Oahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and by far the one with the most to do for families with children. On a recent visit with my two children, our goal was to soak in some Vitamin D and enjoy the beauty of the island, skyscrapers of Waikiki, the ocean and all the sites that we could visit over nine days.
We flew direct from Chicago on a United flight and the nine-hour trip was very easy. With the five-hour time difference and the sunshine, the kids adjusted quite easily. They stayed occupied with endless drinks and movies, and of course we brought a book, a few activities and great snacks. Nothing better than that!
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa - What we enjoyed most at this hotel was the gorgeous view from our oceanfront room. At 17 stories high, this hotel provides a view of Waikiki Beach to Diamondhead Crater that is breathtaking. From the morning surf to the sunset, the view was spectacular.
One of the best tips we can tell is that a visit to Aka and Aunty with the kids is time extremely well spent. Aka and Aunty are storytellers, hula dancers, lei-makers and provide a great way to learn about true Hawaiian culture.
The Na ho ola spa menu includes their own products line which are also placed in the hotel rooms for guests. The shampoo and conditioner smells wonderful. Treatments include a macadamia nut body scrub and pineapple haupia body glow for $145 each.
If you enjoy yoga, take advantage of the morning class in a beautiful private room that overlooks the ocean.
Hilton Hawaiian Village - The size of this resort is like a mini-city! It's a village, all right – with five swimming pools, a private freshwater lagoon, multiple buildings and towers, restaurants and shopping galore and a stretch of Waikiki Beach with a lot of sand for sandcastle building and beach play. The Village hosts a fireworks show every Friday night which brings in locals and tourists from neighboring hotels.
The penguin display is famous on the island and visitors enjoy the penguins with their turtle friends throughout the day. The wildlife experience also includes exotic birds, waterfowl, turtles and fish. One program they offer for families is Club Penguin, where your child experiences a variety of Hawaiian culture and expeditions on and off property for a half or full day. This program is a way for children to meet other children on vacation. The Tapas Pool is the place to be in the late afternoon, just steps away from Happy Hour tapas specials and live music in the early evening. We stayed in the Rainbow Towers on the 14th floor with a view that was astounding. The kids were super excited when we learned that the $25 daily resort fee added to your bill includes two DVD rentals per day and a PS3 games of your choice. The selections are quite extensive and the library of titles covers all age groups.
Outrigger Luana Waikiki Hotel - This hotel is not on the beach, but if you have a room high enough, you'll still get an ocean view. However, we stayed on the 3rd Floor Mezzanine Level in a suite that more like a condo with a full kitchen, modern bath, private bedroom and large dining and lounging/television area. The kids loved it because we could microwave, refrigerate and cook! I loved it because I could do laundry! It's not even coin-operated and when we travel, I always bring laundry pods. This hotel offers tasty fruit water near the entrance that changes daily. They have a beautiful spa (Try the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage – 80 minutes for $125.) and a relaxing outdoor pool with BBQ grills for casual nights.
Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Resort - What a surprise this hotel was. FUN, FUN FUN! First of all, Jimmy Buffets Cheeseburger in Paradise Restaurant is located here and the Surfers Museum is a fun bar attached to the outdoor pool. While the kids splashed on a breezy Hawaiian afternoon, I stayed poolside and enjoyed a Seafood Salad while admiring all the cool surf memorabilia inside. The location of the restaurant is so close to the pool that it's so easy to enjoy a casual lunch and fun pool time for a few hours. The room we had included a bathroom with a bidet-seated toilet which the kids found to be fun. It was almost like a toy but it sure was the talk of the stay. The balcony overlooked the main strip and the hotel is centered in the heart of the best shopping district – within blocks of all the designer stores, including Tory Burch, Ferrari, Tiffany and Fendi.
The hotel offers a concierge service in partnership with Expedia, so it's very convenient to book activities and tours right at the hotel. We suggest you review what makes the most sense for your family in the time you have and not overbook.
Must-Take day trips
The best tip for a Hawaiian vacation is that you do not need a car for your entire visit. Cars are easy to rent on the main strip and all in walking distance to pick up. Most hotels charge over $30 a night just to park and rentals can range from $30 to $150 per day depending on the make and model. We found it much easier to either take a taxi, shuttle or private car service from the airport and back, and to just rent a car as needed. There are shuttles to some of the major tourist excursions but keep in mind, you are also along for a long ride without the ability to stop and take in picturesque views along the way.
You will need a car for the following excursions:
North Shore of Oahu – A must do. The drive is beautiful and since you can either drive around the island (about a three-hour drive in total) or cut through the middle (gorgeous) to get there, a day trip to see the beaches and mountains is worth every second. You will find a variety of food trucks along the way. Stop at them! The shrimp trucks are fun, some are old school buses decorated with graffiti. One you don't want to miss is Nelly's Mexican Food. Authentic and prepared by Nelly herself. This is the best-kept secret on the drive to the North Shore of Oahu. Situated in an area of food trucks and shrimp trucks, you'll have to walk all the way in the back to Find Nelly – and she's worth it. Hand-rolled tortillas and prepared fresh and made to order, this authentic Mexican fare is a perfect match to watch the sunset on Sunset Beach just miles away. Located in Kahuka.
Dole Plantation and the World's Largest Maze- – Kids love this. Do you know how pineapples grow? You will see a variety of them, including red pineapples, and have a chance to take a train ride through the plantation. The fun ends in the gift shop with a Dole Whip, which you must not miss. (The only other place we have ever found these delicious concoctions is at Walt Disney World in Magic Kingdom.)
The Polynesian Cultural Center – For families, this is an opportunity tolearn about the Polynesian islands, including Hawai'i, Tahiiti, Fiji. Samoa. Aotearoa and Tonga. The ticket price does not include the dinner and show but I would suggest you opt for that and take the kids. This is one inspirational place that is opened from noon to 6 p.m. and the dinner show is after that. You can combine that with a morning of beach fun on the North Shore or a hike in Waimea Falls.
Pearl Harbor – This is good for all history buffs and school-age children old enough to understand what Pearl Harbor is about, though strollers and babies are welcome. Keep in mind that this is a very emotional place for many. Tears come to many visitors and that is okay. This is a wonderful tribute to our servicemen and a reminder of the strength of America. I really think this is something not to miss on your trip and you must go and stand on the USS Arizona Memorial.
Diamond Head State Monument – A hike up the crater will take about an hour up and down. If you can't walk it in the sun, don't do it. Don't bring little kids and do bring a camera. The views are spectacular and the hike itself is a great workout.
West and Eastern Shores – The new Disney Aulani Resort is on the Western Shore and you will find beaches and whale watching (Dec. 15 - April 15) on the Eastern Shore. You need a car for both. We rented a Jeep, took the tops out and drove in the mountains and along the ocean. Wind in your hair, the smell of fresh air and the sun was Mother Nature at her finest. Be sure to lather the sunscreen on everyone, though. Drives to both of these areas are picturesque.
Waimea Falls – This historic and sacred ground is for the serious hiker and for those that want to be one with nature for a few hours. While many tourists flock here, it's not the best choice for strollers and young children. It is, however, ideal for school-age children who are interested in learning about the rainforest, trees, rare birds, plants and waterfalls and to see and study them up close. The experience of swimming in the waterfall sounds awesome but, like any stream, bacteria can be in this water and if introduced into an open wound can cause medical issues. Just something to think about.
Hanauma Bay – Some say this is a tourist trap. Others say this is guaranteed snorkeling. Regardless, if you don't get there early, you will be turned away. Plan to arrive no later than 8:30 a.m. You can bring your own snorkel gear, which we bought at the ABC store for less than $10, or you can rent better equipment that is sanitized for under $20. Bring your own water – the prices jump here because they know how thirsty you are! This nature preserve has over 400 species of fish. You most likely will see a turtle, as there are many here.
Go Oahu Card! – You can save a lot of money on excursions and you have the option to buy single or multiple day cards. This works well if you plan to really travel around the island to see the sites. Just be sure those sites you select are included in the card.
Honolulu Cookie Company – You will find these stores all over the Waikiki strip. It seems like almost every street has one. The best part of this store is that there is free cookie tasting. On one particular day, we called that...lunch. These very tasty shortbread cookies are made on the island in multiple flavors and come in individual servings and boxes. All are packed nicely to be taken back home to sample and remember your trip. My kids tasted every flavor (almost at every store they could find) and the chocolate chip mini bites were their personal favorite. I loved the pineapple macadamia.
Teddy Bear World – If you like Teddy Bears, stop into this museum, stuff your own bear or take one home to a loved one.
ABC Stores – This is the go-to store for fast snacks, last-minute "I forgot to pack" items, inexpensive souvenirs and Hawaiian delicacies. You will find them on practically every block on the strip and locals joke that ABC stands for All Blocks Covered! They carry everything from treats to toiletries, souvenirs to sundries and clothing to cleaners. Some of the stores are bigger than othersm with a wider selection of products. The largest one is next to the International Marketplace (located across from the Outrigger Waikiki) which is a must-stop for island trinkets of any kind.
Things to try:
Musubi – Trust me on this one. Do you like Spam? It's Spam on rice, wrapped in seaweed. You can find this at almost all the convenience stores and it is a great pick-me-up snack. Kids love it.
Kukui Oil – This is great for unexpected sunburns and dry lips. When traveling with children in the hot sun, it's better to take precaution and have sunburn protection on hand.
Nature Republic Store (in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa) – This Korean store sells all-natural beauty products, sunscreens and packaged face masks that have the cutest design you will never want to open! The prices are good and the store is a showcase of all things good for your skin. I bought a caviar mask for $2, a one-time use broccoli wash for $2 and a bamboo and olive oil mask for $1.30 each. All natural and great prices!
Dolphin, Whale and Snorkeling Excursion – Most children love to see dolphins and whales but if they do not like boat rides, skip this. You will have a chance to get in the water and snorkel and watch dolphins in the ocean. This is not a touch experience with the animals but most of these excursions guarantee that you will see them in their own environment.
Whale watching (Dec. 15-April 15) – It's always touch and go with no promises but this is the best time to go if you really are hoping to see whales.
Surfing/Paddleboard lesson – Easier than you think! Lessons are offered by surfing professionals on the beach and through almost all the beachfront resorts. Prices vary. Check the water reports before you go. There are usually never sharks close to shore but the ocean is where they live.
Boogie Boards – Kids love these. Always be careful in the water and never let kids in the ocean without you.
Hula Lesson – If you go to Hawai'i, you must try a hula lesson! There are many places to do this – ask your hotel concierge. Some resorts offer free lessons and some of the hotel child programs include them as well.
The Crepe House- My kids thought this was the best thing ever. A huge, flavorful crepe filled with fruit, ice cream, Nutella or even sandwich fillings. You most likely can share this for two. This cafe is hidden in a corner on the walk to Diamond Head next to the Haagen Daz store on the main strip. It's worth a stop.
Hula Grill at the Outrigger Waikiki – Voted best breakfast on Waikiki by my kids! We sampled the Spam and Eggs (because Spam in Hawai'i is such a staple). The kids menu offers Mickey Mouse pancakes and a spectacular ocean view. We ended up going back twice. It was a great start to the morning and a perfect way to relax and just breathe the fresh ocean air. This hotel is home Duke Hahanamoku, the Hawaiian who made surfing famous. The lobby captivated us with fun gift shops with great beach-theme goodies.
Halakulani Hotel Orchids – This five-star hotel is located walking distance from the new shopping street filled with cafes, shops and recognizable trendspots from the mainland. We had dinner with some friends who also happen to be visiting Oahu at the same time as us. The ocean view and sunset was a perfect backdrop to conversation and delicious food. The kids menu includes a gourmet mac and cheese and hamburger that looked so good it deserved to be photographed!
Shor Restaurant at the Hyatt Resort and Spa, Waikiki – This restaurant is located in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa. Nested on the deck overlooking an ocean view, this is the best place for a sunset dinner. The kids menu is unbelievable. Ingredients are farm fresh and the chef prepared new dishes that dazzled us. Among our favorites were the Shaken Chopped Salad for $7.95, which included roasted chicken, vegetables and yogurt basil dressing. The menu also features sustainable fish, natural beef and a sun butter, jelly and banana sandwich.
However you plan your trip to Oahu just be sure to keep in mind that packing too much and over scheduling will just tire you out. Part of being in Hawai'i is enjoying the relaxing calm lifestyle.
Plan time to just watch the waves, enjoy the tide and learn to hula!
Marianne is a leading independent toy researcher. She has been testing and reporting on toys in the US and across the world for over twenty years. As the founder of The Toy Tips Research Institute, she has led her team to review more than 25,000 toys. Over 7,000 current Toy Tips report cards are available free to parents, grandparents and educators on toytips.com.Marianne is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Marquette University where she holds a dual degree in psychology and marketing. She is a also a graduate of the Stanford Publishing Course at Stanford University.