Never assume anything and be prepared to be wowed on your travels. I was wowed as soon as I walked into our room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and saw the view from our room.
It’s possibly one on the best hotel views I’ve ever had.
Waikiki Beach is stunning. Looking down from the room, the beautiful blue water was crystal clear and you could see the reefs stretching all along the coastline.
The water was still and calm and perfect conditions for my new found hobby, stand up paddle boarding – you can’t come to Hawaii and not do it.
Out the front of our hotel was a swimming area protected by the reef. It was shallow, calm and great for snorkeling and perfect for our kids.
The sand was golden, reminding me of home. Rumour has it that some of the grains have come all the way from Australia to help fill the beach. Yep, Waikiki Beach is actually manufactured. But, who cares. It’s gorgeous and it’s a beach!
But most impressive is the beach leading to that imposing view of Diamond Head. It draws your eye to it’s ribboned lion’s head from every perspective – the hotel balcony, swimming in the ocean and out on sea looking back at the Waikiki and Honolulu skyline.
Waikiki Beach is now one of my favorite city beaches in the world, and there are plenty of things to do in Waikiki with kids!
We arrived for two days at the beginning of our America Unplugged trip. I knew straight away we had made the right choice and I felt settled back into our soul “home”.
So let’s talk about what to do in Waikiki.
Things to do in Waikiki with kids
1. Diamond Head Walk
The Diamond Head walk was at the top of our Hawaii bucket list. And from the number of people on the walk when we did it, I think it’s on the top of everyone’ else’s’ things to do in Waikiki list too.
While I loved the walk and the extraordinary views, the crowds were a little intense for me.
It’s going to take me some time to get used to living in a heavily populated country again, especially those that are weighed down by tourism as well.
We arrived to do the Diamond Head walk at about 8 am. Next time I’d get here for park opening at 6:30 am.
It’s an easy walk to do with the kids. It looks hard and steep, but there are a lot of switchbacks making it easy. Be sure to take the 900 steps and follow in an anticlockwise direction to ease the flow of traffic.
I’d allow for at least 90-minutes to complete the walk. The entrance fee is $1.
You can walk to Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach. With kids (depending on their age), I think this will be too much. Instead, you can catch an Uber – we caught the bus ($2.50 adults/$1.75 kids) to the bottom of the park entrance and then walked in from there.
After the walk, head down to Bogart’s Café & Espresso Bar for one of their infamous smoothie bowls (see below in the places to eat in Waikiki section).
Bogart’s is another 25-minute walk from the Diamond Head State Monument, so if your kids are tired you could catch an Uber.
Video: Diamond Head Walk + a little more of beautiful Waikiki Beach
2. Pearl Harbor Tour
We went back-and-forth on whether to do a tour of Pearl Harbor. Would the girls appreciate it? Is it worth the expense? Relaxing on the beach for one more day sounds so good.
I’m so glad we decided to go, and I now know why it’s one of the best things to do in Waikiki with kids.
It was a fantastic educational experience for our kids and I was so impressed with how they behaved and what they learned.
It’s the first time they have experienced anything to do with war. They were very respectful, listened attentively and absorbed the memorial and the meaning behind it.
“Mummy. Why would people do something like this to each other?”
Kalyra’s face was scrunched up in confusing trying to seek answers to questions adults fail to give. Their innocence highlighting the insaneness of a hateful, fearful, adult world.
I did my best to explain this insanity to Kalyra, emphasizing how important it is for each of us to practice peace, love and kindness in our everyday lives so we can allow that light to guide our collective decisions.
Savannah, our highly sensitive child, burst into tears through one of the videos explaining what happened. I welled up beside her.
It gave me a lot to think about and offered new insights into US culture.
You can visit the grounds and museum before catching a boat over to the Arizona Memorial, the ship that sunk and is now the tomb for 1,102 of the 1,177, most of them as young as 18 and 19. So heartbreaking.
It was a beautiful memorial. So many people pass through there every day and everyone was so quiet and respectful.
Seven decades later, oil still leaks from the fuel tanks of the sunken hull of the USS Arizona. Little drops of oil bubble up from the surface and dance across it. They are known as the black tears of the USS Arizona.
Free tickets to the Arizona Memorial are released each morning at 7 am. Get there early and be prepared for long waits. You may even miss out on the tickets.
As we were short on time, and without a car, we decided to join a tour with Discover Hawaii to Pearl Harbor, which is not free – it cost us $179 for our family. It was expensive but I found it worthwhile.
The tour passed through Honolulu for a quick driving tour. I enjoyed the commentary and stories from our guide.
Pearl Harbor video:
3. Spend a day at Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is kind of split into three sections.
At the western end of Waikiki and in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village you have Kahanamoku Beach. This curved section of beach features a breakwater and pier with coral running between them.
Kahanamoku Beach provides a nice swimming area that is relatively safe for kids, and there’s plenty of space on the sand to lay your towel for sunbathing.
The middle section of Waikiki Beach – in front of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel – is the busiest section and where you’ll find a lot of water sports and some of the popular beach restaurants like Duke’s.
And it’s right near the main shopping area of Waikiki along Kalakaua Ave.
Further east toward Diamond Head is the family-friendly Kuhio Beach section. It’s out of the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and there’s a sea wall protecting swimmers from the force of the ocean’s waves – the perfect place for young children to swim.
Kuhio Beach is quite pretty with the palm trees and offers a beautiful view of Diamond Head.
Either way, a day on the beach is one of the best free things to do in Waikiki with kids, unless you partake in water sports.
4. Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon (at Hilton Hawaiian Village)
Looking for the best things to do in Waikiki with kids on the water? The five-acre saltwater lagoon next to the Hilton Hawaiian Village is awesome for families.
We enjoyed spending the afternoon playing with the water toys and it was the first time for the girls to go on a paddle boat and Savannah loved taking control of the driving.
Kalyra loved perfecting a cartwheel on the stand-up-paddle-board (SUP) how does she do that? And I loved taking Savannah for a ride on the SUP board. I could stay out there all day.
The views out to Waikiki Beach and the rainbow tower were beautiful. Craig enjoyed taking the photos and videos before sneaking out for some solo paddle boarding.
Video: things to do in Waikiki and the Hilton Hawaiian Village
5. Polynesian Luau
I was worried the Starlight Luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village was going to be a bit kitsch and over-touristy, but I actually loved it.
One of my favorite memories of our Hawaii trip was when Savannah got a tattoo from one of the male performers who happened to look just like Maui from Moana. She was convinced it was him and she was smitten. The look on her face was priceless. I think it’s a memory she’ll never forget.
I enjoyed the dancing and music from the show. It showcased the stories and culture from the different Polynesian islands, which gave a good insight into their differences and similarities.
This was our second night in Hawaii and I knew from them I’d love the spirit of the Hawaiian people. I’m keen to explore more of Polynesia now.
You also enjoy a buffet dinner at the Luau and a couple of free drinks – mai tais her you come!
There’s also this farm to table Luau that offers organic food! I wish I knew about that one.
6. Surfing lesson
One of the best things to do in Waikiki with kids is a surfing lesson.
The waves at Waikiki Beach are well formed and the perfect place for the kids to learn to surf. With clear waist deep water and gentle waves, they’ll be standing up in no time.
There are several operators spanning the beach offering group or private lessons, or you can simply hire a board yourself and just go for it.
Kalyra didn’t want a lesson, preferring to hire a board and play around with Craig. The board cost us $25 for two hours.
She learned how to surf in Australia and loves it. She slipped right back into it and had a ball. Tragically, we lost our GoPro Hero 4 while catching the action.
If you plan on spending several days surfing in Waikiki, or further afield in Hawaii, it might even be cheaper to buy your own foam surfboard and then sell it when you are done.
7. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Not actually in Waikiki, but close enough to put it on your list and one of the top things to do in Waikiki with kids.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of the best and most famous places to go snorkeling in all of Hawaii, located 30 minutes east of Waikiki.
This beautiful cove was once a volcanic crater and has clear blue waters and lively reefs full of colorful fish. You can rent masks, snorkels, and fins for $20 or bring your own.
If you are not confident with snorkeling, or just want to be lead around, you can join a guided snorkeling tour.
Open every day except Tuesdays! Entrance fee is $7.50 per person (kids 12 & under are FREE).
8. Waikiki Sunset
Probably one of the most relaxing things to do in Waikiki with kids is to grab a patch of sand or sit in one of the restaurants on the beach to enjoy a Waikiki sunset. We even had a good view of it from our balcony at the Hilton Waikiki Beach hotel.
Sunset is also a good time for a walk along the beach down the Hilton Hawaiian Village end of Waikiki Beach.
9. Waikiki Beach Walk
One of the most recent things to do in Waikiki is to visit the newly developed Waikiki Beach Walk.
There are a lot of restaurants here, we ate at the Yard House and Cheeseburger, and on the night we visited they had free hula hoops for kids (small donation if you feel like it). It’s a great way to entertain the kids for an hour. They will love it.
Go here for a current list of events and entertainment.
10. Free Hula evenings
On Waikiki Kuhio Beach, you’ll find a beautiful free hula show. It’s really a lovely setting with sounds of the ocean mixing in with the Hawaiian music.
The show includes authentic Hawaiian music and hula performances as well as a torch lighting ceremony. It’s offered every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, weather permitting.
You’ll find the show at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound near the intersection of Uluniu and Kalakaua Avenues – add it to your free things to do in Waikiki with kids list!
11. Atlantis Submarine
I’ll admit, I was nervous getting into the submarine as I’d never been on one before.
The Atlantis Submarine submerged to 120 feet underwater so was a little scary. But, it was awesome. I’m not a scuba diver so thoroughly enjoyed getting an insight into the underwater world.
The submarine cruises by several intentionally sunken ships and airplanes to help create new artificial reefs. We saw coral growing, sharks, lots of fish, and turtles.
It was another one of the educational things to do in Waikiki with kids as Savannah loved using the chart to discover which fish was which. It was also cool to see the submarine pop up out of the water and submerge from the deck of the transport boat.
Places to eat in Waikiki
We can’t talk about the best things to do in Waikiki without mentioning the food. A hungry kid (or parent) is a grumpy one, right?! Here are our suggestions on places to eat in Waikiki.
Goofy Café & Dine
Right behind the Hilton Hawaiian Village and upstairs in a little shack on the main road is the Goofy Café.
Alerted to us by another Instagram friend and by Tripadvisor, it was our first breakfast in Waikiki and a bloody good one.
Chocolate acai smoothie bowls. What a way to start the day! I was happy Kalyra embraced it as well. They were only $9 which I think is cheap compared to Australia.
Barefoot Beach Cafe
An Instagram friend (I hate saying the word follower) shared this tip with us as a place to eat. The
The Barefoot Beach Cafe is like a beachside kiosk. Turn up barefoot and in your cossies and order a quick, cheap and easy lunch.
It was our first time trying Poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish that food trends around the world are embracing. We ordered the spicy and Hawaiian poke and have discovered a fresh, light, tasty and healthy dish. The poke was $9.
Yard House Restaurant
We loved this find on the Waikiki Beach Walk. We were looking for something casual and a more American bar feel so we could watch the Tar Heels win the Final Four match of the NCAA Basketball tournament.
TripAdvisor alerted me to the Yard House Restaurant and it was exactly what we were looking for and the type of place we’d often hang out in watching games with our mates in Raleigh, North Carolina.
My quinoa salad was ginormous and delicious. The kids meals were fantastic, they had gluten free beer and great prices compared to many of the other Waikiki restaurants – definitely one of the best places to eat in Waikiki.
Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.
Heavenly Island Lifestyle
As the name suggests, you’ll walk out of Heavenly Island Lifestyle with a floaty air of contented happens.
Healthy, innovative and delicious food with a funky Hawaiian-Asian fusion vibe. I loved it the minute we walked in, especially because Jack Johnson was playing. I’m in Hawaii now.
The green curry I had for dinner was one of the best I have ever had and their smoothies are nutritionally dense and yummy!
H.E.A.V.E.N.L.Y….if a healthy start is important to you, this is one of the best breakfasts in Waikiki.
Tiki’s Grill & Bar
We didn’t make it here for sunset drinks (suggested by others) but Tiki’s Grill & Bar is located in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel and mixes a fun island vibe atmosphere with delicious food and nice open air seating overlooking Waikiki Beach.
At the time we were staying at the Hilton Waikiki Beach and wanted something family-friendly and within an easy walk. We ended up going to this place twice, and my fave dish was the venison burger.
Live music is on offer here and there’s a good Keiki (children’s) menu and the staff were always friendly with our kids. One of the best Waikiki beach restaurants.
The Highway Inn is known for its authentic Hawaiian food and one of the best places to eat in Oahu. We stopped in here on our way to the airport and grabbed breakfast on the run.
It was just by chance that we spotted it while driving past. The food was delicious and massive.
I ordered two pancakes for the girls to share with my Aussie hat on. They arrived supersized. It would have been equivalent to a serving of at least six pancakes back home and for only $8.
My Kimchi fried rice was $11, spicy and delicious, and was big enough to cover me for lunch and dinner.
Bogart’s Cafe & Espresso Bar
Our kids also tried their pancakes and they are ginormous and enough for your kids to share. Another thing we are getting used to is the size of US meals, especially pancakes.
Kalyra gave a thumbs up for their hot chocolate and Craig for their green smoothie.
Around the corner from Highway Inn was an awesome discovery as I made the mad dash to get my coffee. I was first alerted to something Down Under going on when I spied vegemite toast on the menu.
As I was chatting about it to the owner, the name clicked with me – Arvo is short for Australian in Aussie slang. The owner told me the concept behind the café was created by her Aussie brother in law. The
The Arvo Café is only two months old, but had a bustling atmosphere. The word has gotten around that the coffees (and the food from what I could see) is good. And $3 for vegemite toast, who wouldn’t love it.
Mac 24/7 Bar & Restaurant
Fancy a pancake?
Located inside the Hilton Waikiki Beach hotel, the M.A.C. 24/7 Bar + Restaurant serves modern American cuisine infused with the culinary diversity that makes Hawaii special, and killer pancakes!
M.A.C. 24/7’s claim to fame is its Pancake Challenge.
Featured on the Travel Channel show Man vs. Food, the Pancake Challenge consists of eating three 14-inch pancakes topped with either blueberries, walnuts and chocolate chunks; pineapple, coconut and macadamia nuts; or cinnamon streusel with vanilla glaze.
Open 24 hours a day and seven days a week!
WONUTS at TR Fire Grill
What time is it?…WONUT time!
Our kids could hardly contain themselves and pestered us until we gave in and let them at it for dessert one evening.
What’s a wonut? Well, it’s a cross between a waffle and a donut. One of our fun things to do in Waikiki with kids. check them out!
Lulu’s Restaurant is a lively restaurant and bar also located right on Waikiki beach close to Tiki’s and handy if you’re staying towards the Diamond Head end of Waikiki. Again we walked here from the Hilton Waikiki Beach.
They do breakfast, lunch and dinner and every evening there’s live entertainment, plus they have big screen TV’s for watching the sports with the food being American dining – our wings were great!
Might not be the quiet place you’re looking for if you have toddlers, but family-friendly enough for our kids aged 9 and 5.
For quick take away food try:
- Coco Cove – from smoothie bowls, to poke, and sandwiches, this store has you covered. Located at 2284 Kalakaua Ave.
- Holoholo Cafe & Market – small grocery and takeout store under the Hilton Garden Inn. We grabbed cheap bagels for the girls a few mornings here. $1.95 can’t beat it.
- Lanikai Juice Bar – we only tried this smoothie chain on our last day in Hawaii on our road trip around to the North Shore and didn’t realise they had a location within the Hilton Hawaiian Village (2005 Kalia Rd, at the Tapa Pool). It is awesome. Best range of healthy smoothies. On a return trip to this Hilton we’d go there every day!
- Kai Coffee is in the arcade under of the Hyatt Hotel and probably the best coffee we had in Waikiki (think Melbourne coffee standards).
- Tucker & Bevvy – a small soup, sandwich, and acai bowl place near the Zoo. Decently priced and yummy gluten free chilli!
Free Oahu Bucket List PDF
Our stay in Waikiki was hosted in parts by Go Hawaii Australia.
Places to stay in Waikiki with kids
Finding suitable accommodation in Waikiki is obviously important when you’re researching a family trip to Hawaii. Consider these options below.
Hilton Hawaiian Village
The Hilton Hawaiian Village is the best kid-friendly hotel in Waikiki and had everything we needed for a family break – a chance to unwind from jet lag and slip into our new full-time family travel lifestyle.
This place is huge with 5 towers and we barely stepped outside of the resort doors. With 5 pools, waterslides, a five-acre saltwater lagoon full of water toys, the white-sand Duke Kahanamoku Beach, and a Luau there wasn’t much reason to.
We stayed in the Rainbow Tower as guests of Hilton Hawaiian Village and Hawaii Oceania Tourism. This tower has extraordinary views of Waikiki Beach.
Hilton Hawaiian Village video review:
Hilton Garden Inn
If you want to be centrally located in the heart of Waikiki, the Hilton Garden Inn is excellent value. We stayed for two nights as guests of the hotel and enjoyed the proximity to the beach, shopping, and restaurants.
This hotel has been newly redeveloped with clean, modern rooms and our balcony had impressive views of the ocean.
It’s an easy two-block walk to the main section of Waikiki Beach, and across the street is the International Market Place – open air shopping mall. And one of the best coffees we had in Waikiki was also across the street at Kona Coffee Purveyors (they also have delicious pastries!)
And if you’ve had enough of the beach, there’s a rooftop pool with a sundeck.
Downstairs is the home of Wonuts and the Holoholo Café & Market. It’s also an easy walk to Heavenly Island Lifestyle cafe and the night time view is impressive!
Hilton Waikiki Beach
Towards the Diamond Head end of Waikiki Beach, we enjoyed staying for two nights at the Hilton Waikiki Beach, which is quieter than central Waikiki but still an easy walk to everything.
Again there’s a rooftop pool and bar on the 10th floor, and being close to the family-friendly Kuhio Beach section of Waikiki is handy for families – a protected area for swimming and it’s just a two block walk.
Our ocean view room was great for sunset and city views and you’re just over a mile from Diamond Head Monument. We walked everywhere, but the Waikiki Trolley and bus have stops in front of the hotel.
M.A.C. 24/7 Restaurant & Bar downstairs was reasonably priced for Waikiki, and it’s and easy walk to Tiki’s Bar, Lulu’s and Kona Coffee.
We stayed as guests of Hilton Waikiki Beach.
Other hotels we liked the look of:
- The Royal Hawaiian (the Flamingo Pink) – an iconic Luxury Collection Resort
- Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel – good value hotel right on the beach and home of Tiki’s Bar & Grill
- Sheraton Waikiki – looking for an ocean front pool?
Outside of Waikiki is the famous Disney Aulani Resort
And don’t forget Airbnb if you’re looking for more of an apartment stay and to live like the locals.
Getting around Waikiki
Waikiki is easy to get around by foot, bus or Uber. You don’t need a car. However, if you want to explore more of Oahu, then hiring a rental car is the best way.
Here is our Oahu road trip around to the North Shore.
Best tours and activities
We recommend Get Your Guide as your best source for tours and attractions tickets. They have easy cancellation, Mobile vouchers, a wide range of selection and last-minute availability. See what they have available in Oahu here.
Or check out these experiences: