Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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Hawai’i is a magical place, so taking your kids on a family vacation to Hawai’i is on the to-do list for many parents.
But with multiple islands and countless things to do on each one, planning a family-friendly trip can be overwhelming.
Whether you’re organizing your first trip to Hawai’i or returning to get some more of that aloha spirit, a stop on the island of O’ahu is likely on your itinerary. Honolulu (the capital) is a great city, and the island has some incredible history, culture, beaches, famous surf spots, and delicious food. Everyone in your “ohana” (family) is sure to find something they’ll love.
And, as a bonus, planning a trip to Hawai’i with points and miles is relatively easy to do!
From snorkeling to shave ice, we’ve got some of the best things to do in Honolulu and beyond with your children. Let’s dive in!
There is so much to see in Hawai’i, above and below the water!
The warm, clear water surrounding O’ahu is the perfect habitat for beautiful fish and turtles. So grab some goggles and a snorkel and go exploring.
There are many beaches around the island where you can snorkel just feet away from the shore and see incredible sea creatures!
Many hotels and convenience shops around the Waikīkī area will sell snorkel gear, in case you didn’t pack your own.
A trip to Honolulu and beyond is not complete without enjoying the stunning beaches.
Pristine, soft sand and warm water make for a magical beach experience. Whether you prefer just lounging in the calm waters, or chasing after waves on a surfboard, there are beaches for all preferences on O’ahu.
And, a perfect beach day isn’t complete without enjoying a Hawaiian sunset!
Surfing holds a special place in Hawaiian and Polynesian history and culture. Indigenous Hawaiians (even royal family members) spent many days on longboards riding the waves.
Today, Hawai’i remains famous around the world as one of the best places to surf — for both professionals and beginners.
While the pros will likely be found chasing massive waves on the North Shore, beginners can find much more forgiving waves near Waikīkī. This is the perfect spot for travelers to experience this iconic sport, where long, calm waves make getting up a bit easier.
If you don’t feel like hanging loose, you can also opt for a stand-up paddle board (SUP) and look for sea turtles that like to hang out around the coral reefs. There are plenty of rental options for both along the beach whenever you’re ready.
One of the most famous landmarks in Hawai’i is Diamond Head.
The profile of this 300,000-year-old volcano crater is visible from almost everywhere in Waikīkī and is a destination in and of itself.
With hiking trails, beautiful views of the coast, and interesting history, families should definitely add this to their to-do list.
The hike is 1.6 miles round-trip from the parking lot to the summit, with some steep climbs mixed in, so parents should expect to carry smaller kids in some parts. However, there are plenty of spots to take breaks, and the view is more than worth it.
A small fee, entrance, and parking reservations for Diamond Head are required for non-residents.
Hawai’i is rich in history and culture. Each island — and the hotels on the islands — do a fantastic job of educating visitors on these important aspects.
Whether attending a luau, learning to dance the hula, or taking a ukulele lesson, learning more about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture is educational and fun for both kids and adults.
Many hotels and resorts will offer free activities for guests, so be sure to check with your concierge.
Going on a whale watch is always fun with kids, and experiencing one in Hawai’i can be extra special.
Whales can be seen year-round, but humpback whales are especially active between December and May as they migrate to the islands to give birth and nurse their young, which means you can see some calves, too!
My family and I went on a whale watch with Star of Honolulu, which was great because they picked us up right from our hotel and the boat was big enough that we didn’t need to worry about seasickness. Plus they have a “Whale Guarantee,” so if you don’t see any whales (which is very rare), you can get another cruise!
As a bonus, besides seeing the incredible whales, the cruise is enjoyable and educational on its own as it passes along Waikīkī Beach, Diamond Head, and more.
Any dinosaur fans in your family? If so, you can’t skip Kualoa Ranch.
This stunning ranch is a famous filming location, with movies including “Jurassic Park,” “Godzilla,” “Pearl Harbor,” and more. With over 4,000 acres to explore, there are tours to keep a family busy for the entire day.
Whether you want to go on a UTV Raptor Tour, Jurassic Valley Zipline, or experience a catamaran tour, there are plenty of options for enjoying this slice of paradise.
A traditional Hawaiian luau is essentially a big feast and party, with plenty of entertainment (think fire and hula dancers)!
If you are visiting Hawai’i for the first time, or have never experienced a luau, it’s highly recommended.
Many hotels offer them on-property, which makes it a great way for guests to learn about the history and culture — and get a great meal. The luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center is consistently ranked as one of the best luaus on O’ahu if you happen to be nearby.
While certainly not cheap, often at $100 to $300 per person, you get a great show and plenty of food and drinks.
If you find yourself driving up to the North Shore of O’ahu, you’ll likely pass by Gunstock Ranch.
This jaw-droppingly beautiful working ranch is nonstop fun for kids and the entire family. With eco-tours, pony rides, horseback riding, and tree-planting experiences, you’ll get to experience a part of O’ahu that’s worlds away from the tourist areas like Waikīkī.
The island of O’ahu is absolutely stunningly beautiful, and there’s no better way to see it than from above.
You don’t need to be an AvGeek to feel the thrill of taking off in a helicopter. Whether you’re looking for a sunset tour or chasing cliffs and waterfalls, the experience of seeing them from your own private helicopter ride will be an experience nobody in the family will forget.
And, if your children are old enough, you can even fly with the doors off!
A trip to Hawai’i is incomplete if you and your kids don’t enjoy a classic shave ice.
You can find these delicious desserts almost anywhere on the island, and fair warning … they can be addicting.
Similar to snow cones, except made with shaved ice instead of crushed ice which helps absorb the toppings, shave ice is topped with syrups of local fruits like guava, pineapple, passionfruit, and more. Trust us when we say you’ll end up wanting to try all the options.
If your kids enjoy a nice donut, they’ll love a warm malasada.
A malasada is also known as a “Portuguese fried dough,” or pretty much a donut without a hole — even more of the good stuff!
The Hawaiian version is often topped with cinnamon and sugar and stuffed with a variety of fillings.
For the foodies reading, you should try some from the famous Leonard’s Bakery.
Getting out of Waikīkī and exploring the island of O’ahu can be one of the most rewarding decisions you make.
The island is breathtakingly beautiful and has so much to offer with its countless beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails, and natural beauty.
One of the best ways to get off the beaten path is to rent a 4×4 for exploring. We rented a Jeep Wrangler with a removable roof — driving around the island in the open air was one of my kids’ favorite memories!
Hot Tip: Read our full review of the Sheraton Waikīkī in Honolulu if you want an idea of what it’s like to stay at one of the most popular points hotels on the island.
While the topic of Pearl Harbor and World War II may be heavy for some kids, especially while on vacation, it’s hard to ignore the impact the attack had on Hawai’i, the U.S., and the course of world history.
The Pearl Harbor National Museum is a moving tribute to the lives that were lost and includes 2 museums, the USS Arizona Memorial, multiple shipwrecks, and more.
Access to the museums and exhibits is free and is less than a 30-minute drive from Waikīkī.
Fans of history and planes will not want to skip the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Located on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, this historic landmark is now home to an impressive collection of aircraft, and its authentic World War II-era hangar will wow kids and adults.
Voted as the top attraction in O’ahu, you can’t go wrong with a stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
This educational and family-friendly attraction is located on the north shore of O’ahu, so it’s a great stop if you’re planning on exploring that part of the island.
There are 42 acres of tropical villages and areas to explore as well as breathtaking fire-breathing shows and one of the best luaus in Hawai’i.
Zoos and children go hand in hand, and the Honolulu Zoo is consistently ranked as one of the best family activities in and around Honolulu.
Not only is this a beautiful zoo and botanical garden located on over 42 acres of pristine Hawaiian land, but it’s also the only zoo in the U.S. that was established on the basis of grants from a sovereign monarch. King Kalākaua made these royal lands available to the public and started building habitats for animals in 1876.
Today the zoo has over 1,000 animals and is just steps from Waikīkī Beach, which makes it a great (and easy) experience for families staying in the area.
You can’t visit Hawai’i without indulging in some fruit. And if there is one fruit that has made a name for itself, it’s the Dole Pineapple.
There is a lot of history behind pineapples, the Dole company, and the development of Hawai’i — you can learn about all of that and more at the Dole Plantation.
Kids will love riding the Pineapple Express train, running around the Pineapple Garden Maze (the world’s largest maze with over 3 acres and 2.5 miles of paths!), and, of course, cooling off with some fresh, chilled pineapples.
But a visit would not be complete without enjoying a delicious Dole Whip! This is a fun visit for all ages.
Opened in 1904, the Waikīkī Aquarium is the second-oldest aquarium in the U.S. and is always a fun visit.
Built on the Waikīkī shoreline next to a living coral reef, the aquarium is a popular destination for visitors and a valuable research facility for professionals.
With 35 tanks and over 3,500 organisms, there is much to see here, including Hawaiian Monk Seals and the threatened Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.
Located right near the beach and Honolulu Zoo, if your kids like to see animals up close, this is a great (and affordable) option.
If you want to see the best of the Hawaiian landscapes — for free — look no further than the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.
Located about a 40-minute drive from the Waikīkī area, it’s a bit of a trek, but there are 400 lush acres of peaceful refuge waiting for you.
The stunning garden is a botanist’s dream and a great spot to let the kids run around and burn some energy while enjoying a bit of nature.
And for those who are looking for an iconic Instagram post, the entrance to the park is as dramatic as it is beautiful.
Hot Tip: Read all about how I booked a family trip to Hawai’i using points and miles.
Waikīkī Beach is not only one of the most famous beaches in the world, but it’s also one of the most family-friendly.
Stretching along the shores of Honolulu’s Waikīkī neighborhood, Waikīkī Beach is a must-visit for travelers of all ages. Just steps from the hotels, shops, and restaurants, the soft sand and warm water are especially perfect for kids.
The water is relatively calm (compared to other parts of the island) and shallow, which makes it ideal for splashing around and playing.
Grab some floaties and a surfboard, or just hang out and enjoy — but don’t leave before an incredible Waikīkī sunset!
Lanikai Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches in all of Hawai’i, and it’s easy to get to.
Also known as Kaʻōhao Beach, this must-visit spot is in the town of Kailua on the Windward East side of the island of O’ahu which is about a 40-minute drive from the Waikīkī area.
The beach is located in a residential neighborhood, but free street parking is available. After a brief walk between the oceanfront homes, you’ll be on the soft, white sand in awe of the natural beauty and with a view of “the Mokes” which are islands just offshore.
The water is warm and calm (great for kids) and the beach is popular for snorkeling thanks to an abundance of colorful fish and even sea turtles.
Just plan to pack everything you need (chairs, umbrellas, snacks, etc.) because there is no public structure on this beach — and this means no bathrooms. If that is a deal-breaker for you, its sister-beach Kailua Beach is just down the road and has public bathrooms and showers.
If you want to see some big waves and professional surfers, look no further than the Banzai Pipeline.
Located on the North Shore of O’ahu, this beach is a mecca for surfers from all over the world. In fact, major surf brands including Volcom, Billabong, Rip Curl, and others, own houses along the beach for their teams to train year-round.
This is not a beach for families to swim at. This is, however, a great spot to set up a blanket, have some snacks, and sit in awe of the massive waves crashing in front of you and your family.
With public bathrooms and easy parking, this is a great stop if you’re traveling along the North Shore.
Turtle fans, add this spot to your list. Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach, is a popular destination along the North Shore thanks to a large number of Hawaiian Hono (Hawaiian Green Sea) turtles that visit the beach.
This beach is a bit rocky, and the waves can be choppy, so don’t plan on swimming too much. However, if you’re driving by during the first half of the day, stop by to see if the turtles are out basking in the sun.
There are volunteers who help answer questions and rope off the turtles if necessary, but this is a great spot to see these beautiful animals up close in their natural habitat.
For those with older kids, or parents who want to do some bodyboarding or bodysurfing, Sandy Beach is an excellent option.
With consistent barrel waves, this is a popular spot for those who like a little bit of action on their beach day without attempting the massive waves of the North Shore.
The soft, fine sand is great for younger kids to play around in, and the beach itself is conveniently located just past the famous Halona Blowhole, which may have already been on your itinerary.
Possibly the most famous beach on this list is at Hanauma Bay State Park. Voted the top beach and best snorkeling in Hawai’i, this pristine ecosystem is a must-visit for those who enjoy snorkeling and learning about marine life.
Located just 20 minutes from Waikīkī, this volcanic cone is home to hundreds of types of coral, fish, and other creatures.
Kids will have a great time exploring the soft sand and shallow pools, and parents can count on bathrooms, showers, a snack bar, and more for support.
While we all love the natural beauty of Hawai’i, parents can’t argue with the convenience of the Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Lagoon.
This man-made saltwater lagoon is located at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort and is open to the public. If you’re staying at the resort, it’s an extremely convenient option for a calm and shallow swimming experience.
With paddle boats, kayaks, and SUPs available, families can enjoy getting out on the water without having to worry about waves and tides.
Hawai’i is a dream vacation for many families, and for good reason.
The island of O’ahu has countless activities, and many of them are family-friendly.
With pristine beaches, great outdoor experiences, and delicious food, no matter how old your kids are, they are sure to fall in love with the aloha spirit.
Yes! There are countless activities that are perfect for kids of all ages. From beaches to hula lessons, there is something for everyone.
All islands have something to offer, however, O’ahu will have the most options, including Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina!
From Waikīkī Beach to the Honolulu Zoo to the Ala Moana Center and beyond, there are so many fun options to keep kids happy in Honolulu.
Yes, O’ahu is an excellent option for kids. With great hotels, beautiful beaches, and plenty of activities, O’ahu is the perfect location for a family vacation.
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