While each of the Hawaiian Islands is an ideal destination for a family vacation, Oahu’s town and country shores offer a pleasant mix of urban conveniences and beach paradise. Which is precisely why we chose Oahu for our family vacation.
With three older kids (one in high school and two in college), Oahu fit our vacation criteria for tropical beaches and adventure with access to shopping and dining. For summer travel from Los Angeles to Honolulu, I bought our plane tickets (about $480 each round-trip) in January, which gave me ample time to organize our nine-day stay on Oahu – the Heart of Hawaii.
We opted for “country” first on Oahu’s rustic North Shore. But we hardly roughed it. Home base was the sprawling and congenial Turtle Bay Resort, situated on 840 acres with five miles of pristine beaches and a seaside tropical forest. The property is recognizable in such movies as “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and “Soul Surfer.”
Our accommodations were ideal: two adjoining, oceanfront rooms and a living room allowing each of us space and privacy. From our lanais, we enjoyed morning coffee and sunset views. At night we were lulled to sleep by the surf.
Our daily routine segued into a comfortable rhythm of rest and activities. We took a family surf lesson from Hans Hedermann Surf Center instructors, and rode horses along sandy, coastal trails that meandered through the seaside forest’s maze of Ironwood trees and huge Banyan tree. While our kids lounged by the pool my husband and I walked along the beach.
Tasty and bountiful meals began with a breakfast buffet at the Palms Terrace restaurant. The resort has several restaurants including the poolside Hang Ten Bar and Grill and Leonardo’s, serving fresh pasta dishes and pizza.
From the resort, it’s a short, delightful drive to the North Shore’s world renowned surfing spots Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach, as well as rustic Haleiwa, a quaint surf town with boutiques, art galleries and eateries. Here’s the place for shave ice and locally made art treasures.
Driving around the island is the best way to stumble upon secluded beaches, scenic sights and locals’ favorite eateries, such as Ted’s Bakery, known for its chocolate haupia (coconut pudding), and several shrimp trucks. At Kualoa Ranch, which offers various outdoor activities and tours, we went on a guided ATV tour, bouncing along winding, rutted roads with spectacular ocean views and green valleys.
In contrast to the mellow North Shore is bustling Honolulu. Oceanfront hotels back up to prime beaches yet face Downtown Waikiki, an attractive urban oasis with shops, restaurants, entertainment and the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo.
Driving from the North Shore to Honolulu we stopped to visit the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor. Tickets are free to watch a 23-minute documentary film about WWII before touring the USS Arizona Memorial. Afterward, we went on the Mighty Mo Tour (tickets, $20) aboard the USS Missouri battleship that served in WWII, the Korean War and the Persian Gulf. This massive battleship is equipped with nine 16-inch guns; each barrel is 67 feet long. (So impressed was Michael with this battleship that it became his topic for a speech class).
Hot and tired, we checked into the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, encompassing 22 oceanfront acres with six pools, 20 restaurants/lounges and 90 shops. Beautifully landscaped pathways with waterfalls and a penguin exhibit invite leisurely strolls.
A trip highlight was the Spirit of Aloha Lunch Snorkel Sail, which departs from the onsite Hilton Pier. We sailed to a spot popular for turtle viewing. Here, we snorkeled and swam among a group of turtles. Back onboard, it was party time with the crew serving locally-brewed beer, soft drinks and sandwiches.
After the Hilton, we transferred to the Outrigger Reef on the Beach, a classic and comfortable beach hotel in the hub of Waikiki. From our oceanfront room we could hear the waves and watch people taking hula lessons on the sandy beach below. The Outrigger’s Kani Ka Pila Grille, a casual, pool-side restaurant that spotlights some of Hawaii’s best island musicians, is a pleasant place to linger over pupus (hors d’oeuvres) and tropical drinks.
The day before saying aloha to Oahu, we took a scenic drive to Hanauma Bay, and Kailua and Lanikai beaches. We bought take-out plate lunches from Rainbow Drive-in, a longtime Honolulu eatery, and had a picnic at the beach. For about $7 or $8 a plate, you get a meat entrée, two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad or slaw.
With our family vacation a success and many happy memories, we plan to return to the islands soon.
Mimi Slawoff writes a monthly family travel column, “Let’s Go,” for L.A. Parent magazine and freelances for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. Follow Mimi @mimitravelz.