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Hawaii for Families, Best Tips by the Experts [Interview]

KAREN MCMILLAN and KEIRYN OSBORNE are experts on Hawai’i. Working for Hawaiian Airlines, both have visited with their families many times, so we asked them to share their family holiday secrets. What are the must-dos? Where are the best places to eat? What are Hawai’i’s hidden gems for families?

An aerial view of Waikiki. Image Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson
An aerial view of Waikīkī. Image: Hawaii Tourism. Credit: Tor Johnson

OAWK: So, tell us, what is it you like about Hawai’i that keeps you coming back as a family? 

Hawai’i is safe, and the climate is always pleasant. There is something for everyone here, shopping for the girls, golf for our husbands, water sports and sea life for kids. The kids are always keen to explore the outdoors, hiking, surfing, paddle boarding, which keeps them off their electronic devices for most of the holiday.  

Snorkelling on the North Shore credit HTA Tor Johnson
Snorkelling on the North Shore. Credit: HTA Tor Johnson

OAWK: What are the five things your kids MUST DO when they come to Hawaii? 

Our kids really enjoy getting out into the Great Outdoors, so a holiday usually includes surfing, hiking and snorkelling, but here are their Top Five favourite things to do. 

  • Volcanoes National Park. Located 45 miles southwest of Hilo on the big island of Hawai’i, Volcanoes National Park is home to one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. There are 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts and rainforests, a museum, petroglyphs, a walk-in lava tube and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984, and Kilauea ,which has been erupting since January 3, 1983. 
  • Snorkelling at Black Rock. At the northern tip ofKa’anapali Beach on the island of Maui, Black Rock is a prominent volcanic outcrop. Snorkel here in crystal clear water, following an underwater lava rock edge, and you’re likely to see colourful butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, surgeon fish, Moorish idols, blue tangs (Dory) and if you’re lucky, sea turtles. 
  • Hiking the Diamond Head Trail. One of the most rewarding hikes on the island of Oahu is up to the tip of Diamond Head Crater, rewarding you with 360 degrees views when you reach the top. While it might appear to be a challenging climb, in fact it only takes about 40 to 60 minutes to reach the 250 metre high summit. 
  • Pearl Harbor Tour. At Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, you can visit the spot where the US involvement in WWII began – and where it ended. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrender ended the war. 
  • Shopping. Even our boys loved shopping in Hawaii, especially at the Ala Moana Center, the largest open-air shopping centre in the world, with delights such as Tesla, Apple, Quicksilver, cool convertible cars to rent, and sport shops. 

Book now your Pearl Harbor City Half-Day Tour in Hawaii! 

People snorkelling in Hawaii
People snorkelling in Hawaii

OAWK: Where are your favourite places to eat? 

  • Gyu-Kaku is a chain of Japanese cook-your-own BBQ restaurants.
  • IHOP (International House of Pancakes) or Denny’s “full service pancake house”. For pancakes (obviously). 
  • Food trucks on Waikiki Beach Walk. Everything from empanadas, fried shrimp and tacos to ramen, pizza and ice cream. 
11607 Maui Food Truck credit HTA Dana Edmunds
Food Truck in Maui, credit: HTA Dana Edmunds

OAWK:  What are your top tips for families?  

  • Check out the happy hours and early bird specials for dinners. The early time slots suit families and both food and drinks are cheaper. 
  • Get to the beach early when it’s less busy, and try to get out of the sun by lunchtime. 
  • You can go shopping any time of day as shops are open all hours, but weekends will always be busier. 

OAWK:  What are Oahu’s hidden gems, or underrated attractions, that families should seek out? 

  • Kualoa Ranch. Visit the place on Oahu where Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Skull Island were filmed.  Go horse riding, ziplining and quad biking – you can even do an ATV Raptor Tour of the Jurassic World film set.
  • Honolulu Zoo. Established in 1877 by King DavidKalakaua, the zoo’s first inhabitants were the king’s private bird collection. These days the zoo has a wide range of creatures, both endemic and exotic, including monkeys, big cats, zebras and sloths. 
  • U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii. Housed inside Battery Randolph, a former coastal artillery battery, the museum holds a great collection of World War II armour pieces, including an AH-1 Cobra helicopter. 
  • Hire a car and explore the North Shore. Visit famous surf breaks at Pipeline, Sunset Beach andWaimea Bay, go hiking, kayaking, stand up paddling, and biking. Swim under Waimea Falls and hang out with sea turtles near Haleiwa Town.
  • Kailua and other beaches on South Shore. Lanikaiand Kailua beaches are coral reef-protected bays with white-powder sand, consistently ranked in Top 10 lists for the most beautiful beaches in the world. Because the bay is protected from a far-flung outer reef, Kailua Bay is great for paddle boarding, kite surfing, kayaking, snorkelling and swimming, and three nearby offshore islands — Moku Nui and Moku Iki (the Mokes) and Flat Island — make great destination points. 

Book your Kualoa Ranch One Day Adventure in Oahu today!

Family at Honolulu Zoo credit HTA Tor Johnson
Family at Honolulu Zoo. Credit: HTA Tor Johnson

 OAWK: What are Hawai’i's best animal encounters for kids? 

  • Snorkel with turtles on Oahu’s North Shore. Hawaii Turtle Tours have small group tours designed especially for families. Laniakea Beach, nicknamed ‘Turtle Beach’, is a haven for green sea turtles, or ‘Honu’ as they are called here, and in the summer months you are pretty much guaranteed to see one. 
  • Whale watching. The shallow Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai is one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world. You may also spot humpback whales, or ‘kohola’, from the southern shores of Oahu, especially at Makapuu Lighthouse and along the coast at Diamond Head.
  • Swim with dolphins. There are many tour operators in Oahu, Lanai and Maui that can take you out for a swim with Hawai’i’s graceful spinner dolphins. The Hawai’ian name for dolphin is nai’a and they can be spotted here throughout the year. 

Book your Oahu Snorkeling and Turtle Watching Half Day Tour here!

Happy kids ready for their snorkelling activity in Hawaii
Happy children ready for snorkelling in Hawaii

OAWK: What's your favourite family holiday memory in Hawai’i? 

Recently both of us had to come to Honolulu for work and we were fortunate enough to be able to bring our families for a few days. We have five boys between us, aged from 10 and 13, who had never met before and they got on like a house on fire. It could have gone either way, however they instantly made friends. There is always something to cater for all family members, and this is why it is a fantastic place for a multi-generational holiday. 


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