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What’s not to love about Hawaii? The flight may be long (depending on your starting destination), but once there, you’ve got the sun, sand and endless opportunities for family fun. Find your vacation dream home in Waikiki and prepare for outdoor adventures, days at the beach and plenty of authentic Hawaiian hospitality and culture. Save some room for the classic Hawaiian shaved ice after a long day surfing and give in to the fun at a festive luau. Aloha, family vacation.
Daniel Ramirez, flickr
Ala Moana Beach Park
Waikiki Beach is the place to catch a wave, but the best beach for the keiki aka young ones is the 76-acre Ala Moana Beach Park, just west of Waikiki. Surrounded by a shallow coral reef, the water is generally calm making it a good place for kids to splash in the ocean. And there’s a plenty of great people watching to be had, with fishermen, kite flyers and stand-up paddlers nearby. Lifeguards, restrooms (with showers) and picnic areas finish off the family checklist for beach must-haves.
Insider’s Tip: While some locals come here to catch the weekly fireworks display at 7:45 p.m. from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, we recommend heading to the Duke Kahanamoku Beach in front of the Hyatt for a better view of the show.
Younger kids will get into this celebration of the island’s glorious pineapple, about 40 minutes from Waikiki. Admission to the Dole Plantation’s grounds is free, but activities must be paid for a la carte. Pint-sized train lovers can ride the Pineapple Express, a 20-minute narrated train tour through the working plantation against the backdrop of the Ko’olau and Wai’anae mountain ranges. Older kids can venture into the world’s largest maze (shaped like a pineapple, of course) with a willing adult in tow. The labyrinth fills more than 3 acres (195,150 square feet, to be exact) with paths that stretch on for 2.46 miles crafted from 14,000 bright Hawaiian plants. As kids journey through the maze (it generally takes about 45 minutes, though the fastest time is about 7), they must locate 8 secret stations to solve the mystery of the maze.
Insider’s Tip: Skip lunch and go straight to dessert at the on-site restaurant the Plantation Grille where you can sample pineapple in a variety of desserts: a pineapple split, pineapple ice cream float and the beloved Dole Whip, a special combo of soft-serve ice cream and pureed pineapple.
You can trust that the whole clan is surfing in safety at the Hawaiian Fire Surf School, which is owned and operated by Honolulu firefighters. The school provides shuttle service from Waikiki or you can make the hour drive on your own in a rental car to the school’s secluded on Oahu’s southwest coast. The surf school provides 2 lessons per day at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., each lasting about 2 hours, with 45 minutes prep in the sand and the remaining time in the ocean. Children as young as 5 may learn to surf as long as they are comfortable in the water. Everyone under 10 must enroll in a private lesson for safety reasons. Families stick together during the beach portion of the lesson (and pose for the requisite photos in rash guards with boards), but once they hit the waves, kids benefit from the 1-to-1 instructor ratio.
Insider’s Tip: If booking lessons for kids, be sure to call well in advance as there are only 2 private lessons per tour and they fill up quickly. And, be sure to slather on the sunscreen because a nasty sunburn is a surefire way to ruin a vacation.
Many Waikiki-area hotels offer luau packages, but if you’re forgoing the resort option there’s no need to miss the authentic island cultural experience. The Polynesian Cultural Center offers a full day of non-stop activity for the kids.. By day, older kids can “go native” and learn to shimmy up a coconut tree Samoan-style, race outrigger canoes and practice spear throwing. Younger kids enjoy less daring activities like hula lessons and the beautiful canoe pageant show at 2:30 p.m. each day. After a classic luau feast (complete with a whole roasted pig), end the day with a nighttime show of 100 performers in “Hā: Breath of Life,” with Polynesian dancing, music and plenty of fire and special effects.
Insider’s Tip: Book 10 days in advance for a 10% discount off any package.
Though just an upscale shopping mall on the surface (albeit, a very lovely one), Royal Hawaiian Center offers a taste of local culture, with complimentary classes from Monday through Friday on making leis, learning the hula, playing the ukulele and learning the art of Hawaiian massage. Free music and dance performances happen from Tuesday through Saturday. Check the daily schedule before you arrive to choose the best events for your family.
Insider’s Tip: Hop on the pink, green or red line for the Waikiki Trolley from the Royal Hawaiian Center to explore the rest of Waikiki.
Waikiki is about 10 miles from Pearl Harbor, making it a convenient day trip. And though the subject matter is somber, the USS Missouri battleship is a great opportunity to share the significance of this spot in US history with kids. The “Mighty Mo” was an active battleship for more than 5 decades, from World War II to Operation Desert Storm. On a below-deck tour of the battleship, glimpse what life at sea was like for the crew. Back on the main deck, visit the bow and the 16-inch guns and see the spot where the Japanese surrendered to end World War II. The newest tour highlights the onboard filming locations for the 2012 Hollywood film Battleship (for kids 10 and up).
Insider's Tip: Due to security measures, you can’t bring any bags on board, including diaper bags, camera bags and small purses. Stash a diaper in the stroller, or better yet, make alternative plans with little ones and let the older kids enjoy this excursion with an adult.
In some cities, a family trip to the aquarium may come just short of $100. Not so at this Hawaiian gem, where admission is less than most movie tickets and children 4 and under get free admission. The Waikiki Aquarium is divided into 6 exhibit areas, each exploring marine life from Hawaii and the West and South Pacific. Indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase colorful reefs teeming with colorful fish and marine communities with unique creatures like the rare Hawaiian monk seal, sharks, seahorses, jellyfish and more. Check the calendar in advance to see if they are hosting Aquarium After Dark, an after-hours flashlight tour of the aquarium.
Insider’s Tip: Ready for a tongue twister? Send the kids off on a mission to find (and learn how to pronounce) humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, a fancy name for the local reef triggerfish found in the aquarium.