Taking a family vacation to the island of Oahu? Sure, you’ll lounge on the beach, build sandcastles and play in the water; but why not dig a little deeper into the culture, traditions and excitement of Hawaii. There is so much to do and discover with kids! Here are family-friendly adventures on Oahu that will bring out the “keiki” (child) in all of us.
Keana Farms Zipline Photo courtesy of CLIMB Works
If you’re a thrill seeker, an afternoon of ziplining over Keana Farms is a MUST! Ziplining on Oahu’s North Shore with CLIMB Works Keana Farms was an absolute highlight for my daughter and me. The three-hour adventure includes eight ziplines, three sky bridges and an ATV ride up the mountain through tropical farmland. The ziplines are side-by-side, so we were able to soar through the air together (or in competition with each other!) as we took in the gorgeous panoramic views. The trained staff educates participants on Hawaiian culture and history while keeping safety at the forefront of the experience. For ages 7 & up. CLIMB is an acronym for Challenge, Learn, Inspire, Master, Believe. We touched on all of those things that day!
Kahuku Shrimp Truck and Matsumoto Shave Ice
While you’re on the North Shore, have lunch at a famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck, then stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice for authentic shave ice. It’s a favorite stop for locals and visitors alike. Lines can get long, but it’s worth the wait. Add vanilla ice cream and Azuki beans to your favorite flavored shave ice for a real treat.
Take a ukulele factory tour at Kamaka Ukulele in Honolulu. Discover why the ukulele is such an important part of Hawaiian culture and see how they are made. A free, guided tour of the Kamaka factory is given Tuesdays–Fridays at 10:30 am for families. Reservations are required for groups of 6 or more. The tour lasts about an hour.
Waikiki Aquarium Photo courtesy ofHawaii Toursim Authority, Tor Johnson
Learn about Hawaii’s marine life and conservation efforts through fabulous interactive exhibits at the Waikiki Aquarium. Observe tropical fish, green sea turtles, jellyfish, seahorses, sharks and more. Behind-the-scenes tours, nighttime activities and classes for kids are also available with reservations.
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Photo courtesy of Bishop Museum
Visit Bishop Museum in Honolulu, which offers family-friendly cultural activities, planetarium shows, and a vast collection of interesting artifacts. Don’t miss the Sports Hall of Fame and the Science Adventure Center, where kids can learn about Hawaii’s volcanoes through a lava-melting demonstration. Bring lunch and a blanket to picnic on the museum’s large grassy area. Closed Tuesdays.
Kualoa Ranch Photo courtesy of Oahu Visitors Bureau
Explore the “Hawaii Backlot” at Kualoa Ranch and see where Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates and dozens of other blockbuster movies were filmed on the Hollywood Movie Sites Bus Tour. Or explore 4,000 acres of Kualoa’s beautiful terrain via ATV, horseback or treetop zipline. Visit the website for details on each tour, including age restrictions and prices. Kualoa Ranch aims to preserve and protect the natural surroundings while sharing its unique Hawaiian culture.
Dole Pineapple Plantation
We were warned that a visit to the Dole Pineapple Plantation might be for younger kids, but my teen daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Yes, we rode the Pineapple Express train, where we learned fun facts about pineapple growing and agricultural history; then we made our way through the World’s Largest Maze (two acres) at Dole’s Pineapple Garden. Don’t worry—you won’t really get lost as there are multiple openings throughout the maze. It’s more like a fun scavenger hunt. Don’t leave the plantation without having a cup of refreshing Dole Whip, of course!
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor Photo courtesy of Hawaii Toursim Authority, Kirk Lee Aeder
No visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. It’s a compelling and educational snapshot of our nation’s history. You may even get lucky and meet a Pearl Harbor survivor (we did!). Kids are given a Keiki Ranger (Junior Ranger) activity book that will take them on a historical journey of what happened that fateful day on December 7, 1941. Note: Go EARLY! The Navy will "shut down" the bay if it's too windy, which means no tour boats will be permitted to go to the memorial site. This happened to us, but we still spent a couple hours going through both museums and seeing the 20-minute movie (part of the experience when you buy tickets). It was time well spent. Also note that all purses and backpacks must be stored in lockers before entry; it is not recommended that you leave valuables in your car.
USS Bowfin Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority, Tor Johnson
Families will enjoy exploring the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, otherwise known as The Pearl Harbor Avenger. Take a self-guided tour of the historic World War II (WWII) submarine, located in Pearl Harbor. Learn about other Pearl Harbor subs with a visit to the museum and waterfront memorial honoring American submariners lost in WWII.
Children's Discovery Center Photo courtesy of Children's Discovery Center
A visit to The Children’s Discovery Center is perfect for families with younger children. Kids are encouraged to explore the interactive exhibits of “Fantastic You”, “Your Town”, “Hawaiian Rainbows” and more. Exhibits are specially designed for children and adults to play together.
Where to Eat
Our family travel adventures often involve visiting restaurants featured on Food Network’s TV show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Here are restaurants on Oahu recommended by “Triple D” host, Guy Fieri:
Uahi Island Grill
Nico’s at Pier 38
Hank’s Haute Dogs
Where to Stay
Outrigger Hotels & Resorts
Aulani, a Disney Resort
Hilton Hawaiian Village
Find more information at the Oahu Visitors Bureau.
Lisa Gipson is the managing editor of San Diego Family and a mom of three daughters. She loves going on new adventures with family or girlfriends.