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Looking for a laid-back Hawaiian vacation that features tons of kid-friendly activities? There are loads of things to do on Oahu from cultural and historical sites to surfing and snorkeling. Here’s how to plan the perfect activities for your Oahu trip.
9 Things to Do on Oahu with Kids
Oahu’s diversity is what we like best about Hawaii’s third largest island. From the laid-back North Shore to bustling Honolulu, Oahu’s Hawaiian food, activities and attractions reflect the island’s diverse Hawaiian population. Our family of five has been visiting the Hawaiian islands for many years and each trip is unique. Plus, from Honolulu it’s easy to island hop to Maui, Big island and other Hawaiian islands. Based on our favorite activities over the years, we’ve compiled a list of best things to do on Oahu with kids. Teens will enjoy these too! And, if you’re looking to save some money on your trip, check out our favorite free things to do on Oahu.
Read More: The Best Hawaii Resorts for Families on Oahu
1. Surf in Waikiki and the North Shore
Learning to surf is one of the first things to do on Oahu. It’s a big part of Hawaiian culture. So you’ve got to try it at least once while in Hawaii. The Hans Hedemann Surf School offers lessons in Waikiki and on the North Shore. We took lessons on the North Shore because we were staying at the Turtle Bay Resort. The surf school is based at the resort, so it was a handy location for us. Lessons start on land and continue in the water.
While on the North Shore, it’s fun to watch expert surfers catch big waves at Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. In summer, Waimea Bay Beach Park is popular for snorkeling and scuba diving.
2. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay State Park is a great place to snorkel. Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area. Entry fee to the park is $25 per person. Kids 12 and under are free. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday to give the fish a break. Parking costs $3 (cash only) and there are limited spaces (300 total). Plan to arrive early so that you get a spot! The park allows entry from 6:45 am to 1:30 pm. No one may enter after 1:30 pm.
It is important to note that there are new procedures for reservations. Park visitors are required to watch a 9-minute video about protecting marine life. A reservation system has been implemented to streamline this. Only 1400 tickets a day are available. You can only make reservations 2 days in advance. Reservations open at 7:00 am local Hawaii time at the bottom of the information page. Spots can sell out in five minutes so set an alarm.
3. Relax on Oahu Beaches
Of course, Oahu has many beautiful beaches. If you’re staying in Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is the most accessible. It’s a great beach with typically gentle surf. There are also activities for a fee like kid-friendly parasailing. For a more secluded beach day, my family especially enjoys Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach. They’re located in a residential neighborhood about a 20-30-minute drive from Waikiki.
4. Hike at Diamond Head State Monument
Where else can you walk along a trail to the edge of a 300,000-year-old crater? If you go, allow up to two hours for the 1.6-mile round-trip hike to Diamond Head. Although not difficult, the trail is uneven at times. Plus, you’ll walk through a tunnel and climb 99 steps at the end! However, the trek is worth the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu.
Diamond Head is one of many hiking trails on Oahu. Looking for more hiking trails? The Manoa Falls trail leads to a 150-foot-tall waterfall. But don’t swim in the water, there was a rock slide that filled up the swimming area. Visitors should enjoy the waterfall from a distance for safety’s sake.
If you are a tourist, parking and entry reservations are required. Reservations open up 30 days in advance and can be booked online. The cost per visitor is $5 per person. Parking is $10 per vehicle.
SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
SheBuysTravel Tip: After Diamond Head, pick up lunch at Rainbow Drive-in. It’s an iconic counter-serve spot for Hawaiian food.
5. Take an Atlantis Submarine Tour
Atlantis Submarines is a popular attraction, taking you 100 feet underwater for an up close view to explore artificial reefs. The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable. More importantly, they make the commentary so much fun that the kids don’t even know they’re learning something. Expect to see lots of fish and maybe even sea turtles.
Kids must be 36 inches tall to go on the sub tour. All guests need to climb down a ladder into the submarine.
6. Play at Kualoa Ranch
Located in serene Kaneohe, Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch on the windward coast. It’s also a popular tourist attraction and was a filming location for the Jurassic Park movies, Jumanji, Godzilla and King Kong. Tours of the film sites are available.
The ranch offers various outdoor activities. These include horseback riding and ziplining. We took a thrilling, guided tour on an ATV. Bouncing on rutted roads through meadows and valleys we had spectacular ocean views. The minimum driving age is 21. Riders must be at least 5.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Also located in Kaneohe is the Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden.
7. Enjoy a Canoe or Catamaran Tour
Oahu’s beaches are ideal for kayaking, sailing and canoeing. Waikiki Beach Services offers Outrigger Canoe Surfing. The boat tour captains are knowledgeable about Waikiki and tell great stories while you paddle out. Hold on for an incredible ride back to shore.
8. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
Feel the aloha spirit at this Polynesian-themed park and living museum. The Polynesian Cultural Center features six island villages representing Hawai‘i, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Natives from these Pacific cultures share their traditions through music, dance and activities. The Go Native! activities immerse visitors in Polynesian culture with hands-on experiences. Throw a wooden spear, paddle a canoe or cook like a Polynesian. In the Umu Making Experience, you’ll learn how to cook the Samoan way. Besides cooking the food, learn how to weave utensils, start a fire and heat rocks.
In addition, the center also has family-friendly luaus with traditional food. For example, the luau features foods such as lomilomi salmon, chicken long rice and kalua pork. Packages include non-alcoholic beverages.
9. Explore Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Located west of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor is the site of WWII’s 1941 bombing attack. Plus, it’s home to the USS Arizona Memorial. The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the defining moments in United States and world history. You can explore on your own or book a tour. However, reserve your tickets well in advance online. If taking the self-guided Pearl Harbor tour, plan to arrive by 7:00 am with everyone in your group present. This is a very popular attraction so tickets go fast!
Tickets for the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial program are free. However, there’s a limited number available each day. Reservations can be made online. Spots are released daily at 3:00 pm local Hawaiian time. They release two times at once – tickets for 24 hours in advance and tickets for 8 weeks in advance. You’ll take a round-trip boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s important to know that you cannot bring your stroller with you on the boat ride, so you will not have it at the Memorial. It will be stowed until you return.
More Fun Things to Do on Oahu
- Visit the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo. Young kids will especially enjoy the animals.
- History buffs in your family? Take a tour of the historic Iolani Palace. It was the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs and served as the official royal residence until 1893.
- Whale watching takes place from December – May. Take a whale-watching tour or see the majestic creatures from beaches or from the Makapuu Lighthouse.
- The kid-friendly Bishop Museum is another great place to learn about Hawaiian history.
- For a laid-back outing, ride the train at the Dole Plantation.
- Finally, see free hula performances daily and shop for souvenirs at the Ala Moana Center. It’s the world’s largest open-air shopping center.