Maui's Top 10 Family Activities

From helicopter tours to surfing lessons, this Hawaiian island offers a wide array of things to do with your family.
By: Matt Villano
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several kids surfing in ocean off the coast of maui hawaii during the day

several kids surfing in ocean off the coast of maui hawaii during the day

It's no secret that Maui is one of the best family-oriented destinations in the country (or the world, for that matter). Families have flocked to this Hawaiian island for its pristine beaches and Polynesian culture. But there's more to Maui than simply boogie-boarding and luaus. Here are our top 10 family activities for your next visit there.

1. Touring by Helicopter

Superman had it right: Views from above rule. With this in mind, some of the most exciting tours of Maui unfold from the seats of helicopters. Most whirlybird operators take visitors up and over the jungle so they're looking down on lush landscapes and spectacular waterfalls. Some head up to the top of Haleakala, the island's largest volcano. Our favorite outfitter: Air Maui.

2. Whale-Watching

Every year between December and March, humpback whales congregate in the warm waters near Maui to mate and birth their young. There are so many whales over such a small area that 1 researcher has called it "whale nirvana." Dozens of whale-watching companies run 2-hour inflatable-boat trips out of Lahaina and Maalaea harbors. Our favorite: Ultimate Whale Watch.

Zip-lining can be an exciting way to experience Maui's jungle.

3. Zip-Lining Through the Jungle

Provided you aren't afraid of heights, zip-lining can be an exciting way to experience Maui's jungle. Strap on that harness and get ready to zip along at speeds of up to 25 mph. A handful of island operators offer the rush, but the best is still the oldest: Skyline Eco-Adventures.

4. Driving the Hana Highway

It just might be the windiest road in America, but the 68-mile stretch between Kahului and Hana is worth the drive. The road stretches past dense jungle, along deserted beaches (some with black sand) and through adorable little villages. Although Hana is only 50 miles from Kahului itself, the drive usually takes 3 hours. Bring a picnic lunch and plan to stop midway.

Watch: The Road to Hana

5. Snorkeling Black Rock

Most snorkeling-minded tourists pay top dollar for a motorboat cruise to Molokini, a partly submerged atoll off Maui's southwestern side. But the snorkeling by Black Rock, near the Sheraton at the west end of Kaanapali Beach, is just as amazing. There, you'll come face-to-face with everything from colorful fish and moray eels to sea turtles. Listen closely, and you might even hear whales singing.

6. Learning to Surf

With warm water and baby-size waves, beaches on Maui's west coast are great places to learn to surf. A number of surf schools do business there, but our favorite is the island's oldest: Maui Surf Clinics. Owner Nancy Emerson got things rolling back in 1973; to this day, instructors are known for being patient with kids.

7. Visiting Maui Ocean Center

Because the ocean in these parts teems with wildlife, a land-based aquarium might seem counterintuitive. Still, the Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea is worth investigating. The facility opened in 1998 and is home to more than 300 species of local marine life — the largest collection in the state. Touch tanks are particularly popular among young children and landlubbers.

[The Maui Ocean Center] is home to more than 300 species of local marine life -- the largest collection in the state.

8. Experiencing the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe
Ancient Hawaiians (and some modern ones, too) went island-hopping in boats known as sailing canoes. Today, families can re-create this experience with a 3-hour tour through Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures. The cruise is relaxing and informative; naturalists share creation myths and the history of the islands. The boat leaves from the beach in front of the Fairmont Kea Lani.

9. Eating Malasadas in Makawao

Think of malasadas as Portuguese doughnuts; the delicacies are fried balls of yeast dough (usually) stuffed with something yummy and then coated with sugar. At the Komoda Store & Bakery in the sleepy town of Makawao, these dough balls are an honest-to-goodness delicacy. Try one filled with guava; it's the best jelly doughnut you'll ever have. Just call first, because the store keeps odd hours.

10. Watching Sunrise at Haleakala

Sunset from Kaanapali Beach is pretty remarkable, but sunrise from the top of Haleakala, the shield volcano that represents Maui's tallest point, is downright breathtaking. Most "suncatchers" take in the spectacle from the Haleakala National Park visitors center, a structure that sits 9,740 feet above sea level. From there, above the clouds, morning explodes in resplendent hues of purple, orange and pink.

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