Kona or Hilo: Big Island for Families

When I want to get away, I head to the Big Island. Having been born and raised on Oahu, it’s natural for me to frequent familiar haunts when I return home. But on the Big Island, I’ll explore, soaking up the local vibes in Hilo or playing tourist in Kona/Waikoloa.

People often ask me which side of the island they should visit and my response is that it depends on what kind of experience you want. My trips to Hilo end up being very different from my trips to Kona. In Hilo, with my cousin as my guide, I live as a local - visiting mom and pop establishments, restaurants and craft fairs. The lush green landscape, historic landmarks and family-owned farms are ripe for exploring. Whereas in sunny Kona, I’ll check into a resort for some R&R and enjoy the amazing sunsets that the west side of the island is known for.

People also ask me to name my favorite resort for families in Hawaii and I don’t hesitate to recommend the Hilton Waikoloa Village. There is so much to do right on the sprawling, 62-acre property that you don’t have to leave if relaxing is what you’re there to do. And with the Hilton about a 40-minute drive north of Kona town, it’s good that there’s something for everyone.


What makes the Hilton Waikoloa so special is its protected lagoon, allowing you to swim in the ocean and enjoy the sea life - fish, jumping fish, turtles, and more - up close without battling the waves. It’s perfect for the little ones. This last trip, we saw eight honu (my daughter will tell you she saw 10). Whatever the number, where else are you going to be in the water as a family as multiple turtles swim right by? In past visits, I’ve even seen a Hawaiian monk seal swim into the lagoon (when this happens, the hotel staff promptly shuts down the lagoon so that the monk seal can swim undisturbed).


Beyond the lagoon, there’s multiple pools for the kids of all ages to pick from. The littlest keiks will enjoy the shallow wading pool featuring a sandy bottom and splash pad (which wasn’t operating when we were there). Older keikis will enjoy the main pool featuring a 175-foot slide, waterfall, grottos and volleyball net. A fun rope bridge connects one side to the other. My daughter loved the third set of pools, interconnected by junior waterslides. There’s even an adults-only pool situated away from the others. With so many options, my daughter never got bored, trying the different pools on different days.

The ride to our room was amusement itself. Since the resort is spread across 62 acres, you have the option of taking a monorail/tram or boat to your room. My lil one was happy just cruising the waterway. Once we even rode it just for fun in a loop from our room and back, reminding me to see the fun in the simple pleasures in life.


My daughter also enjoyed daily visits to the flamingos, tortoises, and dolphins on the property. Sometimes, we’d catch the Hawaiian runner lighting the beachfront torches in the late afternoon/early evening.

Classes are included in the resort fee. I tried some exercises classes. But my favorite classes were the ones we enjoyed as a family. At the Hilton Waikoloa, my lil one took her first ukulele and hula classes. Then, we made ti leaf bracelets and orchid leis. I appreciated the opportunity to share the Hawaiian culture with my lil one right on the resort since we our time was limited on the island.

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To change it up one evening, we walked to the Queens’ MarketPlace and lucked into a hula showcase by a local halau.

For me, time in Waikoloa is time spent present and focused on one another. We let go of the distractions of the outside world for a few days. We let go of schedules and gave the lil one the freedom to shape her day. Aside from our classes, which we pre-registered for, we had nowhere to be at any given time. So we had time to reconnect, to soak up long sunny days and ocean views. As we walked back to our room at the end of the day, we always paused along the beach - sometimes in one of the beach-front hammocks - to watch the sunset together as a family. A beautiful way to end the day in Hawaii nei.