai. The master bathroom has a a whirlpool bathtub. The resort is very kid friendly. You can learn more about the resort at

3 days Big Island Hawaii with 5yo and grandpa

March 2011

I will be spending 3 days in April on the Big Island with my 5-year old daughter and very active 80-year old father. I know that driving distances on the island are tricky and am wondering what people would recommend as highlights for just 3 days. My father would like to go to Volcanoes National Park and I would like to do some snorkelling and hiking. I have read through the recommendations on BPN. Many people recommend Kapoho Beach Lots but I have heard that the water in the pools may not be sanitary, and that an elderly man died of bacterial infection after swimming there. Does anyone have more current info on Kapoho? And would you stay there if you had just 3 days? another mom

I've spent a lot of time on the big island, Hilo is a wonderful base, great snorkeling at Richardson's Beach. Volcano Park is wonderful though getting to view actual lava is a trek in itself, not something I would recommend for a 5 year old. The tubes hike and viewing the steam vents is fun and a great day trip. There is another source for lava viewing outside the park, down hwy 130(?-not sure it tha's the highway, you want to check to learn if the flow is visiblw before heading out there). Hilo offers the beach, a great farmers market, a free zoo plus good eats. I've stayed in Kapoho, the snorkeling was fabulous - I'm not aware of the bacteria issue. This is a tide pool preserve (no beach, just lava rocks and pools) which can be tricky negotiating, esp. for a kid. The nearest town is one street Pahoa, 30 minutes away. Feel free to email me for more info or with questions. viu

We go to Big Island a lot with kids in tow. It depends on where you are landing...Kona or Hilo side. We love snorkeling in Kapoho and the nearby warm ponds. It is a natural swimming pool size warmed by underground steam and right by the ocean....sitting in the pool, you are surrounded by coconut trees, watching waves crashes on the rocks....wish I was there now. April in Hilo is the international Hula festival and quite a sight. Farmers market in Puna, mid way between Hilo and Kapoho is very good on the weekends. Farmers market in Hilo on Saturday is also not to miss. Hilo zoo is cute and free and our kid loves it. Loves the Big Island

Two or three days is the ideal amount of time to spend at Volcanoes National Park. There is so much to see that it's nice not to have to rush through everything in a single day. If you can, stay at the lodge in the park (if it is open; when we were there last summer it was closed for renovations). The park is open 24 hours, and that way, you can check out Halema'uma'u crater at night when it's glowing red. The park rangers are very helpful in directing you toward daytime activities that are within your interest and physical capability, whether hiking through a rain forest, across a lava bed, etc. Don't miss the Chain of Craters road, as there are many interesting cultural and geological sites along the way. Wear sunscreen and carry LOTS of water with you. There are very few if any drinking fountains outside of the visitors center in the park.

If you can, read at least part of the legend of Pele and Hi'iaka before visiting the park. It will enhance your cultural understanding of the area greatly. The English translation by Emerson is a good version, or if you are ambitious, there's a new English translation by Nogelmeier that is also very good.

Re. Kapoho Tide Pools--the drive through Puna is very scenic and the tide pools are stunnng, as far as tide pools go. We didn't snorkel there because we didn't have our equipment with us, but the water is clear and others there who were snorkeling in the outer tide pools described it as 'eye candy'.

Just anecdotally, the water in that area is questionable, however. A few days after spending the day at Kapoho and the Ahalanui swimming pool, my son mysteriously came down with canker sores in his mouth, which the doctor said was due to a virus. (I didn't tell the dr. that we had swum there so I don't know exactly if it was the water or just a bug going around.) Oh, and despite what the tour books say, Ahalanui is kind of scuzzy unless you've never seen a naturally heated ocean-fed swimming pool before. I would pass on it. Big Island traveler

My family (age range 6 to 65) spent ten days on the Big Island last summer and we managed to see and do a bit of everything, but it did involve a LOT of driving! Volcanoes National Park is fascinating and you could easily spend all three days just in and around the park. Lots of good hiking there, so that's covered. For snorkeling your best bets are elsewhere, though. I hadn't heard any rumors about health problems but the *easiest* and quickest snorkeling destination is clearly Kahalu'u Beach Park, just south of the main commercial district of Kona-Kailua. It can be crowded there but there's some amazing snorkeling pretty close in. You can even just *wade* out to see the turtles.

The best beaches for just swimming and sunning are farther north, in the Kohala area where all the big resorts are, but it's a deceptively long drive from there to Volcano. And you can certainly snorkel at any of them, but you're a bit less likely to see a ton of aquatic life.

If you're up for a bit of a splurge, in order to see that aquatic life without much hassle, I highly recommend the submarine tour that departs from the Kona wharf. Pricey, but fantastic for kids and anyone who isn't totally comfortable with swimming or snorkel gear. You really see a lot.

Get The Big Island Revealed -- the best single guidebook out there (notwithstanding what my sister called a 'snarky attitude' by the author -- tons of good info and humorous stories too) -- and study up on the different areas of the island and the different beaches, so you can choose where to focus your time. Have fun! Holly

Big Island for spring break

Feb 2010

I took the plunge and booked us for the Big Island for spring break. We'll want to stay and visit both sides of the island, Hilo and Kona, and include volcano visits. I'm looking for recommendations on places to stay, that will be interesting and exciting for my 12-year-old. An interesting pool is a plus, if not a must. But of course we can't afford the $500 a night places. Please share some ideas, as all the recommendations are quite old. Also interesting activites would be great. We plan on a helicopter ride above the volcano and for our son to swim with the dolphins at the Hilton resort, but other ideas are welcome too, including special places to snorkel, lovely beaches, etc. Thanks in advance. Amy

We lived in Hilo for 2 years. One unique thing to do is visit the remarkable observatory complex atop Mauna Kea. 14 major observatories. By writing or emailing or phoning ahead, we were always invited by at least one to come inside. Scots and Canadians were especially friendly. We loved the 90-minute drive from the hot Hilo or Kona beach to the below-zero, often snowing 14,000 peak. We'd bring potato chip bags which would explode en route. Harpers ( rents 4-wheel drive cars, probably a good idea.

Visitors who did the helicopter volcano trip inevitably said they preferred the boat ride, (, or better still, hiking in. And the safety issue: at least 5 fatal crashes of tourist helicopters in the last 5 years. Hiring a personal guide for an evening is a lot less than boat or copter rides ( Daily volcano action update here: ( And of course you will have a Loko Moko at the Cafe 100 where it all began: John

Don't miss the Hawaiian garden on the Hilo side. I'm not sure of the exact name but it's a well known attraction. They are stunning and fun for kids too. Lots of paths, waterfalls, and they meet up with the ocean for a stunning view. Aloha!

I don't have a lot of good advice on places to stay because we have some family members with a condo on the island and that is where we have stayed--but you might look into condos/timeshares; it can sometimes be a money saver because you can cook your own meals. For things to do, I highly recommend snorkeling, and the Captain Cook Monument on the Kona side is one of the best places in the world to do it. You have to hike down to it, which might be a bit hard for kids, but there are also a number of pretty affordable places operating out of Kona that will take you by boat to the Monument and usually one other location for snorkeling and provide all the gear, etc. It is a great option and when my husband and I went there were definitely people with young kids on our boat. Another great activity is horseback riding in the valleys on the north end of the island. There is an outfit that does horseback riding in Waipio valley in the north and it is really quite beautiful. The best travel book on the Big Island, which will have the names for providers for all of these things, is the Big Island Revealed (I can't remember the author, sorry)--I really recommend it. Have fun! Anon

There is a magical place south of Hilo called Kapoho Beach Lots. It's a gated subdivision of homes that is all that remains of a village that was covered by lava years ago. What's so special about this place is not the homes, nor any sandy beaches (there are none), but the thermally heated lagoons, which are actually man-made swimming pools whose water comes in and out with the tides (the levels fluctuate by a few inches). They're crystal clear, have fish in them, and are just incredible to swim in. The home rentals are private, reasonably priced, and the pools are like nothing else in this world. Check it out. Be sure to rent a house with its own lagoon. The public one is fine, but having your own is just paradise. We've been 3 times now... heidi

We just got back from 11 days on TBI. We rented a condo in the Vista Waikoloa and a cottage in Kapoho and would do it again. Vista is easy walking to the Hilton for your dolphin adventure as well as walking from A-bay for easy snorkeling. A-bay is also a base for some boating trips and the hut there is honest, e.g., won't go out for snorkeling when it's too silty. We also drove north for hiking and other beaches. We drove south to Kona for one afternoon/evening and were so happy not to be in that hustle. In Kapoho we had water front lodging so there was no need to go anywhere besides the visit to Volcano NP. Note, the NP lodging and restaurant are currently closed for renovation so there is no food in the park. The Craters rim road is partially closed due to sulfuric vapors. The lava flow is not currently reaching the ocean so there is no lava to hike and see - though still nighttime glow from a distance. Of course all that could change tomorrow :) Anyway, you might want to understand current lava flow before shelling out for a helo flight. drink a rum for me!

I've snorkled a bit on Maui and Big Island, and by far my favorite place thus far has been at the Captain Cook monument in Kealakekua Bay. It's untrammeled since it's only accessible by boat or kayak (there used to be a trail but I think it's closed now). I highly recommend you rent a kayak, so that you can stay a while and be there when the big snorkle tour boats aren't there. The kayak ride is short and calm; you can see where you're going from the dock, and it's just along the inside edge of the bay. (It was only my second time kayaking and it was no problem.) As a bonus, you kayak right across a sanctuary for spinner dolphins. We saw them leaping and spinning out the water. It seems the pod is often there--we saw them, and so did my brother on a separate trip. You might also want to check out Flumin' Da Ditch in Koala ( It's a ride on a kayak through the old tunnels and channels used to carry water to the sugar plantations. This is no thrill ride--it's very slow and leisurely--but interesting to learn about the history of the area, and to ride through the tunnels and elevated channels. love Hawaii

HI Amy, we (my kids are 7 and 9 yo old) just got back from 10 days on the Big Island and still didn't have time to do it all. We also stayed on both sides of the island so as to have easy access to Volcanoes National Park, though in Hilo we stayed with friends, so I can't recommend any place to stay. On Kona side we stayed at two different condo accomodations both in the Waikaloa development (near the Hilton you mentioned)-- the Shores and Fairway Villas-- neither came close to $500/ni so if you want a 'kitchen- home' place rather than hotel accomodation I would recommend either and they each have central pool. We stayed at Fairway Villas for about $300/ni and Shores for $178/night for 2 bedroom, thogh granted the Shores quoted me their 'locals' rate and stuck to it even though later they realized I wasn't a local. Seems like all the beaches we went to had turtles so that was 'cheap' excitement! I highly recommend the National Park that has long Hawaiian name but is otherwise known as the 'Place of Refuge'. Snorkeling boats abound out Kailua-Kona area so take your pick. Most highly recomment the 'Hawaii REvealed' guidebook as a way to sift thru places to 'Not Miss' according to your likes and dislikes. Hapuna Beach has the best googie boarding ever and was the best beach overall from our stay. At Volcano there are tons of vistas and hikes-Jagger Museum gives great overview of volcano history. We did not do the night hike to the glowing lava (it is not spilling into the ocean right now) but it may be something you can do with your 12-yo-- it is a LONG hike. This may be too off-beat to recommend, but we engaged with the local way to graffiti-- at some beaches the beach rubble is hunks of bleached coral-- if you collect enough of it (it takes a while) you can go out to the black lava fields along the highways and 'write your msg'-- you'll see tons of it. Also only worth it if you/your son like hiking (or have 4WD vehicle), is the hike to the green sand beach at South Point-- it is truly a green beach. Have a great time-- the island is amazing. If you have any other questions as you plan, feel free to email me directly. luisa

2008 - 2009 Recommendations

Big Island with 10-month-old daughter in November

Sept 2009

We are going for 10 days (flying in and out of Kona) and would like some quality beach time, but also want to see Volcanoes National Park and some of the lush scenery of the Hilo area. Any recommendations on places to stay and fun things to do? We aren't big resort-goers and usually book private homes and cottages, but we are open to all suggestions. Thanks! Jill

I lived on the Big Island for 2 years in the early 1990's and the Botanical Gardens just north of Hilo are really gorgeous and worth going to. There are some pretty birds there,too. You can spend as much time as you want wondering around and it is truly a lovely area. The farmer's market in Hilo is really fun as well. Also, the Panawea Zoo, just south of Hilo is very spacious and fun. There are some nice B's near Volcano National Park, but be prepared that the volcano area can feel quite desolate and just not that ''tropical''. The best way to see the volcano, depending on it's activity, is to drive down as far as you can and then hike the rest of the way late in the afternoon. If you stay till dark, it's very dramatic. However, be prepared with flashlights and good solid soled shoes as well as sweatshirts. I would plan to spend the night in the area if you do this. You can end up feeling like a lot of time is spent in the car if you try to see too much in too short a time. The best beaches are on the Kona side. Be sure to go to Hapuna, which is really beautiful. The waves can be big in December and the water a little cool. Feel free to email me if you want more info. Also, I know a lot has changed since I lived there. Marika

Vacation on the Big Island

April 2008

Hi, I was hoping to get some recommendations for places to stay on the Big Island. We will be flying into Kona. We have two children, 2 & 3.5 and really enjoy outdoor activities; a place that is family/kid friendly. We prefer not to stay in a large hotel but open to smaller ''resorts''; something a bit more quaint but clean and well kept. I looked at some rental units in Keauhou Kona Surf & Racquet Club because it was highly rated. It looked nice but I do not know a thing about the area. I have reserved tickets for May so I would like to book the lodgings soon so any recommendations/advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Jean

We just got back from a family vacation on the Big Island and stayed at the Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort. It is a timeshare resort, but I believe you can find it on Expedia, etc. and you don't have to reserve a whole week. I have been to the the Big Island 3 times, and stayed further north in Waikola (spelling?) the other two times. I loved staying further south near Kona. There was a great snorkeling beach just south of our hotel that Snorkel Bob trys to steer you away from, but hey, we had 5 kids with us and wanted to see fish. It was also easy to drive to the coffee country, Refuge, and you can drive around the south now to Volcanic National Park (stopping at the black sand beach, where my sister-in-law reported they saw turtles). ANYWAY about the resort, two bedroom with a living room and kitchen. I think the resort is on the small side, the units are set up like individual houses with just one up/one down. Quiet (when we were there), pool area was not huge but de! finately adequate for the kids, BBQ grills (which we used almost every night). Just be firm and say NO if they try to suck you into a timeshare tour. Do your grocery shopping at Costco or Safeway. Best book to buy or borrow before you go: Hidden Big Island? Big Island Hidden? (sorry, can't remember the exact name). Wish I had read it before we ventured out each day. Wish I was still there...

2006 - 2007 Recommendations

Hilo or Kona or Both?

Nov 2007

We're contemplating a trip to the Big Island in February. We're debating Kona, Hilo, or both - it's only five days so we don't want to overdo it. Volcanos Nat'l Park is the only must-do.

Looking at flights, the options to return from Hilo are way better, so we could go just to Hilo. But I'm tempted to fly in to Kona, do the fancy hotel thing for a couple of nights, then drive over and spend the last three nights in Kapoho with a serious day trip to the Park and fly out of Hilo.

Too much? We have a 3 year old and a 6 year old and want some quality turtle watching, beach, hiking time, etc. without excessive running around, making the Kapoho house rental and generally quieter vibe of that side seem great. On the other hand, it's my 40th b-day so the spa/hotel/no need to cook pampering concept is also appealing.

We've never been to any part of Hawaii and it may be a long time before we get back there. Thoughts? Recommendations? First time Hawaii visitor

Both sides of the island have their pleasures. Hilo is on the wet side of the island. Think waterfalls, gardens and rain forests. It is also the historic population center of the island (until the tourists came), and has museums and cultural sites. Theres a lava tube, a lava forest, and good access to the volcano. The west side (Kona) has much better swimming and snorkling. Reefs make the water calmer and clearer. If your vision is to spend a lot of time in the water, you'll want to spend some time on the west side.

Decide what your priorities are. If you want to do both sets of stuff, you can definitely pull off splitting your time (you might have to get on the road early to get back to the airport you flew into). Circumnavigating the island will give you a chance to see all the island's varied terrain, including rainy Waimea, the cowboy capital of Hawaii. Carrie

We visited the Big Island last winter and absolutely loved it. We were lucky in that we split two weeks between the Big Island and Kauai- so we knew we'd have LOTS of lounging beach time once we went to Kauai so spent much of our Big Island time on the go. We certainly did some relaxing there too! I have lots of recommendations for great things to do. We had our 3 1/2 year old with us. We stayed in a condo just south of Kona for 3 nights and rented a guest house just outside Volcano National Park for 4 nights (visiting Hilo sights during that time). We flew into Kona and out of Hilo. Please feel free to e-mail if you'd like more details or to see some photos to whet your appetite! Jen

You should definitely check out both Hilo and Kona. Kona does have ritzy salon treatments at the Mauna Kea or Mauna Loa hotel (I forget the name, it's the Sheraton hotel). You can take a scenic drive to from Kona to Hilo along the north part of the island. You could stop in Waimea which is a lovely ranch town. Hilo has a cute little rocky beach area with lots of shallow wading pools that many people take their children to. Hilo has more of the genuine, old school Hawaii feel and a quaint downtown with great restaurants and nice little art galleries and shops. Check out rainbow falls in Hilo. They are magnificent! Rebecca

In a five-day trip, with a focus on wanting to see Volcanoes Nat'l Park, and getting some relax time too, stay on Hilo side. However the best beaches (in my opinion) are on the Kona side. I grew up on the Kona side, and the best snorkeling beach I know of is on that side, as well as the best beaches in general (Hapuna for surf, King Kam for little ones, and Kahalu'u for snorkeling, shave ice, and turtles (they even come right up on shore there!). You can e-mail me directly if you want more info! Kukana

Two years ago we did a trip to the Big Island with 3 kids (1, 6, 9) and stayed at Kapaho. It was AMAZING. We were going to stay in Kona for a day or two, but we didn't want to leave our place on the other side. (And it wasn't touristy at all). We rented a house with our own turtle, and right on Champagne Pond. (Heated by the thermal springs) - so the kids could go snorkeling all day, and we went into the Hilo's Farmers market and got great fresh food and just hung out. In the morning, there were up to 12 sea turtles in Champagne Pond that you could swim with. We were also able to make many fun day trips - volcano, black sand beaches, etc. You will have a great time - melissa

Five days isn't really enough time to do it all (Kona, Volcanoes, Hilo) on the Big Island. Kona-Volcanoes-Hilo travel time alone will chew up a lot of time and your children will likely become cranky from all the driving time in the car (at least that was my experience as a kid, but then again, that was back in the day before portable DVD players and standard air conditioning). If this is your first time to Hawaii and it isn't likely that you'll go back soon, I'd say take the opportunity to explore the unique natural wonders of Volcanoes National Park and the laid-back, rural Hilo side of the island.

I grew up on O'ahu and my kids and I go back there every year to visit family and do the local thing, so we don't mind making a side trip to do the pampered touristy thing at the Hilton Waikoloa resort (Kona side) every few years. Your family could easily spend three to five days there---In fact, two days is almost too little time. It's like Disneyland and they won't want to leave. There's lots for the kids to do--fun swimming pools with water slides, a snorkeling lagoon frequented by native fish and honu, trained dolphins, transportation around the hotel grounds by electric tram or boat, and friendly and accomodating hotel staff. They also have nice spa services, a putting green and a big golf course. But it's also a very expensive three to five days. Remember, not having to cook means paying a lot of $$$ for someone to serve you food and drink, or eating a lot of fast food.

I'd say explore Volcanoes, hang out on the Hilo side, take it slow, let your kids get a little bored, and enjoy the Big Island local-style. Clarisse

Skip Hilo. Too wet and unless you are into orchids, kind of a weird place. A throwback in time....a little faded....Stay in Kona. I recommend dinner ( or a night) at the Four Seasons. VERY LUX. -Kona over Hilo

Big Island - Hilo Side

March 2007

We are heading to the Big Island over spring break (and can't wait). But we haven't found a place to stay yet. If you have recommendations on the Hilo side (Hilo area, Pahoa area, or elsewhere) please let us know. We aren't a big family, so a small cottage would be perfect. Also, of course, we'd also love to hear about your favorite places to go with a 4 year old! Moira

We went to the Hilo side twice without children, but here is what I would do with mine now: the Botanical Gardens are amazing, and there is a also a fabulous, hidden, black sands beach near Pahoa. Park on the side of the road with an easy climb down. There is also a great farmer's market in Pahoa and can't remember what day it is held but look for ads. Hilo Lover

Check out My Island Bed & Breakfast up in Volcano, about half an hour out of Hilo. It's a stone's throw from Volcano National Park (Bring your National Parks Admission Pass, if you own one, otherwise, there's free entry to this astounding park after 6PM). My family (kids are 10 & 12 yrs old) stayed at this B last month and highly recommend it. The guy who owns it, Gordon Morse, is 80 years old and has written several children's books about the big island. I'd avoid any hotels on Banyon Street in Hilo -- we stayed at ''Uncle Somebody's'' hotel there and the room stank. A rather child-unfriendly area (lots of disco noise). No parking, either. Just back from Hilo

Do you know about Kapoho? It's on the coast just south of Hilo (about 30 minutes--you drive through Pahoa on the way.) It's a magical place; we've stayed there twice. It's a gated community of 30 or 40 houses, some rentals, some private homes. The subdivision is all that's left of the town of Kapoho, which was covered by a lava flow several decades ago. The magical thing is the ''swimming pools''-- thermally heated ocean-water pools (many houses have their own private ones), man-made, of lava rock. They're all different shapes and sizes, crystal clear, and warm. Fish come and go with the tide. Check out the website http:// We stayed in Lagoon House and The Cottage, but our friends stayed in several of the other houses, and they were all nice (some bigger and more modern than others; none had A.C., but we didn't need it.) The houses range from $99 a night to about $250. Be sure to get one with its own pool. There is no sandy beach (as you might know about the Hilo side) but with the pools, you won't miss it. Email me if you want more info! heidi

In 2001, I rented a house in Honomu, a town maybe 10 miles N of Hilo on the road to Akaka Falls. I hunted around for a listing for you, and only found this one,, by searching for Honomu, banyan and ping pong, on Google (in case you have trouble with the link.) The fact that I could only find it on an Australian site concerns me a bit (i.e. I wonder if it is really still on the market).

We loved this place. It was quirky (more on that later), but charming and comfortable and fun. It had a ping pong table and a deck with a hot tub. The furnishings weren't elegant, but it was comfortable and the price was definitely right. That said, the railing on the deck was a 2x4suspended at waist level. Not an issue for our party of adults, marginal with a 4-year-old, and not something I'd recommend with a toddler. In one place the decking extended beyond the deck supports, so it was a bit like walking out on a diving board (boingy, boingy). We learned not to walk there. That and a few other things made us wonder if Hawaii had building codes. The step up to the hot tub was super tippy and was really an accident waiting to happen. For me, though, these issues were minor compared to the things we liked about the property. It is also possible that the have been fixed in the 5 years since our visit (they were working on the place at the time).

If you don't have it already, buy ''Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed,'' which is a great reference on places to go. Carrie

I LIVE IN KAPOHO NOW. We are temporarily living here (10 miles outside of Pahoa) for the next few months. I hope you've found a place to stay already, but just in case, I would highly recommend a house in the Kapoho Beach lots (gated community.) I live 3 min from there in Vacationland, which has phenominal, world- class snorkeling. However, anyone can come here, park & swim. However, in Kapoho Beach lots, you have access to the Champagne ponds, which at least one other person has referred to. OK, here comes my stream of thought: volcano nat'l park is awesome. Offers a variety of different experiences - about 40 min from HIlo or Pahoa areas. Hikes into Kiluea crater are great, but need to be prepared to carry/ backpack your 4y/o. It's not super difficult, but it would be for a little kid. The Lava tube is easy & fun. Chain of Craters Rd offers amazing sites & you can even search for hot lave if you're prepared. Panaewa Zoo in Hilo area is small, pretty & free (good for a 4 year old.) Lots of roaming peacocks. If you spend time in Hilo, you can actually find a few very small sandy beaches along Hilo Bay. Richards Beach Park is our favorite (sand, shade, water, bathrooms/showers, parking.) Hot Ponds is becoming a popular destination around here. Sometimes quite warm (like 90'F). I haven't been to the Astronomy Center in Hilo yet, but I expect to go soon. Apparently, it's a good hands-on experience for the kids. There's a quickie 5-15 min drop-in aquarium sea life exhibit in downtown Hilo that's pretty cool. It's near Cafe Pesto -which is a good place to eat. Don't miss the huge T/Sat Farmer's Mkts in Hilo which are much better than the Pahoa one, in my opinion. Maku'u Farmers' Mkt is more like a flea market, no produce - just crafts, random vendors, yard sale stuff, but it's fun, too. It's on Sun, along the hwy from Hilo to Pahoa (abt 10 min before Pahoa). Island Naturals (in Pahoa & Hilo - in Walmart parking lot) has the best organic & natch food selection - plus a great hot/cold food bar that's stocked all day. DELICIOUS vegan desserts and I'm not even vegan! Hmmm... my 4.5 & 2.5 year old would love to meet new friends if you are interested in hooking up while you're here for a tidepool swim, picnic lunch, or anything else. This will be a fun vacation for you, but I'm not on vacation anymore and always looking for things to do! If you contact me, I can give you my ph#. Have a fun time! P.S. It rains a lot in Hilo so bring lightwt rain jkts. Otherwise you can purchase the neon-tourist ponchos somewhere. paula

Hawaii - Big Island - Things to do with toddlers

Jan 2007

We are going to the Big Island - Hawaii - in February. Any recommendations of toddler (3 year old) activities besides the beach and pool? Also, know of any luau's that start on the earlier side? Susan

Hi -- We have 3 kids, one of whom is a toddler. However, my husband and I have just gotten back from the Big Island, where we went to relax alone after never having done so in 13 years of marriage! Try as we might, we did find ourselves experiencing things and saying, ''Oh, the kids would love this!'' or ''Glad we didn't have the kids so we could do this!'' That said, the island is amazing. We spent half of our trip on the Hilo side, half on the Kona side, and while the Hilo side was our favorite (less touristy, very moody weather-wise yet warm, stayed at a vey romantic B), there was not a lot for kids to do there. On the Kona side, there were more opportunities to explore the water (although the beaches are pretty rocky), and the hotel was more conducive to kids (i.e. great kids' pool and manta ray viewing area). Overall, though, I would say that aside from that, this island was far less ''kid friendly'' than the others, which is one reason why we went alone (we wanted to see the Big Island and NOT go the touristy family route). There is a great artsy town up above Kona (named Halualoa, I think) that you could explore with your toddler, but road is narrow and you have to be careful -- and it is small, so once you've done it, you've done it. Can you change islands and hit one with better beaches and activities for kids? There is a sacred site down near Capt. Cook's Monument where we saw some sea turtles and your little one could run a bit, but otherwise, very rocky and rough for kids. Good luck!

1. Sensitive mimosa. Kids love to touch it and watch it collapse. Look for it along roadsides, by parking lots, along paths.

2. Waialea beach (I think that is the name). Get Hawaii The Big Island Revealed. It is the hands down premier guide book. It has directions to this beach which is also called 69 beach because that is the number of the telephone pole you used to have to look for. The last edition of the book claims the road is bad, and no showers/bathrooms, but there is a nice new road and bathrooms/showers now. Key features for toddlers: Loads of shade and it is only a few steps to the water's edge. If you walk left along the beach you stand a great chance of finding perfectly intact and beautiful cowry shells. Love 'em and leave 'em.

3. Mauna Kea Beach: Only a few parking spots for non hotel guests. Don't believe the Lot Full sign, though. They seem to put it up when the lot fills up, but they don't take it down when they become available again. You can also park off to the side and wait for someone to come out. It ususally doesn't take long. This is a knockout white sand beach with gentle surf, perfect for sand castle building and intro to body surfing (our kids at 3 loved to wear a PFD and ride the surf in).

4. Thurston Lava Tube (fun with flashlights).

5. Kilauea Iki Hike (our 1 year old enjoyed this 3 mile hike). She liked spotting the steam vents and saying ''it's hot!'' OUr 4 and 6 year old liked it so much they insisted we do it again when they were 7 and 5.

6. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden beautiful garden, manageable walk with wateralls, amazing flowers, a frog pond And they'll let you ring the giant bell


Have a great time! Susan

Big Island Activities & Places to Stay

Nov 2006

We're heading to the Kohala Coast in the middle of March for a week+ with our two-year old and would love any recommendations for activities and things to do on the island. We'll be staying around Waikoloa for the latter part of our stay, but still need to find acommodations for the first few nights. Any suggestions (preferably condos so we have a kitchen) would be most welcome! Michelle

Try and Have fun! Big Island Regular

Hawaii - Big island flights, car rentals, weather

March 2006

We are planning a trip to the big island in July or August. We have a place to stay, but need recommendations on airline/car rental. What is the cheapest way to get to Hilo from Sac (pref.) or Oak? Or should we fly to Kona, and how far is the drive to Hilo? Direct flights are preferred, if possible. Since it is such a short flight, we are planning to get a seat for our toddler, but not the 3 mo. old. Is this wise? What will the weather be like at that time of year? Thanks! first time hawaiian

It is about 90 miles from Kailua-Kona to Hilo (maybe 80 miles from the Kona airport), and takes over 2 hours. Oakland has direct flights to both Kona and Hilo. ATA & Aloha airlines serve Hilo; Aloha and United serve Kona. I think Hilo is a bit cheaper; you should use Travelocity or one of the other online travel services to check prices on your specific dates.

With respect to weather, Hilo is on the wet side of the island and you can expect frequent rain showers, possibly daily. Kona is on the dry side of the island, and you can probably expect beautiful clear, dry weather. Kona has clear water and beautiful swimming beaches but little vegetation, a lot of barren rocks, and a few thorn trees. Hilo is lush, with streams and waterfalls, but with high surf, and relatively few good swimming beaches. I reccommend the book ''Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed.''

I don't see a problem not having a seat for the 3 month old. I carried my baby in a sling on a couple of flights when she was that young, and it works fine. Once they can crawl, of course, it's different. Carrie

My husband has done Ironman six times and we just went to Kona last November so I will give quick info. but if you need more he is an expert. You need to decide if you are going to Hilo or Kona. Both are very different-Hilo is tropical and has a ton of rain; Kona is dry (mostly) and has more to do. You can fly direct to both places on different airlines. Cheapest way to go is ATA from Oakland to Hilo if youare going to Hilo (YOU DO NOT WANT TO DRIVE FROM HILO TO KONA JUST TO SAVE MONEY).

We flew Hawaiian Airlines and flew into Honolulu and then took the an Interisland flight also on Hawaiian to Kona. The drive from the airport to the main part of Kona is fairly short.

I find the cheapest way to do everything is Hotwire or directly through the rental car companies using AAA discount or something like that. Like I said, if you want more details just email and I can give you an earful. Whatever you choose, it will be great. You can't go wrong in Hawaii. Much Aloha swimmingfly

I can only answer some of your questions. Regarding the flight, I wouldn't call it short exactly. It's about four and a half hours to Kona, similar time to Hilo I'd imagine. I wouldn't want to hold an infant for that long especially if I had a toddler to entertain as well, but many people do it.

The weather varies by where you stay on the island--Hilo is by far the rainiest place (and one of the rainiest places in the USA.) It will probably rain every day there, but for short periods. The western side (Kohala coast and Kona) are much sunnier. We stayed there last August and the weather was fantastic, hot and sunny during the mornings/early afternoons, with some clouds and occasional rain coming in at night. The volcano area tends to be pretty wet and cool, which is a nice break from the sun.

It takes I think about two hours to drive from Kona to Hilo by the northern route; perhaps even less. I think if it makes your flights much more complicated (like adding a plane change) to fly directly to Hilo, you should just fly to Kona and then drive. It's an interesting drive in any case. Whatever you do, don't miss the volcano if you find that the lava is flowing in good viewing areas. It's a spectacular sight. Wish I was back there

Hi, I've traveled to Hawaii many times over the past 10 years, and most recently, to the Big Island, which is our new favorite, because it's so varied, and underdeveloped (except for touristy spots). If you already have a place to stay and it's on the Hilo side, I would definitely fly into Hilo. The drive to Kona, either the northern or the southern route, is about 3 hours, not something you want to have to do with a toddler and 3 month old if you don't have to.

I think the best way to find flights and car rentals is through an on-line travel company like Travelocity or Orbitz. They're easy to use, and the best way to find the best prices on many different airlines, fast. You can choose direct, one stop, etc. Not getting a seat for the baby is always a tough choice, but if there are 2 adults traveling, at least you can trade off holding the baby. If you can afford a seat, I think the recommendation is usually to have the baby in a carseat, for safety, but that's up to you--it's not required. Just be sure you have lots of activities planned and new toys packed for the flight, for the toddler.

The weather will be warm to hot. Hilo is on the ''wet'' side of the island, which means there are a lot of warm, tropical rains, usually in the afternoon or very early morning (before you get up). You won't need any warm clothes except for the plane, and a jacket for any trips up to the volcano area. Our rental in the area just south of Hilo, in Kapoho, didn't have any air conditioning, but with the ocean breeze and a ceiling fan, it was very comfortable.

I highly recommend buying a guide book, if you don't have one already. Fodors and Frommers have Hawaii guide books packed with basic information as well as unusual, interesting tidbits that are just fun to learn about.

Have a great time, and feel free to email me if you have other questions! Aloha, Heidi

The only airline flying from Oakland to Hawaii is Aloha. They have non-stop flights to Kona. It's then about a 3 hour drive to Hilo. Or you could fly to Honolulu then Hilo. Aloha Airlines can be quite inexpensive, or quite expensive. Generally, it's cheaper to fly to Honolulu out of San Francisco because there are more flights (Delta, United, American, Hawaiian Air, charters like Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays or Suntrips).

I'm guessing that if you fly from Sacramento, your only option is to fly through Honolulu.

If you fly through Honolulu, I can almost guarantee you'll end up switching planes (so no direct flights to Hilo). Between Hawaii and the Mainland, the planes are typically larger (757, 767) whereas inter-island flights are on smaller planes (737).

fly to Kona, it's only a few hours' drive to Hilo. there aren't really direct flights to Hilo. You may even want to drive to Kona if the weather in Hilo gets too rainy for you. Don't bother with a seat for the 3mo old. I find Aloha (out of Oakland) to be very nice. Check or other on-line sites for prices. I usually find budget to be the cheapest car rental. Hilo is the rainy side, so you can have rain at any time.

Southwest airlines flies direct from Oakland to Hilo and they often have amazing deals. We are going to the big island in June and did not realize that southwest even flew to Hawaii. We ended up flying on Aloha airlines, which was definitely pricier than Southwest's deals. Just fyi. Anonymous

Big Island of HI with 21 mo. old, places to stay?

Feb 2006

We are planning on going to Hawaii (the Big Island) this September with our baby who will be 21 months old then. We are looking for advice on great places to stay and potential itineraries. We will be there for 10 days and don't necessarily want to move around a lot. Ideal would be a great condo with full kitchen facilities, a decent pool, walkable to a good beach. We'd like the place to be fairly nice, as we expect we'll spend a lot of time there because of the baby. Any ideas or contacts are appreciated.

Look for Shell vacations time share, they have great condos with kitchens and good amenities (pool) etc. though not near a beach, you usually have to drive to get to the beach Sophia I answered about this within this post on another Hawaii question, so please refer down to that one. Please contact me with any further questions. Our daughter was your child's age when we went to the Big Island. We also went in October of this past year. (So know the weather somewhat at that time of year). I can't say enough good things about our experience, and how wonderful a vacation it was! Melissa

The Big I. is hands down our favorite place to vacation- so much nature and so few people. We prefer staying in houses/condos to resorts. We have rented cheap condos, mid-cost bungalows, and high-end houses in Puako on the Kohala coast. The beach on Waialea Bay is shaded in spots, so both kids and parents are protected or tan, if preferred. We rent equipment (stroller, crib, etc.) from the realty company or

The resorts nearby are also nice, many families I know prefer the Waikoloa (Hilton), you must book early to swim in their dolphin program. We stayed at Hualalai, 4 Seasons last summer and they do an amazing job for kids- our 4.5 yr. old still talks about the pool (sandy ''shore'' at one end), but prefers the tide pools in Puako. They totally safety-proof the room. And Alan Wong's restaurant was truly tasty. Also- the best massages! (Margie and David)

This month we saved three nights for Volcano Nat'l Park and the rain forest. We rented a 2 bdrm+ home for $175 per night (w/ hot tub!) christina

We stayed here with family and our daughter who was 18 mos. and loved it. It's on the east side of the island (nearest Hilo), very low key if that's your thing. The home is bright and airy, near a thermally heated pond, with a kid-safe balcony where we spent most of our time. Not so many sand beaches on this part of the island though: Kapoho/p115898.htm The rental next door looked nice too, and has a private pond that you can snorkle in (only if you are staying in their home): If cheaper is better, the condos on Ali'i Drive are more economical. ''The Big Island Revealed'' is the best guide book around and has accurate ratings. Kahalu'u Beach, at the end of Ali'i drive was our favorite snorkeling spot outside of the Captain Cook monument; if you can find a condo close to it, I'd recommend it! Heather

2004 - 2005 Recommendations

Big Island of Hawaii logistics

Feb 2005

We are planning a family trip to the Big Island of Hawaii in August, for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. We have all agreed that we want to spend 5 nights or so around Kona, and then 2 nights or so near Volcanos National Park. Does this seem logical for a group that likes beaches, history, and the outdoors? But what on earth do we do about the day we fly back out? How long of a drive is it from Volcano Village to the airport in Kona? Or should we spend one last night near the airport? I have heard that the car rental companies really nail you if you pick up in Kona and drop off in Hilo - is this true? Seasoned Hawaii-goers, I need your help! not a Hawaii expert

We just went to the Big Island (January) for a small family trip - my husband, our 4 month old, brother-in-law and his wife and their 7 mo, and my husband's parents. I am no expert but based on my experience, the drive from the volcano to the Kona airport can be quite long, especially if you drive during rush hour. The main roads are only 2 lanes, so there can be a lot of traffic and absolute standstill if there is an accident. I would definitely try to stay near the airport one final night, or do the volcano nights first and then Kona (that's what we did). It makes for a long trip going there, but much less stress getting to the airport for the way back. Have fun!

It is about a 2-hour drive from Kona to Volcano, possibly a bit shorter than that. So depending on when your flight departs, you might have to get a very early start to the day if you're leaving from Volcano to return to the airport. Do leave a lot of time to get through all the airport rigmarole; they have separate lines for checkin, baggage security and agricultural clearance, so you end up waiting quite a bit, even though it is not a large airport.

The obvious suggestion, which I'm guessing you can't do, is to stay in Volcano at the beginning of your trip, and do the last few days at Kona. I always feel like it's nicest to have the beach part of a Hawaii trip at the end, myself, just because that part is typically the most relaxing.

One other recommendation--while you're near Volcano or Hilo, take a drive along the coast in the Puna area, starting at Kalapana (which is the town destroyed by lava a few years ago.) It is really a beautiful drive. There is a public beach somewhere along there with a volcanically heated, protected lagoon perfect for swimming, and it has bathrooms, picnic tables and grass. It is called Ahalanui State Park.

Have fun! The Big Island is the best. Wish we were back there

We've stayed on the Big Island several times, and it's a long drive from the Kona side to the Hilo side--I'd say about 3 hours, whether you go up around the top, through Waimea, or down around the bottom through the volcano area. Yes, I think both the airlines and the car rental places punish you (money-wise) if you pick up (or fly in) on one side and drop off (or fly out) on the other.

Our plan has always been to fly into Kona, stay a couple days, drive across to Hilo, stay a few more days, and then back to Kona (making a loop so we see the whole island) for a couple days before we leave. I assume you're staying right at the volcano at the hotel they have there? If so, I'd plan at least a 2.5 hour window to drive back to Kona (and it's a very twisty road in places; we had to stop several times last year to let our then-4-year-old and then 2-year-old take breaks; they kept getting carsick.)

And then you still have to return the rental car (pretty efficient there, but still a chore), and go through security, which, even in mellow Hawaii, can take as long as any airport. I would highly recommend staying in Kona the night before you fly out, to make it easier in many respects. Heidi

We visited Kona/Volcanos last year. We spent the first 2 nights at Volcanos and the next 4 nights at Kona (actually north of Kona by 45 minutes or so). That worked well. After we arrrived in Kona, I think it was a three or four hour or so drive to Volcanos. It takes a while because the highway is just one lane in each direction, there are things to stop and see along the way, and traffic around Kona gets hideous for the evening commute (don't know about the morning commute). If your flight home is in the afternoon, you shouldn't have much of a problem getting back to Kona in time from Volcanos. Take a look at a guide book, though, to double check the driving time.

Sept. 2004

Re: Small Family Reunion with our Parents
You didn't say if Hawaii was an option, but we just spent 10 days vacationing with 7 families and couples we know (a bunch of them were turning 40 this year) in an area of the Big Island called Kapoho. It's about 30 minutes south of Hilo (there's an international airport there). It's a small, safe, rural, gated community of 40 or so houses, many on the ocean, and many with private, man-made volcanically heated tidepools (''lagoons'') in the back yards.

Our house was $195 a night, because of the immense lagoon and proximity to Champagne Cove, but most of the others were $95 or $100 a night, for a furnished, well-equipped 2 bedroom, 1 bath house. Here is a link to the home and property management company we used:

Our group consisted of 26 people, with 8 kids ranging from 10 months to 10 years. Everyone had a wonderful time. I'd be happy to give you more info on specific homes; some are larger and nicer than others, and we got to visit several... The Jersey shore is a good option too; we have relatives there, and honeymooned in Cape May in '98...but it's more humid and there are more bugs there, than Hawaii...and Hawaii is beautiful year-round! Good luck! Feel free to email me. heidi

May 2004

Re: Trip to Hawaii with a 13 month old
Regarding your message on where to take an 13 month old in Hawaii. I highly recommend the Mauna Lani Terrace condos on the Big Island. We've stayed there three times with our 18 month old. These condos are right across from the golf course and you can walk to two beaches, two pools, several great restaurants, the spa, health club and even a general store. You can rent a car from the concierge if you want to explore for a day too. We stay in a one bedroom and request condo E102 whenever we go. It's situated right in between everything so its a great location and very private. The hotel is great about getting you pak n plays and high chairs too, so you don't have to rent them. You can get more info at or feel free to email me with any other questions llm

Nice lodging in Kona?

May 2004

We are going to the Big Island in July, and though we are staying with friends at their condo for part of the time, there is about a week in which we need lodging. We have a toddler, and we love being in nature, and avoiding as much of the super- resort scene as possible. We need suggestions for places to stay on or near the dry side of the island, and for that matter, also suggestions for Puna side. Thanks, Allisong Allison

We just returned from a trip to the islands. We stayed at Kanaloa at Kona which is a short drive south of Kona. It's reasonably priced condos right on the ocean in a nice low key quiet setting. They have a couple pools, tennis and a restaurant. It's run by Outrigger resorts however many owners also rent out their condos on their own.

We also stayed on the Puna side in Kapoho. We rented a house in a gated community that had it's own private lagoon. There are several homes in this area for rent with private lagoons. The lagoons are saltwater, clear and warm (volcanically heated) with lots of fish. We also saw turtles in a huge beautiful lagoon in the same community called Champagne Pond which isn't to be missed. One note about the Puna area - it has the highest crime of any county in all of the Hawaiian Islands. Be very careful about leaving valuables in your car, etc.. val

My husband and I stayed at the Dragonfly Ranch on the Big Island one Christmas and loved it. It is a bit south of Kona near the Captain Cook monument. It's basically a guest house type of property (but the rooms are very private) run by a woman named Barbara. It's secluded, a few minutes drive to snorkeling and bit further for real beach. Quiet, they grow their own produce and provide homemade granola in the am . It's very different from the large resort/Hard Rock Cafe scene of Kona and could be considered 'alternative'. We are fans of retreats and a bit on the crunchy side, but not too. The Web site calls it a Healing Arts Center, but it's really more of a B with a new agey feel. I booked this place on very little info and my husband and I were very pleased that we didn't end up in an impersonal hotel or condo. We stayed in the Writer's Suite which has 2 large beds and could accomodate a family of 4 if your kids can share a bed. Find them on the web at Have fun

I missed your original post so unfortunately I didn't get the criteria for niceness! But we just got back from Kona where we stayed at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel, and we loved it for the location. The hotel is right in the town, with plenty of restaurants and shopping just outside. It is also right on a little beach that is perfect for small children (our kid is four) -- there's a breakwater so the beach has practically no waves. Outrigger canoes come and go a lot which was fascinating for our kid. She spent hours there and met several other four- year-olds, both visitors and locals. The pool is also right next to the beach. No need to drive anywhere! We rented a car at the airport and left it in the hotel lot the entire four days we were there -- we came at the end of a visit to relatives on Oahu, and boy, what a relief it was to be able to walk to everything!

The downside is that the hotel is pretty run down, so if that will bother you, you shouldn't stay there. We had read about this in advance and were actually surprised by how clean and comfortable it was compared to what we had read -- and the lobby is very cool, very 1960s -- but still the hallways and rooms are quite worn. I'd read that some rooms have been recently renovated, but not the one we stayed in! However, we sprung for an ''ocean front'' room right over the beach, which was definitely worth it -- in addition to the view the room was huge, with a queen bed plus a twin. We'd stay there again for sure. Kona Town fan

April 2004

If you go to Hawaii ever, we recommend Kona Village, on the big Island. It's quieter than Club Med (no TV, radio, and two pay phones), but there is plenty to do and a kids club there, too. They even provide spf30 sunscreen and beach toys. The food is amazing and the setting and the cabins (Tahitian-style bungalos) are quite a bit more upscale than Club Med. I think the prices were similar. Kim

March 2004

We are going to the Big Island of Hawaii in late April for our last vacation as a couple before the arrival of our son this summer! We'd love to stay in a simple cottage/ohana/in-law that's quiet, peaceful, private, on the sunny side of the island, and has kitchen facilities. Beach-front is not necessary, just a beach within a 15 minute drive. We have checked the website already, but have not found what we're looking for. We're not interested in a condo or big resort. Any recommendations? Thanks!!! Rachael

Last summer we stayed in a cottage on the Big Island that I found on the internet, called the Redwood Cottage, located in South Kona (Honaunau). It is a five-minute drive from the Place of Refuge and Two Step, a great snorkeling spot from which I was able to swim with sixteen wild dolphins one morning. The cottage is lovely, cozy, great view. The only drawback is it is behind the owner's house, which was a little junky. The cottage has a lovely bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen. We went all around the island while we were there, and this was our favorite spot by far! Nice weather, but out of the more touristy Kona district. The phone number I have is (808)328- 8608. The last name of the owners was Schwartz. If you contact them, they have a web site address where you can view pictures. I highly recommend this place, and would definitely go back-- just make sure to ask what the situation is with the big front house, as I think they may have been planning a remodel on it, which might change the experience! Good luck.

Feb 2004

We are going to the Big Island of Hawaii in late April for our last vacation as a couple before the arrival of our son this summer! We'd love to stay in a simple cottage/ohana/in-law that's quiet, peaceful, private, on the sunny side of the island, and has kitchen facilities. Beach-front is not necessary, just a beach within a 15 minute drive. We have checked the website already, but have not found what we're looking for. We're not interested in a condo or big resort. Any recommendations? Thanks!!! Rachael

Last summer we stayed in a cottage on the Big Island that I found on the internet, called the Redwood Cottage, located in South Kona (Honaunau). It is a five-minute drive from the Place of Refuge and Two Step, a great snorkeling spot from which I was able to swim with sixteen wild dolphins one morning. The cottage is lovely, cozy, great view. The only drawback is it is behind the owner's house, which was a little junky. The cottage has a lovely bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen. We went all around the island while we were there, and this was our favorite spot by far! Nice weather, but out of the more touristy Kona district. The phone number I have is (808)328- 8608. The last name of the owners was Schwartz. If you contact them, they have a web site address where you can view pictures. I highly recommend this place, and would definitely go back-- just make sure to ask what the situation is with the big front house, as I think they may have been planning a remodel on it, which might change the experience! Good luck.

2002 - 2003 Recommendations

May 2003

I'm looking for recommendations for self-catering (even just a fridge and hot plate where I could do my 2 year old's meals) accommodations on Hawaii's Big Island. Both the East and West shores. I have checked the archives and found nothing on self-catering, although I enjoyed all the other info. Thank you! CG

Last September we stayed two weeks in a 2-bedroom condo on the Kohala Coast in the Waikoloa resort area. Our place was called Vista Waikoloa and you can find it here: (this outfit also has other condo properties on the Island). We had 3 adults (husband, me, grandma) and my then 16-month- old. It is right by the most wonderful toddler-friendly beach on the Big Island, A-bay, just across from the Hilton where you can go see dolphin shows and walk around, a shopping area, and not far from groceries. Our unit was ground floor, super clean with maid service, very helpful office staff, full kitchen and 2- 2/12 bathrooms. We had a blast. Don't let the rates on the Web site deter you--we got a substantial discount just by asking. It probably depends on when you go. Laura Turnbull

There are some nice condos and houses available for rent in Hilo. A great place for kids- Richardson's Beach is one of the best places for children to swim and snorkle. Check out, they have some nice deals. Hilo town is also cute and not tourist-y. Kristy

When I was in the Big Island back in 1995, we stayed in two separate places which were both affordable, simple and beautifully located. Each had simple cooking facilities. I don't know if they're still in operation or what their rates are, but you could check: * Waipio Ridge Vacation Rental (off highway 240 overlooking Waipio Valley) - 808-775-0603 * The Guesthouse at Volcano (3 miles from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) - 808-967-7775 Kate Bartholomew

we just got back from the big island. we stayed at the holua resort in kona. we rented two two-bedroom condos for 13 people. we went to costco the first day and stocked up for the week. we ate most of our meals at the condo. the kitchen was fully stocked with cookware, etc. it was south of the the main strip but still close. you'd need to rent a car if you decided to stay there. have a great time! suzie

April 2003

I have read the postings on what to do on the Big Island, but would like recommendations of where we might stay. We are planning a trip in December with 4 teenagers, and are looking for a condo (we'd like to cook at least some meals at home) with nice amenities and close proximity to the beach. The kids love big waves, so accommodations reasonably close to good body surfing/surfing beaches would be great, although we'll have a car. Any recommendations for great activities for teens would also be appreciated. Thanks! Lori

My husband and I stayed on the Big Island last September. I recommend staying around the Kona area (or just south of there in Keauhou for condos. Kahalu'u beach nearby, has great snorkeling and lots of sea turtles, surfing is also nearby outside of the reef). The beaches are bit smaller on the big island, but there is some great kayaking and snorkeling.

Also kealakekua bay has some great snorkeling and kayaking trips which would be great for teenagers. I saw some great and reasonable vacation rentals when we were looking for lodging as well in this area.

I recommend staying one night in or near Volcano National Park. The lava is currently flowing and can be viewed at night. The crater rim trail is also pretty amazing (hike around the rim and then down into the actual crater, steam vents are littered around the trail). The small town of Volcano offers some reasonable B & B.

Have Fun! elisa

I too recently requested info on Big Island. Several people suggested that I buy the ''Big Island Revealed'' guidebook, which I did. It's great -- has lots of info on condos and an excellent web site where you can check out each complex in detail. Well worth the $$ (at Codys on 4th). Christine

I lived on the Big Island for a year. I just returned home to the Bay Area in November! SO, I think I am a great reference for the Big Island. I would suggest that a lot of time be spent on the Hilo side of the island. More specifically, the Puna district. It is much cheaper than you would think, and a lot of the activites/sights/beaches are FREE. Namely, the Hot Ponds, the nude beach, the steam vents and camping. The little town of Pahoa has a lot of character, great restaurants, a fabulous health food store, and colorful, friendly locals. I will admit that Kona and Hilo are great places with good hotels, but I would equate it to staying at Fisherman's Wharf the entire time. You just would not get the actual flavor of the region if that is where you stayed the entire time. I suggest the ISLE OF YOU farm. It is a 70 acre farm consisting of apple-bananas (can't get these here in Cali), avocados(about 3-4 different kinds), mango, and various flowers. There are trails all over the property you can hike and the best thing about it is it is clothing optional! You have a choice of a cabin or a yurt. Both have views of the ocean and I myself have lived there and watched the moon rise over the Pacific. You can almost touch it! This is a slice of heaven and would suggest you check out the website to see if it fits your needs. Contact Normand or Kelly, the owners. They are two of the most dynamic and peaceful men you have ever met! And they can direct you on where to go on the island to swim with the dolphins for free, or camp, or just hang out! . Good luck! Christine

January 2003

i am looking for more recommendations for things to do and places to go on the big island of hawaii. we have a place to stay in kona. we are going with extended family (ages 10 months to 72 years). we will be there for a week in april. suzie

Whatever you do, please don't miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about a 2-hr drive from the Kona area. I've worked as a biologist in Hawaii and it is mind-boggling to me how many people come to the Big Island and then fail to visit its most wondrous sight. Just driving through the park is fascinating--you can see a lot from the car on the Crater Rim Drive loop, and there are short, easy hikes from the parking lots to see, for example, the smoking, sulfurous crater Halemaumau (current home of Pele, according to legend), a lava tube, steam vents, and lava trees (where flows covered over trees and then cooled in that shape). Also, Kilauea has been erupting continuously for 20 years, and depending on conditions when you are there, you might be able to see hot lava flowing down the hillsides, and even get close enough to toast marshmallows over it. (If you do go to the active flow, please heed the safety warnings...they're not kidding...and realize that some activities in the park on some days may not be good for infants or people with respiratory problems.)

In addition to the geologic wonders, there is also some nice Hawaiian rainforest in the park, and the Volcano area has art galleries, golf, a winery, etc.

I also happen to like Hilo a lot--it's very ''old Hawaii,'' small- town, not inundated by tourism and with a life and rhythm all its own. You won't be accosted by touts and T-shirt shops everywhere you go, and there's a nice waterfront park and a couple of beaches suitable for small children (try Onekahakaha--you'll be there with just native Hawaiians, no tourists to speak of). There's also a fabulous farmer's market on Wednesdays and Saturdays (lesser extent other days) where you can buy exotic fruits, veggies, and incredibly cheap orchids and anthuriums (Big Island's main export) to decorate your Kona place. Hilo is another 40 minutes past the park if you're coming from Kona side, so that would be one very lengthy day trip. (When I work in Hawaii, we live in Volcano and take day trips to Kona!)

Have fun--I think everyone who visits the Big Island ends up loving it. Virginia

How timely! We just returned from a week in Kona with ages 11 months to 75! Here are our recommendations (in no particular order): 1) beaches: there's a little beach with easy surf for little ones to play, along with some easy snorkeling for older kids/adults just south of Kona on Ali'i Drive called Kanapu'u (I think). If you want white sand beaches go up to Kohala coast. Try Hapuna State Park beach, and then walk over to the Hapuna Prince Hotel and get a wonderful Mai Tai or Pina Colada or lunch at the poolside bar! The public beach at Waikoloa is also very nice, it starts with an ''A'' and I can't remember how to spell it. 2) Attractions: it's a bit gross from a conspicuous consumption point of view, but the Hilton Waikoloa Village is a lot of fun for kids. There's a tram that takes you around the grounds that's fun for toddlers. Also try to sign up for the Dolphin Quest experience for older kids/adults. You can see the dolphins for no charge, but they actually let you get in the water with them for a price. Call early to make reservations (like well before you go to Hawaii). Also, the volcanoes are wonderful. You can never predict when there may be surface lava flows that you can see, but there's always something going on there, and there are a range of hikes that everyone could do. The Volcano Art Center also has some beautiful artwork and jewelry. We also loved Hilo. It's a good 3 hour drive from Kona (take the northern route through Waimea) but it gives a good flavor of the ''real'' Hawaii without a lot of tourist influence. It 's pretty rainy over there, but it's also incredibly lush and friendly. There are some great water falls and hikes in the rainforest. 3) Dining: I HIGHLY recommend Cafe Sibu in Kona. Delicious Indonesion food at very reasonable prices. Also we had an amazing meal at Roy's in the King's shops in Waikoloa. You can spend literally hundreds of dollars on dinner at the various resort restaurants (I'm sure the food's great) but we liked the smaller places. Try Huggo's at the Royal Kona Hotel -- it's right on the ocean and the food was pretty good. You also can't visit Hawaii without experiencing ''plate lunch.'' Try any of the places in the shopping centers off Palani Road in Kona. Have fun!! Gretchen

Get the guidebook ''The Big Island Revealed''. This is ABSOLUTELY the best guidebook about the Big Island and has all types of activities/locations to visit. Must sees/dos: the Waimea Valley, the Volcanoe National Park (seeing flowing lava as close as you're willing to get! tip: take the northern route from Kona, its ALOT more interesting), Hapuna State Beach (lifeguards), Captain Cook's Monument (great snorkeling), and everything the book recommends. We visited Greenwell Farms (coffee) and the Farmer's Market in Kona which was fun for the kids in addition to the beach life. Feel free to email for more. We stayed 5 days and could have stayed 2 weeks. Karen

Here is my most unusual recommendation: make sure that you have POLARIZED sun glasses. It will change the way you see Hawaii and make all of the colors and textures, sky and water pop out. It really changed my whole experience of Hawaii. These sunglasses are also dirt cheap. You should only pay about $12 and you can get them there. Rent your flippers and mask at the beginning of your stay and take them with you everywhere. Snorkel at will \xad it\x92s the way to go at a weekly rate. If you want underwater cameras (which are a lot of fun but won\x92t give you national geographic quality photos) I suggest getting them here at Walgreen\x92s or K-mart before you go. There about twice the price in Hawaii. If you are obligated to come home with an armload of souvenirs (or you actually like the tchatchki shopping experience) we recommend a first stop at K-Mart. That\x92s right, its dashboard hula girl and key chain heaven. And they have some things you may actually need (like Styrofoam coolers, suntan lotion, or flip-flop sandals) at the best prices in town. Costco was O.K. but a bit of a disappointment.

Third and most importantly. As soon as you get to the islands find out if there are any local shows of Hawaiian slack key guitar. These artists are extremely talented and play what amounts to a style of classical folk guitar. This is not the hokey Hawaiian music you might remember from the fifties like ''tiny bubbles'' (yuck). This was one of my favorite things to do - we went to a local concert for $5 per person all day with decent local food (Kailua pig). Names to look for: David Kamakahi, Keola Beamer, George and Keoki Kahumoku, Led Kaapana, Bob Brozeman, Cyril Pahinui, Bla Pahinui.

Kona Side Kona side is where most of the action is. Lots of shopping if you like that sort of thing, lots of sun and lots of lava fields. Don\x92t plan yourselves to the minute here, you want to leave extra, unplanned days so you can do things again if you enjoyed them or if you hear of extra things that you hadn\x92t thought of.

Here is my recommendation for a place to stay. This place is truly beautiful. With all teak and wood interior. Great garden, REALLY inexpensive and comes with a fabulous home cooked breakfast. The hosts (if they are still the same owners) are very kind. It was formerly called Merryman's Inn and is now renamed Areca Palms Estate

Also, take some time to visit a coffee plantation. Check for one where they give you a tour of the factory where the sort and bag the coffee to get different qualities. If found it really interesting - but I am also a coffee lover. The painted church is also in this area and is an interesting 20 minute stop but not a big highlight. The priest did all the interior murals with house pain to tell the bible stories to his illiterate congregation.

Things to do: Here are some of our highlights Canoe and snorkel in Kealakekua bay. You will want to canoe from the wharf to Ka'awala Point where Captain Cooks monument is located and then snorkel and dive there. The snorkeling here is the best on the island as far as we could tell and some of the best among all of the islands for amateurs. Although sunscreen is a must for your skins health keep in mind that it is also terrible for the delicate underwater ecosystem so try to find a happy median - like a t-shirt instead of sunscreen all over your arms and back. There are spinner dolphins along the way if you are lucky. The canoe trip looks far, but it is easy to do if you think you feel up to it.

You must snorkel with the Manta Rays on a night dive. This is my NUMBER ONE recommendation for an activity. It was breathtaking, the mantas are awesome, beautiful, graceful creatures. The trick to a successful dive is to call as soon as you get to the island and ask how many Manta's have been seen over the last few nights. Keep checking during your stay. You want to hear them say LOTS. We saw 20+ on our dive - but that was a really really good night.

I recommend Jack's Dive locker ( I think that's who we went with). He is ecologically conscientious and has been doing this for 30 years +. He also works with a videographer from whom you can buy a video of you diving with the mantas. We found it worthwhile even though it is overpriced. That way you can show all of your friends and have a great memory too. You\x92ll be the only one on your block who has done this.

Dinner at Merryman's Restaurant (not to be confused with the B)- northern tip of the Island on the Kona side Merriman's Restaurant. This was the only really good, decently priced meal we had on the island but it\x92s a long drive. Opelo Plaza Kamuela, Hwy 19 and Opelo Rd, Kamuela, HI 96743 808-885-6822 Fresh Big Island products prepared in an exciting, contemporary manner by critically acclaimed chef Peter Merriman. Peter

December 2002

Hi, We're going to the Big Island at the end of January with our 11 year old daughter. We're looking for a place to stay that's near sunny beaches, has access to a pool, etc. We'll be renting a house with another family for a few days, so we're thinking a hotel/resort might be nice for the other days that we're there. Any recommendations? Thanks. Jessica

The Hilton Waikoloa on the Kona coast is really family friendly. Lots of pools with slides etc and a really cool dolphin exhibit. It's more disneyland than traditional hawaii, but a fun place to stay with a youngster for a few days. Nancy D

In August we stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island. The rooms are just okay, but what you pay for are the grounds and the oh so convenient resort activities (not our usual style, but with kids age 7 and 11, the inward looking resort atmosphere was great!). The pools are wonderful and the biggest is no more than 4 ft. deep with waterfalls and slides as well as its own sandy beach ''toddler'' section. There is also a four acre manmade lagoon and a dolphin program and of course golf course, tennis court, full spa, gym, etc. There is a computer/video room, kid's day and evening camp (as well as babysitting, but we felt comfortable on my birthday having a short dinner in the resort, while the kids ate room service and watched a pay movie in our room - tip: room service cheeseburger plate, includes fries and is $12 - about the most reasonable resort meal except for the coffee and pastry stands). The grounds are spectacular- though completely manmade and include museum quality art throughout. A hotel shuttle will take you to a nearby beach and shopping center (Roy's is the best restaurant there - and there is a food court for ''cheap'' kid food)though there are ''resort'' shops and 10 restaurants (the buffet restaurant is the best deal)not including bars and coffee shops as well. We rented a car which is a necessity to travel ''out''. Hapuna Beach is a great beach 10 minutes away. Waimea is a ''local'' town about 20 mins. away with a few good restaurants and the place to get locally priced groceries, etc. (tip: you can rent a refrigerator for $5 a day, great for milk and cereal breakfasts and sandwich lunches). Don't miss at least the lookout to Waikola Valley and the Volcano Park in Hilo is an absolute must (about a 3 hour drive from the Kona side). Also take a coffee plantation tour (we liked Greenwood Farms) and go to the Farmer's Market in Kona. ABSOLUTELY buy the latest edition of The Big Island Revealed - it is the ONLY guidebook you need. Have a great trip - we'll be back. Karen H.

Re: Visiting the Northwest Shore of Maui (September 2002)
I know you settled on Maui, but just wanted to pass on info. from our recent trip to the Big Island. Several airlines offer direct flights from SFO to Kona, right on the Big Island -- no need to change planes in Honolulu.

We stayed on the Kona Coast, the sunny/desert side of the island. We were at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. A gorgeous hotel (not condos) on what's considered the most beautiful beach on the island (Hapuna Beach). It's a big hotel, but quite tasteful, gorgeous grounds, with no other development visible from there. Do a search for the web site. Not a cheap place, but you might find a package deal. They offer kids activities at least 5 days/week. Older kids can spend the morning at these without you. I accompanied my 2-yr-old to a crafts class and we had a lot of fun. Food is definitely expensive at the hotel, but there's a town about 10-15 min. away with reasonable (cheap) restaurants and grocery stores. I stocked up on breakfast & lunch supplies for my hotel room fridge. There may be condos on the property, but they're not on the beachfront.

Also, the Waikoloa resort about 10 miles away (it's like Disneyland) has some condos. not beachfront, but not far. Do a web search for Waikoloa & condo and you'll probably find them. contact me if you want more details. mef

May 2002

We're going to the Big Island in late August for about a week with our 7 and 11 year old (staying at the Hilton Waikoloa Village: Kona side of the island). Looking for recommendations for great beaches, places to visit, etc. but ESPECIALLY reasonably priced restaurants - fresh seafood would be great, but basically would like options to what seems to be extremely high priced resort food. Kids like fish, seafood as well as the usual kid fare (hamburgers, burritos, pizza, etc.). Thanks. Karen

You'll probably get plenty of more expert recommendations, but, as we were just there: our favorite beaches in your vicinity were A-Bay, Hapuna, and (I think) Mauna Kea -- the last is a little tricky to get into. Pick up a copy of Big island Revealed. As I recall, there aren't a lot of unfancy, non- resort restaurants near the Hilton -- that whole stretch of coastline is nothing but resorts (and all the restaurants are relatively expensive.) The B.I. guide does, though, have reliable recommendations for places. Do make a trip to Volcanoes National Park (we stayed at a very nice B & B, Hale Ohia cottages), and stop at the Black Sand Beach. You probably already know about the Hilton dolphin program -- make sure to reserve in advance if you want to do that. anon.

Hopefully you'll have a rental car handy because it's necessary if you want to get off the resort property. Great beach near the Hilton is Hapuna, it can have big waves so be very watchful, but great body surfing and boogie boarding. North of Hapuna there's a small restaurant called the Blue Dolphin that serves delicious lunches (mahi mahi burgers and other island treats) very reasonably priced. They have a dinner menu (little more expensive, but still reasonable and v. good) as well and every friday night they have an awesome 8+ piece jazz ensemble in an outdoor setting with musicians from all over the island. Kid friendy, but be sure to make reservations. There's also great little restaurant (name escapes me) across the street from the King Kamehameha hotel in Kona Village that serves fish and chips it looks like a fisherman's pub from the outside and has some cool fish tanks in the bar, the patio dining is very casual and very reasonably priced. The Hilton is a great resort for kids, you'll love it. ndaetz

Sam Choy's is also a great little tasty ''dive'' which has a great menu and is very reasonably priced and best to try for lunch. I belive the sushi place is called ''Sushi To Go'' and it's located in Kona Village shopping center next to the OLD movie theater (ask a local shopkeeper, they'll direct you to it). If you've never parasailed, it's an amazing experience and can be done right in Kona Village. Also a morning snorkel trip to Captain Cooks Monument is a lot of fun, teriffic snorkeling there and a haven for spinner dolphins, I think the boat we took was a catamaran called something like ''_______ -Winds II'', lunch and breakfast were served. Again, you'll need a car, but it's worth taking a day trip to the volcano national park. Amazing crater w. steam vents and some areas where you can see lava flowing. I've been to Kona about 10 times since I was a teenager and have been to all places at least a few times. You can find info on the parasailing and the snorkel trip at the tourist info booth in Kona Village. ndaetz

I highly reocmmend you get a copy of ''Hawaii-The Big Island Revealed'' by Wizard Publications. I have family and friends on the Big Island and Oahu, and one of them pointed me to this book which is really an insider's approach to the Island.

If you're staying at the Hilton Waikoloa, you're on the Kona side of the island, but strictly speaking you're in South Kohala, about 20 miles north of Kailua-Kona. It's mostly resorts up there, with the exception of the little town of Kawaihae, or the town of Kamuela-Waimea which is north and inland. In Kawaihae Cafe Pesto is kid-friendly. In Waikoloa/Kings Shops, Roy's is a big tourist place but does have a good kids menu. In Captain Coo, the Manago hotel is authentic. Not far from the airport, in the industrial center, Sam Choy's is authentic local style, not expensive. Merriman's in Waimea/Kamuela is our favorite, and prices not too bad at lunch time. We often get food from the farmer's market in Waimea and we're set.

Beaches - Spencer Beach Park is where the local families go. Surf is very mild. For body surfing, the beach at Hapuna is the top. For a nice, uncrowded beach with decent snorkeling, find ''Beach 69'' near Puako/Waialea. ''A'' Beach (Anaehoomalu) is another good one - by the Outrigger Waikoloa.

Very best place to snorkel, or just look down in the water to see the fish if your kids aren't ready to snorkel, is Kahalu'u park, just south of Kona off Ali'i Drive (just past the little blue church), before you get to Keahou. Another great place to snorkel, if your kids are up to it, is just off of Captain Cook monument, Kealekekua bay. Easiest way to get there is by Fairwinds boat which leaves Keahou daily.

Sights -
*City of Refuge (Puuhonua o Honaunau) is a must. Also a nice little beach/snorkeling nearby. *The Volcano/Thurston Lava Tube and the Kipuka Bird Sanctuary *Hulihe'e Palace in Kona North of the Kohala resorts, on your way to Hawi (which is worth the drive) is a park, the name of which I forget, which preserves the remains of an ancient village. Worth checking out. Hawi itself is cute and has a nice cafe run by happy hippies. Sit out back in the garden facing the ocean. If you're brave, find the road to Kamehameha's birthplace, a very very spooky heiau.

If you go to the Hilo side,
*Akaka Falls *Hawaii Tropical Gardens *Waipio Valley

And go ahead, take the kids to a lu'au. The one at the ''King Kam'' (King Kamehameha hotel) in Kona is pretty good. Also if you get a chance to take the kids to see a keiki hula (kid's hula), that's pretty cute. Or watch for performances of a halau (hula group) which does hula kahiko, ancient hula. A very different style, with chants, drums, and great parts for men.

If you are into nature walks, contact Hawaii Forest and Trails. They have great guides - botanists, geologists, etc. who can take you places off the beaten track.

Have a great time. Wish I could go! Natasha

Earlier Recommendations


From: Gretchen

Regarding ideas for kids in Hawaii, especially Kona Village Resort on the Big Island: My parents and my adopted brother and sister have been going to Kona Village for nearly 10 years (since the kids were 6 and 4 years old). They absolutely love it, and I've had the opportunity to visit them there for a night from Honolulu when I lived there. The place is REALLY (!!!) expensive but if you've got the means (my dad does, but unfortunately not me...) it is absolutely worth it. The whole place is a fixed price deal, so all meals etc. are included in the daily rate. Their enormous buffet lunch, with all kinds of fresh sushi and sashimi, fruits, veggies, make-your-own burgers and many other things, is legendary on the island. All the rooms are in cabanas, either right on the water or garden view. There are several pools spread throughout the large compound, it's totally private and a great place for kids. They have an activites staff who arrange all kinds of fun things for kids of all ages: snorkeling, hiking, tennis, basketball, treasure hunts - you name it. My parents see the kids in the morning at breakfast then they disappear with all the other kids and the staff for the day, occasionally running back for a change of t-shirt or whatever, and then appear again in time for dinner. I've never seen so many relaxed parents! If, however, the price is a bit too high, there are literally thousands of other places to stay or camp in on the Big Island alone. Volcanos National Park has a really nice campground and lots of different hikes for various ages and abilities. All the islands of Hawaii have terrific parks with good facilities in most. All the public beaches have freshwater showers and bathrooms and many have calm enough areas that they're safe for toddlers to play inthe water. I could go on and on - I think Hawaii is heaven on earth. Feel free to email me directly for ideas about specific islands, or check out the hundreds of websites that offer air-car-condo or air-car-hotel deals. Anything you choose you'll likely have a great time. Aloha!

November 2001

I am travelling to the Big Island of Hawaii at the end of this month with my 16 month old daughter. I would appreciate any recommendations people have of fun things to do/places to see with a toddler. Any feedback regarding babysitting services people have used would also be great. We will be staying in a condo in Kailua-Kona Mary

A while back we went to the Big Island with an almost two year old. Considering the child's age, the hotel we stayed at along the Kohala Coast had a great beach for young kids - very calm and few waves. The hotel, the Royal Waikoloan, has changed names, but it is/was on Anaehoomalu Bay and there was also a state park entrance to the beach for day use. Because of the calm waters, the Hawaiians had built a fish hatchery (or something) that still exists and it is between the hotel and the beach.

Walking through the Lava Tubes at Volcanoes Nat'l Park was fun. But, the biggest hits for our almost 2-year old was the warm pool at the hotel, the safe in our hotel room that she could pretend was her very own refrigerator, and the playground at Waimea (town on the north side), you can't miss it when you drive through town on the main road. This playground is a Robert Leathers playground and was the first of its kind we had ever encountered. It was great fun. Ironically, Waimea is at elevation, about 1000 ft, and the days we were there in December were cool and a little foggy --- alot like the Bay Area! Who knows, the fish pond at the hotel may be the big hit for your child! Lissa

I believe our daughter was about 18 months or so when we went - maybe slightly older. One of the best things was the little beach that is good snorkeling in Kailua-Kona (I can't remember the name). There are often turtles in the little channel, and you can have one person able to snorkel, while the other holds your daughter in the shallow water. If you are watchful, your daughter could play at the water's edge at the beach. There are other beaches up the coast, but we couldn't find anything else that was very sheltered. We did spend a lot of time in the pool. The historical place of refuge (I can't remember the official name) was also very interesting - it had turtles in the boat channel near shore and there were little pools that had fish in them. We missed the time when there was boat carving, etc. going on. I think it would be more interesting if you could figure out a time to go when that was happening. The most fun for her was a night of Hawaiian music and dancing at the resort where we were. We took a boat trip on a big catamaran down the coast (I believe to the Captain Cook monument) to some beautiful snorkeling places. We took our daughter and she had a lot of fun, and we each got to snorkel. There was a lot to eat, and that helped. We did use a babysitter recommended by the resort. She was great, but it was expensive. We kept a lookout for people with children near our daughter's age, and struck up conversations which led to an exchange of babysitting/playdates in the evening so we could go out to dinner. We also went up the coast to some of the fancy resorts, but didn't find them all that great to visit with a small child. Have a great time! Susan