With so much surf and sand, Oʻahu’s coastline could be likened to a giant, free water park. But there are also plenty of outdoor activities and a few good museums and sights to keep kids of all ages occupied when they tire of swimming and snorkeling. Traveling families have been coming to the island for decades; local resorts, hotels and restaurants are well prepared. So stop for a shave ice and relax; keiki (children) are most welcome here.

Best for Families

Sights & Activities

Beaches line the entire island, so families really can’t go wrong on Oʻahu. All sides of the island have opportunities to swim, snorkel, bodyboard and beachcomb at some time during the year. Families will, however, want to carefully consider where to base themselves.

Since the beach is on the doorstep and the largest number of resorts and restaurants are concentrated in the 20-block area of Waikiki, it’s a top choice for families as a place to stay. There's plenty for all the family to do, a huge variety of eating options and places to stay that are used to catering to kids. At the beach, teens and tweens can hang out, swim, snorkel, boogie-board or learn to surf – and everybody loves the outrigger-canoe rides. Nearby are the Waikiki Aquarium, with its learning-oriented fun, and the Honolulu Zoo. In Kapiʻolani Regional Park are free tennis courts that can keep kids and families active. Whale-watching and other boat excursions are based locally. From Waikiki it’s a short drive to greater Honolulu sights such as the interactive Bishop Museum, where the little ones get to walk through a ‘volcano’, and to Manoa Valley with its hikes and gardens. Hanauma Bay, with its incredible snorkeling, is not that far away either. Another point in favor of basing yourself in Waikiki is that there is plenty for mom and dad to do too.

Out at Ko Olina at the the southwestern tip of the island, Disney’s Aulani Resort is without doubt a great place to stay for younger families. Child- and teen-oriented, it has the Aunty’s House kids club and the older kids will enjoy the teen spa. There are water-park-like pools and Hawaiian music and hula shows to entertain. The Lagoons (the coves at Ko Olina) offer some of the island’s most child-friendly swimming. You are, however, a solid 40 minutes (without traffic) from Honolulu and fairly isolated. The area has a few other attractions – boat cruises, another swimming beach, a water park.

If your kids are a bit older and you like your family trip a little more low-key, Kailua on the Windward Coast is also a great base. Several good beaches are nearby and older kids and adults can learn to kayak or stand up paddle at the town beach park. Hikes are possible in the area, and north up the coast is the Polynesian Cultural Center, one of the island’s biggest attractions. Southeast Oʻahu’s highlights, including the fabulous and family-friendly snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, the walk out to Makapuʻu Lighthouse and boogie-boarding at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park are a short jaunt south. For that matter, Honolulu is less than 30 minutes over the pali (cliffs) by car.

The surf is the main attraction at the North Shore, which has some treacherous winter waves. Swimming in summer is usually safe, and the snorkeling at Sharks Cove and in the tide pools at Pupukea Beach Park is superb – but there’s little beyond the beach to entertain kids.

Discount admission to sights is usually available for children aged between four and 12; little ones under four are often free.

Children's Programs

Island botanical gardens host occasional children’s programs, especially on weekends, as do the larger museums and animal parks.

Waikiki Aquarium Offers a number of annual and special events, plus classes and activities to fascinate kids. There's nothing like holding a sea star, feeling a sea cucumber and feeding an anemone at Critter Encounters (age four and up), or searching for crabs, lobsters, eels and octopuses at Exploring the Reef at Night (age six and up). It also has Keiki Time, designed for kids one to four years old. For marine biologists aged eight to 12, there's a full week of summer learning about what lives in Hawaiian waters in June, but you'll need to sign up early.

Honolulu Zoo The Zoo runs a number of multiday education programs for kids of different ages:

  • Camp Menehune (four- and five-year-olds) introduces kids to the animal kingdom with themes such as Animal Allies and What’s Cook’n (which animals eat what!).
  • Camp ʻImi Loa (six- to eight-year-olds) keeps kids busy with biofacts, crafting activities, songs, stories, keeper talks and games centered around the theme of the week.
  • Camp Wildlife Koas (nine- to 11-year-olds) teaches about different animals and the environments they live in through hands-on lessons complete with biofacts, interactive technologies, craft activities and games.

Hawaii Children's Discovery Center Consider dropping by this hands-on museum for families. Opposite Kakaʻako Waterfront Park, interactive science and cultural exhibits are geared toward elementary-school-aged children, preschoolers and toddlers. The Fantastic You! exhibit explores the human body, allowing kids to walk through a mock human stomach. In the Your Town section, kids can drive a play fire engine or conduct a TV interview. Hawaiian Rainbows and Your Rainbow World introduce Hawaii's multicultural heritage, while Rainforest Adventures highlights Hawaii's natural environment and conservation.

Attractions Further Afield

There are a number of attractions further afield on Oʻahu to keep kids and families entertained:

Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii While it may seem a tad strange to come to a water park out in Kapolei when the island is surrounded by warm tropical waters, this 25-acre water park adds an extra dimension to your water play – whether you’re into thrills or something more placid. Float on a lazy river, brave a seven-story waterslide or bodysurf the football-field-sized wave pool. Of course, the fun doesn’t come as cheap as the beach.

Dole Plantation It's all about the pineapple here at Dole and kids love it! Get your fill of pineapple potato chips and fruity trinkets, then take your pineapple ice-cream sundae outside and ride the Pineapple Express open-air train through the upland scenery. The Pineapple Garden Maze is meant purely as fun, as you find (or lose) your way among 14,000 Hawaiian plants on 1.5 miles of pathways.

Kualoa Ranch On the Windward Coast, this working cattle ranch has another side that older kids love. See where Hurley built his Lost golf course, Godzilla left his footprints and the Jurassic Park kids hid from dinosaurs on the movie tour. All-terrain vehicle (ATV) and horseback rides are another possibility. Book all tours at least a couple days in advance; they fill up.

Practicalities

Children under 18 often stay for free when sharing a hotel room with their parents, if they use existing bedding. Cribs (cots) and rollaway beds are usually available on request (sometimes for a surcharge) at hotels and resorts, but it’s best to check in advance. Vacation rentals may have these, or an extra futon for the little ones to flop down on.

The bigger the resort, the more likely it is to have extensive family-oriented services such as kids activities and clubs, game rooms or arcades, wading and other playful pool features. Hotel concierges are usually a good resource for finding babysitting services, or you can contact Nannies Hawaii (http://nannieshawaii.com).

Don’t be scared away from dining out on Oʻahu; even fancy places like Roy’s or Alan Wong’s welcome well-behaved little ones. Many restaurants have children’s menus (eg grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers) at significantly lower prices, and high chairs are usually available. Food trucks and other outdoor eateries are family faves, as they’re supercasual and the location may provide space for kids to roam. Many beach parks have picnic tables. Sandwiches and meals to go are readily available at cafes, drive-ins and grocery stores. Look for baby food, infant formula, soy and cow’s milk at any supermarket or convenience store.

Restaurants, lodgings and sights that especially cater to families, with good facilities for children, are marked with a family icon throughout this book.

Getting Around

Most car-hire companies rent child-safety seats from $10 per day. Online services deliver rented car seats, strollers, playpens and cribs and more right to your door. Try:

  • Paradise Baby (www.paradisebabyco.com)
  • Baby’s Away (www.babysaway.com)
  • Baby Aboard (www.babyaboardhawaii.com)

Many public women’s restrooms have changing tables. Separate, gender-neutral ‘family’ facilities are sometimes available at airports, museums and other sights.

Need to Know

Changing facilities Available in shopping malls, big hotels and at sights.

Cribs (cots) Usually available, check ahead with the hotel.

Diapers (nappies) Sold island-wide at grocery, drug and convenience stores.

Health Doctors most accessible in Honolulu.

Highchairs Usually available.

Kids' menus Widely available.

Strollers Bring your own, or rent online and have delivered to your hotel.

Transport Reserve car seats with rental agencies in advance.