O'ahu/Honolulu: Top Attractions

oahu
Undersea with Atlantis  (courtesy Hawaii Attractions Association)

O'ahu, which translates from native Hawaiian as "the gathering place," pulls together samples of Hawaiian life and culture, from the legends of Old Polynesia and the lushness of botanical gardens to the modern skyline of Honolulu. When you visit for the first time, you'll understand why some 60 percent of Hawaii's tourist traffic comes from repeat visitors.

Waikiki and Diamond Head State Monument
Waikiki is a legend, made famous 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 the round-trip to another landmark, Diamond Head, a volcanic crater that curves close to Waikiki's shoreline. The hike takes you through a tunnel and up 271 steps to the summit for a panoramic view of the coast and Honolulu in all its glory.
Waikiki and Diamond Head State Monument: 808.587.0400, www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp/oahu.html

Dive With Atlantis
The Atlantis submarine offers a diver's-eye view of the ocean deep without the work (and skill) of scuba diving. A shuttle boat takes you to the submarine that dives between 75 and 150 feet as it explores O'ahu's undersea wonders. Look out the large glass portholes as schools of parrotfish, yellow tangs, angel fish, and other colorful critters swim by. Kids must be at least three feet tall.
Atlantis Submarines: 800.548.6262, www.atlantisadventures.com

Hans Hedemann Surf School
Drop in with the groms and leave Hawaii feeling undeniably cool. Operated by professional surfer Hans Hedemann, this pre-eminent surf academy guarantees that after one introductory two-hour lesson, you'll be hanging ten—at least for a little bit. The schools operate beachfront at six hotels on Waikiki as well as the North Shore. The school recommends private lessons for those under 13, and offers semi-private and group lessons to teens and adults. Of course, you might catch that wave, but you may need another visit to master the surfer's vocabulary. Kooks! Goofy foot! Filthy!
Hans Hedemann Surf School: 808.924.7778, www.hhsurf.com

Polynesian Cultural Center (North Shore)
At this 42-acre cultural park, living history meets Vaudeville schtick and deadpan timing. Kids love the jokes the costumed interpreters on tap to detail the lives of villagers in Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, Old Hawaii, and other traditional Polynesian regions. The curious can learn how to play the nose flute, twirl poi balls, weave baskets, and blow conch shells. For more fun, stay for the evening pageant and luau (if you're going to do it anywhere, do it here).
Polynesian Cultural Center: 800.367.7060, www.polynesia.com

Waimea Valley Audubon Center (North Shore)
Although the ATV rides are gone from this former Waimea Valley Adventure Park, the true attractions remain: 1,875 acres of lush Hawaiian vegetation. Stroll through gardens of red bougainvillea and past clusters of ginger plants to a waterfall. Even the most blasé kids love to romp in this magical place.
Waimea Valley Audubon Center: 808.638.9199, www.audubon.org

Bishop Museum
A usually-overlooked piece of Hawaiian lure, the Bishop Museum is home to the world's largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific artifacts. Yellow- and orange-feather capes worn by royals, Polynesian masks, and native-Polynesian carvings are some of the eye-catching items. Opening in the fall is the Science Learning Center, an exhibit using hands-on exhibits to showcase Hawaii's volcanoes and oceans. Kids will be able to walk into a simulated volcano and operate underwater robotic vehicles.
Bishop Museum: 808.847.3511, www.bishopmuseum.org

The USS Arizona Memorial
At the spot where Japanese bombers sunk the naval ship USS Arizona in the raid on Pearl Harbor sits the memorial to the 1,177 sailors who perished in that attack. The entire family, perhaps especially the grandparents, will stand in total respect to the men who lost their lives that day. Be sure to arrive early to obtain free tickets, and while waiting, watch the interpretive film and browse the gift shop, which has a good collection of books for all ages about the attack.
The USS Arizona Memorial: 808.422.0561, www.nps.gov/usar

Kualoa Ranch & Activity Club
On Oahu's windward side, Kualoa Ranch sprawls on 4,000 acres of green valleys with fluted mountains and beckons with tempting outdoor activities for the entire clan. You can horseback ride, mountain bike, or drive an ATV to scenic lookouts. Or stroll the sands that edge the 800-year-old fish ponds. A movie tour shows you the locales where scenes from Jurassic Park and Windtalkers were filmed, sure to excite the kids.
Kualoa Ranch & Activity Club: 808.237.8515, www.kualoa.com

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Horseshoe-shaped Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve ranks undoubtedly as Oahu's top snorkeling spot and it's easy to see why. The water is pristine, the fish bountiful, and the entire experience priceless. The beach is wide and the reef attracts butterfly fish, damsels, parrot fish, and scores of other varieties. As a result, the preserve also attracts crowds. Still, the combination of soft sands and clear waters is hard to resist. Arrive early.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve: 800.268.7459, www.gohawaii.com

Dole Plantation
Sure there's the pineapple, the fresh pineapple, the mouth-watering, savory pineapple. But the best reason to visit the Dole Plantation, especially if traveling with grade-schoolers, is that it boasts the world's largest maze. Team up with your kids to wind your way through more than two acres of dead ends, loops, and walls. The maze, constructed of 11,400 Hawaiian plants, sports 1.7 miles of pathways. Young kids should like the 20-minute ride on a mini-train.
Dole Plantation: 808.621.8408, www.dole-plantation.com

Published: 11 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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