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Hawaii for Families

Escape from the mainland and enjoy the gorgeous scenery, relaxed attitude, and abundance of island activities at welcoming prices.

By Ellen H. Parlapiano

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Waikiki Beach, Oahu
Courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau
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Oahu

Nicknamed the "gathering place," Hawaii's most urban island is the perfect teen hangout. Kids can surf, shop, play volleyball, and socialize on famous Waikiki Beach, brush up on history at Pearl Harbor, and watch master surfers ride monster waves on the rugged (and quieter) North Shore.

Free for all: It's like one big block party in lively Waikiki. Rock out to slack-key guitar concerts at Waikiki Beach Walk. Learn to hula, play ukulele, speak Hawaiian, and make quilts and leis at Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Celebrate Waikiki's nightly torch lighting and watch movies under the stars at Sunset on the Beach (be sure to check the schedule at waikikiimprovement.com). If you're there for Earth Day, see if pop star Jack Johnson is holding his environmentally themed Kokua Festival (kokuafestival.com); picnic near the band shell to enjoy the music—no ticket necessary. Or go green any Saturday morning at the Kapi'olani Community College Farmers' Market (kapiolani.hawaii.edu/object/farmersmarket).

Adventures in Paradise: Surf's up at the Waikiki Beach Services stand at the Royal Hawaiian: A Luxury Collection Resort (group lessons are $40 an hour; adults can rent outrigger canoes for $15; kids, $10). Snorkelers can kick up their fins at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a volcanic crescent teeming with fish, squid, eels, and sea turtles (adults, $7.50; kids under 13, free). Fans of the TV show Lost will love the Kualoa Ranch Movie Tour through Ka'a'awa Valley; scenes from Godzilla and Jurassic Park were also filmed there ($23 per person; kualoa.com). And at North Shore—Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Banzai Pipeline—watch locals ride 30-foot waves in winter and spring, and swim there yourself in the calmer summer months. The renowned Polynesian Cultural Center allows visitors to experience the culture, arts, and crafts of tropical villages throughout Polynesia. A living museum, the center features seven villages spread over 42 acres; lagoons and canals connect the islands. Ha-Breath of Life is the center's popular nighttime show featuring songs and dances from the region. General admission prices start at $49.95 for adults and $39.95 for children; packages that include the show cost more. On the drive up, make a snack stop in Haleiwa: Try the burgers from Kua Aina Sandwich, chocolate coconut pie from Ted's Bakery, or rainbow shave ice from Aoki's.

Where to Stay: The luxurious oceanfront Sheraton Waikiki offers ukulele and hula lessons, family game nights, and stand-up paddleboard lessons. Rates start at $235 a night. The beachfront Outrigger Waikiki is centrally located and eco-friendly, working with a local fashion company called Kini Beach to recycle guests' left-behind beach toys into stylish handbags. Rooms start at $159 a night. (Also try Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Resort; rates start at $119.) To experience Oahu's remote side, rent a house on the North Shore, in Haleiwa or Ehukai Beach (from $130 a night plus cleaning fee; vrbo.com).

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