Mommy Needs A Mai Tai

Last Updated on July 5, 2024 by Florabeth Coble

Oahu with Kids: The Ultimate Guide (2024)

A graphic with a photo of the a lagoon and sailboats in the Pacific Ocean that reads "Oahu with Kids: The Ultimate Guide."

If you have ever considered visiting Oahu with kids, you’ve come to the right place! I’m a mom raising two kids on Maui, and our family loves to visit Oahu as often as possible!

From the bustling streets of Honolulu to the serene beaches of the North Shore, Oahu is incredibly diverse. Whether it’s your first time on the island or you’re coming back for more, this guide is your golden ticket to a family vacation that’s as stress-free as it is spectacular.

We’re talking about toddler-friendly Oahu beaches, hidden gems, and those unique spots where you can sip a Mai Tai while the kids play. This is the ultimate family guide to Oahu.

Some of these links are affiliates, meaning I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. Your trust is always my first priority. Without it, this wouldn’t be any fun.

Should You Visit Oahu with Kids? 

Two kids tickling each other and laughing under a painted wall that reads "Kailua, Hawaii."

Oahu is a great choice (and, for many families, the best one)! Its vibrant mix of natural beauty and cultural richness makes it a fun, educational playground for kids and a relaxing paradise for us tired mamas.

If you’re searching for a place free from crowds, this is not the island for you. Maui or the Big Island may be a better fit. But if you’re searching for a budget-friendly island with endless activities and convenience, Oahu has your back!

Oahu is the most popular island for families. Here’s why we love it. 

  1. Diverse Attractions: Oahu offers a wide variety of experiences. It’s an island where you can teach your kids to surf in the morning and explore historical sites and award-winning cuisine in the afternoon.
  2. Family-Friendly Beaches: Many of Oahu’s beaches are perfect for families, offering safe and enjoyable playtime for kids.
  3. Cultural Experiences: The island is a melting pot of cultures. The Oahu foodie scene and activities like the Polynesian Cultural Center provide interactive learning experiences about the rich heritage of the Pacific Islands.
  4. Accessibility and Convenience: Oahu has more direct flights from the mainland and a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget, often making travel logistics easier for families.
  5. Natural Beauty and Adventure: The island’s diverse landscapes offer endless adventures, from hiking in lush rainforests to snorkeling in crystal-clear waters.

What is there to do on Oahu with Kids? 

A boy smiling and standing under a sign that reads "Polynesian Cultural Center."

Oahu is a top choice for families because there truly is something for everyone. You can read the full guide to things to do on Oahu with kids here.

These are just some of our favorites:

  1. Spend a Day at the Polynesian Cultural Center
  2. Ride UTVs at Kualoa Ranch
  3. Brave This Zipline Adventure
  4. Take a Mountain Trail Horseback Ride
  5. Take Family Surf Lessons in Waikiki
  6. Attend a Kid-Friendly Luau
  7. Visit Hanauma Bay Preserve 
  8. Pay Tribute to Pearl Harbor
  9. Hike to Manoa Falls 
  10. Laze the Day Away at One of These Kid-Friendly Beaches

What is the Best Kid-Friendly Resort on Oahu? 

A view overlooking the pools at Turtle Bay Resort on North Shore, Oahu.

Oahu has many fantastic options for kids and grownups alike (after all, this is your vacation, too).

As a Hawaii travel planner and self-proclaimed resort junkie, I’ve done a lot of research on the best family hotels on Oahu.

No matter your family’s preferences, one of these is sure to meet your family’s needs:

  1. Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
  2. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
  3. Turtle Bay Resort
  4. Sheraton Waikiki 
  5. Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina

How Many Days Do You Need on Oahu? 

A dad playing with a baby in a pool at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, Oahu.

If you’re staying on Oahu for your entire vacation, plan to stay 7-10 days. If I was visiting with my family for the first time, I would stay in Waikiki for 4-5 days, visiting popular places like the zoo, Pearl Harbor, and Diamond Head. Then, move your home away from home to the North Shore at Turtle Bay Resort or the leeward coast at Disney’s Aulani Resort for 3-4 days. This will ensure that you experience a good mix of adventure and relaxation.

If you plan to island-hop, spend 3-5 days on Oahu before heading to another island.

Is Oahu Expensive? 

A mai tai with an umbrella and tiki torches in the background.

Oahu is the cheapest Hawaiian Island to visit (Maui is the most expensive)! However, no surprise here: Hawaii is pricey, and Oahu is no exception. A trip to any Hawaiian island is a splurge for most of us.

Many websites will tell you that a family of four can visit Oahu for less than $5,000. While factors like flights and hotels make a big difference, we have found this information to be wildly inaccurate. 

In our experience, a week-long trip to Oahu will set you back around $10,000-15,000, including hotels, flights, experiences, and food/drink. You can certainly cut corners by staying in a condo, cooking your own food, and using points to fly. But if you’re considering this anything other than a budget travel experience, it’s best to round up.

Is Oahu Safe?

A man on a bicycle in Waikiki, looking at directions on his phone with buildings in the background.

Yes, all of the Hawaiian islands are generally safe and family-friendly. Oahu has a lower national crime rate than other islands, with most of its crime happening in Honolulu. Even so, it is still considered one of the safest cities in the United States, with most crimes consisting of petty burglaries. 

As always, keep valuables out of plain sight when parking your car, especially when visiting popular tourist destinations. 

What is the Best Time Of Year to Visit Oahu?

A very blue Kailua Beach on Oahu, Hawaii.

Oahu is BUSY. (Be prepared to sit in traffic.) To beat the crowds, consider visiting during “shoulder season:” April, May, September, and October. This is an excellent time of year to experience a slower pace, along with great weather and availability of accommodations. 

Humpback whales visit Hawaii every year to mate and give birth. If you want to see them in action, visit during peak whale season: January-March.

Do You Need a Rental Car on Oahu? 

A double decker bus that reads "Waikiki Trolley" on Oahu, Hawaii.

When it comes to getting around Oahu with kids, I do recommend renting a car. This will provide you with the most freedom and flexibility. However, it’s not always necessary, and where you stay on the island plays a huge factor.

It’s easy to navigate places like Waikiki without a vehicle, in fact, the traffic here can make it cumbersome. If you plan to hang out in this Honolulu neighborhood for most of your stay, you can get by without one. 

Oahu provides popular ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and Hawaii’s first car-sharing company, Hui. Additionally, many of Oahu’s sightseeing tours will pick you up and return you to your hotel.

Keep in mind that hotels often charge a parking fee, sometimes around $50/night! So, if you’re on a budget, do your research beforehand!

Oahu is comprised of much more than Waikiki, and a rental car allows you to explore its many diverse regions. If you have your sights set on posting up by the pool with a mai tai in hand, you may want to consider renting a vehicle for only a day or two.

We almost always book with Discount Hawaii Car Rental. I like them because they find us the best deals, require no prepayment, and have zero cancellation fees. If you have kid who just started driving, they also offer reduced young driver rates, which is hard to come by (if you know, you know).

What Part of Oahu is Best for Kids?

Because Oahu has so much to offer, the answer to this question depends greatly on what kind of vacation you want to have. If you like to stay busy and in the middle of the action, spend your time in Waikiki. This also puts you in a central location to visit the rest of the island. 

I recommend visiting Oahu’s North Shore or the Leeward Coast for a more relaxed vibe. 

My ideal vacation is a few days in Waikiki, followed by a relaxing resort stay on the North Shore or Leeward Coast.  

Keep reading to decide what part of Oahu is best for your family. 

A graphic of Oahu with a line across separating Windward Coast from Leeward Coast, Oahu, Hawaii.

Honolulu 

20 minutes from HNL

An arial view of Waikiki lit up at night time on Oahu, Hawaii.
A graphic of Honolulu.

Welcome to what many consider the heart of Hawaii: where traffic and palm trees collide. Honolulu is a bustling city and a major portal into the United States.

Honolulu sits on the southern, sunny, leeward coast of the island, stretching from the historic waters of Pearl Harbor all the way down to rugged Makapu’u Point. On the far east side of Honolulu, you’ll find Hanauma Bay, a gorgeous nature reserve and one of the best snorkel spots in the state (reservations required).

Honolulu is well known for its surfing beaches, the dormant volcano Diamond Head, and historical and cultural landmarks. It’s a hub for international business and military defense, famous for its diverse Pacific culture, cuisine, and traditions.

The city’s climate is tropical but tempered by ocean breezes. 

Waikiki

30 Minutes from HNL 

Most families choose to stay in Waikiki, a busy neighborhood in Honolulu. In fact, Waikiki is responsible for around 40% of the state’s tourism dollars. 

Waikiki Beach gets a reported 4 million visitors each year! This is not a secluded beach, but the gentle waves are perfect for littles. (Albeit a bit rocky in certain areas, bring water shoes!)

While here, don’t miss the iconic Duke Kahanamoku Statue, where you can snap a family photo with the legend of surfing himself. And as the sun sets, treat the kids to a fantastic meal at Duke’s Restaurant (or a free hula performance on the beach).

Also located in the heart of Waikiki is Kapiolani Park, Honolulu’s green oasis. Nestled at the corner of Kapiolani Park, you’ll find the Honolulu Zoo. The park also hosts free concerts and cultural events for the whole family.

North Shore

30minutes-1 hour from HNL, depending on traffic 

Teenagers sitting on Haleiwa Town bridge with a dog on a paddle board in the water in Oahu, Hawaii.
A graphic of North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii.

A visit to Oahu’s North Shore is about an hour and a half from Waikiki. The exact timing depends on traffic and whether you drove through pineapple fields or the windward, eastern coastline.

North Shore is far less developed than Honolulu’s South Shore and offers a more rural experience of Hawaii. It’s a place where you can find charming towns, Oahu’s famous shrimp trucks, and that laid-back Hawaii vibe. It’s also home to the historic town of Haleiwa, known for its surf culture, art galleries, and shopping.

North Shore is centered around big wave surfing, especially during the winter months when the swells are largest. Its world-famous surfing beaches include Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the Banzai Pipeline

Because the waves here can get up to 30 feet, few beaches are safe for young children. Kuilima Cove, a protected beach accessible from Turtle Bay Resort, is our family’s favorite place to laze a day away. This is also excellent for snorkeling and spotting green sea turtles basking on shore. 

Tip: Take advantage of an opportunity to check out the Polynesian Culture Center while you’re there, which offers hands-on learning, canoe tours, and then best luau on Oahu, Ali’i Luau. I love them for two reasons: 1. Their genuine intention and significant role in preserving Polynesian heritage. And 2, how impressively family-friendly the entire experience is.

Windward coast

30-40 minutes from HNL

A view of the mountain range at Kualoa Ranch in Windward, Oahu.
A graphic of Windward Coast, Oahu, Hawaii.

It’s hard to believe that Oahu’s sleepy windward side can be reached only 30 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. 

The eastern coast of Oahu is a place where jagged mountains and lush greenery meet the sparkling blue of the Pacific. This raw Hawaii gem is complemented by small towns and communities that move at a much slower pace.

No matter where you’re staying on Oahu, the Windward Coast is worth a day trip. 

Traveling up the coast, you’ll hit two of the best kid-friendly beaches on Oahu, Kailua and Lanikai. Drive through 400 acres of botanical beauty at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden (time this right for a toddler car nap and thank me later) to Kualoa Ranch, where you can ride ATVs around the location where Jurassic Park was filmed. This is one of our favorite things we’ve done in the entire state! 

The Windward Coast’s geography includes several small offshore islands, such as the Mokulua Islands, which I highly recommend visiting via kayak

Central Oahu

30 minutes from HNL 

Pineapple fields with a mountain range in the background in Central Oahu, Hawaii.
A graphic of Central Oahu, Hawaii.

Central Oahu is typically experienced by driving from Honolulu to the North Shore

Characterized by its lush, rolling plains, this area is a patchwork of historical pineapple fields and modern agriculture, offering a unique glimpse into Hawaii’s plantation past and present.

Flanking Central Oahu are two majestic mountain ranges – the Waianae Range to the west and the Koolau Range to the east. These breathtaking backdrops offer gorgeous hiking trails and hold significant cultural importance to the Hawaiian people.

No trip to Central Oahu is complete without visiting the famous Dole Plantation! Learn about the history of pineapple farming in Hawaii while your kids navigate through a GIANT pineapple maze, and enjoy Dole Whip: the world’s best pineapple ice cream! A couple of hours here is plenty.

Leeward Coast

30 minutes from HNL

Two kids eating at a restaurant and playing with drink umbrellas on Oahu, Hawaii.
Graphic of Leeward Coast, Oahu, Hawaii.

Leeward Oahu is the island’s western side, famous for its drier climate and beautiful beaches. Also home to some of the island’s most family-friendly resorts, places like Disney’s Aulani Hotel offers luxurious stays and small lagoons perfect for safe, kid-friendly swimming and snorkeling

This is a great home base for families looking to explore this sun-kissed side of the island.

While Leeward Oahu does have some of the best resorts, it’s less touristy than Waikiki, allowing you to experience a more authentic version of Hawaii. The towns along the Leeward Coast, like Kapolei and Waianae, offer a glimpse into the everyday life of people who call it home.

Leeward Oahu is a region of contrasts, from its dry, sunny beaches to its lush mountain valleys. It’s a part of the island that invites you to slow down, soak up the sun, and immerse yourself in a local way of life.

Oahu with Kids Wrap-Up

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The true magic of Oahu lies in the moments you share with your family. Whether it’s the laughter during a beach day, a rainbow over Manoa Valley, or the peacefulness of a sunset at Lanikai Beach, you can’t do it wrong.

So, pack your bags, but leave a little space for the memories and souvenirs. Oahu awaits!

See these adventures in real time on Mommy Needs A Mai Tai Instagram.

Bookmark this page to revisit when you're here! Cheers, Mama!
Picture of Aloha, I'm Florabeth Coble

Aloha, I'm Florabeth Coble

Most people call me Flo. I'm a busy mama raising two young boys in Hawaii. We share our adventures, travel tips, itineraries, and honest reviews so that you can plan your own family-friendly trip to Hawaii.