To the Beach and Beyond: Oahu Sights to See for Free
The island of Oahu, HI, tops many people's bucket list for a romantic vacation, but it's an ideal destination for families, too. With hotel and attraction discounts for kids, a dream getaway for the whole family doesn't need to turn into a budget nightmare. Enjoy seeing the beauty of the isles through the eyes of your kids while making the most of your travel budget.
Go Hands-On With Art
Let kids immerse themselves in artistic hands-on activities at the Hawaii State Art Museum on the second floor of the No. 1 Capitol District Building (250 S. Hotel St, Honolulu, HI). Explore island culture through the works of contemporary local artists and others with a connection to the islands. In the "I Love Art" exhibit, kids don't have to keep their hands to themselves. Blocks, books, magnetic tiles, PVC pipes and light, color and texture stations bring art to an experiential level. If your days are full, plan an evening visit on the first Friday of the month when the museum stays open until 9 p.m. On Second Saturdays, hands-on art projects let kids create a memento to bring home with them.
Explore a Scenic Shore
Break away from the tourist crowds and head to the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline (8751-9057 Kalanianaole Hwy., Honolulu, HI). Take a one-mile hike on a paved pathway leading to dramatic clifftop overlooks and a red-topped lighthouse. The overlook makes a scenic backdrop for vacation photos but during the months of November, you might see whales frolicking in the waters below. Retrace your steps and head down the Kaiwi Shoreline Trail in the other direction to discover tide pools lapping at the feet of a formation called Pele's Chair. There are no restrooms but nearby Makapu'u Beach Park (41-95 Kalanianaole Hwy., Waimanalo, HI) has some along with scenic picnic spots.
Snorkel a Lagoon
Although there's no end to great beaches on Oahu, Duke Kahanamoku Beach on Waikiki's west end is the most family friendly. The free beach is protected by an underwater coral reef and rock wall that keeps waves small for swimming and prevents rip currents. At the beach's back, Kahanamoku Lagoon stretches for 5 acres beneath swaying palms. Bring your snorkel and explore underwater, swim to the lagoon's island or just build a castle in the super-soft sand.
Learn to Hula
Head to the Royal Hawaiian Center (2201 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI) for free authentic Polynesian entertainment and classes. The 31,000-square foot shopping center has hour-long classes Monday through Saturday during daytime hours and live entertainment in the evening Tuesday through Saturday. Besides learning to hula, you can try your hand at making a lei, Lomilomi Hawaiian massage, Lauhala weaving and playing Hawaiian music. At twilight, head to the Royal Grove of the shopping mall to enjoy Rock-a-Hula and other Hawaiian music.
Surround Yourself With Tropical Paradise
Learn about Hawaii's diverse landscape by visiting four free botanical gardens throughout the city. Visit the favorite picnic grounds of Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Lilli'uokalani at Lili'uokalani Botanical Garden (123 N. Kuakini St., Honolulu, HI). The seven-acre garden has a stream and waterfall running through it with native Hawaiian plants throughout. Check out what grows in an upland forest at the 27-acre Wahiawa Botanical Garden (1396 California Ave, Wahiawa, HI). Huge trees dominate the landscape used as an experimental arboretum by sugar planters. Cacti, succulents, dryland palms and other low-water plants dominate 60 acres of a volcanic crater at Koko Crater Botanical Garden (7491 K.okonani St., Honolulu, HI). Take a trip around the world at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden (45-680 Luluku Rd. Kaneohe, HI). Tropical plants are grouped by geographic regions.
- Honolulu Family: Free Fun, 14 Museums
- State of Hawaii: Visitor Information (Hawaii State Art Museum)
- Hawaii State Parks: Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline
- Hawaii Department of Natural Resources: Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline
- To Hawaii: Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline
- Makapu'u Beach Park
- Hawaii Vacation Fun: Discover Pele's Chair and a Rare Secluded Oahu Beach
- Fodors Travel: Oahu Sights: Duke Kahanamoku Beach
- Hawaiian Beach Rentals: Duke Kahanamoku Beach Park and Lagoon
- Dr. Beach: Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Ohau, Hawaii
- Royal Hawaiian Center: Complimentary Cultural Programming
- Friends of Honolulu Botanical Gardens
- City of Honolulu: The Honolulu Botanical Gardens
- AARP: Travel Research, 2017 Bucket Lists
Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.