Oahu with Kids: Exploring Beyond Waikiki

Hawaii is a dream destination we’ve all heard about since we were kids that now, as adults, we have the chance to experience and share with our own kids. Oahu is perfect for an all-encompassing family vacation with striking landscapes and endless fun on its beaches and in its jungles.

When you’re looking for things to do on Oahu with kids, you’ll no doubt find recommendations such as exploring Waikiki, visiting Pearl Harbor and hiking to Diamond Head, which are all great ideas. But what if you want to get away from the crowds? Exploring Oahu as a family levels up when you hit the North Shore or the east side of the island. Your Hawaiian dream becomes your Hawaiian reality as soon as you break away from Honolulu and experience these unforgettable places and activities.

Kamehameha Highway Driving the Kamehameha Highway towards Oahu's North Shore

1. Oahu’s Kid-Friendly Beaches

Your Oahu vacation will likely begin in Honolulu, so you may be tempted to grab your rental car (we had a Jeep) and head to popular Waikiki Beach. Instead, drive northeast to the beaches of Lanikai, which are perfect for kids because they’re sheltered from the vast Pacific Ocean by reefs and breakers. With plenty of access points throughout the surrounding neighborhoods and public parks, the beaches of Lanikai need to be on your list of Oahu activities. What really makes Lanikai stand out is the view of the green crater peaks surrounding the bay. It’s perfect Hawaii.

If the North Shore is more your pace (meaning laid back and totally surfer-tastic), hit up Sunset Beach in the spring through the fall. Sunset Beach has ample access points, as well, with plenty of parking, a mellow slope down the shore and loads of surfers to watch, even when it’s not high surfing season (winter).

Lanikai Beach Green crater peaks surround bay at Lanikai Beach, Eastern Oahu

2. Snorkeling Oahu with Kids

Thanks to the island’s volcanic past, the ancient lava rock just beneath the surface of the waters off the shores of Oahu is teeming with life. While you’ll no doubt come across the humuhumunukanukaapua’a (or reef triggerfish) and maybe even some puffer fish in the waters at Lanikai, if you head to the North Shore and spend a morning at Sharks Cove, you’ll be ready to drop anchor and never leave. Sharks Cove isn’t a great beach for swimming in the surf or lounging in the sun, but it’s an unforgettable snorkeling experience due to its easy water flow and ample colorful fish of all sorts.

Consider booking a catamaran or small snorkeling adventure with a guide, particularly on the western shore of Oahu. Departing from Waienai, head up the West Cape and watch for Hawaiian spinner dolphins, Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) and more. The snorkeling on Oahu’s west side offers ample wildlife and crystal-clear waters.

green sea turtle Hawaiian green sea turtle (honu) just below surface at Lanikai, Eastern Oahu

Sea urchins Colorful sea urchins in lava rock pools at Shark’s Cove, North Shore, Oahu

3. Hawaiian Food for Every Palate

One of the most exciting parts of traveling is eating new and delicious foods. Even though Hawaii is a part of the U.S., it offers its own take on all kinds of eats, from sushi to barbecue. If you scour the Internet, you’ll find endless lists of the top places to eat, but how about discovering your own favs?

Here’s how to find amazing Hawaiian food experiences while you explore Oahu with your kids:

Although it may sound strange, ask a local for a live music recommendation, or where their ohana (family) might meet up with the grandparents. Chances are you’ll discover a place with a humble reputation, endless aloha spirit to share and an amazing PuPu platter. A local hole-in-the-wall is a great spot to taste real Hawaii and to support a small business.

Another great approach to finding authentic Hawaiian cuisine it to look for poke (pronounced po-kay) or kalua pork on a menu. True, poke is becoming a food trend on the mainland, but its origin is in the food trucks of Hawaii. To order the best poke bowl, look for one that includes ahi tuna (seared or not), seaweed, sesame and whatever else sounds good. You can get a poke bowl with any number of ingredients, but for the best North Shore grub, just order a traditional Hawaiian poke bowl. And when it comes to kalua pork, know that you’re going to get something slow cooked, fall-apart-delicious and smothered in Hawaiian-style barbecue sauce. It may come with some pineapple and may be served on a flatbread or in a bomber (Hawaiian burrito). All variations are amazing and authentically Hawaiian.

poke bowl Traditional Hawaiian poke bowl from a North Shore food truck, Oahu

kalua pork roll 2TravelDads enjoying kalua pork roll from a local shop, Haleiwa, Oahu

4. The Hawaiian Jungle and a Break from the Beach

There are so many activities on Oahu to do with kids, but getting into the jungle is a must. Hiking is always a fun way to experience nature, but the steep mountains of Oahu might prove rather difficult for families with younger children. There are some easy, kid-friendly hikes, though, if you know where to look.

Diamond Head State Monument is a popular hiking destination because of its easy trail and close proximity to Waikiki. If you’re looking for a hiking adventure that’s less crowded but just as beautiful, drive to the Manoa Falls Trail on the outskirts of Honolulu; the easy Pali Lookout trails; or around the Eastern Shore to the more challenging Maunawili Falls trail to really feel immersed in nature.

On the North Shore, the Waimea Valley offers perfect jungle hiking for kids. Meandering through coffee trees, spotting bananas hanging above the trail and being serenaded by countless tropical birds are experiences well worth the small entrance fee. The cliffs surrounding the Waimea Valley are unlike any you’ll find on the mainland U.S. At the end of the trail, cool off with a swim under a 45-foot waterfall.

Hiking and swimming 2TravelDads hiking and swimming at Waimea Valley, North Shore, Oahu
Botanical gardens Birds of paradise in Waimea Valley botanical gardens, North Shore, Oahu

Check out Alamo’s Honolulu travel guide or visit 2traveldads.com for more Oahu family vacation inspiration. Now, go drive happy!

Vacation Stories

More Destination Guides


Driving Tour: Oahu’s Sights and Culinary Delights

Driving Tour: Oahu’s Sights and Culinary Delights
Ono is the Hawaiian word to express deliciousness, and that’s exactly what you’ll find while driving through the Rainbow State’s islands. 

Choosing the Hawaiian Island That's Right For Your Family

Choosing the Hawaiian Island That's Right For Your Family
Hawaii has long been thought of as the perfect destination for honeymooning couples, but these days the islands also have much to offer families of all sizes.

How to Tour Honolulu and Oahu Like a Local

How to Tour Honolulu and Oahu Like a Local
Meet Yen Phan: She’s an adventurous spirit, who visited Hawaii six years ago. Though originally from Oakland, California, she instantly fell in love with the Rainbow State.

Planning a Hawaiian getaway?

Find the nearest Hawaii car rental location.