Trying to decide between town and country for your next family vacation? Have the best of both worlds with a dash of island paradise on a trip to Oahu. Swim and play in the bustle of Honolulu and then switch gears for the carefree feeling of the North Shore. Three days won’t be enough.
Imagine strolling down winding paths that take lazy detours to babbling waterfalls and exotic animal sanctuaries, and you’ll start to have an idea of what it’s like to wake up at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort (808/949-4321; hiltonhawaiianvillage.com). The 22-acre resort village is nestled on Waikiki’s widest stretch of beach and has all the amenities to ensure that an island paradise surrounds you before you even leave the hotel.
Resist the temptation to stay tucked away in your hotel oasis and slap on some sunscreen for a day at the beach. Every imaginable water sport is available on the beach adjoining the hotel, but if you want to do it all (and who wouldn’t), head to the Waikiki Ocean Club (808/380-6800; waikikioceanclub.com). This 10,000-square-foot catamaran serves as a one-stop floating island for any type of water play imaginable, and although it’s just a short boat ride away, it feels like another world. Kids of all ages can test out the water on the shallow swimming platform and then try snorkeling, jumping on the giant water trampoline or sliding off the back of the boat. The adventurers of the group can try helmet diving, stand-up paddleboarding or an exploratory boat ride to nearby Diamond Head.
After exploring above the water, dive even deeper into an aquarium without walls on a ride aboard Atlantis Submarines (808/973-2490; atlantisadventures.com). Descend 100 feet below the surface onboard a comfortable passenger submarine where a window seat offers a unique view of the reef and its colorful inhabitants. Back at the surface, the welcoming tiki torches of the Hilton Hawaiian Village show the way to 18 on-property restaurants or an authentic luau – a perfect way to celebrate the island in style.
Start the day with a bit of history Hawaiian style with a visit to the Bishop Museum (808/847-3511; bishopmuseum.org), where the soaring, three-story Pacific Hall showcases costumes and artifacts illustrating the rich past of the islands. The adjoining Science Adventure Center offers hands-on exploration of the natural wonders of the islands, including a giant volcano playground and a live lava melting demonstration.
Next up is the sweeter side of the Hawaiian culture at the Dole Pineapple Plantation (808/621-8408; dole-plantation.com). Climb aboard the “Pineapple Express” for a narrated ride through the plantation and challenge your problem-solving skills in the world’s largest outdoor maze, made of pineapple plants and shrubbery. When hunger strikes, head to the nearby town of Hale’iwa, a historic surfing village that’s known for its laid-back atmosphere and roadside dining treats. Pick up a delicious shrimp lunch from one of the shrimp trucks (808/293-1839; giovannisshrimptruck.com) parked along the highway and then travel about three miles to the opposite end of town to Matsumoto’s Grocery (808/637-4827; matsumotoshaveice.com) store for Hawaiian shaved ice.
Thanks to the magic of TV and movies, the North Shore has become the stuff of legend, but locals refer to this part of their home as simply the “country.” There is a decidedly more relaxed feel on this side of island that lends itself to sun and surf. If hanging 10 is on your list, head to Hans Hedemann Surf Center (808/447-6755; hanshedemannsurfschool.com) at Turtle Bay, where a protected bay offers the perfect-size waves for beginners. Kids under 14 are assigned a dedicated instructor to ensure that they catch their first wave with confidence. The surf school is conveniently located at Turtle Bay Resort (808/293-6000; turtlebayresort.com), where they have luxurious rooms waiting should you decide that life in the Hawaiian countryside is more your speed.
End your time on the island of Oahu with a trip around the Pacific at the Polynesian Cultural Center (808/293-3333; polynesia.com). Stroll through an authentic complex of recreated villages where hands-on activities and demonstrations invite visitors to try their hand at fire dancing, spear throwing and climbing coconut trees. Canoe pageants, a luau and an award-winning night show wait at the end of the day for a send-off full of the Aloha spirit.
Published August 2013