Family Vacations to Oahu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Honolulu (Corbis)

Oahu Highlights

  • Swim and sun in Waikiki.
  • Discover Hawaiian culture and natural history at the Bishop Museum.
  • Learn how to catch a wave at the Hans Hedemann Surf School.
  • Dive to the depths with the Atlantis submarine.
  • Team up with your kids to tackle the world's biggest maze at the Dole Plantation.

Oahu, which translates from native Hawaiian as "the gathering place," pulls together a sampler of the best of Hawaii—from the legends of Old Polynesia to lush scenery and outstanding beaches to the modern, vibrant vibe of Honolulu.

Legendary Waikiki has been immortalized over the decades by Hollywood stars, socialites, and those seeking the perfect wave. The sands can be crowded, but it's still fun to stroll the beach and people-watch. Allow two hours for a round-trip hike at another landmark, Diamond Head, a long-dormant volcanic crater that curves close to Waikiki's shoreline and gives great views of the island and Honolulu skyline. Pearl Harbor, another of Hawaii's top attractions, is where Japanese bombers attacked the U.S., plunging the country into World War II. The naval ship USS Arizona, one of the many boats sunk that day, is now a memorial to the 1,177 sailors who perished in the attack.

You can find out about cultures of the Pacific at the North Shore's Polynesian Cultural Center, a 42-acre living-history park that mixes Vaudeville schtick with island facts and deadpan timing. Kids love the jokes; the costumed interpreters detailing the lives of villagers in Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, and Old Hawaii; and the chance to play the nose flute and blow conch shells.

The Bishop Museum, home to the world's largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific Rim artifacts, recently opened a new Science Adventure Center. Here, kids learn about Hawaii's geology by watching an erupting volcano, crawling through a lava tube, and using sonar to map the ocean floor.

To get a diver's-eye view of live beneath the Oahu waves, board the Atlantis submarine, which descends to depths of between 75 to 150 feet for a marvelous close-up of all the colorful creatures of the sea. Kids must be at least three feet tall to ride. For mask-to-fin encounters, snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu's top—and often crowded—snorkeling spot. For more sea life, visit the Waikiki Aquarium, whose newest exhibit, "Ocean Drifters," showcases the amazing lives, forms, and physiology of jellyfish.

Learn to catch a wave and leave Hawaii feeling undeniably cool. At the Hans Hedemann Surf School, operated by its namesake pro surfer, the introductory, two-hour lesson comes with a guarantee that you'll be hanging ten—at least for a little while.

Explore the island's mountainous interior at Kualoa Ranch & Activity Club, 4,000 acres of green valleys and fluted mountains on Oahu's windward side. You can ride horseback ride, mountain bike, or drive an ATV to scenic lookouts, as well as swim on sands that edge 800-year-old fish ponds. A movie tour shows you the locales where scenes for Jurassic Park and Windtalkers were filmed.

Pineapples, although available, aren't the reason to visit the Dole Plantation: go to make your way through the world's largest maze, 1.7 miles of pathways fashioned from 11,400 Hawaiian plants.

Tip: Skip lines and save money with the one- to three-day Honolulu Power Pass (, which includes admission to the USS Arizona, the Dole Plantation, and other attractions.

Recommended Side Trips: Maui, the Big Island, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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