Two parents and three children carry surfboards along the beach at the water's edge with a cottage in the background.
Vacationing in Hawaii gives you that exotic feel, without having to travel with your passport or change currency.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Surf's Up! Planning the Perfect Family Vacation to Hawaii

Aloha, Paradise!

It can be hard to find a vacation destination that satisfies the needs and wants of family members of different ages. However, Hawaii is the perfect spot for a multi-generational trip and is sure to make for a lifetime of memories for each one of your family members.

Hawaii has the feel of an exotic destination with the logistical ease of still being a part of the United States, so U.S. citizens don’t have to worry about passports, customs and different currencies.

We know planning a family vacation can be a daunting task. So, we’ve outlined the best tips for a Hawaii family vacation to help you get the most of your trip.

Getting There, Around and Away

A number of U.S. airlines offer flights to Hawaii, with Hawaiian Airlines offering the most. It can be a good idea to book your flight from the mainland to Hawaii first and then look into booking the inter-island flights later if you are intimidated by booking a multi-city itinerary.

Flights in and out of Honolulu are plentiful and usually cheapest from the mainland.

Once you are in Hawaii, expect to rent a car as driving is the best (and sometimes only) way to get around. The only exception to this might be if you are planning on staying in Waikiki Beach and are not going too far.

Waikiki has excellent public transport options including taxis and the Waikiki Trolley which is great fun for kids. Also, parking in this area is scarce and comes at a high cost.

Money Matters

It’s obvious why people choose Hawaii as a top vacation destination, however experiencing Hawaii comes with a steep price tag. Hawaii is one of the most expensive vacation destinations in the United States.

The flight itself rivals that of many international flights. From there, if you want to visit other islands, the fastest way is by air which adds additional expense.

Rental cars are also expensive compared to other destinations and fuel can be quite a bit more expensive than the mainland. Accommodations usually make up the the bulk of one’s budget with a wide variation depending on the season you visit and the type of hotel, resort or private residence you book.

With careful planning, it is possible to budget travel in Hawaii. Forego the all-inclusive resort experience and opt for a more budget-friendly hotel or a private apartment.

To cut transportation costs, if you know you are planning to lounge on the beach for a couple of days, wait until you are ready to adventure to pick up a rental car. Alternatively, visiting in the off-season can offer drastically cheaper rates on virtually every aspect of your trip.

When to Go

Thinking of planning a trip to Hawaii with family? The weather in Hawaii is nearly always beautiful. They have an official rainy season from November to March but it is rare to have downpours for days on end.

High season for prices is from mid-December until the middle of April. The summer months can also be quite expensive, so if you are looking to snag a deal, look for a trip April to May and September to November.

Where to Go/Accommodations

The four most popular islands with tourists are the Big Island (Hawai’i), Maui, Oahu and Kauai. Each of these islands have a large number of resorts that offer an all-inclusive experience for families.

There are also smaller properties where you can easily craft your own itinerary making your vacation in the Aloha State into whatever you want it to be. Hotel or resort accommodation can be quite expensive for families especially in popular areas such as Waikiki.

To save some money, look into private apartment rentals. Private apartments also offer additional flexibility for families as often you can book apartments with multiple bedrooms and shared spaces.

If expense isn’t an issue, the Aulani — a Disney Resort and Spa in Oahu — is considered one of the best luxury resorts for families in the world.

What to Eat

When in Hawaii there are several food experiences you just have to try. Your kids are sure to love the shaved ice stands.

While the Hawaiian shaved ice craze has spread across the nation, you definitely should try it in its birthplace. Some of the stands offer syrups and toppings made exclusively from fresh fruit for a healthy snack that will cool you down after a day in the sun.

Other must-try treats include malasadas, which is a fried dough reminiscent of a donut without a hole, kalua pig, haupia, lomi lomi salmon and steamed taro-leaf-wrapped pork lau lau. Except for the highest end restaurants, most dining establishments welcome kids and many include children’s menus, high chairs and more.

Municipal parks are plentiful and are a great place to have a picnic in the beautiful natural environment of Hawaii.

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Family-Friendly Activities

Hawaii offers tons for kids to do including playing on beautiful sandy beaches, snorkeling with colorful fish, and visiting active and dormant volcanoes. There are also a number of ticketed attractions such as museums, a zoo and historical sites if you need a break from the sun.

Many hotels and resorts offer special programs for kids, often called Keiki programs (after the Hawaiian word for children). The programs typically include fun, Hawaii-themed activities such as ukulele lessons, making leis and hula.

To add an educational experience to your trip, visit the Pearl Harbor memorial sights for a moving and thought-provoking visit. This is best seen with older kids and teenagers who are mature enough to act respectfully during their visit.

If you visit in May, you’ll be able to witness a Lantern Floating Ceremony, one of the best lantern festivals in the world. Watch as thousands of lanterns float out to sea as tribute to those who have gone before. It’s an astonishing cultural event you’ll remember forever.

Another popular destination is Diamond Head Crater — an extinct volcano at the end of Waikiki Beach. Visitors can hike to the summit and stand in the center of the crater while enjoying amazing views.

The climb is relatively easy with the exception of a short stair section that is steeper. Young children can typically manage it and you can even take a stroller on most of it without problems.

There are plenty of hidden gems on the Big Island especially, from seeking out sea turtles to visiting uniquely colored sand beaches. Make sure to do some exploring and get tips from the locals on off-the-beaten path experiences to take advantage of.

For more luxurious attractions, take a Kauai helicopter tour and see some of the island’s most remote and most beautiful sights from above. While more expensive than other activities in Hawaii, there are a range of prices for tours.

There are truly family-friendly attractions at every turn. Some of our other favorites include the Dole Plantation, going for a submarine ride, the Honolulu Zoo, the Hilton Lagoon and the Polynesian Cultural Centre.

Safety Precautions

Just like any other destination, it’s important to remember to be vigilant and prepared for the unexpected. When enjoying the ocean, be sure to remember your common sense. Never swim alone and always take advantage of the number of guarded beaches on the island. As well, make sure you bring along all the beach essentials you’ll need for spending a day out in the sun.

Pay attention to warning signs at beaches before entering the water.

The sun can be quite intense in Hawaii and severe sunburns are quite common for unprepared visitors. Plan to spend the most intensely sunny part of the day indoors when possible and use lots of sunscreen.

Wearing protective clothing is even better.

At times, jellyfish are found in the waters around the Hawaiian chain. Jellyfish stings can be quite painful and can also cause allergic reactions. Additionally, the coral reefs are extremely beautiful but stepping on a piece of coral can cause some nasty cuts, so wearing footwear is advised.

Hawaii is known for being quite the safe destination and Hawaiian people are known for their friendliness. However, just like nearly any place that attracts tourists, property crime and small theft is fairly common.

Avoid the temptation to leave valuable items in your rental car as thieves often target rental vehicles. Also avoid carrying large amounts of money with you and pay close attention to your wallet in public places.

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