5 Unforgettable Children-Friendly Activities on O’ahu

Updated: Jan 31, 2019

I still remember the first time I visited O’ahu, Hawaii- I was around 5 years old. Walking into the waters of Hanauma Bay in my tropical flower Hawaiian swimsuit, I was mistaken as a coral reef and chased by a little yellow fish. I still remember myself screaming and asking my dad to carry me out of the water. Nonetheless, the pristine blue waters lured me in again and I remember that it was one of the best ocean water experiences I have had until this day.

Moving forward, this X’mas I finally had a chance to revisit Hawaii after 20 something years. Both Kelvin and I were excited to show Karson the amazing Aloha spirit. The plan was to present him one adventure a day.

The following is our pick on the most unforgettable children activites on the island:

1) East Coast Road Trip

This photo is quite misleading. We were actually in the parking lot of Kailua Beach instead of on the beach.

For the past few trips, Kelvin had insisted on renting a car to drive around at least a day or two. He has become so adapted to driving in foreign countries that he is capable of reading foreign road signs without literally understanding the language. Regardless, being on American soil means that everything is in English, so it was very comfortable for him to drive us around.

Road trips add a sense of independence to the experience. We are not bound by the typical tourist attractions as we can experience the country according to our timetable. A road trip to the east shores was just we needed to spice things up a little.

O’ahu is not a big island. In fact, it only takes a day for you to drive around the coastline. This mini-escape from the centre of O’ahu allowed us to explore the unknown (at least to us).

Spectacular moment watching the waves crashing against the rocks.

We got to check out some of the spectacular lookouts along the way to our lunch venue. In fact, we made three stops along the way. The first stop we made was at the Lanai Lookout. The rock formation at this spot is so incredible. It is definitely worth stopping to show the kids how volcanic eruption affects the landscape. The next stop we made was at the Halona Blowhole. This blowhole requires a little patience. You need to watch it for a while to wait for water to fountain out from it. Makapuu Point is another stop worth doing. If you walk up the hill, you will be able to see the lighthouse, which is positioned at the most east point of the whole island. Meanwhile, from the left hand side of the parking lot, you will be able to take in the most magnificent viewpoint of the coastline with waves splashing in every now and then.

It was so sunny that Karson couldn't open his eyes, but it didn't stop him from smiling.

After the quick stops, we made our way to our lunch destination, Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, which is situated within an open shopping complex. There we found not only the best burger on the island (we will be addressing this in another post). I also had one of the most amazing shopping experience exploring the unique boutiques/shops. Kids will love the shop called SoHa Living Kailua, which apparently is a local chain store. They sell a variety of quality toys and plush. For moms, they also carry fancy Hawaiian themed home décor. Do go check it out!

Highly recommend you to stop by Makapuu Point for the panoramic view.

Besides Hanauma Bay, Kailua Beach is another extremely family friendly beach. Unlike Hanauma Bay, it is not crowded and packed with tourists. It is convenient as there are sufficient parking spaces, and it is accessible from the town centre. The calm waves and soft sand make it very suitable for children. As we went to the beach near sunset, we didn’t get to go swimming. However, we enjoyed the cool ocean breeze and watched the change of the sky at its golden hour.

Enjoying the powdery white sand and gentle waves at Kailua Beach.

For those who want to go to an even more picturesque beach, you should pay Lanikai Beach a visit. It takes about 15 minutes to walk there from Kailua Beach Park. As it is suited within a residential area, those driving would have to spend sometime scouting a parking space. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to spend there, so we did not get to visit this secluded beach. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended to give it a try to see if it lives up to its hype.

Playing with sand together.

2) Whale Watching

Karson trying to capture daddy taking a photo of us.

There were many firsts on this vacation. This is definitely on of the most worth highlighting event among all of them. WE SAW A WHALE! We didn’t just see it from a distance, it was actually around 200 or so meters away from us when it jumped up.

We booked a local tour to head out along the coast with no expectations of encountering a whale.

A monk seal having its lunch right by the harbour.

We started off slowly riding out the pier when we encountered our first friend a monk seal having its lunch.

Dolphins surrounded our boat.

Then we went further out when our speed-boat was surrounded by dolphins. We were already in awe at the sight. Karson was gleaming with joy spotting the fins of the dolphins sticking out from the water. At that time, we were already extremely satisfied by our catch of the day.

A whale waving its tail at us.

Nonetheless, we continued the quest searching for whale sightings. We went further out when we spotted a whale spraying water out of its blowhole. By that time, we were already satisfied, as we saw them from a distance flapping their fins from side to side.

The breach of a humpback whale.

When we were just about to head back, a huge whale jumped out high above the water around 200 meters away from our boat out of the blue. According to the tour guide, it was a humpback whale. We did not even have time to capture it on video. Luckily, the photographer on our boat caught it on camera. That was the moment that left a mark on Karson’s heart. He kept talking about his whale encounter ever since that sighting.

In my opinion, the whale tour was worth every penny. Karson learnt a great deal about whales and other larger marine creatures through the narration of our tour guide. We also encountered many wild marine creatures and shared an everlasting moment together.

Interested in more info about whale watching? Check out Dolphin Excursion:


3) Pearl Harbour Historical Museum

A beautiful moment on the USS Missouri.

Museums help to foster deeper understanding on culture and heritage. We always try to at least pay a local museum a visit when we try to a new location. This time, we chose to explore the Pearl Harbour Historical Museum. There are actually four monuments within the museum. However, to visit all four, it would probably take the whole day. Unfortunately, we only got a half a day to spare. Thus we pre-booked tickets to visit only one of them- the Battleship Missouri Memorial.

Not to say that the rest of the sites were not worth exploring, but in our humble opinion, the Missouri is definitely the most symbolic one. This Mighty Mo survived three wars, including WW2, the Korean War and Gulf War. To top that up, it was the actual location where the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender, which marked the end of WW2. It was definitely a site that parents should bring their kids to visit for a tour back into history.

The USS Bowfin by the entrance.

To get to the site, we had to travel on a coach from the main complex to the pier where the battleship was docked. Surprisingly, it was a quick 5 minutes ride and with no line up on the afternoon that we went. We were greeted with two rows American flags immediately at the entrance, which led to an amazing view of the humongous battleship.

The entrance of the ship is on the left side. There is a stairway leading up the deck. There are military veteran guided tours on the ship that you can opt to take if you want to learn more about the background of the ship. It takes place on the deck for roughly 30 minutes. We found our guide’s narration very inspiring. If you have an older child, who is more patient, it would be nice for him/her to learn more about the history through the short tour.

Looking out from the upper deck of the Mighty Mo.

Nonetheless, exploring the ship was a very astonishing experience for us. It was like walking through time. We got to see how the new blended in with the old. From the time in WW2 when amenities and technology were not as advanced to the Gulf War period when they installed new gear onto the ship, the footprints of its transformation throughout history are still visible.

Exploring the cabin of the ship.

Although we are not history geeks, we still found this historical site captivating.

Interested in more info about the Pearl Harbour Historical Museum? Read this:


4) Honolulu Zoo

We felt as if we were at the safari. The cute giraffe on the green.

What is so interesting about this zoo? Well, you will be amazed. I questioned Kelvin’s pick on the zoo at first as well. However, I was in for a surprise.

Karson hanging out with the goats in Keiki Zoo.

Although the zoo itself does not have wide range of exotic creatures, it was extremely kid-oriented. First of all, I must praise the inclusion of the interactive kids zone called Keiki Zoo. Coming in from the entrance, you just have to take the path on the left head straight to the Plantation Café. The entrance to Keiki Zoo is right next door beside the restrooms. In this area, kids get to come close with different animals.

The goats all have names.

For a city child, this was definitely an atypical experience. Karson got into the caged area full of goats. The goats had different colored collars with their names on them. We went through the names to find Karon’s favorite one. He slowly reached out his hand to pet it. At first, he was a little frightened. Yet, the animal was so tame that it did not even move a single inch. Then he relaxed a bit and even started taking selfies with the goat. He had so much fun that I had to literally drag him out of the cage to visit other sites.

Karson was sweaty and excited about the animals.

Besides the kids zone, we were also surprised by the amount of peacocks walking freely around us. Children visitors were so excited that they started chasing after them, which scared the birds a bit. However, they seemed unbothered most of the time as they were probably used to having visitors around.

The cute elephant was enjoying its afternoon nap.

Although you may not find all your favorite safari creatures at this zoo, you will definitely enjoy strolling along the paths to see what you encounter at every turn. The layout of the zoo made it such a comfortable walk. There are benches everywhere if you ever get tired.

Our family picture in the zoo. :)

One thing to note, we went in the early morning so it was not as hot. For those planning for an afternoon visit with your children, do remember to bring sufficient water along to keep them hydrated.

Interested in more info about the Honolulu Zoo? Read this:


5) Hanauma Bay

Daddy and Karson overlooking Hanauma Bay from the parking lot.

This is definitely one of the most visited beaches on O’ahu. The crescent moon shaped beach, the soft sand and 300 fish species. What is not to love?

To get to Hanauma Bay is a bit of a hassle as parking spaces are extremely limited, and it is really difficult to take public transport. According to reviews, there are direct buses, but they are always packed, and the waiting can take as long as 45 mins to an hour to finally catch a bus. The ride itself is only 15-20 mins. Hence, instead of catching a bus ride, we booked a private tour guide to take us to the Bay.

It is definitely the most popular beach for snorkeling on O'ahu.

The water was exactly the blue I remembered it to be. The only thing that changed was the amount of tourist at the scene. It has definitely become a major tourist hotspot. Although there are a lot of people, everything is well organized. There are lockers to store away our possessions and sufficient shower amenities.

Before stepping into the Bay, new visitors are required to watch a 9-minute education video regarding protecting marine life in the area. It is very worthwhile to watch it, as not only does the video talk about the importance of marine preservation, but it also introduces the formation of Hanauma Bay. Karson learnt a lot from it.

Entering the beach, we found a nice spot by the water to layout our towel and headed down into the water. The water is only waist-deep before you encounter the any reef, so my five year old could stand in it. My husband went off snorkeling; however, Karson was not very familiar with his gear yet, so we ended up playing in the shallow water. Even without snorkeling gear, there are tons to see and explore. Karson took some snaps of little sea creatures that he saw and brought them to the education center to ask the volunteers about them.

Say cheese to sun and beach!

For a family friendly beach, with its facilities and educational resources this is no doubt the best on the island.

Interested in more info about Hanauma Bay? Read this: http://honolulufamily.com/things-to-do/we-tried-it/we-tried-it-hanauma-bay/

If you are planning a trip to travel to Oahu, Hawaii and want to learn more about where to go, stay tuned to our website and Instagram for more inspirations.