A family holiday in Hawaii – what to do in Oahu

Hawaii is such an ‘easy’ place for a holiday. Whether it’s with the kids or with a partner/friend, get ready to unwind! Here are some thoughts on our recent visit to Oahu:

For a start, it has such a cool, relaxed vibe. Everybody is takin’ it easy! There are surfers to watch, the scent of frangipani is in the air, and there’s no rush. Aloha…

It’s simple to get around. If you decide rent a car there are plenty of options (the Mustang convertible seemed the most popular choice, from the number of them on the road) and the clear sign-posting makes navigating easy. There are open tourist buses in Waikiki called Lealea which are frequent, and the regular city bus system is also a cinch to use. It’s very scenic, so it’s fun to take a trip. Our three-year-old thinks bus rides are something pretty spesh…I’m kinda glad the novelty hasn’t worn off for him yet.

Eating! We were pretty blown away by the food scene over there. There’s a strong ‘farm-to-table’ mentality and a lot of innovative menus. We were particularly impressed by chef Ed Kenney’s Waikiki restaurant Mahina & Sun’s (one of a stable – next time we’ll try another of his places such as Town or Mud Hen Water). We loved the inventive brunch menu at Lee Anne Wong’s Koko Head Cafe – it was worth the effort to get to!


The Koko Head Cafe

There’s a strong Japanese influence in Hawaii, and we stuffed ourselves with fresh sushi and sashimi at Morimoto at The Modern hotel, in a setting dreams are made of. Food trucks are super popular (and yes, the one at Pupukea on Oahu’s North Shore whose signage loudly proclaims ‘HAWAII’S BEST FISH TACOS’ is telling the truth). The service is fantastic and children are so well-catered for when eating out – Nate was often given a complimentary toy, colouring-in sheets, and sensibly, all children’s drinks come in a plastic cup with a lid and a straw. Why doesn’t that happen in NZ?  We also gorged ourselves on all the the delicious produce available from roadside stands – creamy avocadoes, ripe mangoes, papaya, pineapple, the juiciest watermelon possible, passionfruit, dragonfruit…I’m sure I ate my weight in fruit. Twice.

There is a vast array of things to do (although napping on the beach also comes highly recommended). You really can be as active or as chilled as you choose. On Oahu, you can hike up Diamond Head (the park opens at 6am – go early to avoid the crowds and the heat), explore Kaena Point State Park, swim under a waterfall at Waimea Valley, go horse riding at Kualoa Ranch (where Jurassic Park was filmed), go parasailing, check out characterful Haleiwa town, swim with dolphins, go shark-cage-diving, snorkel at Hanauma Bay, learn to surf, check out the Honolulu Zoo, visit Pearl Harbor…are you exhausted yet? We haven’t even started shopping!


The Duke Kahanamoku beach and lagoon has great safe swimming for kids

Deciding where to stay can be a bit of a task, because the choice is overwhelming. We thought we’d spend a few days enjoying the laid-back North Shore, so we checked out Air BnB where there are a heap of beach houses you can rent. We discovered a property that had a self-contained treehouse near the legendary Pipeline surf break and thought that sounded like a bit of us! It turned out to be so relaxing – just the way to ease yourself into a holiday. It was built between two Banyan trees and involved 100 steps to get up there – but it was worth it! We borrowed bikes and stand-up paddleboards from the friendly owners, checking out little-known local beaches to look for sea turtles on their recommendation. Loved it.


SUPing on the North Shore

Following that we went to Waikiki and stayed at The Modern hotel. It felt like a different country compared to the North Shore, but it was nice to enjoy a little luxury after our rustic treehouse. Poolside drink service has a lot going for it! All of the staff at The Modern were so helpful, nice, and chatty – we really felt welcome. The hotel has some great artwork with a cool surfboard sculpture in the lobby and hand painted wall features in other public areas. There are two swimming pools (one for sunrise, one for sunset), a tempting store with thoughtfully curated items, a casual poolside bistro and a more formal Japanese restaurant. Our room on the 16th floor was spacious and breezy, with its own little lanai (balcony) overlooking the marina, surf break, and the Pacific Ocean. The room even came equipped with its own sarongs and a ukulele for your strumming pleasure! We thought the location was great – it’s at the quieter end of Waikiki beach, so you feel you can escape a little at the end of an active day. But it’s still just a short walk into the hustle and bustle, and it is also dangerously close to the sprawling Ala Moana outdoor shopping centre. There were quite a few Kiwi and Aussie families staying at The Modern, and Nate really enjoyed splashing in the pool with the other kids. Its proximity to the Duke Kahanamoku lagoon is really handy for small children, too. We would definitely stay there again.


The cool broken surfboard installation at The Modern Honolulu

There’s still so many things we didn’t get to do! Next time we’d love to explore the other islands – especially Kauai. The Napali Coast sounds enticing! And we’re thinking that although Hawaii is a fantastic family destination, we’d quite like to go back on our own – go surfing together, do a couple of longer hikes, and enjoy a relaxing meal without having a pair of chopsticks thrown at us, or have to take someone to the toilet three times…! The joys of travelling with a three-year-old 😉

Have you been to Hawaii? Got any recommendations? Please comment below!

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