Best Family-Friendly Activities and Places in Oahu
The best places and activities in Oahu that your whole family will enjoy, no matter your budget!
Let me start off by saying that I have been to Hawaii three times. (Lest you be jealous, my first trip wasn't until I had been married ten years, so I spent the first part of my life just dreaming about it...) Each time it was either Oahu, Maui or both, so these two islands will be my focus in the next two articles, starting with Oahu!
But before I "dive in" let me just give you some background...
The very first time I stepped foot on the islands was on our 10th wedding anniversary. Our first three days of our week in Hawaii were spent in Oahu (followed by four days in Maui.) Strolling down the balmy streets, we happened upon a free luau with the palm trees swaying over us. It was perfect!
The second time in Hawaii was spent entirely on the island of Maui. This trip wasn't as picture-perfect (and it wasn't just because we had small children with us!) but I'll explain more about this as well as the best things to do in Maui in my next hub! (And yes, we do love Maui!)
The third time was just this year, spending the entire week in Oahu with our children. This trip time was packed with lots of one of kind adventures and family fun (with some educational sight seeing thrown in, but the kids didn't mind.)
So, on to Oahu!
Oahu- the home of the capital, Honolulu, and the famed Waikiki Beach is going to be a great destination for sight-seeing. Here's a few of our favorites things
Hang out at Waikiki Beach
Even if you're not one to lie around on the beach, you probably will want to spend at least one day there, simply relaxing in the sun with the rest of the tourists. We did this on our first anniversary trip and again this last time with the children.It's fun to watch all the water activities going on, or simply to close your eyes and listen. But- remember that sunscreen! I know, everyone understands this, but even though we came prepared with this knowledge, we ended up staying at the beach longer than we planned one of the days without the sunscreen with us to reapply.. And yes, we paid!
"Let's go surfing now, everybody's learning how...
We spent another day at Waikiki since the kids had reservations for a surf lesson. If you have older children, I can't recommend this experience enough! It turned out to be the highlight of our daughters' trip and a day they won't ever forget. They had never been on a surf board in their lives, but after a short part of the lesson on the sand and a few moments paddling out with their instructor, they were actually riding the waves (small ones, but still!) Lessons are not exactly in the budget-friendly department, but should be worth considering for an extra memorable time, especially for older kids or teens. Lessons run approximately $100 or more for group or semi-private lessons.
No visit to Oahu would be complete without seeing Pearl Harbor. There is no entrance fee and the museum, film and boat ride to the Arizona (the ship which was sunk and still remains submerged) are all free of charge. Adults and older children will gain a lot from this visit and learn a part of our history in a much more tangible than they would ever from a history book, not to mention come away with a new perspective of the sacrifices made on our behalf.
Unfortunately, on our children's first visit here this year, our group emerged outside from watching the film only to find out that the boat to the Arizona was cancelled due to wind. It was disappointing to us not that our children couldn't experience this as we did a few years before. So, keep this in mind in planning your visit!
Our whole family completely enjoyed our visit to Iolani Palace- the place where young Princess Kaiulani resided and later because of prisoner in her own home. My daughters were intrigued by getting to walk around a real palace and all of us learned so much through the "tour guide earphones" that we wore as we walked in and out of each room. Her life was tinged with sadness, yet learning about her and the palace was beautiful and inspirational.
(For the self-guided tour: Adults- $14.75, children 5-12- $6)
For some REAL adventure, you might want to consider trying something out of your comfort zone and going para-sailing!
Our family did just that (and right on my birthday, too!) First, my husband and I went up, up and away....1000 ft! I had wanted to do something daring for my birthday, even though I'm not really a daring kind of gal, but this turned out to be both exhilarating and yet peaceful- a once in a lifetime experience!
My husband then went up with our children (they allowed one on each side of him) to a lower height of 500 ft. They, too, absolutely loved it. Cost is not as prohibitive as you might think- averaging between $60 and $80, usually depending on height.
Polynesian Cultural Center
This turned out to be an incredible, fun (and learning!) experience for our family as we explored the different cultures of Hawaii, watched amazing shows, took a boat tour, paddled our own canoe and had a ukelele lesson, all in the course of a day! I had heard good things about this place prior to coming, and it did not disappoint.
You can choose from the Day Experience (which is what we did) Luau with dinner, or Show. I haven't experienced the luau or show (which is considerably more money) but we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Again, not exactly cheap, but for a chance to immerse ourselves in a very Hawaiian experience, the price of $49.95 for adults, $35.95 for children for the entire day was well worth it.
Dancers we found on our stroll in Waikiki
Take a walk through town
As I mentioned, on our very first trip, my husband and I took a walk and happened upon a beautiful luau! On our recent trip, we again strolled through town and came upon a group of Hawaiian dancers and musicians in the square who were such a delight to watch! That is part of the charm of Hawaii...happening upon beautiful surprises! And the best part of all, it can be free!
There are also plenty of shops to peruse, and while you're at it, you might want to stop in at the Honolulu Cookie Company and sample a bunch of their treats! Scrumptious!
What on your list?
What would be on your "must do" list when going to Oahu above the rest?
Take a drive around the island
This one may only cost you the gas to fuel your car as you take a leisurely drive around the island, taking in the scenic ocean views as well as the incredible mountain ranges. Our family took a drive up the east side, where we spotted a daring hang glider flying next to the breathtaking Koolau mountain range. During the course of our drive, we stopped at an authentic Hawaiian Shave Ice stand along the beach where a long list of flavors enticed us. Moments later, we were all enjoying our treats, sitting on rocks and watching the ocean.
A couple days later, we took a second drive, this time up the west side. We enjoyed seeing both the scenery and the quaint little neighborhoods along the way. We arrived at the North Shore just in time to see a magnificent sunset and watch the evening surfers hang ten.
I think these drives were some of our best times, yet they cost very little!
Go to a Luau
I would be remiss if I didn't include seeing a luau on my list of things to do. Although they usually run between $70- $150, they are almost a necessity in capturing the Hawaii experience. Granted, some our more authentic than others, but they are such a wonderful memory to take home from your vacation. On our last trip, we went to Paradise Cove. A beautiful setting, and after gazing at the sunset, there is an exciting pre-show kalua ceremony, followed by the incredible food and main show. (I happened to top off my birthday with this luau, a perfect ending to my day!)
I know there are countless more amazing things to see and do in Oahu, but I hope this has given you a few ideas! As you plan your trip, budget in a couple of the more expensive excursions if you're able to, but also make room for the less expensive activities. And especially make time for having an "unplanned" day or at least part of a day. A time when you can window shop, explore on foot, sip from an umbrella drink, or just read a book by the beach. Those can be the most cherished times of all.