Best Oahu Activities for Families
Welcome to Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest island. Keep reading to discover the family-friendly attractions recommended by BabyQuip Quality Providers serving Oahu. We’re sharing these local tips so you can start planning your family Oahu activities.
Free things to do in Oahu.
1. Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail is a name that’s a little deceiving as the hike actually makes its way to the top of a hill, bypassing and rising above Makapu’u lighthouse. We like this hike for families because it’s a short climb (less than one mile) and offers breathtaking views of the scenic Makapu’u beach, off-shore islands and whales! From December through May, whales can be spotted off-shore making this a popular hike but worth the crowds. This is one of the prettiest Oahu activities of all!
2. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden sits on 400 acres and features tropical plants, a man-made freshwater lake and hiking trails. Built in the 1980s to provide flood protection, the garden offers a quiet refuge where you and the little ones can spend some time outside exploring tropical rainforest flora from around the world.
On weekends, you can camp in the garden for free! Reservations are required. On Saturdays and Sundays, you can pick up a bamboo pole from the Visitor Center and go fishing (just bring your own bait). It’s a 20 minute walk to the fishing area, so this activity is best for preschool-aged kids and older. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed New Years Day and Christmas Day).
3. Manoa Falls Trail
The Manoa Falls Trail was an early Hawaiian route, probably used by wood cutters, bird catchers, plant gatherers, and bathers. Visitors today can enjoy the 1.6 mile round-trip trail as it passes through a Eucalyptus tree grove, ascends through a lush rainforest, and ends with views of Manoa falls. This easy hike is suitable for most families—we suggest a baby carrier or hiking carrier for babies and toddlers (the trail is not stroller friendly). The trail can become very slippery when wet, so avoid hiking in rainy conditions.
4. Scenic Pali Highway
Take a mini road trip! From Honolulu, drive Pali Highway (Hawaii Route 61) northeast towards Kailua. This scenic drive offers numerous sightseeing points along the way, including Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.
Best places to visit in Oahu.
1. Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley is a historical nature park and botanical garden. The valley is a place of historic cultural significance and includes stone terraces and walls constructed during the time of the Hawaiian monarchy. Taking advantage of the nutrient-rich volcanic soil and the rainy environment of the valley, Hawaiians developed a prosperous farming community in the valley using complex fish ponds, domesticated animal pens, and large farming beds. The valley once grew taro, sweet potato, and bananas.
Today, the garden contains 35 distinct collections, representing some 5,000 taxa from around the world including an impressive collection of Polynesian plants and very rare Hawaiian plants. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). Be sure to ask at the ticketing booth about guided tour and interpretive program schedules.
Cost: Adults $18, Children 4–12 $12, Children under 4 free, Parking $1.50 per hour
2. Dole Plantation
We like how you can choose the breadth and length of your Oahu activities at Dole Plantation. Looking for an all-inclusive experience? The All Activities Combo Package gets you access to the Pineapple Train, Garden Maze and Plantation Garden. Just looking for a short and fun train ride for your mini-conductor? Then hop on board with a Pineapple Express Train Tour.
You can choose how much of the plantation you want to experience with a variety of tour options. However long you stay, don’t leave without trying the refreshing pineapple treat known as Dole Whip. The plantation is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Christmas Day).
Cost: $7-$23 per person
Oahu activities for families with small children.
1. Honolulu Zoo
Open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day), the Honolulu Zoo is known for its exotic bird residents. The zoo is not massive, making short visits doable for families with babies and toddlers. Visitors today have the opportunity to observe 221 species, 905 unique specimens of life. The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed Christmas Day).
Cost: Adults $19, Children 3–12 $11, Children under 3 free, Parking $1.50 per hour
2. Kakaʻako Waterfront Park and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center
Located on the beach and just 1.5 miles from downtown Honolulu, Kakaʻako Waterfront Park offers 30 acres of space to play and explore. The nearby Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center is a great rainy-day activity for families visiting Oahu. The Discovery Center uses state-of-the-art technology to help children explore, play, and discover.
The Center features four major galleries with hands-on, interactive exhibits. For babies and toddlers, the Tot Spot and Rainforest Adventures exhibits offer play areas for the littlest explorers. For out-of-state visitors, the Hawaiian Rainbows exhibits helps kids discover what makes Hawaii so special. The Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closed most holidays).
Cost: General admission $12, Children under 1 free
3. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
The Bishop Museum is Hawaii’s largest museum, featuring 24 million historical, cultural, and natural treasures. The museum offers a number of daily programs. We recommend In My Backyard—a daily planetarium show for kids 8 and under ($2.95 per person)—and The Hot Spot Rock: Lava Melt Demo for Kids! (recommended for kids 2–10 years old).
In the Science Adventure Center, your little can explore the inside of a volcano and dress up like an insect. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day).
Cost: Adults $24.95, Youth 4–17 $16.95, Children under 4 free. Ask about All-access passes which include planetarium and special exhibit tickets. Parking $5.
4. Hawaiian Railway Society
The Hawaiian Railway Society operates the only active historical railroad on Oahu. Climb onboard and learn about the history of railroading in Hawaii. The volunteer run non-profit operates one train ride on Saturday and two rides on Sunday. The 3 p.m. rides include a stop in Ko’Olina at Two Scoops where you can purchase ice cream. Before or after your train ride be sure to check out the Toy Train Museum—little train lovers will be thrilled by this Oahu activity.
Cost: Adults $15, Children 2–12 $10, Children under 2 free
5. Paradise Cove Luau
There are lots of luaus to choose from on Oahu, but we recommend the kid-friendly Paradise Cove. Before the show, explore the Hawaiian village, watch ancient Hawaiian games, arts and crafts demonstrations and musical performers. Open daily, Paradise Cove offers transportation from Waikiki with luau festivities generally running from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: Adults $102–186, Youth 13–20 $90–163, Child 4–12 $80–146, Children 3 and under free
Best beaches in Oahu for families.
1. Ala Moana Beach Park
Less crowded than Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana is popular with locals and surfers. The beach is protected by an outer reef, making the waters calm and perfect for families with young children. The 100-acre park offers large grassy areas, banyan and palm trees, restrooms, showers, concession stands, a music pavilion, tennis courts, and picnic tables. If you’re staying in the Honolulu area, Ala Moana is the perfect beach-day hang.
2. Fort Derussy Beach
Fort Derussy Beach is the largest beach in Waikiki and offers a safe swimming area, small playground, and weekly firework shows on Friday. Koa Beach Service rents a variety of equipment to beach goers. Babies and toddlers will love the floating foam pads. For a unique pedaling experience, rent an aqua cycle (one child can sit comfortably between two adults). For families with older kiddos, double and triple kayaks and snorkels can provide hours of fun.
Cost: Parking $4 first hour, $1.50 each additional half hour
3. Baby Makapu’u Beach
After you hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, head over to Baby Makapu’u Beach, just north of Makapu’u Beach. This is a must in terms of Oahu activities. If you carried your little one on the nearby lighthouse hike, this is the perfect place for them to stretch their legs and burn some energy. There are small tide pools to explore marine life set against a backdrop of pale sand and dark lava rock. Because waves crash closer to shore here, you’ll see people learning how to surf.
Shopping and dining in Oahu.
1. SALT at Our Kaka’ako
The new SALT is a curated retail, restaurant and mixed-use space. This is a great place to grab brunch or lunch, shop for unique souvenirs, or take a yoga class. We love Paiko—a family-friendly plant shop with flower crown and lei building workshops. The third Friday of the month, the free SALT Marketplace event brings together local vendors and live music.
Cost: Free to shop, but check on parking info before you go!
2. Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
Since 1951, Matsumoto’s has been serving up finely shaved ice in Haleiwa. No trip to Oahu is complete without some shave ice. We recommend ordering one of Matsumotot’s combinations to explore some new flavors.
Cost: Small $3, Large $3.50
3. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
With world-famous food, a simple menu, and a pavilion for seating—Giovanni’s is the perfect spot for a casual lunch or dinner. If you love shrimp, you should add Giovanni’s to your Oahu itinerary. For picky eaters, the Jumbo Garlic Hot Dog can be modified.
Cost: See menu
Are you planning a trip to Oahu with young children? There are BabyQuip Quality Providers ready to help make your stay comfortable and memorable with beach rentals, full-size cribs, strollers, and more.
Kathy is a freelance writer, an Independent Quality Provider with BabyQuip and the mother of a very active one-year-old boy. When she’s not changing diapers, developing engaging content for clients, or helping families travel with little ones, she enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, and naps.