Hawaii: Oahu With Kids

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Hosting Honolulu, a cosmopolitan city with all the modern amenities of its neighbors on the continent, Oahu can feel a bit generic. But get a bit off the beaten path to the laid back north shore or the rugged east coast, and there’s a paradise just waiting to be discovered.  Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and with its almost half a million residents can feel like a big city, but its international flair and Hawaiian culture bursts through giving it a nice balance. The city is located on Oahu’s south shore, the most populated of the island’s coast.  The west coast is where the locals hang out.  It has a rugged coastline without much tourist infrastructure.  The north shore is also popular with locals and has a much slower pace than the “city side” of the island with deserted beaches and coves.  Oahu’s eastern shore is backed by incredible green covered mountains, and while it has less development than the north or south shore, it does have some smaller guest houses and vacation rentals for tourists.


Snuggled along Oahu’s south shore, most of the resorts of Honolulu are on or near Waikiki Beach.  Waikiki has been a resort area since the late 19th century, first for Hawaiian royalty and then for tourists from the mainland.  Two of the hotels on the beach, Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian, have been in operation since the early 1900s.  The beach is renowned for its surfing. With its long surf break, it’s perfect for beginners and there are stands all up and down the beach providing rentals and lessons.  On its east side, Waikiki Beach gives way to Kapiolani Park a wide stretch of grass with huge banyan trees and the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium. The third oldest aquarium in the United States, Waikiki Aquarium hosts over 3,500 marine animals including giant clams, sea dragons, nautilus and endangered Hawaiian monk seals. There are plenty of hands-on exhibits for the kids who enjoy watching the octopus and jellyfish.  Behind Waikiki Beach, is a upscale shopping area including a craft market at the International Marketplace.  Check out the food market there…there are foods from all over the Pacific.  Nearby, Chinatown also offers some interesting shopping and dining alternatives.  With over 50% of the population being of Asian decent, many dating back to the import of labor in the 19th century, there is a huge Asian influence in Hawaii.  Bento boxes – a Japanese style meal and one of the most popular lunches here, is an excellent example.

West of Honolulu is Pearl Harbor, the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the site of one of our most famous battles.  On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor sinking nine ships and severely damaging 21 others.  This attack engaged the U.S. in World War II.  Today, visitors can visit the historic sites in Pearl Harbor as part of the National Park Services World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  The monument includes exhibit rooms with artifacts and stories from the war, a film about the attack, and the above the water memorial at the USS Arizona.  Visitors to the park can also tour the USS Missouri and the USS Bowfin Submarine.  This is a great way to bring history to life for kids.  The exhibits are wonderfully self explanatory and there is a Junior Ranger packet available to really get the kids into it.

North Shore

The north shore is much less densely populated than the south and has less resorts.  The largest resorts are low-rise cottage style buildings and are still small by Honolulu standards.  North Shore is known for its surfing, but the waves can get big here, so leave it to the experts.  The infamous Banzai Pipeline is here and is the location of many surfing competitions.  Hale’iwa is the largest town on the north shore and is known for its shrimp trucks, large trucks selling shrimp lunches, and Hawaiian shaved ice stands.  Much of the television series Lost was filmed on Oahu’s north shore.

East Coast

Honolulu’s east coast, although fairly sparsely populated, hosts a couple of Oahu’s biggest tourist attractions.  ThePolynesian Cultural Center is on the north part of the coast.  It’s goal is to educate the public about eight different Pacific island groups and their people through crafts, shows, dancing and games.  The kids loved fishing with bamboo poles and making coconut bread in the Tahiti village and swinging poi balls and getting tattoos (temporary of course!) in the Aotearoa (New Zealand) village. On the south part of the coast is SeaLife Park, a marine park with animal shows and interactive activities like turtle feeding, snorkeling with stingrays and swimming with dolphins. It’s a lot of fun for kids, with lots of chances to get up close to animals and they have a special focus on education, so the kids learned a lot while we were there.

Family-Friendly Places to Stay in Oahu

Hotels along Waikiki Beach are probably the best option for families.  They are close enough to the action that it’s easy to get to and from rooms and it’s within easy day trips of the rest of the attractions on the island.  We stayed at The Royal Hawaiian, which is owned by Sheraton/Starwood as part of the three properties they have on Waikiki Beach – the other two are Moana Surfrider and Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. Known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, The Royal Hawaiian was built in 1927 and retains the charm of a by-gone era while providing the modern luxuries of a world class resort.  The children were greeted with a welcome gift of a pail and shovel and instantly felt at home!

Getting to Oahu

Many airlines have direct flights from the mainland to Oahu. most connect in California or Arizona.  The best schedules and fares are probably through Hawaiian Airlines.  US Airways has lots of connections through its hub in Phoenix and Alaska Airlines flies from San Francisco and Seattle.  go! Mokulele offers hundreds of daily inter-island flights on jet planes.

 Getting Around Oahu

The Bus runs routes around the island and most stop at major tourist destinations. Their website offers routes and schedules as well as a tourist destination guideline with corresponding bus and stops making it very easy for tourists to take advantage of the service. Fares are $2.50 one way for adults/$1.25 kids 6 – 17/Free for kids 5 and under. Waikiki Trolleyoffers a hop-on, hop-off trolley service in and around Honolulu as well as tours of the full island.  If you want more flexibility and the privacy of your own car, most major car rental companies have offices on the island.

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