Exploring O’ahu with kids – trips tips

We spent an amazing academic year in Honolulu. At the time when we were trio: me, my husband and our toddler son, everything we did and experienced was »kids friendly«. Few years later my best friend Maša landed in Honolulu with her hubby and two preschool girls … so I am writing the tips on experiencing O’ahu with kids for Maša and all of you who plan vacation on O’ahu with kids!


Everyone who visits O’ahu goes to Waikiki. It’s the heart of tourism on O’ahu. While sandy beaches, Duke Kahanamoku statue, luxury and boutique hotels, International Market Place, Ala Moana shopping center, bars, restaurants and endless shops. You can experience daily Hawaiian music, dance and cultural performances. A place you must visit if you are visiting O’ahu. Some love Waikiki, some say it’s to commercial. Anyway, it’s a must see.

Diamond Head State Monument

Have you ever taught you will be hiking into the heart of volcano! Yes, it’s possible in Honolulu, just at the very end of Waikiki. From the top you will experience most famous and most wonderful site on Waikiki. I would say it’s the most popular hike in O’ahu. Almost everyone hikes Diamond Head State Monument while visiting Honolulu. Unfortunately, it’s quite crowded, unless you start your hike at the dawn. But that’s less likely with kids.

The Honolulu Zoo

Every capital has a zoo, but Honololu Zoo is simply great place to visit with kids! Because of the tropical climate animals feel almost like home 😀 The zoo is quite big, diverse, wonderfully designed and well maintained. A must see while on vacation with kids on O’ahu. They also offer yearly tickets for families and many locals visit Honolulu Zoo on a weekly basis. One of my local friends once said: “I raised my kids at the zoo and the beach.” I was kind of confused, but only until we visited the Honolulu Zoo and realized it’s a place every kid would love to visit daily. 

The giraffe at the Honolulu Zoo with the Diamond Head in the back.

Waikiki Aquarium

Absolutely the best place to see the colorful tropical fishes, corals and get the feeling of underwater diversity of Hawaiian Seas. Waikiki Aquarium is fun, educational, kid friendly and one of the places you must visit while exploring the O’ahu with kids. It’s a smaller size, but with it’s diverse inhabitants and great staff it’s a very nice 2 hours experience.

Snorkling on O’ahu with kids

You can snorkel almost everywhere on O’ahu but be sure to choose beaches where the surf is low and the entrance to the sea is safe! Sandy beaches almost never have corals so it’s best to snorkel on a rocky bottom. One of the beautiful places for snorkeling is Hanauma Bay State Park. It’s a beautiful bay Hawaiian royalty used to swim. The Hanauma Bay has educational value as well and it’s well organized not to overcrowd the place. You must pay to snorkel at Hanauma Bay, you can borrow the snorkeling gear and use the amenities. A must visit with kids on O’ahu! Wonderful experience.

The view on Hanauma Bay from the top, close to the entrance gate. 

Whale watching on O’ahu

Information table along the hike to Kaena Point. This hike is the most likely place to see the Humpback whales breaching from the shore’s of O’ahu.

Whales can be seen from all shores of O’ahu, but perhaps the best places to whale watch is Kaena Point. A nice and easy hike to the lighthouse will give you some breathtaking views! And most likely you will get to see some acrobatics by Humpback whales.

Information table along the hike to Kaena Point. This hike is the most likely place to see the Humpback whales breaching from the shore’s of O’ahu.

Dolphin watching on O’ahu

Wild dolphins of Hawai’i I had a privilege to photograph from the boat, close to the shores of Makaha.

The best place to watch for dolphins is on the shores of Makaha. In case you wish to have the closer look at dolphins you may go for a dolphin watching tour. There are few agencies who offer dolphin watching and snorkeling. They vary according to the location, size of the boat, duration of the excursion. Sailing trip can unite wildlife watching, snorkeling, swimming and experiencing the beaches and shores of O’ahu.

Wild dolphins of Hawai’i I had a privilege to photograph from the boat, close to the shores of Makaha.

Turtle watching on O’ahu

North shore is a top destination for turtle watching. There is even a bay called Turtle bay! When green sea turtles come on shore to bask they are watched by volunteers who make sure visitors do not approach animals too close or touch them. It’s forbidden by law to feed or touch any wildlife in Hawai’i.

The encounter with the green sea turtle at the North Shore. The white paper has info about this exact turtle – it’s a female and her name is Hiwahiwa.

Shark watching on O’ahu


Yes, there are also sharks in Pacific and you can see them while visiting O’ahu. Luckily not from the shore! There is at least one local tourism business that specializes in shark cage encounters. In my wildest dreams I would not dare go se the sharks face to face, but some people say it’s a great experience.

Bodysurfing watching on O’ahu

Our son at the Sandy Beach, one of the greatest places to bodysurf on O’ahu.

If you are living in Hawaii, one thing you surely do is bodysurf. For bodysurfing you need certain types of waves and a body surf you can get for few dollars. But do not be foolish and try to compete with locals! Bodysurfing can be dangerous. One of the best places to watch locals bodysurf is definitely Sandy Beach or “Broke Necks Beach”. Guess why this name? It’s also Barack Obama’s favourite place to bodysurf!

Watching professional surfers on O’ahu

The North Shore is one of the best places on the world to surf! Professional surfers come from all over the world to ride the big waves at the North Shore. The famous surfing contests happen on the North Shore every year, one and only “The North Shore Surfing Competition”. It happens when the waves are damn high!

The North Shore beach where people gather to watch the surfers riding the waves.

Surfing on O’ahu for beginners

Best place to get a surfing lesson is Waikiki. If you have kids, make sure that one parent is with the children while other is taking a surfing lesson. And then change turns 😀

While living in Waikiki I even got a chance to try surfing! Lovely experience…

Experiencing jungle – Hiking on O’ahu

Although the island od O’ahu is not that big it has quite different microclimate. For instance at the depth of Manoa Valley it rains almost every afternoon. Just 20 miles south at the Hawaii Kai the climate is dry with hardly any rain. The vegetation depends on the microclimate so as a tropical forests is a must see experience on O’ahu I would suggest: Hiking Manoa Falls. It’s the closest hike to Waikiki, short enough for kids and with a rewarding view of the waterfall at the end of the hike.

The family coming down from Manoa Falls hike.

Bishop Museum

The best place to feel Hawaiian natural and cultural history. The Bishop Museum is one of the most best taking museums I have ever been to! With plenty of workshops and interactive content. An educational, beautiful and fun place for all ages.

Family friendly experiences are found also on Kualoa Ranch – which I would highly recommend and Polynesian Cultural Center, which is too much “Disney like” for my taste. Another must see destination is the Pearl Harbor, although it’s not really kids friendly content or place.

O’ahu is the for sure an amazing destination for family holidays as it offers numerous amazing outdoor experiences. Enjoy O’ahu and do not forget to respect the nature and local people while visiting this amazing place!

Living on O’ahu has made me a better person. It made such a strong impact on me, that few years later I made a book ALOHA KAIMANA. It has an environmental message and features Hawaiian marine wildlife. Check it out here. Aloha!