Family Vacation Ideas for Oahu, Hawaii

Riley and I tagged along on my husband’s work trip to Oahu, because, duh… Hawaii! Ten wonderful days in paradise! Well, maybe not since one of us was working most of those days, leaving Riley and I without a vehicle in Waikiki. The good news is that it’s a pretty walkable strip, unless your kid gets sand in his swim trunks and chafes himself on the walk home from the beach… We started our stay at Holiday Inn right on the main strip with a short walk across the street to the beach. While we had sea views from our balcony, I really wasn’t a fan of that particular hotel. It was small and our carpet was filthy. (However, I do see that it was remodeled after our visit.) Location was great and it included a bus service that hit some of the top places, the zoo, aquarium, mall, Diamond Head. Waikiki beach is nice. White sand, clean, no corral near the shore, the sand bar located near Duke’s Seafood is fun for smaller kids to walk out on and feel like they are walking on water. We mostly stayed in that area for that reason. We did wander down through Fort Derussy Beach Park (which is a beautiful park to walk through if you enjoy the unique trees and flowers Hawaii has to offer) but Fort DeRussy beach isn’t so nice as there is rough coral not far in from the shoreline. Made it rather unpleasant to play on.

Entertainment roof deck at the Holiday Inn Express, Waikiki.

Our second hotel was still in Waikiki, we just moved down a few blocks to the Holiday Inn Express. This one I highly recommend for families! The 5th floor roof deck has a pool, mini golf, shuffle board, and a big chess game. They also had a video game room but it was being glitchy and the worker wasn’t able to get the TV set going for us. I always recommend getting a hotel with free breakfast. Waikiki is expensive. We tried IHOP and McDonald’s for breakfast but we spent a good 3 times the price for food as you would back in the lower 48. Breakfast at the hotel was packed every morning. Be sure to give yourself enough time if you want to fill up on seconds. The second food recommendation I have is to hit the little farmers markets or food trucks. We found a vendor called Pindan who made the best Spanish paella I’ve ever had, so I had it 3 times on our trip. Drooling just thinking about it. I also recommend the tapioca pudding the vendors sell, and pineapple. Eat all the pineapple you can because it really doesn’t compare anywhere else! The holiday inn express requires more walking as it’s back off the main strip, but that also meant that it was a little quieter.

Waikiki itself is very touristy and set up primarily for Japanese tourists. You’ll find more pamphlets and store names in Japanese than English. Apparently it’s a big destination wedding location for them as we saw several bridal parties running around the streets getting photos at different locations. There are a lot of shops and unique shopping areas to walk through, but it too is aimed at the wealthy Japanese customers. Too rich for my wallet! It was not my favorite place to be. I recommend the hike up Diamond Head for adventurous kids that need to blow off steam. It takes some time, but the view from the top is great.

view of Waikiki from Diamond Head.

We had a few days reserved for fun excursions so we made the most of them. Our splurge activity was to swim with the dolphins. I heavily researched the tour companies looking for one that was respectful to the animals but would still give us a great experience. I chose Dolphins and You and it was perfect! They pick you up in Waikiki in a comfortable, air conditioned bus and take you to the west side of the island. You can rent a wet suit, but we didn’t and we were fine. We took the early tour and were told that usually just the Japanese tourists get that one. We were the only English speaking guests. Made it both good and bad I suppose. We didn’t have anyone else to talk to except the English speaking employees, but they were thrilled to have English speakers and kept us entertained. They took us to two locations, first where the dolphins were that morning and second to a reef with some amazing fish and sea turtles. The water was really clear that day and we floated while a large pod with their babies swam right under us a few times. One of the neatest experiences I’ve had. They do not allow you to chase or splash at them, they’ll tell you where to swim and when to stop and look. I highly recommend to purchase the photo package as the photographer was fantastic and got us many memorable shots from the day. If you get bored snorkeling, they also have stand up paddle boards, a slide off the side of the boat and a floating trampoline. Plenty to keep you busy while they cook an amazing burger served on purple taro bread. They entertain with hula dancers on the boat for the trip back to shore. Well worth every penny spent!

Another day EdVenture was a trip to the Dole Plantation. We enjoyed the train tour and learned all about how they grow pineapple, gotta get some education in sometimes. The grounds are beautiful and the maze is fun, though we did solve it fairly quickly. The best part here is the dole whip. Yes, you can get it at Disney, but you can’t beat dole whip straight from the source with fresh Hawaiian pineapple on top. They also have a great coffee shop and I recommend grabbing a bag of Kona coffee as a souvenir. Might as well grab a plain dole whip for the drive back to the hotel too… 😂

Our last day we spent on a trip around the island. Taking 72 east from Waikiki, past Diamond Head and the residential areas there are a few scenic parking areas. I recommend you stop at the first one you come to, Lanai Lookout on the map. This one was like stepping out on a different planet. Some fun tide pools for the kids to hunt through but the geography here with layers of lava, dirt and rock make it really interesting to climb and explore.

Lanai Lookout off 72, east of Waikiki.

Next we hit Kualoa Ranch. This is a must visit for any movie lover, especially the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies. We happened to be there while they were filming Jurassic World 2 but they did a good job keeping that area off limits and making it seem like it wasn’t happening. If it weren’t for the fact that I followed Chris Pratt on FaceBook, I wouldn’t have known! We took a bus tour around the park which stops at several filming locations for Jurassic Park/World, Kong Skull Island, 50 First Dates, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, Lost and more. Also stops in a leftover WWII bunker built by the U.S. Army in 1943. They have this stuffed with leftover movie props and photos taken during filming over the years.

Our final stop was Waimea Valley This is a great stop for families who need strollers. The path through the park is black top all the way to the waterfall. Gorgeously groomed rainforest with several varieties of orchids in the trees. Daniel and Riley swam out to the waterfall, but I don’t do water I can’t see through, so I passed on that experience. They both recommend you bring water shoes as the bottom of the pond area was rough on their feet. You can rent life jackets when you get there, they are required.

Waimea Falls

We certainly missed some things we wanted to see such as Pearl Harbor. Really had hoped to do a little more hiking than we did as well. However, I think we did pretty well and had plenty of time to hang out on a beach and relax. At least Riley and I did while Daniel worked. Hawaii sure knew how to say Aloha with this beautiful rainbow on our departure!

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