Maui's Top 10 Family Activities

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.

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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Papohaku Beach Park
Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Take a stroll along one of Hawaii’s most famous black-sand beaches. Located south of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punaluu Black Sand Beach is home to large honu, or green sea turtles. Don’t get too close: Beachgoers are forbidden to touch these protected turtles or leave the beach with black sand as a souvenir. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea

At 33,100 feet from the ocean floor, the peak of Mauna Kea — Hawaiian for “white mountain” — is the highest point on Hawaii. Measuring base to peak, the dormant volcano is twice the size of Mount Everest, making it the tallest mountain in the world. The peak is sacred, according to Hawaiian mythology, and ancient law said that only high-ranking tribal chiefs were allowed to visit the top. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Kirk Lee Aeder  

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Be an eyewitness to nature at its hottest by exploring the 333,000-acre Volcanoes National Park. This popular park features more than 150 miles of trails through volcanic craters, petroglyphs and a walk-in lava tube, and it is home to 2 active volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Often referred to as a “drive-in” volcano, Kilauea spews 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava each day. 960 1280

Big Island Visitors Bureau/ Ethan Tweedie  

Puu Pehe

Puu Pehe

Staying at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay? Then don’t miss taking a short hike to see Puu Pehe, aka Sweetheart Rock. According to legend, Makakehau, a young warrior, brought his lover, Hawaiian maiden Pehe, from Lahaina to hide her in a sea cave near Manele Bay’s cliffs. Pehe drowned, and, stricken with grief, the warrior plunged to his death from the 80-foot summit. See the setting of the lovers’ tale, and you may even spot a spinner dolphin along the way. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast

You can’t leave the Hawaiian Islands without seeing the majestic landscape of the 17-mile, mountainous coastline along Kauai’s North Shore. The Na Pali Coast is the location for hikers, beach campers and kayakers. Avoid hiking in the winter, when trails become muddy from heavy rainfall, making it treacherous, especially for amateurs. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Located on the southeast coast of Oahu, Hanauma Bay is a popular destination for snorkeling. This pristine coastline has attracted as many as 3 million visitors in a year. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Heather Titus  

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow (or Waianuenue) Falls flows 80 feet down on a lava cave, which, according to Hawaiian mythology, is the home of the goddess Hina. Look closely near the bottom, and you may see rainbows form in the waterfall’s mist. What’s the best way to get there? Park officials advise tourists to make their way to this natural wonder by following clearly marked access roads to Wailuku River State Park. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Haleakala

Haleakala

More than 75% of Maui was formed by Haleakala, a shield volcano located on the southeast side of the island. Puu Ulaula, or Red Hill, is more than 10,000 feet tall, making it the volcano’s tallest peak. Go hiking in the 30,000-acre Haleakala National Park and experience various landscapes, from tropical forests to unique desert terrain. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Diamond Head

Diamond Head

Head to Oahu to hike one of Hawaii’s most famous landmarks, Diamond Head State Monument. Used as a military lookout through the 20th century, this natural wonder is now a popular hiking destination. Diamond Head offers awe-inspiring views of Waikiki and Honolulu. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

Waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water.” Located on the west side of Kauai, this canyon — which stretches 14 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3,600 feet deep — has reddish soil that is traversed by dozens of hiking trails. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Road to Hana

Road to Hana

Take a road trip and hit the famous Hana Highway, a 52-mile stretch with 620 curves and 59 bridges. The road starts at Kahului and ends in Hana, but we recommend spending some extra time on the drive to take in the sights, including lush rain forests and dramatic waterfalls. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls

Mr. Roarke wasn’t the real star in the opening credits of the late-’70s TV show Fantasy Island. The real star was Kauai’s Wailua Falls, but don’t blink, because you might miss its cameo. This waterfall is located on the south end of the Wailua River and north of Lihue. The best views are from the road. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

Papohaku Beach Park

Papohaku Beach Park

Known as Three Mile Beach, Molokai’s Papohaku Beach Park is one of Hawaii’s largest white-sand beaches. This natural wonder isn’t just for sunbathing; campers also converge on the quiet beach. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Dana Edmunds  

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls

Visit the Big Island’s Akaka Falls State Park, where you can see 2 amazing waterfalls: the 100-foot Kahuna Falls and the 442-foot Akaka Falls (pictured). The latter is Hawaii’s most famous waterfall. Take a hike, and you’ll arrive at this natural wonder in less than an hour. 960 1280

Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Tor Johnson  

It's a <i>Wonderful Life</i> in Hawaii
It's a Wonderful Life in Hawaii

It's a Wonderful Life in Hawaii

In a scene from the 1964 British film Wonderful Life, pop star Cliff Richard plays the acoustic guitar while accompanied by Hawaiian dancers. 960 1280

GAB Archive/Redferns  

Hawaiian Honeymoon

Hawaiian Honeymoon

Hawaii has always been a popular honeymoon destination. After it became the 50th state in 1959, this exotic island paradise became the place for many Americans to honeymoon without having to leave the country. 960 1280

Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images  

Halona Beach Cove

Halona Beach Cove

One of the most steamy beach scenes in film history was filmed in Hawaii. In the famous kissing sequence in From Here to Eternity, stars Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr roll around in the frothy waves on Oahu’s Halona Beach Cove. 960 1280

Columbia Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images  

Blue Hawaii

Blue Hawaii

Music legend Elvis Presley, donning a Hawaiian shirt and lei, plays a ukulele in the 1961 film Blue Hawaii. 960 1280

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images   

Air Travel to Hawaii

Air Travel to Hawaii

Air travel in the mid-1930s made it possible for tourists to come to Hawaii faster, without having to take a long ship journey as in times past. Suddenly, a week’s vacation in this island paradise became more feasible for many Americans. 960 1280

Underwood Archives/Getty Images  

Hawaii, 1930s-Style

Hawaii, 1930s-Style

Hawaii played the beautiful backdrop for the 1934 musical film Flirtation Walk, about a private stationed in Hawaii who gets involved with the general's engaged daughter. 960 1280

Warner Brothers/Getty Images  

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

One of the best places in the world for beginner surfers is Waikiki Hawaii. Long rolling waves, no sharp reefs or rocks in the area, and little wind make it a perfect spot to learn to surf. In the 1950s, surfing in Waikiki became one of the most popular tourist activities. 960 1280

Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images  

Hula Dance

Hula Dance

In ancient Hawaii, the hula dance was used to pass down history and myth from generation to generation. In the 1960s, the influx of tourists sparked renewed interest in this visual art form as a way to maintain the Hawaiian culture … and to put on a good show for visitors. 960 1280

H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images  

First Lady of Waikiki

First Lady of Waikiki

With a prime oceanfront location on Waikiki Beach, The Moana Hotel, as it was known when it was built in 1901, is often referred to as the “First Lady of Waikiki.” With a $50 million renovation in 1989, the historic Moana Surfrider Resort and Spa, as it is known today, was restored with modern luxury in mind and continues to be one of the finest hotels in Honolulu. 960 1280

George Silk//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images  

Surf Like Gidget

Surf Like Gidget

In the 1960s, surfing films like Gidget (and the TV series of the same name) and Endless Summer inspired young Americans to not only learn to surf but to search for the perfect wave all over the world, including beautiful locations throughout Hawaii. 960 1280

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Brady Bunch in Hawaii

Brady Bunch in Hawaii

Proving that Hawaii is the ultimate American family vacation, The Brady Bunch filmed the “Hawaii Bound” episode in Honolulu in 1972, with the icon of Hawaiian entertainment, Don Ho, as guest star. 960 1280

CBS via Getty Images  

Led Zeppelin in Hawaii

Led Zeppelin in Hawaii

Rock gods Led Zeppelin arrive in Honolulu in 1969. The band -- John Bonham, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page -- “get leid” as soon as they arrive at the Honolulu Airport. 960 1280

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Hawaiian Nights… With Mamie

Hawaiian Nights… With Mamie

American actress and blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren plays a glamour girl in the 1954 musical film short Hawaiian Nights. 960 1280

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SS Lurline

SS Lurline

Women learn the hula aboard the SS Lurline during a voyage in summer 1954. The SS Lurline typically operated between San Francisco and Honolulu for the Matson cruise line. 960 1280

Gene Lester/Getty Images  

Hawaii Five-O in Honolulu

Hawaii Five-O in Honolulu

Shot on location in Honolulu, the original police drama Hawaii Five-O aired from 1968 to 1980. The reimagined TV series, Hawaii Five-0 premiered in 2010 and is filmed on Oahu. 960 1280

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Kauai

Kauai

While no one knows exactly where Gilligan’s Island is (including Gilligan and the rest of the castaways), the pilot and first episode of this classic American sitcom were actually filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 1963. 960 1280

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US Navy at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

US Navy at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

In 1942, the US Navy leased The Royal Hawaiian Hotel and transformed it into a rest and recuperation center for military and civilian workers. 960 1280

Hulton Archive/Getty Images  

Diamond Head Crater

Diamond Head Crater

A young American couple honeymoon in Honolulu in the 1950s. In the background is the extinct volcanic crater Diamond Head, which became a National Natural Landmark in 1968. 960 1280

Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images  

King Kamehameha

King Kamehameha

A 1932 Ford Custom Roadster is parked in front of the King Kamehameha statue on Oahu’s Waikiki Beach. 960 1280

Ed Moon/Source Interlink Media/Getty Images  

Pineapple Island

Pineapple Island

In the late 1800s, sugar and later, pineapple plantations powered Hawaii's economy. James Dole turned Lanai into the world’s leading exporter of pineapple, earning it the nickname “Pineapple Island.” 960 1280

NBCU Photo Bank  

Hawaiian Entertainer Don Ho

Hawaiian Entertainer Don Ho

Legendary crooner Don Ho entertained tourists for decades and was one of Hawaii's best known musicians. He is best known for his show at the Waikiki Beachcomber, where he would perform his trademark "Tiny Bubbles." He died on April 14, 2007 at the age of 76. 960 1280

NBCU Photo Bank  

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Located on the famous Waikiki Beach, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel led the travel renaissance in Hawaii. Built in 1927, this iconic hotel remains one of the most luxurious hotels in Waikiki, after a long history of being the playground for Hawaiian chiefs and later, Hollywood’s elite. 960 1280

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Vintage Hawaii  22 Photos

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