Oahu with Toddlers: Waikiki, Hawaii

Hawaii is a great place to take small children. Our first trip to Hawaii (Oahu) was way back when our kids were toddlers, and we’ve been back a few times. There are beaches with small waves, beaches with big waves, delightful hotels, cute Airbnbs, amazing hikes, beautiful waterfalls, interesting history, and more!

That said, it might be a bit more challenging to continue our pattern of visiting Hawaii quite as regularly now that we are based on the East Coast, rather than the West Coast. In any case, if you can make it to one of the amazing islands that make up Hawaii, you will be delighted.

A Brief Overview of Hawaii

There are eight main islands in Hawaii, but only 7 of them are inhabited: Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and Niihau. Each island has its own character, and depending on what you are looking for, one might be better than another.

For toddlers and the specific desires of our family, we felt like either Oahu or Maui would be our best choices. We took the boys to Oahu in 2010, then Maui in 2011.

Since Jeremy isn’t a particular beach lover, the island with the capital city of Honolulu called to him. If he got sick of the beaches, Oahu would plenty of other things for him to do. Of course, if you prefer laid back surf towns, there are still plenty of options for you. And if you like WWII history, Pearl Harbor is a must. Note that we felt our kids were too young, and decided to skip this part of Oahu.

If you are looking for an iconic Hawaii trip, Maui is a great choice. Among other features, this island has some of the most famous beaches, and you are sure to get that perfect picture that you are dreaming about.

In 2015, our boys were a bit older, and we were debating between Kauai and Main Island (Hawaii). In the end, we decided that we weren’t sure how much we trusted them to stay safe while hiking next to volcanos, and we opted for the less volcanic Kauai. One thing to note about Kauai is that while you might be able to get the deserted beach of your dreams, the water tends to be much rougher and there aren’t as many lagoons available, so it may not be the ideal choice for toddlers.

Both Molokai and Lanai are much smaller, but are worth investigating if you like going off the beaten path.

Niihau is the “forbidden island,” and is closed to the public. Don’t plan on being able to visit this island unless you have connections to someone on the island.



After an evening arrival, we picked up a rental car, drove to our Waikiki hotel and put the kids to bed. It’s not necessary to rent a car if you’re spending the entire time near Waikiki, but we wanted flexibility to explore more of the island. For our hotel, we got a condo-hotel-type place with a kitchenette, which is helpful for reducing the costs for at least breakfast, and an occasional dinner.

Waikiki is an amazing place to stay. As one of the most famous beaches in Hawaii, you expect it to be beautiful. It has activities for all different age ranges – children, grandparents, middle age. When you add in the lively hustle and bustle of people enjoying the amazing atmosphere, and the area really comes alive.

There are many different options for accommodations. Of course, there are the luxury hotels, but since that isn’t really our thing, we chose to stay in a small condo hotel a couple of blocks from the beach. If you are unfamiliar with the area, you will be amazed by how much you can save if you choose and apartment over a hotel, and even more amazed when you decide to skip the beach view. Of course, those things are nice, and if it is important to you, budget for it, but at this point in our life, we simply wanted to enjoy Hawaii without spending a fortune.

Waikiki Beach

After a good night’s sleep, we set out for the beach. It was a little early, but we figured that the boys wouldn’t be happy until they were in the water, and it might help us avoid the crowds.

The boys were pretty hesitant at first, but the shallow drop off in combination with the break water made the beach super super-safe for toddlers. Eventually they warmed up to the amazing Waikiki beach!

What fun! We spent most of the morning playing with the boys. If you are traveling with kids who are a little bit older, or if you are into surfing, simply move away from the break water, and you will have much more interesting waves than in these pictures. There are also areas that are great for snorkeling or other water activities. Get a good guide book before you go, and you will easily be able to find a Waikiki beach section that meets your interests.

Eventually, the boys had had enough, so we took them to get cleaned up, found a food court for lunch, and then took them back to the apartment to nap.

Our Walk

After playing by the beach in the morning, we decided to do something different in the afternoon. A walking exploration fit the bill. When traveling with toddlers, a stroller is always a good idea. We always brought a heavy duty one, the Phil and Ted’s Double Stroller, that could withstand all but soft sand and shards of glass. It is a bit heavier and more annoying to take on a plane or train than the traditional umbrella stroller, but your back will thank you as you spend hours wandering with a stroller that is actually usable.

We started with a walk along the beach.

As always, the boys managed to find an interesting fountain to admire.

And who can resist the koi fish in a mini Japanese Garden?

We wandered until sunset, and then took the boys back to the apartment.

After dinner, the boys wanted to visit the pool, so we obliged them. What a great first day in Hawaii!

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