7 Cheap or Free Toddler Activities on Big Island Hawaii
When I was daydreaming about a trip to the Big Island, I had visions of us (as a family of four) flying on a helicopter ride and seeing lava stream down below. This is is a pipe dream right now there is no active lava to be seen and because hello, we are traveling with toddlers and an infant.
The reality was quite a bit different from what actually happened (basically the trip revolved around toddler activities on Big Island Hawaii), but it was still fun. We had a great time, after our toddler adapted and adjusted to the time difference. We even saw sea turtles up close and my husband swam with dolphins, they were hanging out near the pier.
We stayed in Kona and were on the Big Island for 5 nights and rented a car for two of the days to save money (two separate days spaced apart). It takes about 4.5 hours (without any stops) to do the circle around Big Island, and hitting Hawaii Volcano National Park you are in the middle of the 4.5 hour trip (it will take another 2 hours to come back whichever way you head, north or south). It was too much to do in one day so we hit up the rest of the sites on the second day that we rented a car.
We tried to coordinate it to our toddler’s nap time. The first day we had a car it was a nightmare because our toddler was jet lagged and he was sick, there were a lot of melt downs (including almost from myself, I had thoughts that maybe bringing them to the Big Island was a bad idea), but the second car day was completely different and very much enjoyable.
Even though staying on the Big Island is expensive, it doesn’t have to be. Here are 7 cheap or free toddler activities on Big Island Hawaii to save you and your family money. These toddler activities on Big Island Hawaii attractions go ‘clockwise’, so starting at Hilo area and back towards Kona.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory and Tour. I thought was a nice stop, it is just off the highway from Hilo towards Volcano National Park. The Mauna Loa Factory is free to visit. It is a self-directed tour, basically there are windows on the second floor for you to look into the factory to see the macadamia nuts and the packaging of the product. There is a visitor centre where you can sample and taste the 12 different flavours of macadamia nuts.
People might find this place disappointing but I actually liked it because my toddler wasn’t restricted to being quiet on a tour (being quiet is not possible for his toddler-self). The lack of rules is actually beneficial when you have a toddler with a lot of energy who can’t sit still or stay still. There is a place where you can eat and they have a lunch special for around $6 and they also have macadamia nut ice cream. The pricing for the macadamia nuts at the Mauna Loa factory isn’t any cheaper than what you would find at ABC stores or Walmart.
Hawaii Volcano National Park. I was looking forward to see the Thurston lava tubes, and to see the view from the Jagger museum, but since the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption, a lot of Volcano National Park has closed down temporarily or permanently. For young children there isn’t too much to see, you can walk to the caldera and crater and see the steam rising. They hand out a rangers park badge but you have to be older than 6 years old. It is $25 for a vehicle entry and it is good for 7 days (I would say this is pretty cheap especially if you’re staying a while on the Island). We walked out to the steam vent path and saw the crater, it is huge.
We didn’t have long, but if you had more time you could drive down the Chain of Craters Road to see the Hōlei Sea Arch. It is a natural bridge on lava cliffs.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Of course the black sand beach is a ‘must see’ when you go to the Big Island, so we had to add it to the itinerary. Punalu’u beach gets very hot to walk on, but there are beautiful butterflies flying all around, it was almost surreal. There are some sea turtles basking in the sun. It is a bit touristy with a lot of tour buses rolling around. I would say this is a nice quick stop by to see the black sand beach, but we didn’t stay long because of the heat. The yellow rope is to section off the sea turtles and there are yellow/ orange butterflies flying about.
Harbour house sea turtles. This is probably the best place for toddlers on Big Island and we wished we were there longer but we had to return our rental car. We went to Kahaluu Beach Park because we wanted to see sea turtles. We didn’t see any there and the waves seemed pretty rough, especially for toddlers. It also was rocky for our toddler to walk on. The lifeguard recommended going to Honokohau State Park instead as there are no waves, and the sand is nice to walk on for toddlers.
We parked at a place called The Harbour House and walked on a path towards the beach. The beach is sandy, warm, and shallow, the waves are not strong at all. We saw about three sea turtles in the shallow waters, we were so close they swam up to us, we were probably 1 foot away. It was magical. The beach we went to was called Aiopio beach. This used to be a fish trap area and there are petroglyphs in the area.
Harold H. Higashihara Kamakana Park. This is a perfect place for toddlers, it is ranked the 11th best playground in the United States. It is huge! There is a small enclosed area for kids age 2-5 and there is a bigger wooden area for kids 6 and older. It was pretty empty, there was only one other kid there (it was so fun seeing our 2 year old play with a 4 year old, they had a grand time). It’s easy to find and has a beautiful view overlooking the blue ocean.
Toddler Friendly Places to Eat (While on the Road) on the Big Island
Cafe 100. Cafe 100 is in Hilo. This was a very budget friendly place to eat, and they are famous for their Loco Moco. A Loco Moco is basically rice, with gravy, a beef patty, and an egg (any way you like it, but usually it is sunny side up) on top. It is really cheap, the Loco Moco is only $4.35. The area where you can eat is covered and there is picnic table seating. You can always get your food as take-out and eat at a nearby playground picnic-style, which is what we did.
Aloha Mix Food Truck. The Aloha Mix food truck is located on Hawaii Belt road, in Naalehu. They had shrimp truck garlic shrimp for $13 a plate. The shrimp was big and juicy, probably even better than shrimp truck plates on the North Shore in Oahu! What I liked about this place was it outdoors and was gated, and there were some toddler toys to keep the little guy busy.
Outdoors is good because you don’t have to worry about other dining patrons staring you down when your toddler is loud and having a melt down. The picnic benches were all shaded under umbrellas, and there is a big playground next door. There is even a clean bathroom for you to use.
I’ve been to Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island (Hawaii) now and I would say this island is my second favourite after Oahu. I loved how laid back and not too commercialized it felt, and I loved how there were so many opportunities to see wildlife, like the cute Honu sea turtles and the dolphins.
Related: PC Travel Review
One thing that we didn’t see is the Mauna Kea Observatory. Since the altitude is so high, it is not recommended for young children (or actually not recommended for children under the age of 13). That means we will have to be back to the Big Island again in a few years! Maybe by that time we can do the helicopter ride over Hawaii, though that certainly won’t be cheap.
As you can see, everything is free here with exception of the food (which is pretty cheap), and the Volcano National Park entrance ticket (which was $25 for a week in and out privileges). This is why I love Hawaii, so much to do for so little money, all you need is to get there. Hope you enjoyed these toddler activities on the Big Island (Hawaii)! Mahalo!
Have you been to the Big Island/ Hawaii?
Do you have any other toddler activities on Big Island Hawaii you would recommend?
GYM is a 30 something millennial interested in achieving financial freedom through disciplined saving, dividend and ETF investing, and living a minimalist lifestyle. Before you go, check out my recommendations page of financial tools I use to save and invest money. Don’t forget to subscribe for blog updates, a free dividend yield spreadsheet, and the free Young Money Bootcamp eCourse.
12 thoughts on “7 Cheap or Free Toddler Activities on Big Island Hawaii”
Looks like fun stuff, GYM. We really need to get to Hawaii. Tom
@Tom- Yes, it was fun despite being exhausting, haha.
I can’t imagine the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory to be disappointing. Just checking out the process of packing up the nuts is already cool. Plus they provide samples and it’s toddler friendly…now that is one place we need to check out whenever we visited Hawaii.
@Kris- Hah, Yelp reviews thought it was disappointing. I guess it’s not very exciting or interactive.
Thanks for the tips – several of these look adult friendly too 🙂 we are heading to Hawaii soon and I am so excited for macadamia nut chocolates!
@Leigh- Yes, definitely- it’s nice when toddler + adults can be have fun. Which island are you going to? I love macadamia nuts, they are so addictive.
Love the cheap travel ideas for families. We like to travel and often take our little one with us. So many people think we are crazy for doing it but travel is important to us and something we want to share rib our little one.
We always struggle with not being a slave to nap time. I think this will get easier when our little one goes down to one nap a day.
We will have to put Hawaii in our travel list. I’ve been to Maui twice but that was pre-kid.
@Maria- Where have you traveled with your 18 month old? (18 months right?) Travel is important to me too, I just love it. Since our toddler did okay on an overnight flight maybe I could think about the Caribbean next..
She’s 14 months. We have stayed in the country for the most part spent a few weeks in Vancouver and have taken her to to Ottawa a few times. That’s a 4 hour flight for us. It was easier when she was younger. We aren’t brave enough for an overnight flight yet.
@Maria- I wasn’t either but our 2 year old did amazingly well (I didn’t expect him to do so well). The drive for sleep is strong in toddlers.
We did this trip when our first one was 6 months. Sure brought back a lot of memories reading your post. I much preferred the Kona side more than Hilo, mainly because Kona was sunny and Hilo was raining when we were there. So beautiful but I got badly Sun burned! Instead of buying soothing gel I remember picking aloe Vera… it saved me and actually made my skin much more beautiful than before the Sun burn.
@Katie- I prefer Kona too! It felt like I was in SE Asia or something… a very laid back vibe (despite the “welcome cruise ships!” signs)