How do you plan your family vacations? With the kids schedules and John’s schedule being SO crazy these days, we have found that the easiest thing for us to do is to sit down as a family at the beginning of the year and look at the calendar so we can get something planned out before the calendar fills up. That usually means we are planning 6-8 months out, but I like that because it gives me a chance to watch flight and hotel prices and try to snag the best deals. The kids have been asking to go to Hawaii for years (last time we were there with them was 2012!) so we decided to make it happen this year and August can’t get here fast enough! 😉
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Hawaii is a pretty perfect family holiday destination with something to do for everyone and every age. The tropical temperatures, gorgeous landscape and unique culture give you a chance to feel like you are really somewhere exotic without having to take excruciatingly long flights, go through customs and deal with passports.
We are headed to Oahu this time, but it’s very easy to island hop if you want to experience more of the four main islands…we love Maui too! There are more resorts than you can believe, all ready to house your family with options to fit every budget.
Here, you’ll find a starting point to give you ideas on where to stay, dine, and find adventures that are just a bit off the beaten path.
Getting to Oahu
John and I flew Hawaiian Airlines last year for our anniversary trip to Oahu. They definitely offer the most flights between the lower 48 and all points in Hawaii, but they partner with lots of other airlines including JetBlue, American, and United to share points.
Lots of other airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United, Virgin America, Allegiant, Southwest and WestJet) also offer flights from most major cities across the western U.S.
Since flights to Honolulu are frequent and less expensive, Honolulu is a great place to visit. I love that I can have a mix of both a beach vacation and a relaxed urban experience here that you can’t find on the neighboring islands.
Where to Stay in Honolulu
When I say there are SO many resorts, I mean it. The skyline of Waikiki looks like a major downtown area with high rise buildings stretching all along the coast. These aren’t office buildings…they are hotels. All trying to get the best views of that crystal clear ocean water. I prefer to stay closer to the beach walk area in Waikiki, so I’ll jut share a few hotels at that end that I like.
The proximity to lots of great restaurants and good beaches makes this a great place to stay, and frankly the areas closer to Waikiki Bay and Kapi’olani Regional Park at the opposite end of the famous stretch of Waikiki can get a little bit dicey these days. Everything in Waikiki is an easy walk, so no matter where you stay you’ll be able to see it all.
Where to Stay in Honolulu with Your Family
If you are looking for the ultimate in luxury in Honolulu, then the Halekulani Hotel is what you want. This is my FAVORITE hotel on the island. Direct beach access, the famed orchid pool (right on the beach), House Without a Key for amazing music and coconut cake, and the MOST incredible service are just a few of the things you’ll enjoy. The Diamond Head Oceanfront rooms are the most expensive…but I prefer the regular oceanfront rooms with views straight over the pool out to the water. Rooms only accommodate 3, but you can get one of a few suites or connecting rooms if you need more space.
Steps away from both the Halekulani and the Halepuna is the Embassy Suites. The Embassy suites offers residential style Waikiki suites with great views of Diamond Head and the ocean and comfortable accommodations for your family.
If you don’t mind staying three short blocks from the beach, the Ritz Carlton Residences are a great option for larger groups. With rooms that sleep up to 6 you can combine luxury and family friendly. The Ritz Carlton is adjacent to tons of luxury shopping and dining options right out it’s front doors.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village has long been a favorite with groups traveling to Waikiki and it truly is like a village. The grounds are MASSIVE and you really would never have to leave the property the entire time you’re there…but you should! 😉 Go explore! There are tons of towers and I’m sure that they vary greatly in views, price, etc., so just be sure you know what you’re getting. Our experience here wasn’t great due to a VERY tired room and pools so crowded we couldn’t get a seat at the pool…but things may have changed, so check it out. I always say be thorough and find something that is right for your needs.
If you want to visit Honolulu but don’t really want to be in the hustle and bustle of the middle of the city, Marriott’s Ko’olina Beach Club and Disney’s Aulani are a ways down the island and offer other great family hotel options.
Where to Eat in Honolulu
Start the day with some Banana Mac pancakes with coconut syrup and Loco Moco at The Hula Grill. This place is popular, so make a reservation asap!
For an INCREDIBLE Sunday brunch experience head to Orchids at the Halekulani. This is not cheap…so maybe just a treat for mom and dad, but it is divine with a spread you won’t believe! Wear your mumu! Reservations are a must.
Once you recover from breakfast, grab a quick bite at Pai’s Deli inside the Outrigger Waikiki Resort. It’s an unassuming little sandwich shop run by the nicest family. The sandwiches are excellent and it’s the perfect beach food.
Garlic Shrimp is a must when in Honolulu. There are several food trucks serving up these plump shrimp coated…and I do mean coated in a garlic butter concoction that tastes incredible…but you will be smelling it for awhile. 😉 These large portions are served with scoops of rice and are so, so good if you’re a garlic lover.
Our current favorite spot is Island Vintage. It’s embarrassing how many times we ate there last year. So good. The Acai bowl, garlic shrimp, breakfast platter…everything. Delicious. Eat at the Island Vintage Wine Bar for a more extensive menu than at the coffee shop.
For the freshest fish, head to the Paia Fish Market. This popular spot used to only be available on the other islands until a couple of years ago when it opened it’s first location in Oahu in Waikiki. The lines are often long, but the fresh fish is worth it!
Island Vintage Shave Ice at the Royal Hawaiian Center is the best shave ice in town. These amazing combinations are not the shave ice you are used to…think fresh fruit, mochi, boba, condensed milk, ice cream…all kinds of good stuff!
Malasadas (basically a hole-less Portuguese donut with a chewy amazing dough) from Leonard’s Bakery are always a favorite when in town. Get them rolled in plain sugar or cinnamon sugar, and filled with custard or chocolate. So good!
Coconut Cake at House Without a Key. Every night from 5:30-8:30 you can enjoy a gorgeous sunset, incredible coconut cake and free live music and hula dancing entertainment. Make reservations early and get your own piece of cake. Trust me!
What to Do in Honolulu
Pearl Harbor is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island for a reason. The USS Arizona Memorial is one of the most moving sites you will probably ever visit. With 5-7000 visitors a day, book tours out to the memorial well in advance. This is a popular site and spots fill up fast. Reservations/tickets are free and are released daily at 3 p.m. HST in two windows: 24-hours and 8-weeks in advance. So for example on January 1, tickets were released for January 2 and February 26. You can find more information about reserving tickets here.
If you are hikers, don’t miss Diamond Head. Right in the middle of a volcanic crater you just don’t get to see this anywhere else! You’ll be rewarded for the somewhat difficult trip to the top of the many stairs with some of the best views on the island.
Renting a car on Oahu is kind of a must for at least a day. Make time to drive around the island so you can really see all the beautiful places it has to offer. If you are renting a car, make sure to plan time to visit the the Polynesian Cultural center.
The Polynesian Cultural Center – Spend the day exploring the rich heritage of the Pacific Islands. Wander through 42 acres of tropical splendor and enjoy the adventure of traditional hands-on activities.
Dine like royalty at an authentic Polynesian lūʻau and top it off with the most spectacular evening show in the islands. This place is so fun for the kids especially. Hands on experiences, fun shows, and an incredible nightly show. The Polynesian cultural center is frequently ranked as one of the top attractions in Hawaii.
A cool fact about this place is that seventy percent of the center’s roughly 1,300 employees are students at BYU-Hawaii.which is also located in Laie. These students come from all over the Pacific Islands. Since it’s opening, the PCC has provided financial assistance to more than 12,000 students. The PCC is a non-profit organization and revenue is used for daily operations and to support education. So cool! You will not be disappointed in this place.
Luau – If you don’t stay for the Luau and HA show at the Polynesian cultural center, be sure to book a luau somewhere while you’re in town. It’s the ultimate Hawaiian experience.
Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove or Hanauma Bay- reservations are required at Hanauma Bay, and Shark’s cove can get crowded, but make sure you snorkel somewhere. There are SO many beautiful things to see under the water! You can rent gear at a number of locations around the island for your visit.
I hope these tips and favorites help you plan your next trip to Honolulu. It is truly the most beautiful place and fun for the whole family.
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