Living the Island Dream in Oahu, Hawaii
Your kids want to ride the waves, meet the locals, and take in the adventure; all you want to do is stay on the beach. Merge your ideas of “vacation” into one harmonious package on an American vacation a world away from the mainland. Welcome to the isle of O’ahu—home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, the famed Waikiki Beach, and volcanic craters.
Most civilization is on the south side of the island, between Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, and Waikiki. For inland adventures, state parks, and volcanoes, head north.
Honolulu, located on the southeast tip of O’ahu, is the gateway into Hawaii, with Honolulu International Airport welcoming 20 million passengers annually. Served by 27 American and international carriers, including Hawaii’s flagship Hawaiian Airlines, your family should find easy access to the island on one of up to 18 non-stop flights from Los Angeles and San Diego, which clock in at around five and a half hours.
You can also hop on a daily direct flight to Honolulu from Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, or even JFK in New York. But for the sake of squirmy kids, you might want to choose a layover in Los Angeles or San Diego to break up your time in the air.
Once you get to O’ahu, you can take intra-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines or Island Air to ferry from one island to another. To make the six-mile journey to downtown Honolulu, you can hop in a taxi for about $25, stick the family on a shuttle or city bus, or rent a car at the airport, outside Terminal G’s baggage claim.
Of Sea. . .
The near perfect temps, tropical landscapes, and inviting blue water are intoxicating attractions that draw the whole family out of doors and into the ocean. Be sure to bring the sunscreen though, since the island’s extremely close position to the equator makes the sun’s rays extra strong.
Start off with a sand-cation and lunch at the world-famous Waikiki Beach, a stretch of sand perfect for relaxing on the shore and getting friendly with the ocean. Avoid the jellyfish, which are around five days after a full moon. Posted signs will warn off swimmers during the jellyfish’s time of the month.
Snorkel your way around Hanauma Bay, a protected area sunken by a collapsed crater – sort of like a stroll around the underwater mirror of Diamond Head. Kids can get up close with marine life in the clear blue water. Visiting the Bay involves a 30-minute trip east of Waikiki along the coastal highway. You can take a shuttle from Waikiki with snorkel gear included, or drive yourself and rent the gear when you arrive.
Give your kids a deeper dive into the ocean on board the Atlantis Submarine, which ventures 100 feet below the surface and puts your family inside the aquarium tank, while you watch schools of Nemos float on by in every direction. The tour also takes you past shipwrecks, plane wreckage and some of the man-made additions to the natural reefs.
And Land. . .
Get your kids’ sea legs back on dry land – and maybe inside – when visiting some of island’s land-side attractions. Start out with Diamond Head, the volcanic crater formed in an ancient explosion. Although the ascent is less than one mile up, it’s a steep hike and probably better for older kids who really like hiking. Once you arrive inside the crater, the views of the island are stunning.
For more hiking and interior adventures, head across the island to the north side, where you’ll find Pupukea-Paumalu State Park. The Ehukai Bunker Hike, which starts from Ehukai Beach at the Pipeline, takes you toward two World War II bunkers just ripe for exploring, and only a 20-minute hike from the shore. Continue the steep vertical hike along Kaunala Trail if your kids have the energy; otherwise, enjoy the jungle from the bunker’s vantage point.
Take it all inside at the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, where activity-focused exhibits for tots, tykes, and tweens will pique kids’ interests and exercise their brains in an educational way. The exciting slate of exhibits focus on children in natural landscapes found in Hawaii.
At the Honolulu Zoo, just between Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, your kids will love the emphasis on tropical animals from all over the world. Younger kids will love the Children’s Zoo, where they can pet smaller animals. Camps and educational activities for kids ages 5 to 11 allow for a more in-depth look into the animal kingdom, and maybe a chance for parents to take a break, too.
Interested in exploring more about the marine life you saw in the ocean? Take your kids a few doors down to the Waikiki Aquarium, where in-depth exhibits on Hawaiian sea life and biodiversity will give kids an exciting window into the sea from dry land. Participate in a Family Night, the summer concert series, or World Oceans Month, to dig into some of the aquarium’s interactive activities.
Switch gears from the animals of Hawaii to its people at the Polynesian Cultural Center, which explores native people of seven South Pacific island chains: Fiji, Samoa, Aotearoa, Marquesas, Tahiti, Tonga, and Hawaii. Kids can learn to cook, exercise, canoe, and throw spears in Polynesian fashion at the activity center, and discover more about Hawaii in a variety of “village” exhibits. Stick around for a luau and evening show to learn the true definition of Hawaiian “aloha”.
Kids who love Polynesian culture will be impressed by Iolani Palace, the former home of Hawaiian royalty and the sacred temple of ancient worship. Get involved with real Hawaiian culture and history in this one-of-a-kind palace.
. . .and Both
Neutralize the fun with a somber history lesson at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, where World War II buffs can relive “the day that will live in infamy.” Tour the USS Missouri Memorial, a retired battleship, and visit the memorial site to remember the soldiers who died and those who survived.
For a budget-friendly hotel with spacious rooms and full kitchens, stay at the Ilima Hotel, just a few blocks from the beach. The one- and two-bedroom suite options are incredibly spacious. Even a studio room sleeps four and has a full kitchen. Free WiFi and private balconies make this an ideal home-away-from-home.
Take on the real resort experience at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach. The hotel offers double bed rooms and suites for more space to spread out. Inclusive facilities include a giant pool and waterfall, spas and fitness areas, a great selection of restaurants with kids’ menus, and of course, the Waikiki Starlight Luau.
The $30 a day “resort charge” covers amenities like unlimited WiFi, Playstation 3 movies and games, daily cultural activities, and “dive-in” movies at the pool. Kids 5 – 12 will find activities with the Rainbow Express Keiki Club, a welcome respite from parental supervision.
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