Discover O‘ahu with Your ‘Ohana
With spring here and summer just around the corner, it’s time to book your family getaway to O‘ahu.
The island’s unique town and country experiences combine Hawaiian culture and history with fun in the sun. From the excitement of Waikīkī and Honolulu to the laid-back charms of the coastal regions, O‘ahu is a destination of unparalleled natural beauty and a proud heritage dating back nearly two millennia. After all, where else in America is there a royal palace—and who knew that surfing could involve a history lesson?
Ride the waves, hike a volcano, and visit Hawaiian monk seals
Playing in the Surf
Waikīkī may be one of the world’s most famous beach resorts, but Hawai‘i’s rich past and present thrive harmoniously here just as everywhere across O‘ahu. Hawai‘i was the birthplace of surfing, and in Waikīkī you’ll enjoy the same quality waves Hawaiians have surfed, swam, and paddled in for nearly 2,000 years. Take surf or stand-up paddle lessons with Waikīkī Beach Services, which also offers outrigger canoe rides in the same types of vessels in which Polynesians voyaged across the Pacific to reach Hawai‘i. Your kids will be interested to know that outrigger canoe racing is Hawai‘i’s most popular sport.
In the Park
Take an early-morning hike up Diamond Head—Lē‘ahi, in Hawaiian—the extinct volcanic crater east of Waikīkī, which provides breathtaking 360-degree panoramas at the summit. At the base of Diamond Head sits oceanfront Kapi‘olani Park, home to Waikīkī Aquarium, where Maka Onaona and Hō‘ailona, two endangered Hawaiian monk seals, are among the most beloved creatures. For more wild adventures, head to Honolulu Zoo, and see hundreds of animals from the tropics.
Where Kings and Queens Once Reigned
Waikīkī’s resort-lined shore was home to Hawai‘i’s royal family for 500 years before Westerners arrived in the 1700s. Follow the self-guided Waikīkī Historic Trail, a series of surfboard markers that recall the area’s history and cultural legacy. Look for statues of royal family members Prince Jonah Kalaniana‘ole and Princess Ka‘iulani, plus Duke Kahanamoku, the revered Hawaiian waterman and Ambassador of Aloha who introduced surfing around the world.
Tour a palace, activate a volcano, and step back in time
Take your kids to Bishop Museum, an exciting showplace dedicated to Hawai‘i and the Pacific region. Completed in 1890, the museum was built by Charles Bishop in memory of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, to house her collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal heirlooms. Recently renovated Hawaiian Hall and Pacific Hall are dazzling showcases of each region’s histories, cultures, and ways of life. At the J. Watumull Planetarium, kids learn how early Polynesian voyagers navigated by the stars, while the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center provides an interactive wonderland of Hawai‘i’s natural environment, from oceans to volcanoes.
Hawai‘i’s Royal Past
Meticulously restored ‘Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawai‘i’s last monarchs, King David Kalākaua, who built the palace in 1882; his wife, Queen Kapi‘olani; and his sister and successor, Queen Lili‘uokalani. King Kalākaua was Hawai‘i’s first reigning monarch to travel around the world, and he built the palace to enhance the prestige of Hawai‘i overseas and mark Hawai‘i’s status as a modern nation. Directly across from ‘Iolani Palace is a bronze statue of King Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands under his rule in the late 1700s. Every year on June 11, Kamehameha Day, the famous landmark is draped with dozens of 30-foot fresh flower leis in his honor.
Pali Highway to Nu‘uanu
Rent a car and drive up forest-lined Pali Highway from Honolulu to the Queen Emma Summer Palace, a quaint Victorian home used as a retreat for Queen Emma, her husband, King Kamehameha IV, and their son, Prince Albert Edward, during the mid-1800s. Farther along, stop at historic Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout for awe-inspiring Windward Coast panoramas. This mountain perch is the site of the 1795 battle that resulted in the unification of the Hawaiian Islands under the rule of King Kamehameha I.
Soar over a farm, discover ancient ways, and explore Polynesia
The new zipline tour, CLIMB Works Keana Farms, showcases the beauty, agriculture, history, and culture of Hawai‘i. The three-hour guided tour takes participants soaring over a working farm nestled between the mountains and famed beaches of the North Shore. Starting high in the mountains, you’ll enjoy panoramic views from start to finish as you soar on one of seven side-by-side dual ziplines over this breathtaking landscape.
Learn how ancient Hawaiians lived off the land and sea in beautiful, forested Waimea Valley. This sacred valley is part of an ahupua‘a, a crescent-shaped mountain-to-sea land division where ancient Hawaiians sustained themselves through farming and fishing. Experience the newly renovated Kauhale (living site); watch cultural practitioners demonstrate kapa making, featherwork, and lauhala weaving; hike the forests; and cool off under the waterfall.
A Trip through Polynesia
Seven island nations of the South Pacific, including Hawai‘i, are the focus at Polynesian Cultural Center with authentically re-created villages, hands-on activities, live shows, and an immersive cinematic experience. Learn to throw a Tahitian spear, cook the Samoan way, and compete in a canoe race. Stay late for Hā: The Breath of Life, a riveting theatrical production about a young Polynesian’s life, with music, dancing, and thrilling fireknives. The new Hukilau Marketplace features great shopping and dining options.
Central to Leeward O‘ahu
Experience Hawai‘i’s rich plantation legacy, poignant WWII memorials and a day at sea
The Origins of WWI
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese naval forces attacked Pearl Harbor, catapulting the U.S. into what ultimately became World War II. Four extraordinary monuments bring that global struggle to life at Pearl Harbor Historic Sites: the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. The Pearl Harbor Visitors Center also features fascinating exhibits about the attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have the opportunity to meet military veterans who survived that day and are happy to share their stories.
Discover O‘ahu’s agricultural legacy at Hawai‘i Plantation Village, which tells the story of immigrants who worked on the Islands’ sugar plantations between the mid-19th and -20th centuries and shaped Hawai‘i into the vibrant multicultural community it is today. This living history museum and botanical garden includes restored buildings and replicas of plantation structures, including the workers’ homes, the plantation store, infirmary, community bathhouse and manager’s office. The village also relates the stories of the many groups and cultures that lived and worked together: Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino.
Year-Round Whale Watching
Although Hawai‘i’s official humpback whale-watching season ends in April, Wild Side Specialty Tours’ Best of the West adventure is a year-round whale-watching, dolphin-swimming, and turtle-snorkel tour on the 34-foot Power Cat Alaka‘i. Leaving from Wai‘anae Small Boat Harbor, this thrilling and intimate sailing tour (limited to six passengers) provides sightings of pilot whales and false killer whales, various dolphin species, and other wildlife as marine biologists share their knowledge and expertise.
Snorkel, swim with dolphins, and explore a 4,000-acre ranch
Start your Windward Coast exploration at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, set amid a former volcanic crater. Learn about conservation efforts at the Marine Education Center before heading down to the beach to snorkel. Continue your shoreline drive with stops at Hālona Blowhole, where water spouts up to 30 feet in the air through an ancient lava tube, and the adjacent Hālona Beach Cove.
Magical moments await when families experience close encounters with marine life at Sea Life Park Hawai‘i. Swim with dolphins, sharks, sea lions, or Hawaiian rays. Witness the power, grace, and acrobatics of incredible animals at the Dolphin Cove Show, Hawai‘i Ocean Theatre, or Kolohe Kai Sea Lion Show. And don’t miss wonderful habitats such as the 300,000-gallon Shark Tank or the Seabird Sanctuary.
Cultural learning and outdoor adventures go hand in hand at breathtaking Kualoa, a family-owned, 4,000-acre working cattle ranch stretching across mountains and valleys to the sea. If Kualoa looks familiar, you’ve probably seen films and TV shows that have been filmed there, from Jurassic Park to Hawaii Five-O. Adventures include the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour, the new Treetop Canopy Zipline Tour, horseback riding, the Ancient Hawaiian Fishpond & Tropical Garden Tour, and many more.