The last time we came to Hawaii our kids were two and a half and 6 months old. For this Hawaii vacation with toddlers, our kids are four and a half and two and a half and I can confirm that traveling with a talking (at times shouting) preschooler and toddler is more exhausting than traveling with toddler and a baby. Nonetheless, we still had a great time. We usually come once a year (except for the past two years) and each time it’s a great time. Here’s how to survive Oahu with toddlers.
A lot of places have closed down in Waikiki unfortunately, though it looks like tourism has really ramped up this year, with it being the busiest we have ever seen with American tourists.
Hawaii Toddlers Best Island
Which is the best Hawaiian island for toddlers?
Personally I think Oahu is the best Hawaiian island for toddlers as it is very walkable (if you stay in the Waikiki area).
However I have not been to Maui yet- my husband has and he says there’s lots of driving involved. But comparing Kauai and the Big Island, I think Oahu has plenty to offer everyone especially if it is your family’s first trip to the Hawaiian islands.
Where to Stay in Waikiki for Toddlers
One of the nicer places to stay in Oahu for toddlers is the side near the Honolulu Zoo or closer to Diamond Head. The toddler friendly part of Waikiki beach is there (where there are no waves at all). Either that or the side near Hilton Village is also good (on the other end of Waikiki beach) as it is close to Ala Moana mall and the Hilton lagoon.
We initially booked an Airbnb (as we had done each time in the past) but when we checked in the place was not clean at all (stained chairs and the place smelled like feet). The host was able to refund our booking and we booked the rest of our trip to stay at the Waikiki Banyan instead.
The Waikiki Banyan has a very toddler friendly pool (with one part of the pool just 2 feet deep) and even has a children’s playground on the 6th floor. The units are all one bedroom units with a sliding door and full kitchens. There’s a coin operated laundry on each floor. It is about 20% owner occupied so it’s fun meeting locals at the pool.
It’s certainly not a 4 or 5 star hotel (which apparently go for $350USD to $700USD a night these days), but comfortable and very budget and family friendly. We would definitely stay at Waikiki Banyan again.
Toddler (and Budget) Friendly Places to Eat
Here are some places to eat on Oahu that have no line ups (if you time them right) and are toddler friendly. We probably went out to eat once a day and the rest of the time we just used our hotel-condo’s kitchen.
Leonard’s Bakery for Malasadas
There’s often a huge line up at Leonard’s Bakery so I would recommend timing it for a quieter time to visit. A malasada kind of tastes like a sugared donut. They are a Portuguese donut without a hole. They have cinnamon flavour, original (sugar), and Li Hing flavour (kind of a sweet and salty preserved plum flavour).
Each malasada is under $1.50. My 2 year old gleefully had sugar all over her face after her malasada treat.
Shrimp Truck Lunch
If you rent a car, I would recommend driving up to the North Shore for an entirely different side of Oahu. It is about a 2 hour drive.
There are a number of shrimp trucks in the Kahuku area. We usually frequent Fumi’s shrimp stand. A plate of shrimp truck lunch is $15 and our kids shared one plate lunch between the two of them.
Other shrimp stands on the North Shore are Romy’s or Giovanni’s.
Spam Musubi or Onigiri
Hawaii is known to love Spam. A spam musubi is like a spam sushi (it’s fried spam). Of course it’s not the healthiest meal or snack option but I suppose okay in moderation!
You can pick these up easily at the ubiquitous ABC stores or you can go to Musubi Cafe Iyasume for fresh spam musubi’s or onigiri.
For a number of lunches, I just gave my kids a salmon or tuna onigiri (triangle rice balls, around $1.99 to $2.50 USD) with some fruit and cherry tomatoes and they loved it.
Paia Fish Market Restaurant
There are usually huge line ups in the evening so we didn’t get to try this restaurant until later in the trip. This is a new restaurant in Waikiki, serving very reasonably priced fish burgers cafeteria style. I would recommend going for lunch or lunch at around 11:00am, there’s usually no line up then.
The Keiki menu (kids menu) is very well priced, for $6.95 there were two large fish sticks and a huge basket of fries both kids could share.
I had the Mahi Mahi burger and my husband had the Snapper burger and it is around $14 or $15 for each including fries on the side.
This is one of the best restaurants for Oahu with toddlers, in my opinion (provided you go when there is no line up).
The fish is so fresh and portions are great.
There’s usually a line up even as the doors open at 11:00am. It is also cafeteria style, the line up goes quickly, and very reasonably priced (most udon soup bowls are under $10).
Marugame udon has handmade udon noodles with a la cart tempura that you can purchase.
At the Ala Moana food court, there are a number of fast food options. Unfortunately the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is closed. One of our favourites is Bario Ramen. It is a thicker ramen style and the pork is delicious.
There’s usually a 15% coupon in one of those Oahu coupon books that are on Kuhio and Kalakaua for this restaurant.
Toddler Friendly Things to Do
Other than hang out at Waikiki beach or go to your hotel pool, here are other things to do on Oahu with toddlers.
Some people might not like to go to zoos because of animal ethics.
The Honolulu Zoo is very large, it is over 42 acres with over 1000 different types of animals.
The Honolulu zoo price is $19 for adults and $11 for kids age 3 to 12, under age 3 is free.
The Honolulu Zoo is open from 10am until 4pm, not ideal times for nap time and toddlers who nap once a day though.
If you keep your receipt you can go back to your hotel for nap time and then return to the zoo. The doors close for entry and re-entry at 3:00pm.
There are sloths, elephants, giraffes, Komodo dragons, giraffes, penguins, orangutans, Galapagos tortoises, and lemurs to name a few.
Some of the Galapagos tortoises are over 100 years old.
There’s a fun playground near the entrance and a petting zoo.
Lanikai and Kailua Beach
These are our favourite beaches. Lanikai beach is beautiful and more fun with the waves, but the sand on Kailua beach is very toddler friendly almost powdery soft, white sand beach.
Even on a cloudy day it is still warm and pleasant.
Our toddler and preschooler were most content with a bucket, digging tools, and sand toys at the beach compared to all the other toddler activities we have done with them on Oahu.
Waikiki-Kapahulu Public Library
The Waikiki-Kapahulu library used to have story time but this has been curtailed due to COVID. It is still a great place to read books with your kids and very toddler friendly.
You can even borrow library books as a non-resident. For $25USD you can get a 5 year membership to borrow books.
It’s located at the end of the Ala Wai canal on the Diamond Head side.
Ala Moana Mall Play Area
The Ala Moana mall has a really fun play structure near Target.
Kids can climb really high but be pretty much protected from hurting themselves or falling off.
The Dole Plantation is a fun place to visit with toddlers as they can see what a pineapple plant looks like.
If you’re up for it, you can try the Dole Plantation Maze which is the world’s largest maze. There’s also a train ride. However, the line ups for both of these tend to be quite long.
We just walked around (free to walk around) and had a Dole Whip treat.
It’s on the highway towards the North Shore.
Rent a Car And Road Trip to the North Shore
As mentioned, renting a car is necessary in order to go to the North Shore or to Kailua/ Lanikai, or even to load up on groceries at Walmart, Costco, or Don Quijote’s.
It’s a beautiful scenic drive to the North Shore. Some of the beaches up there have turtles hang out on the beach.
Instead of paying for hotel parking, we rented the car for the day at parked it back at the International Village in the evening (to avoid paying for expensive parking in Waikiki), returning the keys the next morning.
Alternatively, there’s a new app called the Hui App where it is $10.95/hr to a cap of $109.50 per day, gas is included and you won’t have to worry about parking.
Of course, you would need a car seat to rent a car so we brought ours with us. You can also rent them in Hawaii.
Take The Bus to Chinatown
Toddlers love taking the bus! To get a free pass for the day for The Bus, you can get the Holo card from ABC stores, they use fare capping, so basically if you pay for two fares for the day, you can ride free for the rest of the day.
They don’t get ‘transfer’s anymore if you’re paying by cash but if you have a Holo card there is a transfer limit embedded in the card.
It is $2.75 per ride for adults and children under 5 ride free.
At Chinatown there are cheaper groceries, including $1.29/lb papayas. We basically had papaya every day because that was the only thing that was cheaper in Hawaii than in Canada.
Grab a Pizza and Watch the Sunset On the Beach
Finally if you like Hawaiian pizza, “When in Rome” you should have some Hawaiian pizza right?
(Hawaiian pizza which is pineapple on pizza, was ‘invented’ in Ontario, Canada in the 1960’s)
Dominos has very well priced large 3 topping pizza (for the Waikiki area anyway) that fed the four of us for $13.99 (if you order online using one of their coupons).
We were able to watch the sunset in peace without the kids fidgeting at a restaurant, and have a pizza dinner on the beach.
Hope you found this Oahu with toddlers guide helpful!
There are plenty of things to do on Oahu, and when they are older, we plan to hike Diamond Head, hike the Pillbox hikes, and go to Hanauma bay for snorkelling.
If you haven’t started your packing list, yet, here’s a minimalist packing list for a beach vacation with baby and toddler.
Do you have tips on things to do or places to eat on Oahu with toddlers?
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