Traveling to Oahu - Any Suggestions?


We’re going to Oahu in January for 2 weeks and are looking for suggestions of stuff to do with our kids. We’ve got a 7-year-old and twin 5-year-olds (all girls). In particular, low-cost and free options are high on our list.

We’re going to be staying on the northern end of the island (Laie) but will have a rental car, so we’ll be able to get around pretty easily.

We love hiking and our kids are always happy on a playground. If we can avoid the crazy tourist stuff, that would be great for me - more looking to enjoy the stuff that residents enjoy :slight_smile:

Anyone have any suggestions?


@Nords lives there — any ideas?

We went there a few years ago for my daughter’s graduation trip. We rented a “surf shack” on the North Shore, did some awesome snorkeling on the beaches there. The waves are MUCH bigger in the winter, so not sure if snorkeling is still an option this time of year, but you may want to ask about it. Best to get to the North shore and away from the congestion of Honolulu, in my humble opinion.

There’s a pineapple plantation somewhere in the middle/north of the island, was interesting. Also, there are lots of sites where Lost was filmed, if you’re a fan (my daughter was nuts about that show!). Nice hiking at Kaena Point Trail on the NW corner of the island, not sure if this link will come thru. Nice hike, no crowds, make it to the end of the trail for a nice view down the mountains on the West shore.


I went there twice with my high school band (public school so we did lots and lots of fundraising!). The second time we climbed the defunct volcano in Honolulu (Diamond Head). Can’t imagine it was expensive because we traveled on the cheap but it was fun. The last part is steps. We also did snorkling, visited Pearl Harbor, and went to a pineapple farm.


We spent the better part of a week on the Norh Shore a few years ago, but not with our kids. We were in Pupukea, not far from Haleiwa.

There are some surfing contests held nearby while you’re there (schedule). We watched one for a few hours. I also took a surf lesson at Turtle Bay. The resort was the setting for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which you should definitely watch before you go if you haven’t already.

The point they jump off in the movie is right there in Laie. It didn’t look very safe when we were there in November, so no jumps for us.

There’s lots of great hiking in the area. We did a lot of vertical hiking, but the Keana Point trail is flat and you may see the rare monk seals, nesting albatrosses, and some other cool wildlife out there. It’s all fenced off with a fine mesh to keep the mongoose out (they like the nesting bird’s eggs).

The Dole plantation in the middle of the island is a good stop on the way – the pineapple soft serve is Yum.

If you spend any time in Honolulu, there’s a short rainforest hike to Manoa Falls that the kids could handle.

Should be a good time of year for whale watching. We’re spending most of February in Hawaii this year – bummer we’re not overlapping. Not sure how much time we’ll spend in Oahu, but probably at least a week or so. Also planning to see the Big Island and Kauai.



Thanks, Fritz!

Hiking is good around there. I haven’t spent any time on trails in that area but you could read up on Hau’ula Loop and Laie Falls. If all else fails then go tide-pooling. Keep an eye out for whales-- it’s prime season through February.

Kids that age need reef socks (especially for tide-pooling), a gallon of sunscreen, and a mask & snorkel. If you have them before you fly here then you can practice snorkel skills in the bathtub or a pool. If you don’t have them before you fly here then shop Wal-Mart. A boogie board is popular and might be available at your lodging-- or also at Wal-Mart. I wouldn’t haul a boogie board out here in your luggage.

If I had a choice of hauling three youngsters in a car from Laie to anywhere else then I’d probably spend the whole vacation at the beach. If you decide to enrich the Polynesian Cultural Center then the luau is authentic yet kid-friendly. (Many of the staff at PCC are young adults from all over the Pacific Islands who have a work-study college scholarship at BYUH. They may have grown up speaking a Polynesian language along with English. Their dancing is authentic. The fire-knife performers are champions of the sport.) But you could spend just as much time around Laie or Haleiwa watching surfers and slurping shave ice.

Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach are a reasonable drive and reasonably safe beaches when the surf is 20 feet or less. Waimea Valley has a nature park (paid entrance) with impressive scenery. Google the surf competitions before you get in the car so you’ll know where the traffic jams will be. The area between Haleiwa and Sunset is almost always a parking lot during surf competition season.

If your kids will put up with an hour in the car then you could try Dole Plantation. Stop by Green World Coffee (a few miles further south of the Plantation) to stroll among coffee trees. In the other direction you could drive down to Kaneohe to pick up H-3 for some stunning views, or skip H-3 and visit the Pali Overlook with its legendary updrafts.

For all sorts of conversation-starting ideas, try Of course most of those activities are paid visitor attractions.


Awesome - thanks for the suggestions @RetirementManifesto ! Our kids aren’t the strongest swimmers, so we’ll probably spend most of our time splashing where the waves meet the beach rather than getting full-in. If there are some calmer areas (we’ll probably make a trip or two down to Waikiki or other places), maybe we’ll get everyone in the water fully :slight_smile:


Thanks @Nords! We’ll definitely be hitting up some waterfall hikes and others. I hadn’t thought about the reef socks - definitely something to get on the list!

We had looked a bit at the Polynesian Cultural Center and it seemed like something our kids (and us) would really enjoy. Watching surfing will definitely be a fun activity too!

Our kids are fairly seasoned road trippers, so knowing that everything on the island is within an hour and a half drive should mean we can do things just about anywhere.

Thanks for the great suggestions!


Cool - thanks Jenny!


Too bad we won’t be there at the same time. We’re excited about the timing though - hoping that we’re in a lull between the holiday season and spring break.

Love the suggestions - definitely stuff we’ll get on the list!

Also, now I’m going to have to get Forgetting Sarah Marshall again. We saw it a long time ago, but definitely worth a re-watch before the trip :slight_smile:


I took a surfing lesson at Turtle Bay, hoping to get Paul Rudd as an instructor. Didn’t happen, but those scenes are fantastic. Pop up! No, do less. Pop up! “Oh the weather outside is weather…”


This thread just made the #Daily Scratch on Rockstar Finance.

Really? Is it that quiet this week?! Or are you guys freezing over there on the Mainland?!?

For those of you just getting to this thread… any questions?


Yes, -11 here in Minneapolis!!!

Snorkeling along the west shore was one of the best experiences in my life when I was in Oahu 3 years ago!

Diamond Head is also pretty cool, but with the little ones, it might be a struggle and that’s on the south side.


Hello! I’m new here and also in the Minneapolis area. I didn’t know there were so many FI bloggers nearby!

We lived on Oahu when my husband was in the army and our 2 boys were small. I’m collecting points and miles hoping to fly us all there next year if I can figure out the redemption piece of it.

I would add Waimanalo Beach and Sea Life Park to the list.

Seal Life Park is not a world class aquarium like Sea World but perfect for small kids. You can see a dolphin show, feed the seals and there’s a great playground. We had an annual pass and my kids never got tired of it. Look for discount tickets online.

Waimanalo Beach is near there and not crowded. Easy parking, beautiful scenery, super soft sand and natural shade.

We lived in Honolulu so we spent a lot of time on Kuhio Beach near Waikiki. The water is calm for the kids and there’s lots of natural shade.

+1 for Manoa Falls and the Polynesian Culture Center. Definitely worthwhile. Not sure I would recommend Diamond Head. We climbed it a few times and the adults liked it, but the kids not so much.


That’s great! We have Waimanalo beach on our list. I hadn’t seen anything about the Sea Life Park - we’ll have to check it out!

Thanks for the recos!


Thanks Eric - I agree on Diamond Head - everything I’ve heard is that it’s great but might be tough for the kiddos :slight_smile:


Mahalo (thanks) to everyone for the great suggestions. We’re back and we had an awesome time.

In the interest of giving back, I thought I could provide some notes from our trip in case anyone else is traveling that direction in the near future.

Where we stayed

We spent the two weeks in an Airbnb in Laie (North Shore area) as home base. We really liked the pace of things on the North Shore - slow and peaceful, plus we got a place with a backyard that had a trampoline and toys so it was great for the kids when we had down time. Being at the Airbnb also helped us save some money as we could cook meals (when we had the time and energy) instead of eating out.

Where we went

Here were the things we did/places we visited (in no particular order) with comments on each:

  1. Hanauma Bay

It costs a bit for admission ($1 for parking and $7.50 per adult per day) and the parking lot gets full early (like 7:30 AM). Nice beach with great snorkeling, but you should definitely bring reef socks. Before you can go in, you’ll need to watch an informational video (to teach you about how to protect the reef) but once you’ve watched the video once you can come back additional days without having to watch it again.

  1. Laie Point

This happened to be at the end of the street that our Airbnb was on and it’s just an amazing place to take in the view - there are a few small islands off the point so you can watch the waves. This is also an incredible place to catch a sunrise if you can get there early enough on a clear day.

  1. Waimea Valley/Waimea Falls

This is a botanical garden with a fun paved walking path that ends at a waterfall. Bring your swimsuits as you can swim in the pool by the waterfall - it’s a really fun experience. They provide lifejackets (mandatory) for anyone going in the water. There’s also a section here with a replica Hawaiian village which was fun to see. Admission is expensive - $16 per adult and $12 per child if I remember correctly. We went two times and ended up buying a family annual pass as it was cheaper to do that than pay for admission twice.

  1. Clissold’s Beach (AKA Bikini Beach)

This beach was a few steps from our Airbnb. The sand was coarser than most places but the beach was incredibly private (and we could walk there which was amazing). If you do go, keep an eye out for broken glass on the beach - I found a fair amount.

There’s a cool area on the north end of the beach where you can walk out quite far and explore some reef rocks and maybe even catch some crabs and other creatures crawling around.

  1. Waikiki (Kuhio Beach)

We spent one day in Waikiki - bought Hawaiian dresses for the girls and spent an afternoon at Kuhio beach. There’s a nice area that’s got a wall to protect from the waves - keeping things nice and calm. If you’re up for a bit rougher waves, there’s an exposed area right next to it.

If you go on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, there’s a free Hula and Torch-lighting show in the evening. We went and it was a lot of fun - good music, talented dancers:

If you’re not staying in Waikiki and are driving in for the day, parking can be pricey. We found free parking at the Kapiolani Regional Park, which is a short walk (1/4 mile) from the beach. It was a bit of a pain to carry our beach stuff that distance, but parking elsewhere ranged from $20-$60 for the day.

  1. Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

I definitely recommend this one - it’s a hiking trail that takes you by an old lighthouse and you get amazing views of the ocean. This time of year, it’s great for whale watching - we got to see quite a few come to the surface during the hike. It’s a paved trail but steep on the way out to the lighthouse - our kids complained quite a bit but it was still worth it :slight_smile:

  1. Laniakea Beach and Papa’iloa Beach

We didn’t get to Laniakea Beach (AKA Turtle Beach) but did get to it’s immediate neighbor, Papa’iloa Beach. It was beautiful with really soft sand. This time of year, the waves can be a bit unpredictable, so you may think you’re in a safe, dry spot only to find water up to your knees :slight_smile:

  1. The Polynesian Cultural Center

We spent two days (or afternoons rather, since they don’t open until noon) here and loved it. The staff was friendly and helpful. The presentations were informative and entertaining - some of the presenters could make it as comedians.

We learned a ton about other cultures and got to do lots of fun activities (trying to start a fire with sticks, weaving a toy fish out of coconut tree leaves, and having the kids dress up in Tongan clothing).

We opted for just general admission, so I can’t speak to the luau experience here or the evening show.

Notable places we ate

  1. Food trucks around Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp

We’re not seafood eaters, but still found some great food trucks around Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp near Laie . Also, some good souvenir stands here where you can get stuff without emptying your wallet.

  1. Papa Ole’s Kitchen

The food was good and not too expensive - definitely not health food though! I got a double cheeseburger and could hardly figure out how to take a bite. Seems like a local favorite and it was fun to eat somewhere a bit different than back home.

Other Notes

Traffic on the North Shore can be incredibly unpredictable as surfing tournaments completely change the scene at the beaches. Be prepared for delays.

That’s about the best brain dump I can do while still recovering from jet lag :slight_smile:


OT - I thought your kids were in school, is being gone that long a problem? Planning ahead for JB’s school days :wink:


We’re going to Hawaii for 23 days in February. We spent three weeks in Mexico in November. Our kids are enrolled in public school, and we talked with our elementary school’s principal in advance. He had no problem with us missing 3 weeks or so each trimester as long as we kept up with some school work.

Your mileage may vary, but it was much easier than we expected.


That’s great to know - I thought schools had gotten very strict about attendance where these kinds of travels weren’t possible anymore. I’ll definitely be looking into whether it’s an issue here.