A Family Guide to Waikiki

Waikiki is known as being one of the easy, family friendly Hawaiian vacation. I had heard that Waikiki was great for first time visitors to Hawaii, and I can understand why. With resorts beachside, an array of restaurants, shopping, and activities in walking distance, it was easy to see why families would love a trip to Waikiki. Whether you want relaxing downtime on the beach, or an adventure filled vacation with surfing, hiking, and sailing, there is something for all families in Waikiki.

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How to Get There

Photo taken of Waikiki from the window seat of a Hawaiian Airlines Airplane

Realistically, unless you live in Oahu, the only way to get to Waikiki is to fly. You would fly into Honolulu airport, which is really one of the easiest airports I have ever flown into. We were greeted by hula dancers in the hallway, and large windows and open spaces to see the busy island. Oahu is a 6-hour flight from the west coast and a 11-hour flight from the east coast. There are several airlines you can choose from.

  • Hawaiian AirlinesWe flew Hawaiian airlines, which has spacious, comfortable planes, and served a welcome drink and Honolulu Cookie Company Cookie on the plan. It also actually served hot food included in the cost of the fare which was a pleasant surprise.
  • Southwest:  Southwest has several flights to Honolulu. This is a great airline for families, especially if you have children below 6 years of age. You can each still check two bags, and families can pre-board.
  • Alaska Airlines:  Of the major airlines, Alaska is one of my favorites. They are generally family friendly, trying to keep your family together even on Saver Tickets. You can pre-order food to have on the flight and they have power on all the seats and personal entertainment from your device.
  • United, Delta, American, etc.:  All the major airlines also have flights out to Honolulu. You can generally expect the same experience across all of them. If you are a family, avoid booking Basic Economy tickets as they generally do not come with seat assignments or even a personal item.

What To Do

Why would you want to do anything but spend time at the beach! Ok, is my preference showing? While that is what I did most of the time, there is a lot of do in Waikiki and Honolulu in general

The USS Arizona Memorial Bridge
  • Tour Pearl Harbor – You cannot go all the way to Oahu and not take some time to see Pearl Harbor, where World War II started for the United States, and where so many young men lost their lives when the Japanese bombed the great fleet that day. We used and enjoyed Aloha Tours, but there are several who can take you out to Pearl Harbor. If you have a rental car, you can drive and park, and walk around yourself.
  • Tour Honolulu and Surrounding Area – With Aloha Tours we got to see the Punchbowl National Cemetery, downtown historic Honolulu, and the King Kamehameha the Great statue. We learned about the land grants to the native Hawaiians, and what it was like to grow up in the island with so many people affected by the war. Hawaii has a rich history and there is so much to learn about it.
  • Hike Diamond Head:  Diamond Head State Park can be seen from Waikiki, and it is a strenuous but rewarding hike to the top of the volcanic creator.
  • Honolulu Zoo: A compact zoo right at the edge of Waikiki, you can walk there from your resort, and check out an array of animals. Great for when you have little ones who cannot spend all day at the beach.
A young girl sitting on a catamaran out on the ocean
  • Take a Boat Tour or Cruise – There were several companies that had catamaran and sailing trips out around the harbor, including sunset tours. Many including full or half day trips including snorkeling. When in such beautiful waters, it is always nice to jump in and see the fish
  • Take a Surf Lesson – Waikiki is known for as a haven for surfers, especially further out in the harbor. All along the beach you can find several people offering surf lessons. Why not try paddling out and see if you can stand on the board?
Mom and daughter excited in the ocean in Waikiki Beach in front of Diamond Head
  • Enjoy the Beach – Many of the hotels are beachfront. Some hotels have their own umbrellas and chairs, but there are lots of open public areas of the beach where you can rent chairs and umbrellas. From these locations you can also rent surf boards, boogie boards, and other fun water play. But note, those chairs and umbrellas can go early, so make sure to make the beach the first part of your day if you must have one.
  • Enjoy your resort – If you choose to stay in a resort while in Waikiki, make sure to make use of its amenities. There is always the pool, hot tub, spa, shopping, etc. We enjoyed spending hours poolside, me getting tanned and buzzed, and the kids turning into prunes. It was amazing.

Where to Eat

Sashimi and Sushi on a wooden bridge

We had so much good food in Waikiki!  But note, the food in Waikiki is not cheap. Even if you eat at the Starbucks every day for breakfast, and at the food court for lunch and dinner, expect to pay more than you would in the mainland, especially for a family of four. However, the restaurants I list below are worth the wait and the splurge

  • Eggs N Things – There is a larger one in town and a smaller one by the beach. Make sure to wake up early and get there when they open to avoid the long wait. Get the Macadamia Nut Pancakes, you will NOT regret it. Also, the meals are huge, if you are a light eater, share with someone else in your party.
  • Morimoto AsiaMorimoto has a special significance to my husband and me. We used to watch the original Iron Chef when we were dating, and he proposed to me in the original Morimoto’s restaurant in Philadelphia. When the concierge was able to get us last minute reservations for four in Morimoto Asia, we jumped at the chance. Here, Morimoto does his take on classic Asian dishes, and you order dishes and eat family style. But our favorite might have been the chocolate sphere, where the kids got a kick out of watching my face fear the fire as they used it to melt the chocolate.
  • Furusato Sushi This restaurant is small, so you will want to make sure to hit it up at off hours. But it is worth the stop, it had some of the freshest sushi we have had in a long time. It is traditional sushi, with choice of rolls and sashimi, all of amazing fresh caught local fish.
  • Moani WaikikiThis was a spectacular restaurant that serves elevated classic Hawaiian dishes. There are amazing cocktails, the food was spectacular, and there is often live music and entertainment.
  • Duke’s Waikiki – We unfortunately did not get to eat at Dukes this trip as it was booked out for weeks in advance and we could not do the hours long wait. But we have had it in La Jolla and absolutely loved it. Dukes has great seafood, great beachfront views, fun cocktails and even a kid’s menu. A great option for a family that likes good food.
  • Poke Waikiki Poke is a must have when you are in Hawaii. The fish is fresh, and the poke bowls give amazing mix of flavor. Believe it or not, my favorite poke bowl in Waikiki was found in a food court of a mall!  We went to the food court so everyone could get what they wanted, but I think I ended up with the best meal.

Where to Stay

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort towers as seen from Waikiki Beach

Waikiki has hotels in all budget ranges. But what it is known for is its beach front high rise hotels and resorts. Here is where we stayed and what a few people who have also visited Waikiki have recommended:

  • Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa – We choose to stay at this beach front property right across the street from the statue of the Duke. We upgraded to an Oceanview room on a high floor. It was worth it. We got to watch the sun set from our balcony every day, and it was magnificent. The pool was a little small, but the kids still really enjoyed. There is also a nice covered hot tub. The beds were amazingly comfortable, and the room came with a reusable tote bag to take home, and two reusable water bottles to use and fill up all over the resort.
  • Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach – This property is right on the beach (no crossing the street) and has a beautiful pool complex.
  • Sheraton Waikiki – This hotel is further at the top of the curve that makes Waikiki Beach and is also on the beach. So not only could you use the hotels beach chairs and umbrellas, but from the beach, you can see Diamond Head, you do not need to go out into the water to see it.
  • Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa – Those who are Marriot fans will find that the resort in Waikiki has all the amenities you want, the high rooms ocean view rooms, and the ability to earn Marriott points during your stay.

Getting Around

A family walking down the sidewalk in Waikiki

If you are planning to stay in the Waikiki Area, there is no need to rent a car. Food and water activities are all walking distance from the hotels. We walked everywhere the entire time.

There is public transit if you want to go to the Diamond Head Area, and potentially into other areas of Honolulu. You can also count on Uber and Lyft.

If you want to get further outside of Honolulu or drive yourself to Pearl Harbor, you will need to rent a car. Note that car rentals and fuel are expensive in all of the Hawaiian Islands.

What to Bring

A selection of photos of a family in their favorite beachwear

You are going to the beach! What more do you need except a bikini!

But if you feel like you need a bit more, here are my must haves for Hawaiian vacations:

  • A fantastic swimsuit:  You want a swimsuit that you love and makes you feel amazing. And do not worry what others say. You do you and #justwearthesuit. I love these bottoms from Target and these tops from Target. I also love this this black one shoulder from Amazon. My daughter had this two piece from Amazon and a one piece from Target. My son, who needed new swim trunks last minute, Got Amazon Basic Rash Guards and swim trunks. They come in an array of colors.
  • A beach coverup:  Everyone walks straight from the beach to the stores or lunch here. A nice beach coverup you throw over your swimsuit lets you go straight to lunch after the beach or pool, with a little bit of modesty. I get so many compliments on this one I got off Amazon.
  • Breezy Sundresses with Pockets:  Who does not love a good dress with pockets. When I am in hot climates, I love to wear a nice breezy dress, but have the option of pockets to store my phone, mask, etc. I picked up one of these dresses from Amazon before I left and want to order a bunch more.
  • A Fun Sunhat:  You need a sunhat to protect your face from the beautiful but harsh Hawaiian sun. I love this packable sunhat I picked up at Target. There is also a similar one available at Amazon. Check out these great kids’ ones at Amazon
  • Good Sunglasses:  As I get older, I find that I need sunglasses more and more to protect my eyes. I love polarized sunglasses. I have tried (mostly in vain) to get my kids to wear them. They always pack them, but they never wear them…
  • Waterproof Phone Case:  We have four of these waterproof phone cases that we use whenever we are remotely near water. I like them at the beach particularly because you also keep the sand out of the phone. Then you can take them into the water with you to get spectacular photos up close of your kids playing in the waves
  • Reusable Bags:  Hawaii does not give out plastic bags and encourages everyone to bring reusable bags for all your shopping. Make sure to have one ready for any of your shopping needs.
  • Reusable Water bottles:  Like the bags, Hawaii is conscious of how much plastic the tourism industry generates. There are locations everywhere to refill your water bottles. Our hotel provided us with two reusable water bottles to take home. Help cut down on plastic wastage and make sure to still get in your water intake. I love this pink one that I use daily to encourage drinking more water.

Most importantly, I want to list what not to bring because it will save you time, space, and frustration:

  • Beach Towels:  Your hotel should provide them. Packing them takes up precious space in your suitcase and you must wash them when you get back. Ditch the frustration
  • Sunscreen:  There is an ABC store practically every 10 feet. Do yourself a favor and buy some when you get there. You will go through more than that travel sized bottle anyway. Worried you will have leftover? That is easily solved. Find someone who is checking in while you are leaving and give it them. They will use it and you have helped save the planet a little less plastic pollution.
  • Matching Hawaiian Outfits:  Again, do yourself a favor and buy those once you are in Hawaii. It will be cheaper, and you will get a lot more variety and choices.
A mom and daughter looking up at the statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku

Some vacations are about busy sightseeing and adventure. And some are about rest and rejuvenation. Our vacations tend to be active, with activities planned each day and little down time. Looking at our 2022 calendar, I knew the trips we had planned were active. I recently had shoulder injury that was crushing my spirit. I needed a trip that was all about rest and relaxation. I wanted to rejuvenate. And I got exactly that in Waikiki. I have included several tips here for you to plan your trip as you would like, to be as active or as relaxing as you want. But I must say, everyone should plan one trip a year away from home where they do nothing but relax. I came back more rejuvenated than I have been in a long, long time.

A Family Guide to Waikiki

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