Five years ago when we were planning our honeymoon, it didn’t take my husband and I long to decide that Hawaii would be our destination. Everyone we have ever known that has traveled to Hawaii loves it. So the only thing left to do was decided which island we wanted to visit. Each island in Hawaii offers a unique experience and has something wonderful to offer. After a little bit of research we knew that Waikiki (on the island of O’ahu) was just our kind of place. I happened to be about six months pregnant when we took our first trip to paradise and we both knew that we would be back with our little one some day.
Our little is getting close to 4 years old and we finally decided it was time to pack up and take her to paradise. With so many things to do and see in the areas we knew that it would be a great family adventure. With work and other demands we were only able to get away for a week. Although we did get to do and see a lot while we were there, there is still plenty we haven’t done and will try to get on our next trip.
If you are planning a family getaway to Hawaii I can’t recommend Waikiki/Honolulu enough. Here are a few of our recommendations for family travel in the area:
Where to stay
The options here are endless. Waikiki is FULL of hotels. It is a tourist destination so that’s no surprise. You really have to narrow down what you are looking for – luxury, beach side, value, budget. On both of our trips to the area we have chosen hotels in the Aqua Hospitality chain. If you’re not familiar with Aqua, it is a boutique chain with hotels across the islands. They have three basic lines – Monogram (higher end), Aqua (mid range) and Lite (economy). We go with the mid range Aqua line. On our first visit we stayed at the Wave and this time we stayed at the Pearl. Both hotels are a very short walk to Waikiki beach and central to shopping and everything else you need. If you are travelling with your family and are budget conscience but don’t want to “cheap out” then these are great options. We booked a 2 bedroom 900 square foot suite for less than the price of a standard room at many of the other hotels in the area. The hotel is a little dated and maybe not the most stylish hotel you’ll ever stay at but our room, and the facility, was clean and well kept and the staff were very friendly and accommodating. We will definitely book again on our next trip.
I can’t really give you any more recommendations because we haven’t stayed at any of the other hotels but, like I said, the options are vast so just do some research to find what suits you and your budget. I highly recommend checking out reviews on Trip Advisor. They rarely steer us wrong.
Rent a car
Unless you just plan on sunning on the beach and/or shopping in the area I really suggest you rent yourself a car. There are so many things to do and you can take buses and book tours if that’s your thing but we all know that when travelling with kids, especially young kids, flexibility is your friend. We also booked a suite so we could have the option of not having to eat out every day/night and if you can get your groceries out of the touristy area you will definitely save money. Safeway was our friend!
Where to eat
Once again the options here are enormous and so delicious. There are so many awesome culinary destinations in the area. Here are a few that we made it to that stood out:
Eggs ‘n Things – Think breakfast all day long. And breakfast done right. There are several locations in the area, some are dine in, some are pick up and go. Some serve alcohol. All of them serve fabulous food. Fresh and fabulous. It’s a great place for family dining and pretty reasonably priced for the quality and the area.
Safeway – Seriously. Whether you have a room with a full on kitchen like we had or just want some reasonably priced yummy take out, find a Safeway. And bonus, if you are a Canadian with a Safeway Club card – they work in the US too. This was something I didn’t know.
The Cheesecake Factory – This is sort of an “it” spot in the heart of Waikiki. And after our experience there I know why. Fabulous! We went there on Valentine’s Day. The line up was huge – 2 hour wait huge. We got very lucky, thanks to a lovely lady we met in the line who no longer needed her table and gave us her buzzer, and had our wait cut in half. It’s not a cheap restaurant but then it doesn’t feel or taste cheap either. The interior is stylish and modern. The service was wonderful and the food was fantastic. They have a decent kid’s menu too.
Hi Steaks – Another take out discovery that I just have to share. Hi steaks is located in the Food Pantry in the heart of Waikiki and is about as good as fast good gets, which is really, really good. You can order a steak bowl – thinly sliced, perfectly cooked steak on a hearty bed of rice (white or brown) with the sauce of your choice. You can also have your steak served on a salad or for the dedicated meat lovers just order your steak by the pound. I will tell you straight up that I am a steak snob and I give Hi Steaks a huge thumbs up.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Ruth’s Chris is serious steak house chain with locations across the US. If you are looking for a more sophisticated atmosphere to sit and eat a great steak then this is a great choice. However, Ruth’s Chris is not really the place to go with a bunch of young kids in tow. The menu doesn’t really cater to the young ones and it’s, well, probably going to bore them to death. So if you’ve gone on holidays with a baby sitter (ie grandma) in tow and want a quiet evening with great food then go for it!
Pho Old Saigon – If you are looking for some amazing, authentic Vietnamese food then this is your place. Pho is a small, unassuming little restaurant in the heart of Waikiki that just serves great food. They don’t have a specific kid’s menu but with so many options you are likely to find something the little ones will love. The summer rolls are some of the best I’ve ever had.
Marukame Udon – Ok I have tell you that we never actually made it to Udon. Well, not quite true, we walked past it every single day, but we never did get the chance to stop and get some noodles. It is CRAZY busy at dinner time, which means standing in line, and that can be a crap shoot with a hungry three year old. I can tell you that it looked and smelled delicious. Judging by the crowds, and reviews we’ve read, they make some mighty fine Udon. Apparently their tempura is incredible too. This is high on our list for our next visit.
Surf N Turf Tacos – Another little Waikiki gem. This was actually right around the corner from our hotel so we had to try it out. This isn’t Taco Bell folks. This is the real deal – well the real deal Hawaiian style. It’s a tiny little place so depending on the time of day you might not find a place to sit but if you want a great dinner or late night snack to take back to the hotel Surf N Turf Tacos is a great choice.
Leonard’s Bakery – You cannot go to Waikiki and not stop at Leonard’s. Seriously. You will never taste another malasada like they make at Leonard’s. If you aren’t familiar with a malasada think of a light, fluffy warm mini donut – but not mini. This Portuguese goodie is impossible to resist even to a non donut eater like me. You’ll find all kinds of other baked treats here but the malasada is definitely the big draw.
Other little food gems
North Shore Goodies – Coconut Peanut Butter, Macadamia Nut Honey Coconut Peanut Butter, Chocolate Peanut Butter – just a few of the absolutely amazing goodies made by this local company. We came across them at a little farmer’s market but you can also find them at several locations on the island (you can check their website for more info). This stuff is HEAVEN.
Honolulu Cookie Company – lots of locations around the area. Think shortbread infused with tropical flavours. They are simply decadent and make a great gift to bring home.
Pretzel Maker – just traditional chewy, warm pretzels. Located in the Ala Moana mall.
Saint-Germain Bakery – There are about five locations in the area and it’s worth a stop if you spot one. They make all kinds of goodies – pastries, cookies, breads, sandwiches and a lot more.
Matsumoto Shave Ice – You’re going to have to take a bit of a drive to get to Matsumoto – to Haleiwa on the north shore. But if you want a real shave ice the north shore is the place to go.
Pineapple – Ok this isn’t a place but you will never have pineapple like fresh Hawaiian pineapple so enjoy it! You can also pick up carry on boxes of fresh pineapple at the airport to bring home.
Waikiki is a shopper’s paradise. And I am not exaggerating. We stayed within blocks of some world class shopping. And there really is something for everyone. From Coach to Forever 21. From Tiffany to Victoria’s Secret. Whatever you desire, whatever your budget, there is a store for you.
Ala Moana Center – This three story, open air shopping centre is just outside of Waikiki. So if you are staying right in Waikiki you are either going to need to drive there or hop on a bus. With Macy’s, Nordstum and Nieman Marcus as it’s anchor stores you can easily spend an entire day there and not hit every shop. Ala Moana also has a fabulous food court with some awesome authentic dishes from around the world.
Royal Hawaiian Center – Luxury shopping in the heart of Waikiki. This is where you will find shops like Kate Spade, Hermes and Cartier. For the younger set you can also shop at Forever 21, Juicy Couture and everyone loves the Apple Store.
Luxury Row – Ok so I know I touted the Royal Hawaiian as a luxury destination but you don’t get much more luxurious than Luxury Row – Tiffany, Gucci, Hugo Boss – yep luxury. Eight shops in total, again right in the heart of Waikiki.
Waikiki Beach Walk – As the name implies the beach walk pretty much runs adjacent to Waikiki Beach. You will find hotels, lots of local shops and dining along this rather recently rejuvenated strip. Always bustling and busy it’s a fun place to pass through on your way to the beach to watch a spectacular sunset.
International Market Place – Once a lovely gem in the centre of it all, filled with tons of local vendors, international cuisine and a weekly farmer’s market the Internal Market Place barely exists anymore. There is still a small strip of shops to buy souvenirs at but it’s not the same place it was on our first visit. As new developments move forward they scaled this area back big time. If you do want some fresh local produce do some asking around when you are there, there are generally small farmer’s markets set up on various days around the area. And if you find one go! You won’t be sorry.
There are tons of other shopping spots in Waikiki and Honolulu. If you need some basics that won’t cost an arm and a leg there is a Walmart near by. Remember the further from the touristy areas you get the more likely you are to find reasonable prices.
Things to do & places to see
We’ve been to Honolulu twice now. We’ve driven up and down O’ahu and we still haven’t done it all. There are so many sites and attractions, many of them very family friendly, that it will take a few more trips to hit most of them. Here are just a few that we’ve had the opportunity to take in and recommend on your family trip to the island:
Waikiki Beach – The most obvious and easiest of thing to do on your stay. Your hotel may be a short walk, or just out the back door, to the beach. It’s big and full of lovely white sand. The beach is nice and shallow so it’s perfect for the little ones. We spent time at the beach every single day that we were there.
Plan to spend several hours at the zoo. It’s a lovely place with a pretty wide variety of animals. Bring a hat and slather on the suncreen because it can get a little warm. The zoo is pretty close to the hub bub of Waikiki so depending on where you are staying you might be able to walk to it. The zoo is open from 9:00 am to 4:30 daily and the prices are actually pretty reasonable. The zoo covers 42 acres and is home to 905 different animals. There is, of course, a gift shop a couple of places to eat and a playground for the little ones.
A visit to the aquarium is a must for any family trip to Waikiki. It’s close to the zoo so you could make a day out of the two of them, and since most of the aquarium is indoors it’s actually a nice break from the sun after a trip to the zoo. It has some pretty amazing species of water life – and many of the fish and other creatures are native to the area. From pretty blue and yellow fish to exotic jelly fish to sting rays – there is just so much to see at the aquarium. Molly was quite taken with the stingrays and was thrilled to be able to experience having a hermit crab walk across her hand! The aquarium is open 9:00 am to 4:00 most days.
We didn’t discover this hidden gem until our last day there. We could have spent an entire afternoon at the center but we ended up getting there close to closing time. I would say the discovery center is perfect if you have kids from ages 1-10. There are a few things the older kids would enjoy but I would say that is the target age for the activities and exhibits. Because of the limited amount of time we had to spend there, we didn’t see all of the exhibits but Molly loved what we did get to do. I think her favorite area was the “Your Town” area. An entire wing turned into a pint sized city. There is a grocery store where you can go shopping, even scan your groceries; a police station; post office; a garage where you can work on cars; pretend to be an eye doctor; run a restaurant; and much more! Besides the Your Town area there is also a Tot Spot for the little ones, the Fantastic You area where kids can learn about the inner workings of their bodies, The Rainbow World where kids can explore other countries and cultures and much more. The center has limited hours – Tuesday through Friday it is open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on weekends.
Just something that I want to add if you decide to visit the Discovery Center – As you get close the area you will notice that a large number of homeless people, including families, put their tents up here. I’m not telling you this to discourage you from going. But just be prepared for your kids to ask you about it.
Fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – This is a cool and FREE activity to take in with your family. Every Friday night,at 7:45 pm the Hilton shoots off fireworks from Waikiki Beach. The display is short – 10-15 minutes but it’s a lot of fun! You don’t have to stand in line, and although there can be a good crowd it’s still not “crowded” as there is more than enough room for everyone. Just pick a spot on the beach, settle in and enjoy the show!
The Dole Plantation is a short drive (depending on the traffic) just north west of Honolulu. If you don’t have a car rental you can easily hop on a bus to the plantation (it’s about 1 hour and 45 minutes by bus). Every wanted to see a pineapple farm? Then this is the place to go! We drove by the plantation on our first trip to Hawaii (with out the little one) but this time we decided it would be a great family outing. Once we got out there we bough tickets on the Pineapple Express – a cute little train that takes you on a tour of the plantation – through pineapple fields, banana trees and a few more tropical plants and fruits. You can take a leisurely walk through the gardens, feed the fish in the pond, or make your way through the world’s largest maze! There is a giant gift shop and, of course, lots of yummy pineapple treats to try. The plantation is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm every day.
Hanuama Bay – If you want to experience some world class snorkeling this is the place. We didn’t go on our last visit to Hawaii because our little one is just a bit too young to really enjoy that experience, but we have visited it before and can’t wait to take our daughter on our next trip. Hanuama Bay is a short drive from Waikiki or you can easily find a bus that will get you there.
Hanauma Bay is an incredible natural pool that has formed in a volcanic crater. The crater is evidence of a volcanic burst of activity on the island tens of thousands of years ago. These volcanic eruptions formed the crater on the sea floor, and waves from the ocean eventually filled the circular bay.
This is another place that is on our “must see” list. It’s absolutely beautiful and the snorkeling fantastic. There is an amazing coral reef that is home to literally hundreds of species of fish and other sea creatures (many of which you would see at the aquarium). When you enter the park you will be required to sit and watch a short video with lessons on how to treat the wildlife (including the coral) in the park. If you return to the park during your trip you don’t have to watch it again. They keep a record for a certain amount of time (I can’t recall exactly how long) so you can let them you have visited recently and they can look you up.
If you don’t have your own snorkeling equipment that’s no problem. You can rent everything you need right in the park. The park can get quite busy but there is plenty of room for everyone. The only place that you might run into problems is the parking lot. If you are driving your best bet is to arrive first thing in the morning or mid afternoon (after the early morning visitors have left). The park is open daily from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm daily.
Take a Drive – Just get in the car and drive. The island is small. The island is beautiful. It’s just about impossible to get lost and the scenery is breathtaking.
The North Shore
This is the place of surf legends. I’m not sure it’s a “must” on the list but it is kind of a cool place to visit. The little ones might find it kind of boring, but if you have any older, surfer wannabes with you they might get a kick out of visiting the North Shore. It’s not a huge drive, you can easily do the whole trip in an afternoon, and it’s a completely different view than what you get in Waikiki. The waves can be pretty spectacular. The beaches aren’t as soft and luxurious and Waikiki but Molly did have a lot of fun building a giant sand castle (because there was tons of room to do that) and gathering sea shells on the beach.
We spent a little time in Haliewa – the main community in the area. There are a few cool little shops there and, like I mentioned earlier, if you want authentic shave ice you have to go here to get it!
Bottom line, if you have some time on your hands and want to get out of the city, take a drive to the North Shore. It’s not exciting but it is still a memorable experience. Of course if you happen to go while there is a surfing completion going on (which we haven’t) then I imagine that shake things up a bit.
I’ve really just skimmed the surface of things to do in Honolulu (and the rest of the island). Here are a few more ideas that we haven’t yet done but are all popular attractions:
- Go to a luau
- Visit Pearl Harbour
- Visit some of the historic building in the area (this is the place of royalty)
- Take in a museum (there are several)
- Hike to the top of Diamond Head for a spectacular view
- Take a helicopter tour
- Make your own “Lost” tour. Many scenes for the popular (still don’t get it) show were filmed on the island. Do a little research online and make your own tour to some of the locations
- Take a dinner cruise
- Golf on some of the most stunning course you’ll ever see
- Visit China Town
It’s a bit of a long haul to get there, and it’s not the cheapest place to take a vacation, but Hawaii really is paradise and if you plan well you can do it without breaking your budget.