Which Hawaiian Island is Best for a Family Vacation?

Hawaii is a beautiful set of islands that makes for an excellent place for a family vacation. There are resorts and restaurants that will make your mouth water and your head spin. Each of the islands has a particular set of attractions that makes them attractive for  families. What Hawaiian island is best for a family vacation?

Oahu is the best island to take kids on vacation, for the classic Hawaiian experience. It is easy to get to, with many kid-friendly restaurants, attractions and shopping. There are also some of the most famous beaches on the planet and a pineapple plantation. If the beaches get old, there are miles of hiking trails and thousands of vertical feet for climbers.

Going on a family vacation to Hawaii is the kind of trip that lasts forever in parents’ and children’s memories.

Like the food, the views are breathtaking, and with activities to suit all age levels, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a little R’nR and adventure. Read on and learn what it takes to have the best family vacation in Hawaii.

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Things To Do On Oahu With Kids

Snorkelling is a favourite family activity on Oahu
Photo By: “FatCamera via canva.com”

Oahu is home to some of the most kid-friendly activities in the whole state. This is one of the reasons why it makes it the best Hawaiian Island for a family vacation.

They have a more city-style feel, and the places and restaurants will look or feel familiar to kids.

Some of the most visited beaches globally are on Oahu, (think Waikiki and the North Shore), so be prepared to deal with crowds. This won’t feel like a problem after a few days of laying around in the sun. 

Top things to do on Oahu with kids are:

  • Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
  • Attend a Luau
  • Visit Kualoa Nature Preserve
  • Swim with dolphins at Dolphin Quest
  • Learn at the Honolulu Zoo
  • Hike Diamondhead
  • Hit the Beach
  • Stay at Aulani Disney Resort

Oahu Island Layout

It is a good idea to get the “lei of the island”  before heading to Oahu. Sorry I couldn’t resist.

Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbour, and Diamond Head are located on the island’s southeast side. The majority of direct flights from the Mainland land in Honolulu, making it a convenient and often cheaper city to fly into.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort is right in Waikiki, alongside Sheraton Waikiki Resort, close to the Waikiki Shopping Centre, and steps from Waikiki Beach.

The popular Aulani Disney Resort is on the west coast of the island  about an hour from Honolulu (more on this later). 

Kualoa Nature Preserve is located a lovely drive up the east coast of Oahu.

Activities For Kids On Oahu

Take a Tour of Kualoa Nature Preserve, immortalized in Hollywood films like Jurassic Park.
Photo By: ” Spondylotheis via canva.com”

A Visit to Pearl Harbor is a Trip Kids Will Remember Forever

A stop that everyone should take when they visit the island is Pearl Harbor.

While Pearl Harbour may not seem like one of the top activities on Oahu for kids, the monuments to the tragedies of December 7, 1941, are an important reminder of the cost of our freedom.

The remains of the USS Arizona are still sunk to the depths, but a large platform has been erected to allow patrons to view it. Take the Navy-operated shuttle boat ride to the memorial. 

Kids can attend the Pearl Harbour National Memorial  Be a Junior Ranger Program, and take a scavenger hunt that helps them learn about the attack, as well as learn about the people living on Oahu at that time and Hawaii’s history and traditions.

Aside from the enduring monuments and remembrances, there is an incredible flight museum The Pearl Harbour Aviation Museum.

Kids love planes! A visit through the hangars filled with artifacts and actual planes from World War II and beyond will be an interesting day trip.

You can even experience Pearl Harbour from home, if your family isn’t leaving for Hawaii any time soon.

Attend a Luau

Attending a Luau is a unique experience that will create lasting memories for all the whole family. The mix of Hawaiian food and flowers will have the parents enthralled, while the fire and Polynesian dancing will get the kids’ up and moving.

Nothing endears a child or visitors like learning about the culture and history of its people. The usually picky kid will dig into the Hawaiian cuisine and maybe realize they love pork.

Another great thing about a luau is that it gives the family a chance to have lots of fun!

If you are looking for the best Luau in Oahu for families and kids, Toa Luau is a gem.

A smaller luau, Toa Lua also offers more interactive activities such as lei making and coconut husking, as well as free entrance to the Waimea Valley. This is in addition to the regular dinner and evening show. If you are already planning to head to the Waimea Falls and Gardens, complete your day at the luau. 

Most resorts and hotels will also offer guests (and non-guests) a luau experience, so you don’t have to travel far from your temporary home. Add a luau to your list of favourite things to do with kids in Oahu.

Kualoa Nature Preserve is an Excellent Attraction for Families

One of the most filmed and recognizable jungles in the world is Kualoa Nature Preserve on the east coast of Oahu.

Several prominent movies have been filmed in the preserve including the Jurassic Park films. They will create a lasting memory for all the kids who enjoy going there. 

Spending the day at Kualoa Preserve will also give the children a break from the fast-paced, electronically motivated world and connect with nature.

This is the place to take your kids when you need a break from the beach. There are hiking trails and various tours and activities that will give kids more than enough to explore and spy on when playing. 

Kualoa Nature Preserve offers movie site tours, horseback riding and e-bike tours,  jungle expeditions, ziplining, and more. The jungle will always provide a way for kids to keep themselves entertained. The preserve is one of many fun activities in Oahu for kids.

The Sea Life at Dolphin Quest is Worth Seeing

Swimming with dolphins is a once in a lifetime kind of experience that the kids (and their adults) are going to love.

Dolphin Quest at the Kahala Hotel in Honolulu, is one of the most welcoming and positive places that a family can go to.

They hire only the most trustworthy and loyal team members, and provide an organic. unscripted experience during the visit, ensuring your family will have the best dolphin visit they can.

One of the best things about Dolphin Quest is that they treat the animals with a high level of respect. They love and cherish their animals with devotion and will go out of their way to make sure that they aren’t harmed in any way.

The Honolulu Zoo is a Must See on the Island of Oahu

One of the best places to take your children is the Honolulu Zoo.

The Zoo is one of the most visited spots in Hawaii and has been voted one of the best trips for kids in Hawaii. They have so many educational programs for kids that they might want to spend the entire trip learning about the animals and how to feed them.

The Zoo is a family friendly activity, that is going to have a lasting impact on the children. It is a remarkable sight that rests overlooking the ocean and is filled with animals from around the world.

The Honolulu Zoo is only open for about five hours each day right now, and you must follow all signage and pathways leading around the complex.

Diamondhead is a Great Spot for Active Kids and Families

If you want to make fun, active memories with your children, then hiking to the summit of Diamondhead should be on your family’s list of top things to do on Oahu with kids

They have a 0.8 mile hiking trail that takes you above the clouds during the morning and shows you one of the most incredible sunrises available. Diamondhead is a rather strenous hike though, taking about 1.5 – 2 hours total. The last bit is all stairs.

I hiked Diamondhead during a grade 11 band trip to Hawaii, and I still think about that experience to this day.

The Beaches on the Island of Oahu are Magnificent

Hanuama Bay is a popular, kid friendly beach on Oahu.
Photo by: ” hodor via canva.com”

Let’s face it, you likely didn’t come to Hawaii to spend your time bouncing around zoos and taking in the city views. You came to Hawaii to see the beaches, and Oahu is home to some of the most beautiful stretches of sand around. 

Be sure to take in all the lying around and hitting the waves that the kids can handle. Use the city when you are bored with the beach, or need a break from sand and the lobster tan (don’t forget the sunscreen, and all your beach essentials)

What are the top kid-friendly beaches on Oahu?

With more than 125 beaches to choose from in Oahu, it can be hard to know which ones to visit on your family vacation.

Oahu’s beaches are separated into 4 different areas.

The North Shore is known for it’s surf (think Waimea Bay). The South Shore is home to Waikiki and other famous leisurely beaches. The West Side beaches are also known as the Leeward Coast beaches due to the fact they are protected from the wind. The East Side coast is also known as the Windward Coast.

Check out our list of the top kid friendly beaches on the island of Oahu.

Top kid-friendly beaches on the South Shore of Oahu (near Honolulu)

  • Waikiki Beach – The most visited and crowded beach on Oahu. Perfect for a fun day with small kids building sandcastles, tossing a ball around, or swimming. There are also surf lessons and kayaking for older kids and adults.
  • Ala Moana Beach Park: Visit for it’s calm waters (good for little kids), views of Diamond Head and closeness to Waikiki. There is also a food court at the Mall across the street if you need a quick lunch option.
  • Hanauma Bay: This beach’s waters are calm and protected from large waves (perfect for toddlers). Hanauma Bay is also a great place for snorkeling and checking out marine life.
  • Diamond Head Cliffs Beach: This is a quieter beach than Waikiki, and home to the occasional monk seal sunning itself on the rocks.
  • Waimanalo Bay Recreation Area: Waimanalo Beach is located in this 75 acre park on the south coast. This quieter beach is great for snorkeling in its crystal clear water, home to local marine life and fish.

Looking for other family beach destinations? Try Varadero for fun family friendly things to do or Jamaica

Top kid-friendly beaches to visit on the East Side of Oahu

  • Kualoa Beach Park: Located on the east coast of the island, Kualoa Beach Park has free parking, a beachfront grassy area to hang out on (if you’re tired of sand), and views of the  Ko’olau Mountain range. You can also kayak to a small island off the coast.
  • Kailua Beach: Kailua is a small, white sand beach with calm waters, and tidepools to explore. This east coast Oahu beach is popular for kayaking and outrigger racing.
  • Lanikai Beach: Often given the title of best beach in Oahu, Lanikai Beach is a sandy haven located in a Kailua neighbourhood, on the southeast coast. Rent some kayaks and visit the two small islands, just off the coast.

Top kid-friendly beaches to visit on the West Side of Oahu

  • Ko Olina Lagoons: These four lagoons on the west coast of Oahu, offer protected, warm waters year round. There are many picnic areas, nestled amongst grassy areas. Snorkeling, paddle boarding, and kayaking are popular activities here. It’s also home to the Aulani Disney Resort.

You may also like our guides to Costa Rica – another fantastic family friendly destination

Top kid-friendly beaches to visit in the North Shore of Oahu

  • Waimea Bay: While known for its epic surf from November to May, in spring and summer this Bay transforms into calm waters, ideal for swimming and diving amongst the clear waters.
  • Pupukea Beach Park: Is a quieter alternative to Waimea Bay. A protected marine area with coral reefs and tidal pools to explore, Pupukea Beach will be a fun adventure.

Memories on the beaches of Oahu will last a lifetime and make all your other vacations pale in comparison. The water is a bright blue, and some spots have black sand beaches from crushed volcanic rock. Enjoy the landscape and teach the children to respect the beaches by not littering and spreading trash.

Where To Stay On Oahu With Kids

View of beach and ocean at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. Hotels and Diamond Head in the distance.
Waikiki Beach, Hotels and Diamond Head in the distance.
Photo by: “delamophoto via canva.com”

Wonderful Ocean View Villa on Ko Olina Beach

A gorgeous Ocean front villa, for when you want to be close to the ocean and the Aulani Resort, but want the comforts of home, and a bigger place. Just steps from the beach, so amazing. They provide boogie boards and other beach gear for you to borrow, which is a bonus.

It sleeps up to six, offers amazing views and gives you access to all of the Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort’s amenities, including sandy lagoons, lap pools, championship golf, a full service spa, fine restaurants and a private marina.

Kids Will Scream for the Aulani Disney Resort on Oahu

Kids love Disney. There is something about a person dressed up in a Mickey Mouse costume that drives them crazy, and Aulani has all that plus a private beach and lagoon. 

Aulani  Disney Resort on Oahu has some of the best pools in a Disney resort. Don’t miss their water slides and pool parties. These pools are located just feet from an amazing white sand beach and the azure blue waters beyond.

Vacationing at Aulani is a surefire way to keep the kids entertained while still having the time to to relax with your significant other.

Aunty’s Beach House Kids Club is free with your stay, and offers arts, crafts and daily themed activities for 3 to 12 year olds. There is even a Tween zone for your 10-12 year olds.

Aulani Disney Resort really offers an all-in-one inclusive experience so let your kids take advantage of their guided nature tours, games room, movie nights, character experiences and more.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Waikiki)

If your family is looking for a full resort experience, right in the heart of Waikiki, then the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort is a fantastic choice.

In this case you really do get what you pay for. They have their own private lagoon, calm, no waves, perfect for kids to try snorkelling, or kayaking, or just to hang out on the beach.

Add in activities such as yoga, lei making and hula lessons, combined with multiple pools, a traditional luau, spectacular fireworks and Camp Penguin for the kids (5 to 12 years), and your family won’t even need to leave the resort to be entertained.

Sheraton Waikiki Beach Resort

If your family is looking for a kid friendly resort with great pools, than Sheraton Waikiki is a highly rated fun place to stay. The resort offers beach access, ocean and mountian views, a tour desk and child care services, for when you want a little adult time alone. 

Sheraton Waikiki also has four onsite restaurants to choose from, including two that offer fresh Hawaiian inspired, local products,  and the Waikiki Shopping Centre is only a 2 minute walk away.


Be prepared for your vacation with our complete Pre-Travel Checklist.

Choosing the Hawaiian Island that suits your family

You and your family really can’t go wrong when choosing a Hawaiian Island for a family vacation. All of the islands offer beautiful scenery, beaches and fun kid friendly activities and resorts that cater to families. It depends on what you are looking for on your holiday.

If Oahu doesn’t seem like your vibe, check out our brief highlights of what each island offers. Hawaii is home to some of the best island getaways in the USA.

  • Oahu – Best for families who wants a more “classic” Hawaiian experience; snorkeling, surfing, Waikiki Beach, luaus, pineapple plantations and more.
  • Maui – Best for families who are looking to combine tourist fun, and beaches with a more rural and relaxed stay at a 4-5 star beach, or town. Also has the best whale-watching opportunities.
  • KauaiBest for families who love the outdoors and are  interested in venturing beyond the beach to explore Hawaii’s lush tropical rainforest landscapes. Driving the stunning coastal roadway the Kalalau Trail to the breathtaking Wailua Falls, or hiling one of the many rainforest trails, are just some of the many natural highlights of Kauai.
  • Lanai Best for families looking to get away from the crowds. Beaches, shopping, golfing and a 4 wheel drive up the Munro Trail for an awesome view are some of the activities this quieter island offer.
  • Big Island Best for families looking to experience all the climates and activities Hawaii has to offer. From white sand beaches, to snow tipped mountains, and from spectacular waterfalls, to active volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the 11 climatic zones offer a wide variety of experiences.

Oahu Is The Best Hawaiian Island For a Family Vacation

Vacationing with the family on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is for sure a place to enjoy life, and leave your mainland worries behind.

The island feels welcoming and inviting with a strong hint of tradition and beauty. Making memories with your family will be relatively easy. Still, you must make the time to explore what the island has to offer.

There are all types of activities, from laying around black or white sand beaches, to hiking above the island’s rooftop and basking in a reverent sunrise. Be prepared for whatever the island gives you, as adventure works best when we are ready to meet it. 

Related family friendly island beach destinations & Travel tips:

Which Hawaiian Island Is Best For A Family Vacation?

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4 thoughts on “Which Hawaiian Island is Best for a Family Vacation?”

  1. This post has me day dreaming. So much great info for me to come back to. This is definitely on the list of places we want to go on vacation to. I never knew there were so many beaches, 125! I checked out some of resorts and some are not as bad as I thought they’d be from a cost perspective.

  2. These bring back so many great memories! My husband and I bought a vacation to Maui a few years back to celebrate a safe return from his Afghan deployment and it was the most beautiful state I’ve ever been to!

    1. What a wonderful way to celebrate your husbands safe return. I love Hawaii, it is so beautiful. I hope to be able to travel there again one day soon.

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