Our Hawaiian ‘Big Island’ trip came about on accident. It was my last month of maternity leave, and I was having tough feelings about going back to work (who doesn’t!!). My husband and I wanted to find a way to make the end of maternity leave feel like a positive thing and go out with a bang, but weren’t quite sure how to go about it. Extremely ironically, my sister-in-law and her husband had a baby the EXACT same day as us, and her maternity leave was coming up the same time as mine! However she was so sure of how she was going to celebrate – with a trip to Hawaii! She already had everything booked and had her sales pitch to us perfected. Since we were basically in the EXACT same walk of life (parents to a toddler and a 2.5 month-old baby), it honestly made a whole lot of sense, and we ultimately agreed! We thought it would be fun to trade turns offering the other couple a date night, or alternating babysitting each others kids while the other couple went snorkeling at the beach.
Some things to know about the Hawaii big island before we get started…
In regards to hotels, restaurants, etc. it feels a little bit like the budget island. You can’t go in expecting to find areas that feel like Waikiki beach – it is far less populated and posh. You aren’t going to find our Gucci stores and chain restaurants here girlfriend! It however is the island to go to if you want to really unplug and enjoy nature – absolutely go there expecting to see lush rain forest, incredible wildlife, and breathtaking views! Our experiences snorkeling, hiking, and even just enjoying the beaches far surpassed what we had ever seen on other Hawaiian islands and was truly incredible. The sad thing is there is even more we wanted to take in, but weren’t able to access with newborn babes in tow. I however will still make these suggestions along the way in case you are headed to the island with bigger kids or even just yourselves – there is so much to enjoy!
Okay so first things first, we flew in direct from Seattle to Kona International Airport (KOA) on Alaskan Airlines and it was fantastic. If you can fly direct, do it! For this island, my vote is you absolutely need to rent a car… everything is a little more spread out and you will need one to access good beaches, unless you plan to stay in the same hotel beach-side and not venture very far at all.
Flying into KOA, we grabbed a Jeep (I mean, come on you have to) from an airport rental spot and headed straight to our rental in Kailua-Kona. This area is one of the more populated ones, and there are grocery and ABC stores, restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops, etc. all readily accessible. We stayed at an Air BNB which was SUPER affordable (honestly this island is awesome for cost-friendly rentals!), but if you prefer a hotel I would suggest the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. There are several reasons behind my recommendation; it is immediately on the waterfront and walking distance from all the places you want to get to in Kailua-Kona. Kamakahonu Beach is a tiny little private beach area right out their front door that is SO kid-friendly, and their Luau is fantastic! You could just chill there endlessly and enjoy waterfront lounging, paddle board/kayak rentals, dining at Honu’s on the Beach, and so much more. If you want more deets on their Luau, the Island Breeze Luau is the one hosted specifically at the Marriott and it was so well done! Food was delicious, the activities were plentiful, and the performances super fun.Kona Brewing! My hubby thoroughly enjoyed this and took home the world’s most pricey (and honestly awesome growler) as a souvenir. Dine out at Huggo’s on the Rocks (if you didn’t Huggos then did you even Hawaii???). Grab poke from Umekes Fishmarket Bar & Grill. Parking can be brutal but the fish is SO GOOD. Get an authentic coffee at Kona Coffee and Tea – their hazelnut coffee drinks are amazing! All of these activities in this area could take up a few days to your whole trip! But we ventured on, so please allow me to continue.
This is where the rental car comes in, because there are some FANTASTIC snorkeling spots in this area. With a short drive, you can make it to Kahalu’u Beach Park which is a fantastic family snorkeling area! It is honestly not very ‘beachy’… think lava rock instead of sand, so wear some good water shoes! However, there is plenty of sunny and shady areas alike (great for us with itty bitty babies), and the snorkeling is insanely accessible. All you have to do is step out into the water, put your mask on and your face down and you will see amazingly bright colored tropical fish swimming everywhere… it was incredible! We enjoyed this immensely as one couple could stay on the beach with the babes while the other enjoyed the sea life, and it was an easy switch shifts back and forth. There were food and shaved ice trucks parked in the parking lot, and we snorkeled and swam the day away! My dream snorkeling spot is Captain Cook – however to get down to the Captain James Cook Monument area where you can snorkel, there is a decent hike involved. It is a beginner/intermediate level hike, but it was more than two breastfeeding mommas carrying 2-month-old babies were willing to embark in, so we went and toured some coffee farms instead. I have however heard it is some of the best snorkeling people have ever participated in, so if you are able to I would absolutely suggest giving a hike to Captain Cook to snorkel a try!
So far, this has all been very mid-island on the Kona side (west side) of Hawaii, so from here we will venture north on the coastline a little bit. From Kailua-Kona we ventured to the Waikoloa Village area, specifically to visit Anaehoomalu Bay. “A-Bay” is in Puako and features a glorious sandbar and crystal blue water that the kids had a blast swimming in. This is another fantastic place to stay and play, with some nice resorts, shopping, and golf courses… to me it felt like the Florida of Hawaii, if you will, haha! For family-friendly lodging I would suggest Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa or Fairway Villas Waikoloa by Outrigger. We grabbed a lunch to-go from the adjacent Lava Lava Beach Club, but I honestly had some FOMO not partaking in the party going on there – it looked so fun! Just a tiny bit further north from here is Hapuna Beach, know for being one of the most beautiful white sand beaches on the big island.
Honestly, I could have spent my entire trip in these areas alone, and next time I return to the Island I might just stick to these spots or this side of Hawaii. However, we were determined to experience as much as possible, so they journey continues on from here! Be sure to tune in tomorrow for part two of doing the Hawaii Big Island the right way with kids!
X.O. – Abbey Co.
If you are a new momma who is considering traveling on maternity leave, be sure to check out my post on what our experience felt like.
Also, in regards to gear we use when we travel with a baby and toddler in tow, click here to read more about my fav items – we used all in surplus this trip!
If you don’t feel like reading the deets in those posts, here is my quick list of what I would show up with:
If you are bringing a tiny baby, grab one of these beach shades!! SO FUNNY that my sister in law and I both showed up with the same piece of equipment, and we both used them non-stop for our newborns! They kept cool enough that we were able to enjoy full days at the beach with very tiny babes.
Also, I am picky about sunscreen so I always show up to beach vacations with my own. This Aveno for Kids mineral-based sunscreen has been a recent favorite (I like how easy it goes on) and it is on the reef-safe list!
Lastly, I know when heading to Hawaii some people like to rent gear, others bring it. I am a bring’er! Using a snorkel that was in someone else’s mouth sounds gross and also I have discovered these full-face masks that are easy for the kids to use. I bring ours every Hawaii trip! I have an adult version that was a piece of cake for me to use too, it was great for basic snorkeling like we were doing as a family.
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