Oahu is a 594-square-mile playground that meets every possible definition of fun. Sure, you’ll want to spend time at the beach. But if you can tear yourselves away from the sand and sea, you’ll find all sorts of other family-friendly diversions — from fairs and festivals to plays and parades.
Home Away from Home
Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach and Outrigger Reef on the Beach are located on Waikiki Beach less than a mile from the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium and Kapiolani Park. Families will appreciate the in-room video games, family movies on demand via the hotel’s TV system, coin-operated laundry and year-round series of Hawaiiana programs. The Outrigger Reef on the Beach has a Humpback Whale Information Kiosk, made available through a partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society and the National Marine Sanctuary Program. The easy-to-use touch-screen is a fun way for visitors to learn about these protected marine mammals. There are also seasonal activities such as cookie decorating during the winter holidays.
Young guests of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki will love Camp Penguin, a program for kids age 5 through 12. The program features activities and field trips to Waikiki attractions that revolve around a different theme each day (for example, Monday is Hawaiian Ocean Explorer Day, and Saturday is Hawaiian Safari Day). Other reasons that make this hotel a top-notch family pick: penguin and turtle feedings, a 5,000-square-foot family activity pool featuring waterfalls and slides, and special children’s menus in several restaurants. And don’t forget the luaus, offered five nights a week.
Of the 783 rooms at the Ilikai Hotel and Suites, 260 have full kitchens, providing convenience and savings for families. Kitchens are equipped with a four-burner stove, microwave, refrigerator, sink, cookware, glasses, dishes, silverware and coffeemaker along with complimentary coffee and tea. Accommodations are also available with separate bedroom and sitting areas with sofa sleepers, providing families with plenty of room to spread out and relax.
Day One: Waikiki
There’s much more to Waikiki than its world-renowned beaches, and most of it is family-oriented! Start with visits to the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo (ask about their educational programs, which include reef walks and behind-the-scenes tours with zookeepers, respectively). In a special area of the zoo for younger children, kids are able to meet a menagerie of friendly animals, including a cow, goats, pigs, guinea pigs, llamas and chickens.
Next on the itinerary: a picnic lunch at Kapiolani Park (you can take out everything from burgers to bento, or Japanese box lunches, at restaurants in Waikiki). From there, board an Atlantis submarine for a close-up look at an array of colorful underwater life. Wind up the day with a surfing lesson, outrigger canoe ride, playtime at the beach — or all three!
Day Two: North Shore Drive
Rent a car and head north to the lush windward side of Oahu through Kaneohe and Kahaluu. There are plenty of stops to make along the way, including Kualoa Ranch (offering horseback rides, ATV tours, movie set/ranch tours and more); the Polynesian Cultural Center (spotlighting the cultures of eight South Pacific islands, including Hawaii); charming Haleiwa town; and legendary surf spots such as Sunset and Ehukai beaches.
Foodies will want to peruse the wares at roadside fruit stands, pause for a shave ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice and a slice of chocolate haupia (coconut pudding) pie at Ted’s Bakery, and enjoy lunch at Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, which cooks up fresh crustaceans raised on its own farm.
Day Three: Southeast Oahu Drive
Hop in the car again, this time headed east from Waikiki. First stop: snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Because this is a Marine Life Conservation District, the underwater life is varied and plentiful. A tip: Go early (the preserve opens at 6 a.m. year round) because when the parking lot is full, visitors are turned away at the entrance.
From Hanauma, round the eastern tip of Oahu and park before you reach the lighthouse at Makapuu Point. A paved hiking trail begins beyond the gate on the right side of the road. It’s a relatively easy climb that’ll reward you with a breathtaking view of the Koolau Mountains, Rabbit Island and the entire windward coastline.
After that, spend a few hours at Sea Life Park, which features fascinating marine exhibits and entertaining shows starring akamai (smart) finned creatures. Here you can also participate in an interactive session with dolphins and stingrays. Either eat lunch here or right by the ocean at Makapuu Beach. If it’s Sunday, you may want to see if there’s a polo match going on at nearby Waimanalo Polo Field before heading back to Waikiki.
Visit our sister site, Family Vacation Critic, for more information about Oahu family vacations.
–written by Cheryl Tsutsumi
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.