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If you have been following along, you know that our family was so fortunate to spend three weeks in Hawaii last summer. We visited Maui and The Big Island with our two kids, age 4 and 7. Needless to say, we had an awesome time. Most of my planning was done by searching Pinterest for family friendly blog posts offering advice of “must-dos” on the islands. I compiled a list of things that sounded interesting (and brought a 2016 Fodor’s Hawaii with us) and made our way through the many awesome activities we hoped to do. We also discovered other great things and I am thrilled to share them all!
P.S. This list is great for anyone traveling to Maui – honeymooners, adventurers, couples, etc!
Maui Must-Do Activities
Maui Ocean Center
We visited Maui Ocean Center on our first full day in Hawaii (not the morning after we arrived, that day was a jet lagged BLUR!) but once we were sort of adjusted and more or less had our bearings. Maui Ocean Center is about 15 minutes north of Kihei. There is a large parking lot for visitors.
My kids think zoos and aquariums are fun to visit, and they are, but The Maui Ocean Center was also educational. I highly suggest visiting at the beginning of your trip because you will learn about the ocean life you are about to see! We sat through a lecture/cleaning of the sea turtles. Here we learned that it is actually illegal to touch a sea turtle in the state of Hawaii (although we saw lots of people violate that- honestly they probably did not know!). They only bring the sea turtles out once a week to be cleaned and measured, so if you are interested, call ahead and check what day this is happening.
We learned all about coral reefs and then a few days later we snorkeled to one! My kids loved the touch tanks where they got to learn about sea cucumbers and starfish, which we later saw in the wild.
There were many exhibits and we spent a few hours making our way through. One of the kid’s favorite activities was to find the Hawaiian etching stations and fill in their little passbooks to bring into the gift shop for a prize! We had a lot of fun doing these rubbings!
After seeing all the exhibits, we wandered over to the Seascape restaurant adjacent to the aquarium and had a nice lunch overlooking the bay. This was a great activity, a must-do in Maui!
This may sound like a giant DUH but the beaches in Maui are fantastic. And free! Although at most roadside beaches the downside to no charge is that parking is tight. At many beaches you could either street park or get lucky in the small lots. I would note that empty spaces were NOT plentiful, but we were never turned away due to lack of parking. Since we stayed in Kihei, we beached in that area. Here are some of our favorites:
Kamaole III – this was the closest beach to our condo. We could walk there, less than ½ a mile. This beach has a small sand area and pretty calm water. I would highly recommend this beach at sunset. After dinner one night, we ventured down and watched the sun set behind the island of Lanai. Gorgeous!
Mana Kai– A fellow traveling family that we met near our condo tipped us off to this beach. It was walk able from our condo, but since we had all our beach gear we drove. To access the beach you walk along a path that goes between the Mana Kai Resort and the Days Inn. Retrospectively I keep reading that the Five Palms restaurant in the hotel was amazing, but sadly we skipped it.
Our day at this beach ended up being one of the most memorable of the whole 21-day trip. The beach here is clean, with the largest width of sand you will find in this part of the island. We started the day just frolicking in the water and practicing with our snorkels.
After about an hour, the kids and I walked north to the rocks and discovered the most amazing tide pools! It was low tide and you could walk into all of these pools! We found starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and tons of fish. I was so glad we had visited the Maui Ocean Center the day before so we actually knew what we were seeing.
We stayed in these tide pools for about two hours, until the water came in and it was no longer shallow. Seeing these creatures in the wild was such a magical experience for my kids! And me! Sadly I have no photos because it was one of those times you just wander and explore. I had left my camera back at the beach blanket!
Ulua Beach – Before visiting Maui, we had friends talk about Wailea and how beautiful it was. On our last full day in Kihei, we drove down to Ulua beach. Going to Mana Kai first really set the bar high, so when we arrived we were a little disappointed because baby girl wanted more tide pools.
When we visited, there were not tide pools to explore. But this beach is tree-lined in the back and afforded some shade. This was also a great snorkeling spot, although you had to swim a bit out and stay near the rocks to see the coral.
The best part of this day was when we walked north, over the rocks and onto the beach that is adjacent to the Andaz Maui Resort. Here we saw sea turtles, only a few feet from the shoreline. I don’t know if this is a frequent occurrence, but the rocky jetties are where they tend to hang out. We learned at the Aquarium that they eat the algae off the rocks so looking for sea turtles in this type of environment is probably a good bet.
Maui Beach Tips: If you rent a condo, make sure they provide beach chairs, coolers, boogey boards and sand toys! You can rent snorkels from many outposts on the island (or bring your own as we did). These beaches aren’t large with big food concessions (like our New York State parks or a Northeast Boardwalk town), so bring a picnic lunch (our condos all had coolers for our use) or at the minimum waters and snacks.
Molokini Snorkeling trip
From what I read, it seemed like taking a snorkeling trip to the Molokini Crater was a Maui-must-do. Although I read a lot of mixed reviews of the companies that take you out. So after much research, I pre-booked a morning snorkeling trip through Four Winds Maui.
This was an amazing experience that I highly recommend. We had a great trip with Four Winds. Most companies offer a morning and an afternoon sailing time. I picked the morning trip because I had read that it gets very windy in the afternoon and sometimes they can’t go out to the crater. This was very true in Maui. The afternoons got very windy on the island.
We arrived at the dock early, around 6 or 7am. The boat took about an hour to sail out to the crater. On the way out, they swerved muffins and the most amazing tropical fruit juice! We snagged some seats in the back of the boat, right next to the grill, where one of the girls was grilling up our lunch!
When we arrived at the crater, we put on our snorkel gear. We brought our own snorkels to Hawaii but the snorkeling trip provided all the gear, and you can rent snorkels on the island. We all wore floatation devices and got in the water. We swam over to the reef and the views were amazing! The water was so clear, we saw coral, fish, even an octopus!
My kids liked snorkeling, but what they enjoyed the most was the slide off the back of the boat. Needless to say, the grown-ups enjoyed it too!
Once we were done snorkeling, we hit the lunch buffet. They grilled up marinated chicken and burgers, and a veggie burger for me. They also served these delicious chips and beer was included! Because of the timing of the trip, “lunch” was served at about 10:45 am, but we had worked up an appetite in the water!
This trip was a splurge – I booked ahead online so I saved $10 a person, and highly worth it in my opinion!
One of the best things about Hawaii is all of the different climates and landscapes you can visit! Beautiful beaches you can find in other places, but a crater that looks like the surface of the moon? I think only in Maui!
We drove to the top of Haleakala. It took about 2.5 hours to get to the very top – 10,023 feet above sea level. The road up is windy (but nothing like the Road to Hana) but even in our compact size rental, we were fine ascending the mountain.
At 7000 feet, you officially enter the state park. There is a $20 charge to proceed. There is also a welcome center where you can get maps, information, and hit the bathrooms. From there its about another 20-30 minutes to get the to the summit. Up here you can park and explore. You can hike quite a length into the crater, but with the kids, we just traversed some of the paths that jutted out from the visitor center.
There is a restroom at the summit, but its worth nothing there is no foodservice on this entire trip – or gas. We ate a late Mickey D’s breakfast (also as of August 2016, Hawaii McD had not caught onto all-day breakfast) and brought snacks for the road. We left Kihei around 10:30am and did not return until after 4, so plan a whole day for a visit. Also, we brought sweatshirts with us. The temperature was in the 60s at the summit, although it was very sunny so we were warm. But better to be prepared!
We headed up to Lahaina in the late afternoon and found street parking near the famous, giant tree. After exploring the tree, we headed to dinner. While waiting for our table we saw the most beautiful sunset! After we window-shopped at some of the boutiques on the main street. Since this was in the beginning of our trip (and the kids were getting restless) we didn’t buy anything, which I regretted later as we didn’t end up visiting many more shops in Hawaii!
The Road to Hana
Driving the road to Hana was so spectacular, it warranted its own post – check that out here.
I love writing these posts, reminiscing about an awesome time and looking back at our pictures. I’d love to return to Maui to visit some of our favorite spots, and to add to the list of great activities to do with kids!
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