Family Travel Forum's guide to Oahu's finest attractions for the family interested in wildlife and the island's marine wonders. Family Travel Forum's guide to Oahu's finest attractions for the family interested in wildlife and the island's marine wonders.
Friends warned us that Honolulu was just another congested big city. But while Oahu (known as the "Gathering Place") is undeniably more developed than neighboring islands, it's a lovely Hawaiian island with much to offer.
For those who point out Honolulu's excess of stores and restaurants, I say that's precisely what makes Oahu so accessible and family-friendly. Everything we needed — from supplies to gifts and snacks — was at our fingertips. The many malls can make a fun afternoon's outing and the entertainers that gather to attract passersby always seem to make kids smile. And we could walk everywhere – well, almost.
And yet, when we wanted to block out the street scene, we headed for the seclusion of our oceanfront hotel – the Sheraton Waikiki (808/922-4422). Our room faced the ocean and Diamond Head Crater – and unless you walked out the front of the massive hotel, which faces downtown Honolulu, you wouldn't know how close it is to the city.
It makes sense to explore Honolulu on foot. On our way to the nearby zoo and aquarium, we strolled past the beach and watched surfers and swimmers. If your kids are like mine, pausing to watch the surfers can become a full day's activity. Ask your hotel concierge to recommend a local instructor if they sound like they're ready to try the sport, as many first-timer lessons are largely on land.
A large Banyan tree marks the Honolulu Zoo (151 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu 96815; 808/971-7171) entrance. The zoo is fairly small and is lush with tropical plants – an ideal one or two-hour outing with children. Animal exhibits range from African Savanna and Tropical Rain Forest to Pacific Islands.
Nearby is the Waikiki Aquarium (2777 Kalakaua Ave. Honolulu, 96815; 808/923-9741), home to more than 3,000 marine animals from Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. At this well-designed aquarium, we saw reef sharks, Hawaiian monk seals, mahi-mahi, sea dragons and living coral. The staff was friendly and eager to explain things to us.
You don't have to leave the Waikiki beach area to find fun family activities and a nice assortment of dining options. A crescent of hotels adorn Waikiki beach, home base for many activities, making it convenient to reach restaurants and beachfront excursions.
Atlantis Submarines (1800/548-6262) is a good choice for children. A shuttle boat at Port Hilton (Hilton Waikoloa Village) brought us to the dive site. Aboard the roomy submarine, we gradually descended to about 120 feet, passing artificial reefs that attract a variety of marine species. We also cruised past the remains of two sunken airliners and two sunken ships.
Sailing is more my speed though. From the beach in front of our hotel, we climbed aboard the Mai'Tai (Tahitian word meaning "excellence") catamaran, a twin-hull vessel that picks up passengers in front of the Sheraton Waikiki. While the keiki (children) took turns lounging on the catamaran's safety nets and enjoying the sea spray, I admired the views of Waikiki, Honolulu and Diamond Head. For info, call 888/222-3601.
Waikiki's close proximity to everything made dining choices easy. A culinary delight was an afternoon tea at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider (808/922-3111) (Waikiki's first resort hotel, which opened in 1901). Elegant yet casual, the tea and scrumptious finger sandwiches were served on the Banyan Veranda (the tree was planted at this site in 1904). Seated at an adjacent table, our children enjoyed a Keiki Tea Party with Alice in Wonderland china.
We had a memorable dinner at a fabulous buffet close to the ocean, at a tropical beachside restaurant of the Royal Hawaiian (808/923-7311). It's also known as the Pink Lady of the Pink Pacific.
Scenic Drives & Outings
Worth a drive is a visit to Sea Life Park (41-202 Kalanianaole Highway #7 Waimanalo 96795, 866/393-5158) in Waimanalo. The half-hour drive from Waikiki gave us an opportunity to see more of Oahu, which is the third largest of the Hawaiian islands. The streets of Honolulu, residential neighborhoods and schools soon gave way to open grassy spaces, craters and scenic beaches and bays.
Sea Life Park itself is fairly small, but has fascinating shows and exhibits, which include the Hawaiian Monk Seal Center, turtle lagoon and dolphin cove. We especially liked the Hawaiian Reef & Sea Trek, where you can view sea life from above, feed the fish, if you'd like and then walk down a ramp to view the same animals in an underground tank.
On our way back we passed the entrance to the Diamond Head hiking area. I was disappointed we never made it there. Ironically, the best view we got of the crater's top was from the airplane when we left Oahu. Well, something to do next time!
Eco-Education on Location
If you are interested in seeing underwater life up close and personal during your visit to Oahu, head to Hanauma Bay (808/396-4229) on the southeast coast. When the bay was created by the surf's action on a volcanic crater, it spawned a living reef on the volcano's floor. Because of the bay's popularity as a snorkeling destination, the area has suffered seriously from over-use.
In response, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve opened a $13 million Marine Education Center. In addition to gallery and computer exhibits on the bay's marine life, a mandatory video instructs all visitors and potential snorkelers on how to safeguard the fragile marine life while enjoying hundreds of species of tropical fish, corals, and crustaceans that will even meet you at the water's edge.
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