Where to take kids on the Big Island of Hawaii

I was several months pregnant and already imagining where I’d visit with my newborn son when the proofs for the latest edition of the Moon Big Island of Hawai‘i handbook arrived. As a guidebook writer, my reviews are subjective in part based on my personal preferences and experiences of a place. I always bring someone else with me to a hotel or a restaurant or a beach for a second (or third) viewpoint, and take every opportunity to ask other locals and visitors their opinions as a way to achieve what academics call “data saturation”—when the researcher begins to get the same responses over and over again.

In my guidebook, I make lots of suggestions about places that are keiki-friendly (the Hawaiian word for child) and even kid-fun, but until recently I hadn’t seen those places through the lens of a parent with a five-month-old baby. My recommendations haven’t changed, but now I better understand what makes a place baby-friendly and what makes for a rough afternoon for the parent.

Beaches

I’ve brought tents to the beach, umbrellas, and even made a fort—but the best solution to keeping your little one out of the sun is a beach with lots of big trees.

My top choice for a beach that offers lots of shade and shallow water is Richardson Beach in Hilo. I’ve spent hours sitting on this quaint beach overlooking Hilo Bay without breaking a sweat (a definite perk for breastfeeding moms).

On the Kona side of the island, Spencer Beach Park offers large covered seating areas as well as a grassy area in case you’re trying actively to keep your keiki from eating sand.

Spencer Beach on the Big Island. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Spencer Beach on the Big Island. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Hiking

For the most part, strollers won’t work on Big Island trails thanks to the beautiful uneven lava that makes up most of the island. If you’re a baby-wearing caregiver, a good option for a hike is Kilauea Iki trail in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It takes between two and three hours (a good length for a breastfeeding mom) and at least half the trail has shade.

Hiking along the Kilauea Iki trail in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Hiking along the Kilauea Iki trail in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Dining Out

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time during a meal pushing a stroller back and forth to ensure your sleeping baby stays asleep. Some restaurants on the Big Island are very small with tables only for a few people, which isn’t very stroller-friendly.

Look for restaurants with large outdoor eating areas that are perfect for fussy babies and parents who have to take turns getting up with the baby during the meal. Kona Brewing Company is an ideal spot: it’s loud and has lots of outdoor space. Likewise, Daylight Mind Coffee Company in Waikoloa serves lunch and dinner and provides a lot of outdoor space for comforting your keiki.

Hotels and Where to Stay

If you like staying at bed and breakfasts, check before you book to see if they allow babies. Some might allow babies, but not younger kids (who can run around and break things) and asking the owner if they have a portable crib or other items can save you some room in your suitcase.

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is popular with families. Photo © Bree Kessler.

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is popular with families. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Both the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Sheraton in Keauhou Bay with their waterslides are meccas for kids, but these kid-saturated establishments might not work for all families looking for a quieter getaway. A condo rental, like Hali‘i Kai at Waikoloa presents a good option for families who like to have a kitchen, and extra bedrooms for the keiki you’re trying to sleep-train out of your bed.