10 Things to Do on Oahu With Kids
`Ohana, or family, is one of the main values in both ancient and modern Hawaiian culture; there is large importance placed on the love, acceptance, and enjoyment found within the familial unit. With this emphasis also comes the care and adoration of our keiki, or children.
When travelling with our keiki, we realize the need (and sometimes difficulty!) of keeping them safe, entertained, and excited. But do not fear - O'ahu is a perfect fit for families! Having been born and raised on this island, some of my fondest memories of growing up are splashing around O'ahu’s shoreline, finding waterfalls with my family, or spending time in the city. Here are my favorite spots from when I was a keiki that I’m sure your family will love too:
1) Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach | Cristo Vlahos, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The first thing anyone wants to do once they land in the Hawaiian Islands is kick off their slippers, slap on some sunscreen, and spend some quality time at our famed beautiful beaches. This is no different for our kids; the O`ahu coastline is a playground for the little ones and adults alike, providing pristine water, white stretches of sandy beach, and beautiful weather all year round.
My suggestion for a safe (and therefore stress-free) day is hitting Lanikai beach on the East side of the island. With calm swells regardless of season, large expanses of sand for them to run wild, and easy parking and walk to the shore, this beach is ideal for families!
2) Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium
Kids look at Hunters on the Reef eFlora & Faunahibit at the Waikiki Aquarium. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
Located at the end of Waikiki and across the street from one another, our local zoo and aquarium are a must see for the younger ones. Although relatively small, these attractions feature native Hawaiian animals and plants unable to be seen at other zoos and aquariums around the world, making them like none other! My favorite growing up was watching the Hawaiian monk seals (the state’s only endemic mammal) glide and spin at their home in the aquarium.
One thing to take note of is that the zoo gets pretty toasty in the Hawaiian sun, and the animals (and you) may be ready for naptime, so try and hit it towards the evening or even take advantage of their “Twilight Tours” for a different experience. The Aquarium, however, is a great AC attraction for rainy days or midday adventures.
3) Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center was my (and every other local schoolkid’s) dream field trip growing up. Utilizing food, games, art, and music, learn about the multitude of cultures found within Polynesia by visiting different “villages” representing island nations like Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Fiji. Watch men race up coconut trees, paddle your own canoe in the waterways between villages, and stay for the nightly entertainment show, Hā Breath of Life, featuring over 100 performers, special effects, and even live fire dancers!
4) Kualoa Ranch
Infamous for being the backdrop of blockbusters like Jurassic Park and King Kong, Kualoa Ranch is a must visit for the sheer mountain faces, deep and lush valleys, and also the adventure to be found on the property’s tours. The Hollywood Movie Site tour will wow your kids with props left on the ranch like Godzilla’s foot print, dinosaurs, and the bones of King Kong. For those seeking more thrill, they also offer ATV-ing, ziplines, and horseback tours. Kualoa Ranch offers a host of activities for everyone in your family, from adrenaline junkies to movie buffs.
5) Shave Ice at Uncle Clay’s
Let’s face it, our kids are a great excuse to satisfy our sweet tooth, so while on O`ahu get some local shave ice for the both of you to enjoy! My favorite is at a small family-owned shop about twenty minutes east of Waikiki named Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha. Featuring all natural syrups, unique toppings like mochi and local ice creams, and a keiki size to prevent any crazy sugar rushes, this place can’t be beat! Make sure to stop by and say “Aloha” to Uncle Clay himself, who is often found serving his own shave ice or “talking story” with his customers every day at the shop.
6) Maunawili Falls
Maunawili Falls is a trail on the East side of O`ahu with just the right amount of mud and a moderate difficulty for a great, memorable hike for the active family. Beginning at the back of a residential neighborhood in Kailua, the trail snakes up and around a mountain ridge to ultimately end up at Maunawili Falls and a large deep swimming pool at the bottom of it. This hike is for the older kids however, with no lifeguard at the waterfall, and some slippery and steep terrain dependent on weather.
7) Dole Plantation
Located on the way to the infamous North Shore of O`ahu, the Dole Plantation is a great pit stop to make. Cool down with the world-famous pineapple Dole Whip straight from the source, get lost in the world’s largest maze spanning over three acres, and take a ride on the pineapple express train tour all at this road side stop. Make sure to stop at my favorite attraction growing up- the pond on the right hand side of the visitor’s center is filled with large and plentiful koi that will gratefully gulp up the fish food the plantation has available for you.
8) Hanauma Bay
If the Waikiki Aquarium wasn’t enough for you and your family, get face to face with our island’s local sea life at Hanauma Bay. Here, you and your keiki may observe creatures like the green sea turtle, exotic fishes like the famous humuhumunukunukuapua`a, and maybe even a Hawaiian monk seal sunbathing on the sand. Located in a volcanic crater protected from the incoming swells and with ample lifeguard protection, the bay is a great place to get your little ones used to the water and snorkel gear. The state park also requires all visitors to watch a short documentary regarding the safe treatment of coral reef ecosystems, making this an active and educational experience! One local’s tip is to come early as the parking lot fills up fast and to note that the park is closed every Tuesday.
Should you be blessed by some island showers, the Bishop Museum is a great indoor activity in which your family can escape from the rain. Founded by one of the last Hawaiian monarchs, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of Polynesian artifacts. Also at the museum is a planetarium with kid friendly shows, an interactive “science adventure center”, and seasonal exhibits featuring anything from dinosaurs and fossils to ancient Hawaiian voyaging canoes.
10) Waimea Bay
Waimea's Famous Jump Rock.
Perhaps one of the most famous beaches on O`ahu, Waimea Bay is a year-round spectacle. In the summer, this beach is an expansive stretch of white sand dotted with families, and calm waters. On the left hand side of the bay is a large rock formation, where anyone brave enough can get an adrenaline rush from the striking 20-foot jump into the ocean below. As the seasons change, observe a completely different beach. With northerly swells bringing in waves over four stories tall and big-wave surfers stepping up to the challenge, winter at Waimea Bay is a sight that can’t be missed.
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