Decades ago, southwest Maui was dubbed the "Gold Coast" by real estate copywriters, as a string of condos and resorts sprung up along the shoreline. To be honest, it seemed sort of tacky. But now, as the construction cranes seemed to outnumber palm trees during the ensuing years in West Maui north of Lahaina, Kihei seems downright kitsch—and a great choice for families seeking fun in the sun and sand.
The town is full of no-nonsense eateries and beach after beach. On the south end of Kihei is Wailea, a swank resort strip with a miles-long path providing access to five excellent beaches.
But at the heart of the scene are Kihei's three sweet family beach parks: Kamaole I, II, and III. The three are connected by short paths and each has very good (and safe!) swimming.
Keawakapu Beach, a locals' fave, connects Kihei's beaches to those of Wailea. A jogging path strings together these pearls. Bargain hunters should check out North Kihei and Ma'alaea Harbor, which have their own beaches, and are close enough to all the others, as well as being located logistically to explore the rest of the island. Maui Trailblazer has way more details on planning a trip to Maui, and guiding you once you are there.
Trailblazer Travel Books—for all the islands—have special Trailblazer Kids sections, for activities, beaches, attractions, and trails. Most of the fun is free.
Lydgate Park, Kauai
Canoes Beach on Maui, (top pic) just north of Kihei's Kamaole Beach Parks, specializes in kid-sized surf waves. It's right next to Kalama Parks, often the site of weekend events. One of the best beaches in Hawaii for the young ones is Kauai's Lydgate Park. A huge man-made ocean swimming pool is the main attraction, but the park also has a large lawn with playsels and an enormous Play Bridge, a five-level, maze-like structure that can accommodate a bus load of scurrying kis.
Dolphins and children are natural best buds. Dolphin Quest, on the Big Island and Oahu, offers learning programs. But you can also get up close for free: On Oahu, visit the Kahala Mandarin Oriental; on the Big Island check out the huge ocean side pool at the Hilton Resort in South Kohala.
Of course, sand and gentle surf provide and undending source of amusement. Trailblazer books list all the beaches that are kid-safe. (Though a watchful eye is always necessary.)
There are no rules against learning while having fun. The tide pools at the beach park just outiside of Pu'u Hononua O Honaunau National Park south of Kona are a sure thing.
Aside from up-close looks at dophins, the Hilton Resort on the Big Island serves up a Disneyesque boatload of attractions. Boats voyage the resort's canal, and a monorail travels its extensive grounds.
Sea turtles sunbathe on all the islands, but on the Big Island the slow-moving reptiles are a commonplace sight. In Hawaii, children are called "keikis" (kay-keys), the same name given to young banana shoots, which each year provide the food necessary to sustain life. Parents traveling with kids are always welcomed into the community. Still not sure which island to visit? Consult your No Worries Hawaii ebook.
One: Twin Falls Botanical Preserve, at the beginning of the Hana Highway, is on the tourist radar, but you can find places to call your own. There are actually a half-dozen falls with swimming pools, most of which visitors never see.
Two: Baldwin Beach Park on windward Maui near Paia is the perfect place to hang out—beachcombing, surfing, snorkeling, and surfing all combine to say aloha.
Three: Where the resort strip ends in West Maui just north of Kapalua is the Honolua Marine Preserve. Tour boats bring paying customers, but it's easy to get there on foot. As a bonus, you can watch surfers ride one of the better waves in the Islands off the point (from which this photo was taken).
Four: Ka'anapali Beach still has the buzz carried forward from its heydays in the 1970s, when it was called Dig Me Beach. Yeah, baby. Black Rock, right in front of the Sheraton, attracts jumpers all day long, and the snorkeling is good. A beach path along the resort strip's gardens and pools provides an opportunity for excercise while people watching.
Five: Lahaina was Kamehameha's choice for the capital of the islands. The king's big footprints, along with historical thread from the missionary and whaling periods, are evident along the town's quaint streets. Bars, restaurants, and shops make the place hop. All sorts of tour boats depart from the harbor, along with ferries to the neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai.
Six: Haleakala National Park is lofted at 10,000 feet. Its Red Hill Summit viewing kiosk attracts a throng of sunrise seekers, but this is a chilly proposition. Try sunset. The Sliding Sands Trail into the crater (technically an eroded valley) is the park's centerpiece, but remember when hiking into all that magificance that you need to hike back out.
Seven: Iao Valley State Park in Wailuku gets hammered with tour buses, and most visitors walk the steps to see the signature Iao Needle. There's room to roam in a botanical garden, as well as on an unsigned trail that departs the park at the Needle to a spectacular viewing spot in the adjacent state forest reserve.
Maui Trailblazer has details on visiting all of Maui's well-known wonders, as well as place to call your own for the day.
Hanauma Bay, not far south of Waikiki is by far the most-visited snorkeling venue in the Islands. But that doesn't mean it's a must-do. It can be crowded and the visiting protocol is a hassle—plus the snorkeling isn't that great close to shore. Two nearby alternatives are Makai Research Pier (at the peninsula in the photo above), and little-known Cromwell's Cove.
Makapu'u Beach Park (above) is on the way to Makai Pier, a spot to enjoy a dreamy picnic and watch surfers. The pier is where the yellow submarine manned by crews from the Hawaii Underwater Research Lab (HURL) expolore offshore waters. You can easily swim from shore amid sea turtls and schools of colorful fish. You can walk out the pier beforehand to scope the scene.
Cromwell's Cove is a really cool man-made enclosure set right below (I mean there it is!) the Shangri La Mansion of the wealthy socialite Doris Duke. (Cromwell was her husband.) The parking for the cove is in a suburban neighborhood, and a walk with a short rock-hop is required. Only high school kids frequent this place (making weekdays a better choice for solitude). This photo is taken from steps that lead into the clear water. From the same parking, you can also walk right (Crowell's is left) to Ka'alawai Beach, which is the strip of sand you can see just above the wall in the photo.
Oahu Trailblazer has more deets on these places and all the other spots to find quiet, beautiful spots on Oahu. Surprisingly, populated Oahu has more undeveloped beaches than Maui.
The Hana Highway is one of Maui's tourist rituals. Play it wrong, and you can spend the day stuck in a conga line of rental cars fighting for parking spots. One easy way to play it right is to do the drive in two days. On the first day, only go as far as Keanae Village and Nahiku. A turnout at mile marker 17 gives up a portrait quality view of the lava peninsula on which the village sits.
Swimming beaches are not the thing at Keanae, but this little cove is popular among kayakers in search of supreme scenery.
Lava stacks, a product one of Haleakala's more recent eruptions, constantly do battle with ocean waves. Spoiler alert: the ocean wins.
In the middle of Keanae's greenspace is its signture landmark, dating from 1860. It's called (get ready) Ihi'ihioiehovaona.
Aunty Sandy's is as close as you will get to haute cuisine. Better buy two of the petite loaves before driving away and wishing you had another. Nearby are two freshwater swimming spots: Sapphire Pools, which are near the highway turnoff, and Keanae Pools, which are formed at the river mouth not far from the church.
The Keanae Arboretum is one of the best family hikes on the island, and trekers can keep going up the valley. Next to Keanae is Wailua Village, where practically no tourists stop, thereby missing two quaint churches (St. Gabriel's Church and St. Augustine's Shring) as well as a smashmouth view of taro fields surrounded cliffs and Upper Waikani Falls.
Maui Trailblazer has details on to find places to call your own on the Hana Highway—all hiding in plain sight.