Explore Lanai’s landscape on a horseback ride. // © 2016 HTADana Edmunds
Feature image (above): Lanai snorkelers might get lucky and see a wild dolphin. // © 2016 Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts
When families vacation on Lanai, they might feel like they’re escaping to their own tropical paradise. Measuring just 141 square miles, the humblest of Hawaii’s visitor islands makes a huge impression on travelers looking for quality time together without the crowds of larger, neighboring isles.
A thriving pineapple plantation from the 1920s to 1980s, Lanai now focuses on tourism in its own laid-back way. In the island’s one town of Lanai City — population 3,100 — residents greet visitors with genuine aloha spirit and pride in the place they call home. Once in its simple restaurants and shops, out-of-towners can easily discover local specialties and a shared laugh.
The oceanfront Four Seasons Resort Lanai, which recently reopened following a major renovation, makes a terrific headquarters for families. Among its many family-friendly riches are chats with a tropical bird expert, a kids’ club, opportunities for multigenerational golf and two pools.
Although families don’t need a car to enjoy Lanai, a four-wheel-drive rental can allow for more exploration of this mostly undeveloped island. Highlights include Garden of the Gods, a natural wonder where volcanic rocks sprawl across a colorful expanse, and Shipwreck Beach, an 8-mile-long beachcomber’s dream presided over by the stranded hull of a 1940s oil tanker.
From Lanai City, families can go horseback riding or hit the trail on their own two feet. A favorite upcountry route is Munro Trail, which climbs into forests of eucalyptus, Cook pines and native ohia lehua trees and culminates in gorgeous views from 3,370-foot-high Mount Lanaihale.
Water adventures also abound in the destination. Snorkel cruises with Trilogy Ocean Sports Lanai take clients to a protected cove teeming with
tropical fish. Charter boats help deep-sea-fishing fans find mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna and Pacific blue marlin. At Hulopoe Bay, a short walk from Four Seasons, clans can snorkel, paddleboard and swim with wild dolphins that make an appearance from time to time.
Come evening, visitors can rub elbows with local families at Lanai Theater, which closed in the 1990s and reopened in late 2014 after a $4 million upgrade. While the theater’s original 1930s architecture remains intact, its modern interior features two screens showing first-run movies with state-of-the-art technology. It’s a wonderful way to end a perfect day on little Lanai, home of big family fun.