With beautiful resorts, kid-friendly beaches, and important history, a visit to the west side of Oahu is a must.
Located on the leeward (west) coast of Oahu, Kapolei is about 15 minutes from Pearl Harbor and 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu. Less hectic than the capital city, Kapolei boasts the luxury resorts of your dreams, plus uncrowded beaches and important history nearby.
We stayed at the Beach Villas (92-106 Waialii Pl.). We rented a luxury, three-bedroom condo through VRBO. The villa had separate living areas, a fully-equipped kitchen, a washer and dryer, and every beach toy and piece of snorkeling equipment that you possibly could need. The staff was so friendly and helpful, and the grounds were well-maintained. At times, we felt like we were the only people at the resort because it was so quiet. Koi ponds dot the property, and kids can feed the fish twice daily at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (My kids loved doing this!) There’s twice weekly, live music at the bar near the entrance to the beach, so parents can enjoy live music and a cocktail while the kids play in the pool. Weekly 3-bedroom condo rental: around $3000; smaller units, of course, are a bit more affordable.
KidTripster Tip: There are two pools at the Beach Villas. One is the main pool, complete with a zero-entry sandy beach which is great for toddlers. The other pool is designated as the “quiet pool;” kids can’t be there without an adult, and the quiet policy is strictly enforced. I went there a few times by myself to relax and read a book. It was my own mini vacation!
Photo courtesy: Ko Olina Beach Villas
What to do?
Ko Olina is the star of this side of the island. While you could stay in this gated resort community for your entire vacation, you’d be missing out on what the rest of West Oahu has to offer.
Go on a snorkel and dolphin watch cruise with Dolphin Star (85-471 Farrington Hwy.) The cruise leaves from Waianae Harbor about nine miles from Ko Olina. There’s free parking at the harbor, or you can take the Dolphin Star shuttle that picks you up at the Marriott. My kids loved this cruise! We saw dolphins and turtles while on the boat, and my husband and 9-year-old son swam with four huge turtles while snorkeling; it’s one of my son’s favorite memories from the trip! My 5-year old was a bit nervous about getting in the ocean, but Captain Wade talked him through it, and he finally jumped in and swam around for a few minutes. The BBQ lunch on board was delicious. For the ride back, the crew hands out crayons, coloring books, and toys to keep the kids entertained. Also, when the cruise started, the crew handed out all-natural ginger tablets to help with any motion sickness. Take them; they really do help. Cost: Youth $67; Adult $111. Yes, it’s expensive, but we found it to be worth the money. If snorkeling isn’t your thing, you can opt for a less expensive dolphin watch or dolphin watch/lunch cruise.
KidTripster Tip: While tickets to the USS Arizona are free, they’re on a first-come, first-serve basis. Beginning at 7 a.m., 1300 tickets are given out daily at the ticket counter. One ticket is given to each individual visitor, so in order to get all the tickets that you’ll need, your entire party must be present. However, if you go to this part of the National Park Service website, you can reserve tickets up to two months in advance; you can reserve any number of tickets that you’d like. You’ll need to pay a small processing fee, but this is the best way to guarantee that you’ll be able to see the memorial.
IThe Bowfin (11 Arizona Memorial Dr., Honolulu) is located next to the embarkment for the USS Arizona. We toured the Bowfin, but my kids weren’t too impressed. They’ve toured submarines before, and frankly, if you’ve toured a military submarine, this tour isn’t much different. Cost: Youth (4-12) $6; Adults: $12; children under 4-years old are not permitted on the Bowfin due to safety concerns.
From the USS Arizona Memorial, you’ll need to take a bus to visit the USS Missouri. If you’ve got kids 10 years and older, I highly recommend this tour. Cost: Youth (4-12): $13; Adults: $27.
If you have an aviation buff in the family, head to the Pacific Aviation Museum (319 Lexington Blvd., Honolulu) on historic Ford Island in the hangars that survived the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. The docents here are military veterans who share gripping stories of WWII battles. And don't miss the videos and film featuring actual footage of the attack, narrated by Pearl Harbor survivors. Your child's favorite exhibit likely will be the simulators where they can fly in their own dogfight. Cost: Youth (4-12) $12; Adult $25; best suited to kids ages 10 and up.
KidTripster Tip: You can purchase a bundled ticket that includes all the Pearl Harbor attractions. Cost: Youth (4-12) $35; Adult $65. Learn more here.
Where to eat?
Ko Olina Station is within walking distance of any of the four main resorts. From a small grocery store to pizza and ice cream, you can find pretty much anything that you’re looking for in this shopping-dining area.
My kids’ favorite restaurant here was hands down Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman (92-1048 Olani St.). They loved listening to the nightly, live music, and the food was great, too. The keiki (kids’) menu is small but tasty. My older son ordered the King Kong cheeseburger. One night, my younger son wanted “just lettuce and parmesan cheese”; as you can imagine, that’s not on the menu, but the staff was lovely and made him his own salad. I appreciated their willingness to go off-menu to please their young customer. Splurge on the lobster deviled eggs. You won’t be disappointed! And make reservations as this place does get busy.
KidTripster Tip: There’s a nightly happy hour with drink and food specials, so if your kids tend to eat a little on the early side, head over and enjoy.
If you want easy grab-and-go eats, head to Island Country Market (92-1048 Olani St.) in Ko Olina Station. It offers made-to-order sandwiches and salads, as well as juices, teas, and coffees. It includes a small grocery store, so you can pick up any needed sundries.
If you’re looking for a nice meal out, Roys Ko Olina (92-1220 Aliinui Dr.) is a good choice. I’ve been to a few other Roys locations in the past, and this location on the Ko Olina Golf Course is more kid-friendly than the others. The food and presentation is still Roys' quality, and the staff is friendly and helpful.
KidTripster Tip: There were a couple of days where we’d been at the beach all day and didn’t want to cook or go out to eat for dinner. Instead, on our way back to Ko Olina, we called the Pizza Corner (92-1047 Olani St.) located in Ko Olina Station. It had our pizza ready for us to pick up within about 20 minutes. The pizza is decent, the kids liked it, and it made for a quick and easy dinner.
Photo courtesy: Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman
The town of Kapolei and Ko Olina resorts are a 30-minute drive from the Honolulu International Airport.