9 Outer Banks Activities for Kids in 2020

Outer Banks Activitise for Kids

The Outer Banks is a fairly popular summer destination. I’m from the Jersey shore (near Ocean City, NJ), so I’m no stranger to east coast shore towns. My perception of the Outer Banks before we visited was that it was similar to what I’d experienced in New Jersey and not worth the drive down. However, I was totally wrong and I completely fell in love with the Outer Banks when we did finally visit.

sand and rocks on beach in kitty hawk North Carolina

Outer Banks for Kids: When to Go

The summer months are the obvious choice, especially if you have kids in school. However, if you have a more flexible schedule, I’d recommend going down in the shoulder season.

We went twice in September and it was gorgeous. It’s always a gamble with hurricane season, but we lucked out with decent weather both trips. The prices on home rentals are significantly cheaper and the crowds are minimal, but it’s still busy enough that the majority of smaller stores and restaurants are still open.

kid walking and footprints in the sand at kill devil hills beach

Where to Stay in the Outer Banks with Kids

There are a lot of places to stay along the islands of the Outer Banks. We stayed in Kitty Hawk on our first trip and Kill Devil Hills on the second. This put us close to lots of stores and restaurants, which was great.

If we went back, I’d probably try staying in Nags Head, which is south of Kill Devil Hills. It would put us closer to the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

sand dune and blue sky in outer banks

Things to do in OBX: Outer Banks Activities for Kids

There’s so much to do in the Outer Banks besides the beach. Here are my favorite things:

Things to do in OBX: Cape Hatteras National Seashore

My favorite thing to do, in general, is to go to the beach. We ventured down past the beaches of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head to the protected areas that fall under the umbrella at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s WORTH the drive for sure.

The beaches are more secluded, so you’ll to bring a picnic if you’re planning to stay all day. But to be honest, that’s what I loved about it. There were fewer people on the beach with us, so we really got to enjoy the peace and beauty of the ocean.

We went to Coquina Beach, but I imagine there are lots of great beaches to explore along Cape Hatteras National Seashore!

For more on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, click here.

child walking on grassy beach path
sand dunes on cape hatteras national seashore
shells and pebbles from outer banks beach on a towel.
outer banks for kids cape hatteras national seashore
Cape Hatteras beach
ghost crab on the sand in the outer banks
sand piper on the beach

Outer Banks Activities: Wright Brothers Memorial

The famous Wright Brothers took their first flight in Kitty Hawk. We visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial on our first trip to the Outer Banks. It was definitely cool to see – they have a memorial at the top of the hill and markers that show the actual distance of some of the first test flights.

There was a model of the first plane and some interesting exhibits. However, I’d recommend saving this activity for a rainy or cloudy day, as there’s NO tree cover outside so it was super hot when we did the walk around.

It’s definitely worth a visit though, if you have some extra time, your kids are studying history at school or you’re just a major flight enthusiast!

For more on hours and admission, see the national park service’s website.

wright brothers first flight monument
Wright Brothers First Flight distance demonstration
wright brothers glider

Outer Banks Activities for Kids: Nags Head Woods Preserve

This forest preserve is part of the Nature Conservancy. We found it while we were looking for something to do on a cloudy day it was awesome.

There’s trails through the forest and a boardwalk trail through the marsh. You can spot some cool birds and frogs in the marsh!

For more, see the Nature Conservancy website.

tree bark in nags head woods
nags head nature reserve
tree landscape in nags head woods
trees in nags head woods
nags head woods

Outer Banks for Kids: Jockeys Ridge State Park

Jockey Ridge State Park has the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. It’s a really cool place to explore – and it’s free of charge! They have an interactive visitor center, where you can learn about how sand dunes are formed as well as some of the history of the islands.

After the visitor center, you can walk along the boardwalk trail to the sand dunes. You can hike up the dunes and get some really beautiful views from there. It’s a great place for kids to explore.

For more on Jockeys Ridge State Park, see their website.

sand dunes at jockeys ridge
jockeys ridge state park
trees growing in the sand dunes at jockeys ridge state park
jockeys ridge state park
sand dunes at jockeys ridge
sand patterns at jockeys ridge state park

OBX Activities: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

This is technically the visitor center for the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, but they have lots of information about the other refuges in the area. This is located on Roanoke Island, and it’s worth a trip to visit, even if you don’t visit the any refuges! It’s free, and they have a TON of interactive exhibits about the wildlife of North Carolina.

child playing with a replica single engine plane at alligator river national wildlife refuge visitor center
wolf exhibit at alligator river national wildlife refuge visitor center

Things to do in OBX with Kids: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was a bit of a hike. We went to try to see black bears. There’s a small paved trail and a drive you can do through the refuge. Sometimes, you can see black bears walking around. We were not so lucky, but it might be worth checking out if you’re interested in black bears!

It’s inland, so you have to drive from the Outer Banks to Roanoke Island and from there, drive across another bridge to the mainland of North Carolina. In hindsight, I’m not sure if it was worth the drive, but it was definitely an adventure!

For more, see the Alligator River website.

alligator river national wildlife refuge

Outer Banks for Kids: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Outer Banks and it’s about 30 minutes south of Kitty Hawk. They have cool beach trails and an interactive visitor center.

For more, see the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge website.

Outer Banks Activities for Kids: Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island

This beautiful garden is located within the borders of Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island in Manteo, North Carolina. It’s reasonably priced and makes for a beautiful walk!

It’s not geared toward kids, but it’s definitely kid-friendly. It’s a fun thing to do if you need a break from the beach or the weather isn’t great.

For more, see the Elizabethan Gardens website.

elizabethan gardens
elizabethan gardens on Manteo island
child looking at the ocean from a gate at elizabethan gardens
coast at elizabethan gardens
elizabethan gardens

Outer Banks for Kids: Visit Duck Donuts

This Donut shop originated in Duck, North Carolina (part of the Outer Banks), but it’s now a chain with many locations. It still makes for a unique and fun breakfast experience.

The donuts are made to order – you can pick your glazes and toppings and they make it right in front of you. (Note: These are not vegan)

For more on locations and hours, see the Duck Donuts website.

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outer banks sunset at nags head beach

Things to do in Key West with Kids in 2020

things to do in key west with kids

Key West is an awesome weekend trip from Miami. I’ve made two trips with my best friend and our kids, so it’s been cool to experience Key West with my son at two different ages – four and six.

Here are some of the things we’ve had the chance to experience in Key West:

old bridge on the drive to Key West
View from the ride down from Miami

Best Key West Beach for Kids: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

This state park is at the tip of Key West. We came here for a beach day, but they also have plenty of trails through the the forest. You can also visit the actual fort in the state park as well. There’s a small cash-only admission fee at the entrance.

If you’re going to the beach, there are beach chairs available to rent and a small cafe to purchase food.

The beach itself is really nice, although crowded in the summer. The beach also has small, smooth rocks instead of sand, which makes it REALLY hard to walk barefoot on! We still had a great time, but I’d recommend water shoes if you have them!

For more on Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, see here.

fort zachary taylor beach
white sand and pebbles and seaweed at fort Zachary Taylor beach
coastal trees in key west at fort Zachary Taylor state park

Things to do in Key West: Mallory Square and Duval Street

Mallory Square is close to the Aquarium. You can either stop in for a quick picture or spend some time hanging out in the square. From there, take walk down Duvall Street – you can stop in some of the shops, get something to eat or just enjoy the scenery.

heart made of seashells

Kid-Friendly Activities in Key West: Key West Aquarium

This was a really small aquarium, but admission is affordable and the crowds were minimal which made it a great activity to do with kids. Even though the exhibits were small, there were no crowds, so we were free to walk around and enjoy the exhibits leisurely.

The aquarium also has an awesome touch tank exhibit, where kids can pet animals. They also have a shark feeding demonstration with a really informative keeper.

For more on location, hours and admission, see the Key West Aquarium website.

Key West with Kids: Look for Free-Roaming Chickens

There are free-roaming chickens all over the island. They’re lots of fun to spot – you can see them walking down the street, putzing around on porches or even in some outdoor restaurant eating spaces. This is a top activity for my son – seeing and watching the chickens.

chickens on the porch
chicken with chicks in key west

Key West Family Vacation: Visit South Point

This is a quick photo opportunity that’s a fun stop on your trip. I’d suggest to get there EARLY to beat the line (YES, a line does form and it gets LONG) and beat the heat. I like taking pictures at kitschy tourist points, so for me this was worth the stop. But besides the marker, there’s not much to it!

One Human Family mural at South Point Key West
Artwork at South Point

Things to do in Key West with Kids: Catch the Sunset in Key West

At the end of the day, find somewhere to catch the sunset!

sunset in Key West
sunset on the bay in key west

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Best Maui Beaches for Kids to Visit in 2020

Best Maui Beaches for Kids 2020

There are so many great things to do in Maui. You can be ten thousand feet above sea level at the summit of Haleakala or go off grid along the road to Hana.

In between our adventures, we carved out some time to do one of our favorite things in Hawaii – just hang out on the beach. It’s not hard to find a beautiful beach in Maui, but it can be tricky to find one that’s kid-friendly, especially for kids who aren’t strong swimmers.

Here are my favorite beaches in Maui for kids:

Things to do in Maui with Kids: Hana Beach Park

Hana beach is in Hana, which is the town at the end of the Road to Hana. We came here to unwind after a long drive, close to sunset and jump some waves. It’s a bay, so the waves were fairly calm.

hana beach park
Hana Beach Park
footsteps in the sand at the shore line in Hana.

Kid-Friendly Beaches in Maui: Baby Beach in Paia/Sprecklesville

We made the mistake of coming here in the afternoon when it was SUPER windy and cold, but besides that, this is a great beach for kids. There is a barrier wall in one area that makes the water a little more mellow, which is great for kids who aren’t strong swimmers but still want to enjoy the ocean.

As a bonus, as soon as we walked onto the beach, we saw a giant sea turtle!

This post gives a pretty good description of how to get here.

sea turtle on baby beach in Maui
red sand at Baby Beach in Maui
View walking from the street to Baby Beach. I love the color of the red dirt.

Maui Family Activities: Black Rock Beach in Ka’anapali

There are lots of great beaches near Lahaina and Ka’anapali on the resort side of the island. We visited Black Rock Beach in Ka’anapali in the late afternoon until sunset. The current and waves were a little on the stronger side, but there was plenty of sand to run on and my son loved staying by the shore and jumping waves.

Close to sunset, there was a traditional cliff diving and torch lighting ceremony. It’s free to the public – you can learn more about the tradition via this article.

Black Rock Beach in Kaanapali at sunset
Kaanapali Beach at sunset with silhouettes of people and sailboats.
Palm tree silhouette at sunset

Maui with Kids: Ho’okipa Beach on the Road to Hana

I wrote about this in detail in my post on the Road to Hana. It’s one of the first stops, and it’s one of my favorite spots on Maui.

The beach itself is a great spot to see sea turtles, but if you park at the lookout, you can walk down and explore on the rocks. Use your judgement, as rogue waves are always possible and the rocks are slippery. 

hookipa beach
Hookipa Lookout

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Big Island Hawaii Activities for Kids: 6 Fun Things To Do

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii

The Big Island is amazing. You can start your day in the rainforest, drive through a volcano and end your day with a sunset on the beach.

It’s the biggest of the islands (hence the name), so it’s hard to really see everything in just a week. We did the most driving on the Big Island. Everywhere we went, there are lots of great things on the Big Island for kids to do.

Rainbow in Hawaii
Rainbow in Hilo, Hawaii on the Big Island.

We flew into Hilo from Kauai, but had to skip our plans to visit Waipio Valley and Akaka Falls State Park because my son came down with a fever. It actually timed out really well, because there was heavy rain both days from a tropical storm off the coast. From there, we headed to Volcano and then onto Kona before we flew to Maui for our final week in the Hawaiian islands.

Here were my favorite things on the Big Island for Kids: 

Things to do in Hilo Hawaii: Visit Rainbow Falls in Hilo

This is an easy hike on the Big Island for kids to see a really cool waterfall. This is the second time I’d been – we went after three straight days of rain from a tropical storm that was coming in so the waterfall was bigger and almost muddier than it was the first time I’d seen it. This is more of an overlook than a hike.

See Hawaii’s State Park website for current conditions and directions.   

Rainbow Falls on the Big Island Hawaii.
Rainbow Falls in Hilo on the Big Island Hawaii.
Tropical forest at Rainbow Falls
Forest at Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Hawaii (Big Island)

Big Island Volcano for Kids: Hawaii Volcanos National Park

We spent two days in Hawaii Volcano National Park and it was one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen. There are really cool hikes and the eco system is so unique, you’re able to see plants and landscapes you can’t see anywhere else.

See post on our two full days in Hawaii Volcano National Park for more details.

Kilauea Caldera at Volcano National Park
Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcano National Park
Ohia Trees at Kilauea Iki Crater
Oheo Tree in Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcano National Park
Forest trail at Hawaii Volcano National Park
Hike to the Steam Vents, Hawaii Volcanos National Park, Big Island
Caution Sign at Hawaii Volcano
Hawaii Volcano National Park
ōhelo flower
ōhelo in Hawaii Volcano National Park

Black Sand Beach on the Big Island for Sea Turtles: Punalu’u Beach

Black Sand Beaches aren’t as rare on the big island as they are in other places, but they are still some of my favorite beaches to visit! Punalu’u is a great place to see sea turtles sunning themselves. Spotting sea turtles on the beach was one of my son’s favorite experiences of the trip.

We came to Punalu’u on our way to Kona from Volcano National Park. As soon as we arrived, we saw sea turtles sunning themselves on the beach. We also saw some turtle heads poking out from the waves. The surf is a little rough, so we hung out on the beach, jumped some waves and explored along the rocks.

As a bonus, you can check out Punalu’u Bakery nearby for malasadas and other local treats!

IMPORTANT: Hawaii green sea turtles are federally protected and it’s illegal to touch them. You are required to stay 6-10 feet away from them for the safety of the turtles. Please, protect the turtles and RESPECT THIS BOUNDARY! See more here.

sea turtle on punalu'u black sand beach
Sea Turtle on a Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (Big Island, Hawaii)
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii

Best Beach for Kids on the Big Island: Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay) // Near Kona

This beach was described as “white sugar sand” and it was one of the prettiest beaches we visited. It has a very carribean look compared to the surrounding coast. We came on a Sunday, later in the morning, and parking was very limited. But it was worth the effort.

The waves were a little rough for my six year old son, who doesn’t fully swim yet, so we stuck to the shore and jumped some waves. There are also bathrooms and showers here, which is a plus. 

There’s a great a great guide to this beach on LoveBigIsland.com.

White sand and turquoise water at Manini’owali Beach
Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay) on the Big Island Hawaii
Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay)
Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay) Big Island, Hawaii
rocks and plants overlooking turquoise water
Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay), Big Island Hawaii.

Family Friendly Hikes on the Big Island: Kona Cloud Forest Tour // Kona

Kona Cloud Forest made the top of my to do list as soon as I found out it existed. It’s the only cloud forest in the United States and it has an abundance of Rainbow Eucalpytus Trees, also known as the Painted Trees of Hawaii. The bark of the trees peels off in strips, and leaves behind trips of different colors – red, green, brown, orange or purplish brown. 

In order to visit, you have to do a tour, which supports the care-taking of the forest. The tour was led by a really informative guide, who explained the different trees, plants and pointed out some of the painted eucalyptus trees. The oxygen levels in a cloud forest are higher than they are on the ground, which is a fact that’s been stuck in my head ever since. This was a splurge for my budget, but kids are free and it supports a good cause. 

For more, visit the website: https://paintedtreesofhawaii.org

Trees with winding roots at Kona Cloud Forest
Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
Green leaf on the ground
Forest Floor, Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
tree bark in shades of gray
Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
green and white leaves growing next to tree roots
Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
pink ginger flower
Painted Eucalyptus Tree, Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
Kid Friendly Hikes Big Island: Kona Cloud Forest
Pink Flower, Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
pointy tree bark at the Kona cloud forest
Kona Cloud Forest, Big Island Hawaii
Bamboo at the Kona Cloud Forest
Bamboo in the Kona Cloud Forest

Kid-Friendly Snorkeling on the Big Island: Manta Ray Snorkel in Kona

This was my son’s favorite thing from the whole trip. Kona is the only place you can do this manta ray snorkel. After a hotel was constructed in Kona, they discovered the light from the hotel was attracting krill, which was in turn attracting manta rays.

The manta ray snorkel trips are at night. Once you get to the site, the whole group holds on to a surf board with a light on the bottom with your body and legs extended back and look straight down. The manta rays swim up to the board and they come SO close you can’t put your legs down, because you might kick them. It was amazing. 

We’ve never snorkeled and my son was still learning to swim, so I was a little nervous to try this. The company we used – Kona Ocean Adventures – was really great. They made me feel like it would be safe for him and made sure we had a good experience! They have other snorkel trips on their website, including swim with the dolphins. Click for Kona Ocean Adventures website.

Pacific Ocean water and sky at sunset
Kona Sunset on the water, Big Island Hawaii

Things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii for Kids

The Big Island is huge and there are so many great things to do beyond this list! What are your favorite things to do with kids on the Big Island? Please share in the comments 🙂

Want more on Hawaii for kids? See my posts on Kauai + Maui (coming soon!)

Hawaiian Island for Kids - 6 Family Friendly Activities on the Big Island