Right now you might be dreaming of a trip to a tropical beach, but wait, will it be as peaceful if you bring the kids…? It can be! Consider your next vacation to the tropical Hawaiian island of Oahu. Oahu offers a balance of an abundance of things to do from its busy but laid back capital city of Honolulu while also providing those white sand beaches and waterfalls you’ve been thinking about...ah yes! Here are our top 12 favorite family friendly things to do on the island that will entertain the whole family! Are you ready to make some memories together?
1. Polynesian Culture Center
The Polynesian Culture Center is one of my favorite places to take the kids! Families get to explore 6 island villages which highlight different islands around the Pacific Ocean. Our favorite is the Samoan Village but all of them are fantastic! Each village has games and activities the whole family can enjoy, such as fishing in Tahiti, Konane board games and Hula dancing in Hawaii, stick games and poi balls in Aotearoa, spear throwing in Tonga (its safe, I promise), fish net weaving, canoe rides and more! You can also watch dance performances from different islands, including a parade along the river. In the evening, you can enjoy dinner at a luau and watch the night show (my favorite) including fire dancers! The whole family will learn so much and have a blast!
2. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
One of my favorite snorkel spots on the island is Hanauma Bay. The cove is actually an extinct volcano crater which opened to the sea on one side making it a perfect protected beach for kids. Your kids will be wow’ed by the large tropical schools of fish that frequent this area, my favorite are the colorful Parrotfish. Click here for entrance information and what to bring into the nature preserve on your next visit. It’s a magical place to create new memories or try snorkeling for the first time!
3. Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is a delightful short stop for families. Grab a pineapple Dole whip (yes, the same kind you get at Disneyland!!). If you haven’t had it before, and you love pineapple, it's a must! The gift shop has every pineapple themed gift you can think of including snacks for the kids. Then take a ride on the Pineapple Express train through the pineapple fields and see first hand how this working farm grows their fruit. Walk through the gardens with younger kids or let the older kids have fun inside one of the largest garden mazes in the world!
4. Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens & Waterfall
Located in the beautiful Waimea Valley along the North Shore, the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens is an easy 1.9 mile round trip, paved trail. This trail is especially great for families with strollers! Follow the river through a lush tropical paradise while songbirds serenade you, pass native places of worship by the ancient Kahuna Nui (high priests), and see the beautiful waterfall at the end! Free lifejackets are available to anyone who wishes to swim in the lagoon.
*Tip: Grab the bird brochure at the visitor center and let the kids point out the different birds you’ll see along your path, including peacocks!
5. Bishop Museum
Located in Honolulu, the Bishop Museum holds the greatest collection of Hawaiian cultural and natural history. It's the perfect size for families who just want to spend an hour or two learning about the stories and beliefs of ancient Hawaiians, with large artifacts and colorful exhibits. There are a lot of interactive displays for the kids, including dress up. Take a walk through the native Hawaiian garden to the Science Adventure Center to view REAL lava, slide down a volcano and explore Hawaii’s native animals. Then catch the show about the stars and navigation at the Watumull Planetarium.
6. Sealife Park
Our kids love animals, so we love visiting Sealife Park! The marine park is dedicated to marine conservation, preservation and education. See the colorful fish in large aquariums, the endangered Hawaiian Monk seal, sea turtles, sharks, seabirds and penguins (that starred in the movie 50 First Dates). Kids will love the touch pool where they can interact with sea stars, sea urchins and even a baby sea turtle! Laugh at the sea lion show and be amazed at the dolphin show. Sign-up to meet the sea lions, Hawaiian wildlife including rays or swim as a family with the dolphins! It's the perfect spot for any age to see Hawaii’s underwater life. There’s even a luau at the end of the day for those hungry bellies!
7. Play at a family-friendly beach
Oahu offers a variety of stunning family-friendly beaches that are perfect for swimmers of all ages. Our favorite calm beaches for younger kids or parents who just want to wade in the water are:
* Ko'olina Lagoon - west side beach with 4 calm coves. Umbrellas are not allowed so find a spot under one of the trees that line the beach
* Lanikai Beach - east side white sand beach and calm waves, parking is challenging so visit early
* Magic Island Lagoon - Ala Moana beach is a protected cove in Honolulu with walking trails
* Kuhio Beach - calm lagoons located next to Waikiki beach
* Pokai Beach - protected beach located on the west side
Other beaches that are great for a little bit older kids who may want to play in waves or boogie board:
*Waimanalo beach - white sand beach with trees for shade
* Waimea bay - large North Shore beach, but parking can fill up quickly. Be advised of strong currents during the winter months
* Waikiki beach - great beach for learning to surf, calmer water, easy place to access food.
* Makaha Beach - West side beach great for surfing and boogie boarding
* Kailua Beach - White sand beach where families can rent kayaks
8. Matsumoto's Shave Ice
No visit to Hawaii is complete without a little shave ice, yum! Matsumoto's is an iconic shaved ice shop nestled in the little town of Haleiwa. Enjoy local shops and food. Afterward you can walk down to the beach for a little relaxing beach time! This is the most popular shave ice shop to visit on the island but if you want to skip the line, any shave ice will do! Our favorite shop is Mountain Magic in Makaha on the west side, the ice is so smooth it's like butter.
9. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Pearl Harbor is a great way to expose the kids to the history of the island. Explore the free museum with interactive displays. Then enjoy the short ferry ride across the bay to see the USS Arizona. Small children will enjoy watching the schools of fish that have made the sunken ship their home, while older kids can compare the map of the ship on the memorial to parts they can see in the water. If the kids still have energy consider going onboard the USS Bowfin submarine or the USS Missouri, a real battleship!!
Tip: make ferry reservations in advance to avoid waiting in the stand-by line
10. Take a family-friendly hike
Explore the island together on foot! Take in the sounds of tropical birds singing as you walk through lush rainforests, waterfalls and breathtaking views. Here are some of our favorite family-friendly hikes:
* Manoa Falls - 1.7 mile round trip heavily trafficked rainforest hike to a 150-foot waterfall
* Diamond Head Summit Trail - 1.6 mile round trip heavily trafficked trail up a dormant volcano crater with stunning views of Waikiki beach
* Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail - 2.0 mile round trip heavily trafficked paved trail with outstanding views of Oahu's southeastern coastline including Koko crater
Tip: bring a change of shoes afterwards to avoid bringing mud in the car.
11. Kualoa Ranch Movie Site Tour
Take a movie site tour on board an open air bus through Oahu's Ka'a Valley including inside a bunker. See where some of your favorite movies were filmed including Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla, Lost, Hawaii 5-0, George Of The Jungle and more. This 1.5 hour tour will set the stage for amazing family photos and keep the adults laughing.
12. Explore marine life at the tide pools
Tide pools are always a fun family activity for all ages. Bring your water shoes and explore the colorful fish, crabs, sea birds and more as you experience the beauty of Oahu's shores. Some of our favorite tidepools are:
* Pupukea tide pools - Known as Sharks Cove and located along Oahu's scenic North Shore, these tidepools are a popular spot to snorkel or wade through to see a variety of marine life.
* Makapu'u tide pools - The perfect way to cool off after a hike to the Makapu'u Lighthouse, perfect for all ages when the water is calm.
* Sandy Beach tide pools - shallow tidepools perfect for little ones located to the right of the beach.
We hope this list gives you a great start to planning your next family vacation to Hawaii.
Aloha and happy travels,