When young children are vacationing with family, the destination makes all the difference. It just so happens that the island of O’ahu is one of the best places for traveling with the little ones. This stunning hunk of land has family-friendly fun for everyone. Over 4.5 million visitors come to O’ahu each year, and none of them should be hesitant to bring their kids to these 18 attractions:
1. Though it started as a simple fruit stand in the 1950s, Dole Pineapple Plantation has become one of the biggest attractions in Hawai’i. Families can take the Plantation Garden Tour and ride the Pineapple Express locomotive, then explore the largest maze on Earth – made from over 14,000 indigenous plants (808.621.8408; 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy., Wahiawa, HI 96786; www.dole-plantation.com/).
2. Your family can mingle with dolphins, have fun with sea lions, and snorkel with stingrays. All you have to do is head to Sea Life Park at Makapu’u Beach. Home the world’s only wholphin, Sea Life Park also draws people in with its live Dolphin Cove Show, Hawai’ian Ocean Theater, Pirates’ Lagoon, Sea Trek Adventure, and much more (808.259.2500; 41-202 Kalanianaole Hwy. #7, Waimanalo, HI 96795; www.sealifeparkhawaii.com/).
3. The Atlantis Adventures Submarine Tour takes nature lovers underwater, where they can see the marine life face-to-face. Passengers all get their own portholes to look through. Creatures you might see range from giant sea turtles to sharks, and the submarine even passes by sunken ships. Don’t miss this adventure (808.973.9800; 1600 Kapiolani Boulevard; Suite 1630, Honolulu, HI 96814; www.atlantisadventures.com/oahu.cfm)!
4. There’s more to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum than a planetarium and interactive exhibits. There are drums made of sharkskin, easy lei-making classes, a gargantuan whale skeleton, and folk dance performances. The number of artifacts, specimens, and shells at the Bishop Museum exceeds 20 million, so the kids definitely won’t get bored (808.847.3511; 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, HI 96817; www.hawaiimuseums.org/mc/isoahu_bishop.htm).
5. The Honolulu Zoo opened in the early 1900s, and even survived the Great Depression. Now nearly a century old, the zoo accommodates crocodiles, tigers, African wild dogs, rhinos, monkeys, giraffes, and elephants. This attraction is renowned not just for the animals, but for its beauty; the scenery alone makes it worth stopping by (808.971.7171; 151 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815; www.honoluluzoo.org/).
6. King Kalakaua and Queen Lili`uokalani were the only rulers to live in ‘Iolani Palace, before the Hawai’ian monarchy was overthrown in 1893. ‘Iolani remains the only royal palace in the United States today. Immerse your family in grand architecture and history by taking the Gallery Tour (808.522.0822; 364 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96804; www.iolanipalace.org/).
7. The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor marks the beginning of WWII for the United States. This is one major O’ahu attraction, and a must-see for people of all ages who visit the island. The latest memorial addition: the USS Missouri, where the peace treaty between Japan and the U.S. was signed to end the war (808.422.0561; 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, HI 96818; http://www.nps.gov/usar/).
8. At Dolphin Quest, guests can dive into Dolphin Lagoon and interact with the animals. Feed them and play; these dolphins always want to make new friends! The “Wee Family, Fins, and Fun” package is perfect for groups with children under 4 years old. Other packages are available for different age groups (808.739.8918; 5000 Kahala Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816; http://www.dolphinquest.org/).
9. The Hawai’i Children’s Discovery Center has 37,000 square feet of fun for kids. Exhibits include Tot Spot, Fantastic You, Your Town, and Hawai’ian Rainbows. The young ones can play virtual volleyball with a robot or dress up like sea creatures. Then they can move on to painting and clay-sculpting classes. Parents should feel free to join in the fun (808.524.5437; 111 Ohe Street, Honolulu, HI 96813; www.discoverycenterhawaii.org/).
10. The Waikiki Trolley of Honolulu take passengers on a guided tour, to the most popular local attractions. Get a day pass so your family can hop off the trolley whenever something sounds like fun. Then you can board again later and continue the tour. There are also three Honolulu shuttle lines you might want to try for historic, sightseeing, and shopping tours (808.591.2561; http://www.waikikitrolley.com/).
11. Before hitting the beach, the Haunama Bay Nature Preserve requires first-time visitors to watch a mandatory training video. Only then they can relax onshore and snorkel around this sunken volcanic crater. Be sure to arrive early; in efforts to keep the bay intact, people are turned away once the parking lot is full (808.396.4229; 7455 Kalaniana’ole Hwy., Honolulu, HI 96825; www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/facility/hanaumabay/index1.htm).
12. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet makes shopping a blast – even for children. Kids have fun trying local fare, and seeing the crafts and imports carried by over 700 vendors. Adults enjoy the unbelievably low swap meet prices. This massive outdoor bazaar is open on weekends and Wednesdays (99-500 Salt Lake Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96818; http://alohastadium.hawaii.gov/).
13. The Waikiki Ocean Fun and BBQ Cruise lasts 3-4 hours, during which passengers can go fishing, play on the water slide, jump on the giant water trampoline, take snorkeling tours, and go kayaking. To top it all off, everyone gets to enjoy an all-American BBQ buffet. Children under 2 years old board free of charge (888.808.4608; Kewalo basin, Slip 4; http://www.fun-hawaii.com/island-oahu/tours/tropical-ocean-fun/index.htm).
14. The Waikiki Aquarium in Queen Kapiolani Park is home to over 2,500 creatures, from the endangered Hawai’ian monk seal to colorful corals. The aquarium was founded in 1904, and became part of the University if Hawai’i in 1919. Only two other aquariums in the United States are older, but this one comes in first place for vibrant color (808.923.9741; 2777 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki, HI 96815; http://www.waquarium.org/).
15. At Kuhio Beach, visit the statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (1890-1968), a full-blooded Hawai’ian and Olympic champion. Stop by the area from 6:30pm-7:30pm for free hula shows and cultural music. The kids can try to hula like professionals, and everyone can have burgers and relax on the oh-so-Hawai’ian beach (Kalakaua Ave., near the Hyatt Regency Waikiki).
16. Waimea Falls Park lies in flourishing tropical rainforest. Whole families can enjoy the captivating scenery, while older children and adults can kayak and mountain bike, or they can even go horseback riding! Visitors can either hike or ride the shuttle to Waimea Falls. This park can feel like paradise, and you may never want to leave (808.638.8511; 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712; hawaiiweb.com/html/waimea_valley_adventure_park.html).
17. The 42 acre Polynesian Cultural Center celebrates the cultures of Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the Marquesas, New Zealand, and Hawai’i. Fire knife dancers, tree climbers, and hula performers add to already amazing exhibits. Don’t miss live shows “Horizons” and “Rainbows of Paradise” (800.367.7060; 55-370 Kamehameha Hwy., Laie, HI 96762; http://www.polynesia.com/).
18. The Ali’i Lu’au at the Polynesian Cultural Center is an experience that families will treasure for life. Guests listen to island music, learn to hula dance, watch live demonstrations, and sample diverse Polynesian feast foods. This attraction sells out extremely fast. Reserve your spot early, and don’t be late (800.367.7060; 55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762; http://www.polynesia.com/ticketing/alli-luau.html)!
O’ahu is known as “the gathering place” for a reason. This island is one of the best places in the United States for families to come together and have fun. O’ahu has 112 miles of sugar white shores, lush tropical scenery, and plenty of activities that make boredom impossible. So next time your family wants to vacation, choose Oahu, Hawai’i as your destination.