Can Hawaii be an Autism Friendly Vacation Destination? Let Me Show You Why the Answer is YES!
Updated: Mar 2, 2022
With its phenomenal natural beauty, Hawaii is a destination that appeals to families with autism. All you need to do is look from the majestic Ko'olau Mountains to the awe-inspiring Volcanoes National Park to see that it is a destination you would love to visit. The good news is that Hawaii is a destination that is low-sensory, safe, and comfortable.
You won’t be spending your time on the islands hanging out in shopping malls, as your kids get overstimulated. Instead, your days will be spent on the sandy beaches. It is at those beaches that you will go snorkeling with the tropical fish and even watch the lava flow from a nearby volcano.
During those times you need to be out of the sun, you can visit the local museums, aquariums, and historical attractions. Many of those places offer hands-on activities that are sure to keep everyone in your family engaged and happy.
Hawaii offers so many things for families with autism that you will wonder why this gorgeous destination hasn’t been on your list of places to visit sooner!
Getting to Hawaii
Hawaiian Airlines can be helpful to guests flying with a person with autism. But you need to be prepared to ask for it and even solve issues on your own. I will give you recommendations prior to your trip. I will also make sure that you have a private transfer set up, so you can get to your accommodations from the airport quickly after your arrival.
The Best Islands for Kids
On the island of O’ahu, you will find multiple family-friendly accommodations over near Waikiki Beach. My personal favorite is the Ko’Olina Resort. This resort has one of the most family-friendly lagoons on all the islands combined. My son really loved visiting the Ko’Olina Lagoons. The waves were quite gentle, so he could enter the water without being restricted with a life jacket. He would have spent every day snorkeling and enjoying the beach if we let him.
The lagoons are also a wonderful place for kayaking and paddle boarding if you love to do those adventures. We often went back to the lagoons for lunch and dinner some days. It was such a calm location that we were able to relax and enjoy the ambiance while eating some amazing local foods. Plus, at night, the sunsets were incredible!
All the things you will want to see and do on the island of O’ahu is less than a half-day’s drive away too. So, you can easily spend one day hiking Diamond Head and another snorkeling at Hanauma Bay or visiting the Iolani Palace. You must not forget to have a little shaved ice over at Matsumoto’s on the North Shore. It is a perfect place to stop after you have visited the Polynesian Cultural Center.
One of the best places to visit in O’ahu is the Honolulu Zoo. There are over one thousand animals to see in their natural habitats. There are even more animals over at the Waikiki Aquarium. This aquarium is the third oldest in the country, which makes it a must-visit destination during your vacation.
One of the most amazing museums we found on the island of O’ahu was the Bishop Museum. The exhibits change often, which is perfect for the locals. My son and I loved the fact that all the exhibits were interactive. You could tell this museum was created to allow people to truly experience the exhibits instead of simply looking at them. If you have the time and plan your trip accordingly, you can even participate in the children’s programming that is available.
If time allows, you must check out the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial when on vacation in O’ahu. You can see the memorial from the shoreline of the island. So, if you don’t have enough time to squeeze this attraction into your schedule, you can at least see it from a distance. But if you can, I recommend adding this Pearl Harbor attraction to your itinerary. I will work with you to make it possible if this is a must-see on your list.
I recommend renting a family-sized condo right on the leeward shoreline when vacationing in Maui. This location will mean gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, as well as plenty of time near the water. The sunrise is also a must-see when at the top of the Haleakala volcano.
A favorite road trip in Maui is the Road to Hana. This sixty-four plus mile journey is beyond breathtaking. There are so many attractions to see when you make this drive. Most of them are little parks, lookouts, waterfalls, and areas where you can take short hikes. This road trip can take you an entire day and you will want to make sure you have your camera and either a charger or extra batteries with you. One thing to note is motion sickness is possible during the Road to Hana journey. Therefore, if you have a family member prone to motion sickness, you may want to skip this adventure! I know first hand about this since my oldest son got very ill on our drive back to Kahului to catch our flight back to O’ahu.
Other items on your must-do list for Maui include taking a whale-watching cruise, learning about the ocean at the Maui Pacific Ocean Center, and smelling the lavender over at Ali’i Kula Lavender.
It is all about the outdoors during a vacation on the island of Kaua’i. The baby beaches will allow your littlest children to get wet, while your older kids will love learning how to surf. One of the first places you must see on Kaua’i is the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Your kids will love tubing along the Wailua River. Before your vacation is over, you will have the chance to enjoy a sunset catamaran cruise that I book for you. It is from that catamaran where your kids will be in awe of what is surrounding them, and you will fall in love with the stunning views of the Na Pali Coast.
There is so much to do on Hawai’i, which is also referred to as The Big Island. Watching the red-hot lava flow from the Kīlauea volcano can be a life-changing experience for everyone in your family. I do recommend that you take the time to explore a little more of the Volcanoes National Park. It is one of the best ways to see the stunning landscape of the park, as well as the other volcano, Mauna Loa.
Another unforgettable experience on this island is ziplining through the forests. I guarantee you will be swept away by the magnificent views along the way. Your kids will definitely want to go horseback riding like a paniolo, which is a Hawaiian cowboy.
The Forgotten Hawaiian Islands
Everyone seems to forget the islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i when they are planning vacations to Hawaii. I want to remind you of them because they both offer authentic Hawaiian experiences to families like your own. Plus, since fewer people visit these two islands, you are guaranteed to have a quieter vacation.
There are plenty of accommodations on both these islands. Many of them are close to the uncrowded beaches, which is perfect if your family just wants to chill and relax in paradise.
Over on the island of Lana’i, you can visit the Garden of the Gods or the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center. There are plenty of beaches on this island. A couple you may want to check out include Shipwreck Beach, Polihua Beach, and Hulopoe Bay.
Moloka'i offers a few things none of the other Hawaiian Islands do. It is on this island that you can explore the Moloka’i Forest Reserve and Halawa Valley. I also recommend taking a boat out to see the North Shore Sea Cliffs and watching the sunset from Papohaku Beach.
One of the more unique things to do in Moloka’i is sending your friends back home a coconut. There is a small post office right outside Ho’Olehua. A visit there will have you decorating your own coconut and then shipping it out to whoever you want the receiver to be.
You must also visit the Hot Bread Lane when you are on Moloka’i. It is within that alley where you will find the Kanemitsu Bakery and the delicious bread they bake.
Hawaii for Kids
There is never too much to worry about when you are vacationing in Hawaii with kids. The sun is always shining, so sunblock is a must. The temperature hardly ever goes below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, so you won’t need to bundle anyone up on a regular basis.
As you are going from one destination to another on a Hawaiian island, you will realize that driving distances are always short. This is not a sign that you can cram as much as you can into each day though. Your autistic child won’t be able to handle it, so slow down and enjoy!
I personally recommend only visiting one or two islands during your vacation in Hawaii. The interisland flights may be short, but it is still a long day when you take one. So, keep things simple and stick to one or two islands. You can always go back again to see those things you didn’t see the first time around.
Eating Out in Hawaii
All the Hawaiian Islands are family-oriented, so you will find that most restaurants will welcome children with open arms. The only exceptions will be the high-end dining restaurants. Almost all the restaurants offer a children’s menu, as well as booster seats and highchairs. If you know that your child will need a special seat for every meal, I recommend taking a collapsible seat with you on your vacation.
If you know that there is no way you can dine in a restaurant, don’t worry! You can still find plenty of options to eat on the islands! Eating at one of the beach parks is one of the best ways to enjoy a meal in Hawaii! Simply pack finger foods for your picnic. It is easy to purchase fruit from farmers’ markets, grab smoothies from the roadside stands, and grab an order to go at the drive-in counters.
Of course, you can also purchase your favorites at the local grocery and convenience stores. If your child eats a certain cereal or will only eat chicken tenders for dinner, they won’t go hungry. However, don’t be surprised if the local cuisine entices them to try something new. After all, the bright-colored fruits and sweet treats can be quite tempting.
Leonard’s Bakery is one of my favorite places to grab treats on the island of O’ahu. I will often take my children there, as well as Matsumoto Shave Ice, which I mentioned above. On The Big Island of Hawai’i, my go-to place is always Gysea Gelato.
Are you ready to see how amazing Hawai’i is for families with autism? Contact me today and learn how hiring me as your travel advisor will make your next vacation unforgettable! Having been to Hawai’i multiple times, I have the expertise to plan a perfect Hawaiian vacation for you and your family. So, let me make your next family vacation beyond fantastic!