While it would be easy to spend your entire Hawai‘i holiday in Waikīkī, there are plenty of reasons to get out and explore the rest of O‘ahu
There are so many fun things for families to do on O‘ahu, the hardest thing will be finding time to fit them all in! A trip to Pearl Harbor to visit the resting place of 1,177 sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the World War II Japanese attack in 1941 is an absolute must. Around 30 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī, the site encompasses the USS Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Bowfin Submarine Museum, Pacific Aviation Museum and USS Oklahoma Memorial. While general admission is free, there is a US$1 service charge collected by recreation.gov to reserve tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial program. Reservations are released daily at 3pm Hawai‘I Standard Time in two windows: 24-hours and 8-weeks in advance. So, for example on January 1, tickets were released for January 2 and February 26.
Discover more about history at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, where you can see the collection of artefacts and royal family heirlooms of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The museum was established in 1889 to preserve and share the natural and cultural history of the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific.
Hawai‘i Children’s Discovery Center at Kaka‘ako is a fun children’s museum where kids can pick pineapples and run a general store like back in the old plantation days, load cargo on a container ship and fly to the outer islands on an Hawaiian Airlines plane.
Young animal lovers will be sure to enjoy a day out at Honolulu Zoo. Located between Lē‘ahi (Diamond Head State Monument) and Waikīkī, the attraction is home to more than 900 animals, including Komodo dragons, orangutans, lions, elephants, lemurs and meerkats. To see animals in the wild, book a wildlife cruise to spot dolphins and turtles, or migrating humpback whales during the season (December to May).
Jurassic Park fans should head to Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve, where the movie and countless other films and TV shows from Lost to Godzilla and King Kong: Skull Island, were shot. As well as its popular movie sites tour, this working cattle ranch at Kāne‘ohe also offers ATV tours, cruises, snorkelling, horse-riding and ziplining.
You can also spend a fun day at Wet’n’Wild Hawai‘i at Kapolei, which has water slides, wave pools, water cannons and rides for all ages spread across 12 hectares, as well as a mini-golf course. Nearby Coral Crater Adventure Park offers ziplining, an aerial challenge course and ATV tours.
For all things pineapple, head to Dole Plantation in Wahiawā, where you can ride the Pineapple Express Train, do a tour and get lost in the maze before having lunch at the Plantation Grille (don’t miss the Dole Whip dairy-free soft serve!)
The Polynesian Cultural Center, around an hour’s drive from Waikīkī on the North Shore, showcases the people, culture, arts and crafts of Polynesia, with island villages and an evening show, HĀ: Breath of Life. It’s open every day except Wednesday and Sunday. The North Shore is also home to the surf town of Hale‘iwa and the famous Banzai Pipeline at ‘Ehukai Beach where champion surfers compete in Hawai’i’s winter (November to April). If planning a visit, it’s best to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Opened in early 2023, The LineUp at Wai Kai is O‘ahu’s biggest new attraction. Located within Hoakalei Resort at ‘Ewa Beach, around 40 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī, the waterfront recreation and lifestyle development includes Hawai‘i’s first surf park. Neighbouring Wai Kai Lagoon is ideal for water sports such as stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, guided outrigger canoeing and riding pedal boats. It also offers restaurants, cabanas, an evening show, and a boutique.
With firepit storytelling, appearances by Disney characters, a kids’ club, teen spa, lazy river tubing and pools with waterslides and splash zones, the Disney-inspired Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa is about as family-friendly as it gets. Located around 50 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī at Ko Olina on the Leeward (West) Coast, it has hotel rooms, suites, and Disney Vacation Club units as well as a choice of restaurants, lounges, cafes and kiosks.
Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore is also very family-focused, with two pools (including a kids’ pool with a waterfall and waterslide), and a kids’ and teens’ spa. Activities include surfing, kayaking, horse riding, Segway tours, snorkelling, tennis and cycling. Stay in a beach cottage, villa or suite.
Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club is in a secluded location beside a beachfront lagoon, with one- to three-bedroom villas (each with a full kitchen) that can sleep up to eight people. It has several restaurants, with a Polynesian dinner show on Tuesday nights.
Family restaurants abound on O‘ahu, with outlets of some popular eateries found throughout the island. Big City Diner is a great option. Kids love the Mr. Chipper chocolate chip pancake topped with whipped cream for breakfast and Keiki Loco Moco, with a hamburger patty and egg served on white rice with gravy, for dinner. Kids aged up to ten eat free at Big City Diner on Thursdays from 10am to 8pm with the purchase of an adult entrée that costs US$15 or more and a drink (up to two kids’ meals per table).
Brick Oven Pizza is a local favourite, serving oven-baked pizzas, soups, salads, sandwiches and pasta. Rainbow Drive-In has been dishing out Hawai‘i-style plate lunches in its original location at Kapahulu since 1961, but can now be found in three locations.
With several outlets across the island, Zippy’s is a great place to try local food like saimin and plate lunches in an unpretentious environment. While at many restaurants in Hawai‘i you can wait a while to be seated for breakfast, at Koa Pancake House you can order take-away.
Dave & Buster’s is a fun sports bar at Ward Village, with arcade games, air hockey, ping pong and billiards that will keep the kids happy for hours.
A Hawai‘i institution since the 1950s, Leonard’s Bakery is a must for malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts). Matsumoto Shave Ice has been serving tropical shave ice at Hale‘iwa on the North Shore since the 1950s. Flavours include bubble gum, coconut, watermelon and piña colada.
Waiola Shave Ice has two outlets in Honolulu, including the original store which opened in the 1940s. Homemade with sugar cane syrup, flavours include passionfruit, melon and papaya.