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From surfing and snorkeling to hiking and sightseeing, there are many exciting things to do on Oahu in Hawaii. No matter how many times you’ve been to the island of Oahu, you can find new Hawaiian adventures.
9 Things to Do on Oahu with Kids
Oahu’s diversity is what we like best about Hawaii’s third largest island. From the laid-back North Shore to bustling Honolulu, Oahu’s Hawaiian food, activities and attractions reflect the island’s diverse Hawaiian population. Our family of five has been visiting the Hawaiian islands for many years and each trip is unique. Plus, from Honolulu it’s easy to island hop to Maui, Big island, and other Hawaiian islands. Based on our favorite activities over the years, we’ve compiled a list of best things to do on Oahu with kids. Teens will enjoy these too! And, if you’re looking to save some money on your trip, check out our favorite free things to do on Oahu.
TravelingMom Tip: Whale watching takes places from December – May. Take a whale watching tour or see the majestic creatures from beaches or from the Makapuu Lighthouse.
1. Surf in Waikiki and the North Shore
Learning to surf is one of the first things to do on Oahu. It’s a big part of Hawaiian culture. So you’ve got to try it at least once while in Hawaii. The Hans Hedemann Surf School offers lessons in Waikiki and on the North Shore. We took lessons on the North Shore because we were staying at the Turtle Bay Resort. The surf school is based at the resort, so it was a handy location for us. Lessons start on land and continue in the water.
While on the North Shore, it’s fun to watch expert surfers catch big waves at Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. In summer, Waimea Bay Beach Park is popular for snorkeling and scuba diving.
TravelingMom Tip: Visit the historic surf town of Haleiwa on the North Shore. It’s home to the most famous shave ice stores on Oahu – Aoki’s Shave Ice and Matsumoto Shave Ice.
2. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a great place to snorkel. Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area. Before snorkeling, you’re required to watch a short video about protecting marine life. Hanauma Bay is among popular things to do on Oahu. If possible, aim to get there in the morning.
3. Relax on Oahu Beaches
Of course, Oahu has many beautiful beaches. If you’re staying in Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is most accessible. It’s a great beach with typically gentle surf. For a more secluded beach day, my family especially enjoys Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach. They’re located in a residential neighborhood about a 20-30-minute drive from Waikiki.
4. Hike Diamond Head
Where else can you walk along a trail to the edge of a 300,000-year-old crater? If you go, allow up to two hours for the 1.6-mile round-trip hike to Diamond Head. Although not difficult, the trail is uneven at times. Plus, you’ll walk through a tunnel and climb 99 steps at the end! However, the trek is worth the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu.
Diamond Head is one of many hiking trails on Oahu. Looking for more hiking trails? The Manoa Falls trail leads to a 150-foot tall waterfall. But don’t swim in the water.
TravelingMom Tip: After Diamond Head, pick up lunch at Rainbow Drive-in. It’s an iconic counter-serve spot for Hawaiian food.
TravelingMom Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
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5. Take an Atlantis Submarine Tour
Atlantis Submarines is a popular attraction, especially for young kids. First, a boat takes you out to the submarine dive site 100 feet underwater to explore artificial reefs. The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable. More importantly, they make the commentary so much fun that the kids don’t even know they’re learning something. Expect to see lots of fish and maybe even sea turtles.
6. Play at Kualoa Ranch
Located in serene kaneohe, Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch on the windward coast. It’s also a popular tourist attraction and filming location for Jurassic Park movies.
The ranch offers various outdoor activities and guided tours for families. These include horseback riding and ziplining. We took a thrilling, guided tour on an ATV. Bouncing on rutted roads through meadows and valleys we had spectacular ocean views. Ages 16 and older can drive their own ATV with no passengers. For multi-passenger rides, the minimum driving age is 21.
TravelingMom Tip: Also located in Kaneohe is the Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden.
7. Enjoy a Canoe or Catamaran Tour
Oahu’s beaches are ideal for kayaking, sailing and canoeing. Waikiki Beach Services offers Outrigger Canoe Surfing. The boat tour captains are knowledgeable about Waikiki and tell great stories while you paddle out. Hold on for an incredible ride back to shore.
The Spirit of Aloha catamaran launches from the pier at Hilton Hawaiian Village. This snorkel cruise brings you to a spot popular for viewing and swimming with sea turtles. Look but don’t touch!
8. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
Feel the aloha spirit at this Polynesian-themed park and living museum. The park features six island villages representing Hawai‘i, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Natives from these Pacific cultures share their traditions through music, dance and activities. The Go Native! activities immerse visitors in Polynesian culture with hands-on experiences. Throw a wooden spear, paddle a canoe or cook like a Polynesian. In the Umu Making Experience, you’ll learn how to cook the Samoan way. Besides cooking the food, learn how to weave utensils, start a fire and heat rocks.
In addition, the center also has family-friendly luaus with traditional food. For example, the luau features foods such as lomilomi salmon, chicken long rice and kalua pork. Packages include non-alcoholic beverages.
Note that the Polynesian Cultural Center is open daily except Sundays.
9. Explore Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Located west of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor is the site of the WWII’s 1941 bombing attack. Plus, it’s home to the USS Arizona Memorial. The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the defining moments in United States and world history. You can explore on your own or book a tour. However, reserve your tickets well in advance online. If taking the self-guided Pearl Harbor tour, plan to arrive by 7 a.m. with everyone in your group present. This is a very popular attraction so tickets go fast!
Tickets for the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial program are free. However, there’s a limited number available each day. The program includes a short video (with actual attack footage ) and a round-trip boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial.
More Fun Things to Do on Oahu
- Visit the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo. Young kids will especially enjoy the animals.
- History buffs in your family? Take a tour of the historic Iolani Palace. It was the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs and served as the official royal residence until 1893.
- The kid-friendly Bishop Museum is another great place to learn about Hawaiian history.
- For a laid-back outing, ride the train at the Dole Plantation.
- Finally, see hula performances and shop for souvenirs at the Ala Moana Center. It’s the world’s largest open-air shopping center.