Long a favorite vacation destination for my land-locked (Colorado-based) family, Hawaii is our go-to locale for tropical beaches, fascinating culture, and laid-back lifestyle right here in the United States. Since my children – now ages 11 and 13 – were born, we’ve traveled with them to Maui, Kauai, and most recently, Hawaii, the Big Island, where we reveled in the exciting things to do on the vast island, from helicopter rides above waterfalls to hiking through a volcanic lava tube to kayaking along old sugar-cane irrigation ditches.
That said, we were also so pleased to spend at least part of each day (and night) kicking back at our kid-friendly coastal accommodations, since our children appreciated the services and amenities as much as we adults did! Here’s the scoop on where we stayed on the Hawaii’s Kohala Coast.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
On the dry, west side of the island, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel beckons families with its gorgeous crescent-shaped beach. The volcanic Big Island of Hawaii isn’t known for its beaches, so this sandy strip makes staying at the Mauna Kea especially attractive. Ideal for younger swimmers, the waves aren’t huge in the lagoon-like swimming area, and there is some great snorkeling near the rocks on either side of the beach; we spent a lot of time just walking among the tidepools, admiring the colorful sea creatures, including turtles sunning themselves on the rocks. You can rent snorkels and other outdoor gear – kayaks, boogie-boards, and stand-up paddleboards — at a beachfront cabana.
Exploring tidepools at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
The sophisticated hotel has a soothing Asian decor, with a koi pond that weaves its way through an outdoor walkway between buildings; my children loved spotting the big fish, including one they nicknamed “Grandpa.” Our modern, standard room with two double beds wasn’t huge, but we appreciated the large oceanfront lanai, and spent a lot of time on the balcony enjoying the gorgeous view. I also made good use of our room’s large Japanese soaking tub.
Viewfinder Tip: If you’re staying on the sunny Kohala Coast, you’ll want to fly into the nearby Kona International Airport (KOA). The Hilo airport (ITO) is on the opposite side of the island.
Though the property has an upscale vibe, families are absolutely welcomed here, with on-site, seasonal kids’ programming (extra fee), plus complimentary cultural activities, such as lei making. We spent time playing ping pong outside, swimming in the pool, and also scouting for manta rays at aptly named Manta Ray Point. An oceanfront luau is held on the grounds weekly.
We also spent one afternoon at the Mauna Kea’s sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. A 1.5-mile, moderate coastal hiking trail connects both hotels, so we made the trek on foot, and then hopped in the Hapuna Beach’s refreshing pool. But you can also take a shuttle between hotels and charge a meal or drink to your room, with the reciprocal signing privileges.
Water toys at rest before the Hilton Waikoloa lagoon opens for the day
Hilton Waikoloa Village
If you’re looking for a large resort with lots of bells and whistles for kids, Hilton Waikoloa Village is the property for you. Also on the Kohala Coast, this 1,240-room resort sits on 62 acres and has a monorail and water taxi to get guests from one end to the other! Intimate and charming it’s not, nor does it have any semblance of a beach on the ocean. What it does have is a large, man-made salt-water lagoon, with a sandy beach, that’s chock-full of water toys to rent: hydro bikes, paddleboats, SUPs, kayaks, snorkel gear, and more.
Dolphin Quest is another huge draw for families at Hilton Waikoloa Village. The on-site attraction allows guests to interact with dolphins, from a 30-minute encounter to “trainer for the day” opportunities. The encounters aren’t cheap, but if you have a budding marine biologist or animal naturalist on your hands, this can be a fun, rewarding, and memorable experience, for sure. Other activities for families include tennis, golf, and Club Keiki children’s programming during the day and evening (additional fee required).
Our accommodations here were in a standard room with a view of a parking lot (read: nothing too special). But, honestly, we weren’t in our room that much, preferring to spend our days outdoors in the multiple pools with water slides. It’s also fun just to walk the resort grounds (getting in some good daily exercise!) to spot the numerous sea turtles that make their homes here. One evening, we took a stroll out to a rocky point of the property for family photos in front of a gorgeous sunset, a lovely way to spend the end of an active day on Hawaii, the Big Island.
What amenities do you look for from a kid-friendly hotel?