A local's guide to family fun in Hawaii

Want to know where Hawaiian families hang ten on the island of Oahu? We ask local mums to share the best kid-friendly spots for keeping the whole tribe entertained.

Hawaii is a top destination for families.
  • Sue White
  • January 2019

There’s plenty of fun to be had on the Hawaiian island of Oahu if you’re travelling as a family with young kids in tow – you just have to know where to go. If you’re kids are active, check out the skate parks or take a hike. And if they’re crafty, sign up for an art class.

Take a hike

All ages

Oahu-based art director, blogger and mum of two, Julie Estrella from Aloha Lovely, may have a passion for style but in her downtime she doesn’t mind getting muddy. On weekends she’s often found on the Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Digging Trail. About 30 minutes north of Waikiki, the 2.5-kilometre trail has coastline views comparable to Diamond Head Crater (the extinct volcano in the city’s south) but fewer crowds. “It’s safe for the little ones, isn’t too long and the view is a huge payoff for not too big an effort,” she says. Julie started taking her (now tween-age) girls to the popular family spot when they were aged five and seven years old. “Kids love crawling over the bendy tree roots and the peek-a-boo views,” she says. Afterwards, they snack at Fresh Catch in nearby Kaneohe. “There’s great poke [diced raw fish],” she says. Park on Hui Iwa Street (near the Temple Valley Shopping Center) and look for the yellow marker indicating the start of the track.


Spectacular panoramic views from Diamond Head Crater.
Spectacular panoramic views from Diamond Head Crater.

Try skateboarding

Ages 7+

Given that she is the World Surf League’s general manager for Hawaii/Tahiti Nui, it’s no surprise that Jodi Wilmott and her sons (aged 9, 13 and 19) are keen surfers. But out of the water they spend a lot of time at Proper Rideshop in Kalihi, north of Honolulu’s Downtown business hub. “Skateboarding and surfing go hand in hand,” says Jodi. Proper is far more than a place to buy cool skate gear. “It’s an indoor skate facility with all the equipment. They have great instructors and you can learn to improve your skating,” she says. When the Wilmott kids are back at their North Shore home (where Oahu’s biggest waves are found), they are often joined by Honolulu teens who make the hour-long drive to skate at the Banzai Rock Skatepark. “It’s right behind the beach near the famous surf spot, the Banzai Pipeline, and is known for its transitions, walls and bowls,” Jodi says. If you fancy something closer to Honolulu – with cool obstacles – take a spin at Hawaii Kai Skate Park.

Go dolphin spotting

All ages

The competition from Oahu’s North Shore means tourists often miss the island’s west side. “I think people might not realise its beauty,” says Julie Estrella. For a family beach outing, Julie heads 50 minutes west from Waikiki to the flat-as-a-pancake waters of Pokai Bay. “It’s calm enough to swim laps or float around in a silly inflatable. Think soft white sand and crystal clear water. Locals also know there’s a reasonable chance of finding Spinner dolphins here, especially in the mornings. Like all wildlife, there are no guarantees, but Julie has had success and says it pays to keep an eye out for the small (by dolphin standards) mammals. Julie pairs the trip with a meal at Coquito’s, a small Latin American restaurant set back from the main road in Waianae. “I go for Shrimp Mofongo and the kids usually have chicken, rice and beans,” she says.

Visit Pokai Bay for your best chance at dolphin spotting.
Visit Pokai Bay for your best chance at dolphin spotting.

Get a culture fix

All ages

Given her design background, it’s no wonder that when Oahu-based blogger Mal Holcomb-Botts of Aloha Botts and Tots is out with her two kids she often heads to the Honolulu Museum of Art. While the themed Family Day (third Sunday of the month) is a favourite, it’s always a good time to enjoy the museum’s serene surrounds. “There are gorgeous courtyards, ponds and fountains and ever-changing exhibits,” she says. Consider getting there by public transport, as parking can be difficult. “If you drive, your only option is meter parking so be sure to have quarters on hand,” advises Mal. For lunch, she recommends the museum café, a picnic in the park across the street, or driving to nearby Kaka‘ako’s cafés. Those with older kids in tow will love the dancing, music, interactive art exhibits and street food at the monthly ARTafterDARK (January to October). “There are adult beverages too, making it a good go-to for a family night out,” she says.


Wind down at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Wind down at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Check out Honolulu’s graffiti scene

Ages 12+

All good cities have one: a former industrial area bursting with cool cafés, microbreweries and pop-up shops. In Honolulu it’s Kaka‘ako, between Waikiki and Downtown. Salt – a space for the community to gather, eat and shop – comprises one whole city block at Our Kaka‘ako mall and is a hit with teens, not only because of the impressive graffiti art. “It has its own culture including lots of artistic people swapping ideas over coffee,” says Jodi Wilmott. While her teens hang out with friends, she has her own fun. “I mosey around, get food and look at the amazing murals.” If she’s in the area at the right time, Jodi enjoys another slice of Kaka’ako: the weekly Sunset Bazaar (Kaka‘ako Park, 747 Ala Moana Boulevard) every Friday night.

Take a glass class

Ages 4+

Less than two kilometres inland from Waikiki Beach, across from the Ala Wai Golf Course, lies the perfect activity if you want to spend a few hours out of the sun – glass art workshops at KoBo Glass. Local mum Marcia Lise regularly takes her five-year-old son to join the studio’s open glass classes. “He likes putting small glass pieces onto the glass sheet... they’re later transformed into a chopstick rest, magnet, sun catcher or a dish,” she says. Drop-in classes at the cool, air-conditioned studio are kid-friendly. The final creations are put in the kiln by the teacher and picked up a few days later or posted to their creators, anywhere in the world.



Tackle Kealia Trail

Ages 6+

On their home turf of Oahu’s North Shore, Jodi Wilmott’s family regularly tackles the paths of the Kealia Trail (it includes 19 hairpin bends). “It’s quite a workout, so the kids use up a lot of energy,” she laughs. While some locals (such as the “fitness freaks” from the army’s nearby Schofield Barracks) jog the trail in just 45 minutes return, Jodi’s own pace means it usually takes double that. Expect shade, rocks and lots of vegetation on the way up and ironbark trees nearer to the top, where the reward is the view. You can spot Mokuleia Army Beach, known to locals as Blue Swimming Hole from the lookout. “We often go swimming here after the hike, although in winter the waves get big so you’d want to be careful,” says Jodi. To make the most of the drive to the North Shore, head into Haleiwa for lunch or shaved ice.


Keep your kids active on the Kealia Trail.
Keep your kids active on the Kealia Trail.

Go fishing

Ages 4+

It’s free, it’s gorgeous and locals can’t get enough of it. “I love the ocean and so do my children but that is only part of the beauty that Hawaii has to offer,” says Mal Holcomb-Botts of the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, less than 30 minutes’ drive north from Honolulu. “The lush green tropical foliage at the gardens is an incredible sight that many visitors miss.” As Insta fans will know, the entry to the gardens is oft photographed (so often, in fact, that guards are posted to stop visitors pausing on the road) but inside there are 400 acres to explore. “The kids can run, run, run to their hearts content… it’s never too crowded,” says Mal. And nothing beats a weekend visit, when kids can fish onsite (10am to 2pm). “They hand out adorable bamboo poles with barbless hooks but require you to bring your own bait,” she says. The event, which runs on a first come, first served basis, is a catch and release program. “No fish can be taken from the property.”



Meet chickens on a farm

Ages 2-6

Every Tuesday and Friday morning from 9-11am in Hawaii Kai (a 25-minute drive east of Waikiki), the family-run, organic farm known as Keiki and Plow opens its doors so kids can come in and pick their own produce. Local mum Greta Gallardo is a regular at this hands-on event, where her two children (aged three and six) are encouraged to harvest veggies, hold chickens and go wild in the dirt. “Although I absolutely love raising my two kids in Hawaii, I often felt like they were lacking in the area of ‘farm life’ and seeing where their food comes from,” she says. Before grabbing a basket to gather organic produce and fresh eggs, Greta’s kids usually run up the hill to the play area and lose themselves in building and digging. “My kids look forward to it and call it the chicken farm where they have ‘chicken friends’,” says Greta.