Seek out Beautiful Sights and Experience Cultural Delights in Oahu
Paradise Is Closer Than You Think
Surrounded by the warm waters of the South Pacific lie the Hawaiian islands… On Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island, awaits beautiful scenery, cultural history, wildlife and fun for the whole family!
If you’re planning a getaway to paradise and are in search of things to do in Oahu as well as helpful tips, read on.
Where to Go on the Island
Oahu is a relatively small island, only 597 square miles, and can be circumnavigated with a car in about three hours without stopping. The airport and capital are in Honolulu with Waikiki nearby, but there is so much more to do and see beyond the city center.
If you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation with a local flare, the North Shore might be a good option for your family. There aren’t many hotels in the North, but there are plenty of vacation homes and condos suitable for families. Turtle Bay is the only resort on the North Shore.
If a resort vacation is what you’re after, Ko Olina is a fantastic option for families. The three resorts — The Disney Aulani, Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club and the Four Seasons — are located on four man-made lagoons that are calm and perfect for small children.
What to Do on the Island
Go to the Beach
Oahu is the Hawaiian island known for the best family beaches. Some popular favorites are:
- Lanikai Beach: A beautiful white-sand beach with clear turquoise water and lush tropical plants. You can paddle out to the Mokulua islands from here.
- Kailua Beach: A popular beach for wind and kite-surfing.
- Lagoons at Ko Olina: These man-made lagoons are perfect for small children and located in the beautiful resort community of Ko Olina, home of the Disney Aulani.
- Makaha Beach: Located on the leeward (west) side of the island and just north of Ko Olina is a beautiful sandy beach with hardly any tourists. A less touristy part of the island, you’ll see lots of locals relaxing here on the weekends.
- Waimea Bay: This legendary surfing beach is covered in surfers, tourists and photographers in the winter, but is a calm, family-friendly bay from April to October.
Known as the Valley of the Priests, this nearly 2,000-acre valley is a veritable paradise. Kids will love running around the lush world-class botanical gardens and spotting the many peacocks wandering the grounds. You can take the three-quarter-mile walk up to Waimea Falls and swim to the waterfall. Life jackets are provided and required to swim in the falls.
Discover Life Under the Sea
Hawaii is known to have some of the most incredible sea life in the world. The island is surrounded by sea turtles, seals, dolphins, octopuses, whales and tropical fish. You can snorkel almost anywhere on the island, but some favorites are Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove on the North Shore, and Paradise Cove in Ko Olina. Kids will love seeing a sea turtle for the first time!
Take a Surf Lesson
What could be more classic Hawaii than surfing? Let the kids try their hand — or feet, rather — at surf school. There are plenty all over the island.
Polynesian Cultural Center
This is a fantastic place to learn about Polynesian island culture from Polynesians all over the world. Run by Brigham Young University Hawaii, The Polynesian Cultural Center employs students from all over the Polynesian islands. You can travel between different Polynesian “villages” and learn about each culture. End the day with a classic Hawaiian luau and fire show!
Here you can visit the spot where the U.S. involvement in World War II began, and where it ended. Take a boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial that floats above the boat that was destroyed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and tour the Battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered and ended the war.
Don’t leave Oahu without attending a luau! A luau is a Hawaiian traditional party that usually includes a buffet dinner, drinks, a cultural show and the imu ceremony — an imu is a in-ground oven that cooks the meat for dinner, usually a pig. There are luaus all over the island and at most resorts.
Sea Life Park
This marine mammal park, bird sanctuary and aquarium is a great place to take the family to learn all about the wildlife of Oahu.
Eat Like a Local
Oahu offers a long list of iconic and delicious foods including:
- Malasadas: A Portuguese fried bread with a filling of your choice.
- Shave Ice: Can be found all over the island and is available in all sorts of flavors. Try it with the sweetened condensed milk on top.
- Dole Whip: This delicious frothy pineapple sorbet can be found at the Dole Pineapple Plantation.
- Fresh Fish: Eat at a restaurant offering freshly caught fish. You might see locals spear fishing around the island and selling fish on the side of the road. Try cooking up your own fish!
- Shrimp: There are multiple shrimp farms on the North Shore of Oahu. Stop by a shrimp truck or Ted’s Bakery for delicious shrimp any way you like it.
- Poi: A traditional dish made from the purple taro root. It has a consistency of and taste similar to sweet potatoes.
- Mixed Plate: Quite possibly Hawaii’s most popular native dish, the mixed plate or plate lunch has its origins in the sugar and pineapple plantations of the 1880s, when workers from Japan, Korea, Portugal and China would bring their lunches in bento boxes. Years later when lunch wagons became a popular option, they provided the same types of food but on plates with dividers, offering some type of meat, rice and usually macaroni salad. It’s a dish that was born in Hawaii and is a must-try. You can find a place to get your mixed plate all over Oahu, but a popular spot is The Rainbow DriveIn. These are huge, so kids can share!
- Poke: A quintessentially Hawaiian dish, Poke has been eaten since before Captain Cook’s arrival to the Hawaiian islands and is still eaten today. Square chunks of raw fish, usually ahi (tuna) are mixed with delicious sauces, seaweed and anything else you might want to form a delicious Hawaiian pupu (snack)!
- Spam Musubi: Thought to have been invented in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, spam musubi is a favorite snack for kids all over Hawaii. It also contains another classic Hawaiian ingredient: spam!
- Loco Moco: Proof that Hawaii truly is a melting pot, Loco Moco is a hamburger patty and fried egg atop a pile of rice and smothered in gravy!
Swim with the Sharks
If Shark Week is the best week of the year at your house, then you will love a chance to swim with these magnificent creatures. Kids as young as 3 years old can plunge into the shark cage and watch the magic happen. Our favorite shark adventure is with North Shore Shark Adventures.
Oahu is a fantastic place to get up into the mountains and really explore the island. The weather is almost always pleasant and lush vegetation abounds! Be sure to wear sunscreen and bug spray. Some of the best hikes for kids on Oahu are Diamond Head, Makapuu Lighthouse, Manoa Falls and Lanikai Pillboxes.
See Where Your Pineapples Come From
Stop by the Dole Plantation to learn all about pineapples. Kids will love riding the Pineapple Express and tasting the Dole Whip!
Oahu has a reliable bus transportation system that will take you all over the island. Many of the locals use the bus system to commute, so it can get crowded in the mornings and evenings. Car rentals are available from the airport and driving the island is pretty easy.
Traffic leaving Honolulu during rush hour can be brutal, but circumnavigating the entire island is a great way to see everything.
For more great family travel guides and tips, check out Wanderlust Crew.