Family Vacation in Hawaii: Affordable Ideas on The Big Island
Family-friendly and affordable vacation suggestions for a family vacation on The Big Island of Hawaii.
Traveling a great distance and spending a chunk of change just getting to Hawaii, our recent family vacation needed to be as kid- and budget-friendly as possible. Setting out on several day trips from Kailua-Kona, here are some of our affordable ideas for making the most of “The Big Island.” Running out of time before working down the bucket list, a family could easily spend one to two weeks in this tropical paradise without even thinking of the mainland.
Located just down the beach from the Kona International Airport, the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is a fantastic place to ease into a beach mentality. Open daily from 8AM-5PM, admission to the park is free and the beach is a short walk in from the visitor center parking area. The site of one of the first human settlements on the island, look for ancient artifacts including petroglyphs and lava rock fishtraps. Spotting feeding and resting sea turtles within seconds of our visit, we waded out into the harbor and watched sea life followed by a spectacular sunset.
Located about 1/2 hour north of Kailua-Kona, the Samuel Spencer Beach Park is a popular spot for visiting and local families. Free and open to the general public, the beach has a shallow, calm, swimming area bordered by a reef for snorkelers in the group. With both sun and shade on the beach, the park also has picnic tables and BBQ grills with a picnic pavilion and indoor bathrooms just up the path from the parking lot.
The overlook spot for the breathtaking valley and shoreline, the Waimanu Valley/Waipi’o Lookout is a vantage point for beauty and touristy-type photos. The decent point for the steep (25% grade, 4X4 vehicles only) road descending down into the lush, tropical valley can be navigated by appropriate vehicle and by foot on the Muliwai Trail (friends of our assure us this is a bun-burning hike back up to the top). At the bottom are spectacular views of Hi’ilawe and Wai’ilikahi falls and the occasional wild horse along the route.
Up the road from the Waimanu Valley/Waipi’o Lookout and almost to Akaka falls is a funky spot for shopping and grabbing a bite to eat. Poking in the stores along the main drag (only drag) in Honomu, we enjoyed mahi mahi and chicken soup at the Woodshop Gallery Cafe. Saving our receipt gave us 10% off souvenirs purchased in one of the two adjacent gift stores. Noisier than automobile traffic, crowing roosters and chirping coqui frogs made an interesting “ambiance” as dined outdoors on a wooden picnic table.
Hawaii’s most famous waterfall, the 442 foot drop that is Akaka is one of two waterfalls at Akaka Falls State Park located on the northeastern corner of the island. The second, Kahuna is smaller, but still beautiful, at 100 feet from top to bottom. Admission to the falls is $5/car or $1/person if you walk in (Hawaii “kama’aina” can show proof of residency for free admittance). The main trail “hike” is a 0.6 mile paved loop through a thick, tropical canopy of orchids, bamboo, banyan, ferns, and other flora and fauna unidentifiable to those of us from the Midwest.
Opposite of Akaka Falls is South Point, the southwestern tip of Hawaii and the southernmost point in the United States. Barren and windy, lava rock and prairie grasses comprise the rocky outcropping worth visiting if not for the geographical bragging rights of having “traveled so far.” Visitors with toddlers and young children should note the dangerous and unmarked blowhole to the north of the gravel parking lot. Where a lavatube meets the ocean, the drop is immediate and severe, perfect for cliff divers with extra life insurance. Looking for the popular Sprouting Horn blowhole, this overprotective mom pushed on to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach just up Highway 11.
Living up to its name, the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is the result of lava flowing into the ocean, exploding, and returning to the shore as a fine basalt sand. Like a pumice stone treatment for the heels of your feet, the sand is a bit course but manageable in sandals and bare feet. A popular feeding and resting spot for hawksbill and green turtles, we saw several slumbering on the sand and rocky outcroppings. A less popular swimming spot due to the cooler water and course sea floor, we scrambled the rocks and looked for sea life in the brackish water in the shallow tide pools. Hawaiian monk seals are also commonly spotted at the beach.
A “must see” on a trip to Hawaii, Volcanoes National Park is two hours from Kailua-Kona one way. Run by the National Park Service, daily admission is $10/vehicle ($25 for the Hawai’i Tri-park Annual Pass, allowing unlimited annual admission to Hawai’i Volcanoes, Haleakala, and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Parks). Timing our visit with enough time to watch the last informational-video of the day and just before sundown, we headed to the Jaggar Museum on the outer rim of the Kilauea Caldera. Learning about seismic activity, different types of lava, collection of scientific data, and native history in the museum, our attention was drawn to the active lava in the caldera once the sky turned dark. Visitors should pay heed to the air quality warnings, as hazardous volcanic fumes can be an issue during certain weather conditions.
Back in Kailua-Kona and with snorkel and mask purchased at a nearby drugstore for $10, we headed to Kahalu’u Beach Park for some shallow water snorkeling. A popular spot for snorkeling, surfing, and paddle-boarding, a great variety of ocean life can be seen even from the shore. Spotting several humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the wedge-trail triggerfish that is the Hawaii state fish, we felt great success in this aquatic accomplishment. Perfect for sun bathing and a lunch in the covered picnic pavilion, visitors and residents are also often spotted walking and jogging up and down the shoulder of Ali’i Drive.
A mandatory free activity enjoyed by our family, our time on The Big Island wasn’t complete without logging several geocache containers. Finding ourselves in volcanic calderas, road side parks, scaling lava fields, and even climbing the vines on a tree, we cached throughout the day with one adventure leading to another, introducing our friends to the sport as we played throughout the day.