By Matt Villano, on August 6, 2013

Family adventures on Oahu

Just because you travel with kids doesn’t mean you have to build an entire trip around family-friendly activities. After four years of traveling extensively with at least one child (and two years traveling with two of them), my wife and I have become firm believers that family trips should focus on stuff that we would do even if we didn’t have kids in tow. This is especially true when we’re visiting destinations for the first time.


Naturally, then, on our first-ever trip to Oahu this summer, we were careful to build an itinerary that would appeal to all ages and still capture a unique perspective of the city as a whole.


Yes, we visited typically toddler-friendly spots such as the Honolulu Zoo and the Polynesian Cultural Center, as well as more traditional tourist-focused attractions such as Waikiki Beach and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (which, IMHO, has one of the best cultural anthropology collections in the world).

The view from the top of the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail


We also were sure to experience a whole lot of outdoors stuff that many visitors overlook on a vacation to OahuFirst on our list: Ka’ena Point State Park, a stretch of untrammeled bluffs and beach at the far end of Farrington Highway in the northwest corner of the island.


What attracted us to this beach was the fact that it sits at the end of the road – you drive in, and the only way back to where you started (in our case, Disney’s Aulani Resort) is to retrace your steps. We also went for an epic hike – where the road ends, a 2.7-mile hike along a dirt road brought us face-to-face with everything from natural stone arches to tidepools bristling with life.

Viewfinder Tip: Bring lots of water for hikes on Oahu; even when there’s a breeze, the tropical air is deceptively dehydrating.

About halfway through our hike, we also received an unexpected surprise: a pod of dolphins, cavorting in the surf just off-shore. (It was my younger daughter’s first dolphin encounter; yes, she was stoked.)


Later in the trip we laced up the hiking boots and hit another trail – this time the 3-mile round-trip Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail. This hike was more strenuous than the first; straight up going out and straight down coming back. Thankfully, most of the trail was paved, enabling us to bring a stroller for the baby (though our Big Girl ended up sitting in it while I carried her sister). From the top, we were able to look down on the 1909 Makapu’u Lighthouse. We also could see for miles up the East Shore: a kaleidoscope of turquoise water and sandy beaches with jagged lush mountains behind.

Hiking down the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail


On one of our last days, we drove from our hotel in Honolulu (the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk) to the North Shore. After slices of the legendary chocolate cream pie at Ted’s Bakery, we headed for Laniakea Beach – a beach famous for attracting endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles. We had read in numerous guidebooks about how turtles like to spend the late afternoons of summer sunning themselves here. We didn’t think it could be true. Then we saw the spectacle for ourselves.


As we approached, we spotted three creatures plopped in the middle of the beach like giant rocks. A crowd of onlookers had gathered and were shooting photos and interacting with a volunteer docent, who was there to guarantee the animals’ safety. We joined the crowd for a while, using the opportunity to teach our kids about the differences between reptiles and amphibians. Eventually, the girls lost interest (after all, the giant creatures just sat there) and instead decided to jump around in the surf. It was a fitting end to a memorable and alternative family-oriented Oahu adventure.

What are your favorite types of family-friendly adventures to seek out on vacation?