We are temporarily living on the island of Oahu, and have been here for about 3 months now. After talking to other moms and doing most things more than once, I feel like I’ve compiled a good list of things that families like ours would enjoy. There are so many options here on the island, but not THAT many when you have a toddler and a preschooler in toe. Here’s our list, with best first:
#1 – Paradise Cove Beach
This place is amazing, if only for your chances of seeing a wild sea turtle or a monk seal. The water is calm and shallow, and it’s not crowded because there’s hardly any parking. If you don’t want to sit and wait for a parking spot, that may or may not open up, you need to get here around 8am. It’s not the easiest parking to find, but it does exist. Obviously, remember to be respectful and follow the laws regarding sea turtles and monk seals. Be sure to bring your good camera, along with anything else you would normally bring for a trip to the beach. We usually make a half-day trip out of this spot. The girls stay busy the whole time. There’s a rocky, river-like, area that’s very slick. We bring our reef shoes for that part and collect hermit crabs in a bucket for our girls to look at and touch.
If you walk all the way down the rocky, river-like, part, you’ll come to a very small secluded beach. Occasionally, people set up there, but we always have too much stuff with us to carry with 2 small children across slick rocks. There’s not a public restroom, showers, or food available at this beach. However, you can walk or drive down to one of the KoOlina Lagoons and use theirs. It’s a trek, if you walk.
If you’re a beginner, this is a perfect place for snorkeling.
#2 – Children’s Discovery Center
Don’t let the area scare you away. This place is worth a visit, as it is the best indoor kid’s center we’ve ever seen. The sheer size is impressive, but it’s how they filled the space that’s amazing. We go when they open and don’t leave until they close. It’s the only place where I never hear “I’m hungry.” or “I’m tired”, because they are just too busy playing. In fact, they stay so busy that they don’t even fight with each other.
This place has everything from areas for crawlers and early walkers to a tiny town made up of culturally unique little playhouses. It’s all about pretend play, with a dress up center in almost every area. Your child can be the pilot on a very realistic airplane, the captain of a ship, an actress, a firefighter, a judge, an eye doctor,….. you get the idea. It’s amazing, as a parent, to watch my kids explore and make choices.
#3 – Kailua Beach
Kailua is our favorite beach. The sand is mostly what sold us. If we dig a big hole close to the water and a big hill next to that, our kids are happy the whole time. We make a day trip out of Kailua and find a good place in town to grab some lunch.
#4 – Ko Olina Lagoons
The lagoons are really wonderful for families with small children. You don’t have to worry about the current and waves, because it’s always gentle. In fact, I’ve mostly had to worry about my girls getting too comfortable and going out too far. There are bathrooms, showers, and places that serve food close to most of them.
#5 – Shark’s Cove Tide Pool
The area’s also known at 3 Tables. The actual cove can be rough and steep to walk down to. We go to the big tide pool next to (or up from) the cove. There’s parking very close, right off the main road. Water or reef shoes should be worn here, as it’s very rocky and the sand can even be sharp. You still have to be careful with little ones and watch them closely, so they don’t fall on the rocks or anything, but it’s one of the safest tide pools we’ve been to. They love finding snails and watching crabs scurry away from them.
This is a favorite for us because one parent can go out snorkeling (or just walking around looking), while the other explores with the kids. They get to see urchins, snails, crabs, and reef fish, without having to put their faces in the water or be held. There are sandy areas in the center of the tide pool, where you can just hang out and wait for fish to swim by. If you have brave kids, this is a great place to try out goggles.
Just a warning about the bathrooms though: they are worse than most.
#5 -Bishop Museum
If learning about Hawaiian history and culture interests you, this is the place to go. It’s very different from any other museum we’ve visited. It’s not really meant to entertain small children, but they added small touches that make my 4 year old beg to go back. There’s a big grassy lawn, where I let my girls run off some energy before sitting for a presentation. The presentations, or short shows, are what makes this museum worth every penny. Instead of charging extra, these shows are included with admission. We’ve attended the lava flow presentation, the hula demonstration, and some planetarium shows and they’ve all been great. At first I wasn’t sure about taking my girls through Hawaiian Hall, but I was surprised to find a few hands-on areas for kids.
#6 – Honolulu Zoo
This zoo is beautiful, with it’s variety of tropical trees and plants. There’s a nice playground area and a keiki (children’s) section. In the keiki part of the zoo, kids can pet goats and get a little closer to some domesticated animals. Many times, we go to the zoo and only visit the park and the keiki zoo. Other times, we visit every animal in the place. A membership pays for itself quickly, so if you’re staying in the area for long, I recommend getting one. It’s a nice break from the crowds of Waikiki, and they keep the place clean. I do suggest bug spray, as this is the only place on the island that I’ve gotten my lion’s share of mosquito bites.
#7 – Waimea Valley
This is the only hike, to a waterfall, on the island, that I would suggest for families with small children (unless you’re an experienced, hard-core hiker). To call this a “hike” is an over-statement. It’s a walk, along a path, to a waterfall. It’s more of a botanic garden. We easily pushed a stroller the entire way. The price of admission is a little steep in my opinion.
#8 – Waikiki Aquarium
This aquarium is small, but it still has a lot to offer. I saw some marine life here that I’ve never seen in person before. If you’re kids can watch fish for more than a few seconds, this is worth the trip. My girls tend to be rather memorized by what they see here, so we can spend at least a few minutes looking at each exhibit. We especially like seeing the monk seals every time.
#9 – Ala Moana Center
This only made it on our list because of the Disney Store and Lego Store. Park on the second level, and these stores are directly across from each other. This Disney store offers a story time a few times most days, plus they always provide coloring sheets and a big screen with movie clips running. Between the 2 stores, we can spend at least half an hour, then we head downstairs to the cookie company for a treat. This mall is huge, so you can also get all of your shopping done and have lunch.
#10 – Kuhio Beach Torch Lighting and Hula Ceremony
This is a free hula show, close to Waikiki Beach. The start time differs by season. I suggest being there a bit early to find a seat. Take a blanket or towels to sit on, and leave the stroller behind if possible. We actually skipped on the big luau experience, partly because this was good enough for us, but mostly because they’re expensive.
The great thing about this free show is that if your child starts to fuss or gets too rowdy, you can just go.