10 Must-Do Activities for Your Family Vacation in Hawaii

Posted on 07/31/2023

Ever since Lilo & Stich came out, the one Hawaiian word everyone knows is ohana, and that it means family. Because while it’s a dream honeymoon destination for many and the opportunities for romance there are around every bend, the islands of Hawaii are, at their heart, a destination with fantastic family values and one that truly embraces togetherness. And as corporate team-builders will tell you, there’s nothing better to bond people together than experience, which makes opting into family activities an absolute must for the most unforgettable vacation.

The good news is that something exciting to do as ohana is never far when you’re in any of Hawaii’s gorgeous islands. The highest concentration of all-ages activities is in Oahu, the most populous of the islands. It’s where the state’s capital of Honolulu is located, along with the historic Pearl Harbor and royal palace of a time before statehood. This gives visitors an easy way to hop from city to sea without missing a beat. Plus, there are plenty of options for accommodations for families of five to 12 per room. Ask your Travel Impressions advisor for their favorites.

Here are ten of our favorite ways to include nature, adventure, history, and culture in your next Hawaiian family adventure.

1.      Attend a Luau

Cliché? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to attend a cultural event with live family-friendly performances, feats of skill, and a feast featuring traditional local food items such as purple poi and a whole pit-roasted pig. Many hotels, such as Ko Olina’s Hawaiian Village in Paradise Cove, host this right on site, transforming their grounds into everything you’d hope a luau would be—incredibly convenient for anyone traveling with kids or seniors. However, there’s something special about going off the grounds for an award-winning experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center or other luau specialists, too.

2.      Polynesian Cultural Center

Even if you can’t make it to the luau at this important park, try to pay it a visit. It’s important to teach kids about respect for the culture of the places they visit, and the Polynesian Cultural Center can do the hard work for you as you tour through seven authentic villages that represent traditional life in Hawaii as well as Fiji, Samoa, the Marquesas, Tonga, Tahiti, and Aotearoa, which we know as New Zealand. Give the whole family a sense of place … and take your time about it! Every General Admission ticket is actually a three-day pass to all of the villages and their hands-on activities for fantastic value. A canoe tour and visitor center tour are also included.

3.      Tour Pearl Harbor & the USS Arizona Memorial

Every American visiting Oahu should make this site a stop in honor of the 2,403 servicemen who lost their lives in the first-ever foreign attack on U.S. national soil until 9-11. This sobering event was what prompted the U.S. to finally enter WWII, leading to events that forever changed the course of history. Best of all, especially for families on a budget: admission to thevisitor center and USS Arizonaare free. Boat tickets to the latter are only $1.50. Narrated tours and entrance to the other museums are likewise nominal, ranging from $7.50 per person to $29 per adult, with rates reduced for children.

4.      Hike and Bike

You see the world differently on foot, which is why people of all ages and abilities love hiking in Hawaii. Walking through the tropical rainforest gives families a chance to take it slow and really get a sense of place and awe of nature, pausing to smell the plumeria. However, young legs can get tired, which makes a dual tour like this one a great choice for families. A bike ride provides a literal burst of speed after a trek, and offers some more excitement as kids as young as 3 pedal their scenic way through the mountains. For older riders and thrill-seeking families, check out the longest downhill bike experience on the planet, where cyclists can coast from 6,700 feet above sea level from Haleakala at their own pace.

5.      Horseback Riding

If a walk on four feet is more your speed, have the family hop astride a noble steed. Mellow horses are available at many stables and ranches throughout Oahu, ready to take the whole family of would-be riders ages 10 and up on their favorite trails (in a leisurely fashion). Look for family-friendly deals, like this one, where kids ages 10 – 12 ride free with their adults.

6.      Watch Some Whales

If you’ve never been up close to a whale, you have no idea what you’re missing. These majestic mammals are a revelatory sight, and watching them spout, crest, or just cruise alongside your boat is enough to fill hearts of all ages with joy and wonder. Time your vacation to take place during calving season for a sense of ohana across species.

7.      Seek Out Some Sunning Seals

Say that three times fast! But more importantly, just go ahead and plan to do this. Poipu Beach, one of the most popular in Oahu, is also beloved by endangered monk seals, making it a rare experience indeed to see them in the wild. This can be an amazing moment for kids, and a teachable one, too, as you discuss with a volunteer the importance of species conservation and keeping one’s distance from wildlife in order to do no harm.

8.      Get in the Water with Oahu’s Natives

And by that, we mean Hawaiian green sea turtles, tropical fish like the humuhumunukunukuapua'a (reef triggerfish), colorful parrotfish, snowflake eels, scorpionfish, and more! Peaches like Poipu, Waiohai, and Turtle Reef, for example, are literally wonderful destinations for snorkeling in Oahu. Just please do it mindfully – that means using reef-safe sunscreen, leaving behind no trash, and not trying to touch the endangered sea turtles and their fellow marine life, which may include dolphins, rays, and others.

9.      Smooth Sailing

Prefer to stay dry, but not necessarily on land? There are a lot of great sailing adventures available from Oahu that are suitable for all ages. Hop on a catamaran to see Waikiki from a different point of view. Have it all in terms of romance and family time with a sunset departure. Or start a morning magically when the sea is at its calmest with an AM cruise. This is the best option for those who might feel sensitive to the motion of the ocean or early risers like grandparents, and most are suitable even for infants and toddlers!

10. Helicopter Tour

“Get to da choppa!” You can in Oahu, for an incredible birds-eye view of the island. Hovering over the mountains, jungles, beaches, and other parts of its fascinating landscape will have everyone in the helicopter pressed up against the glass like the kids we all are inside. Valleys and waterfalls are even more dazzling from this very great height, and Pearl Harbor and Diamond Head even more intriguing.

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