Exploring Oahu With A 4 year old: Pearl Harbor, Dole Plantation, Haleiwa Beach, Sea Turtles, And More!
So now that we’ve been all over Oahu with our 4 year old, we can definitively answer the question of whether or not you can enjoy Hawaii with a small child. The answer – at least for us – was a definitive yes. I’ll break down the highlights of we did, what worked, and what didn’t (spoiler it was all mostly awesome) work. It’s a lot – so I’ll be doing two posts on on this.
One of my top priorities for visiting Hawaii, aside from finally achieving my overarching main quest goal of visiting all 50 states, was seeing Pearl Harbor. I’ve always been into history, and let’s face it, World War 2 was the last time the entire civilized world was completely united in opposition to an evil that was so total, no reasonable person could justify it.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial was a very heavy place. It was a little smaller than I imagined it would be, but the exhibits on the prelude to December 7th, and then the actual day itself were extremely moving. They even had a copy of the famous “date which will live in infamy” speech, complete with notes/changes from FDR (you’d be surprised how much of the final speech was different from what his writers came up with originally). Just instant chills. The site of the USS Arizona sinking was also very hard-hitting, although going there with packs of tourists hurt the experience a bit, especially when one awful woman thought it was appropriate to have a cell phone conversation and then watch YouTube videos there. I mean you’re literally looking at remnants of the demised ship under (and in some cases sticking out of the) water. The remains of 1,000+ people who died defending our country are right underneath you! Who thinks that’s the right place to catch up with their pals?
Here’s the thing to keep in mind if you’re going with a child, the Arizona Memorial itself is very small and there is a boat ride that’s about 5-10 minutes each way. Once you’re there, there isn’t a ton to see. You’ll see wreckage of the ship, and a wall of names, including names of people who survived the explosion but then chose to be interred at the site with their former shipmates. It’s very moving. But there’s also absolutely nothing for a small child to do there. Our kid was a real trooper, but we got lucky I think. Within 5 minutes he had seen what there was to see (as did nearly everyone), and the term “quiet reflection” isn’t really in his vocabulary. I was never embarrassed by him or anything like that, like I said he was really great, but it took quite a bit of distracting on our part to keep him in line. I wouldn’t bring a child to the memorial portion if you’re able to secure babysitting somehow. If they’re not old enough to understand the gravity of the place, you’re really risking messing it up for other people.
The next day, we headed to the north shore of Oahu, partially in search of some LOST film sites, which I won’t go into here since I already did a full post on that experience.
After a very short stop at the beautiful Wahiawā Botanical Garden (which in retrospect I wish we had spent more time at), we went to the Dole Plantation for some pineapple soft serve ice cream (which they call “Dole Whip”) and the “Pineapple Express” train ride. Jacob loves trains, and we’d heard this was great for kids. Well, he got bored almost immediately. I guess I can understand why, calling this an “express” was… a stretch. I thought it was perfectly fine, myself. The narration of what we were seeing was pretty interesting although obviously ludicrously propagandish. It actually reminded me of Lumon Industries from Severance, but I like that crazy dystopian corporate propaganda stuff. And the views from the train were really nice. But it was sloooooowwwwww. Like the train was painfully slow and it was mostly just open fields. It wasn’t just our kid who wasn’t loving it either, I heard a bunch of other kids crying/complaining too.
He also didn’t care much for the Dole Whip pineapple ice cream – these were two things he had been so excited for but then was severely let down by. That’s probably more of a subjective thing, our kid doesn’t have the most refined palette ever. Like the train though, I really liked mine! If you go make sure you get it with the pineapple topping. I added some shredded coconut to mine and it was tremendous.
Just don’t expect your kids’ world to be set on fire by this place. If that’s your primary reason for going I’d say skip it. You can get Dole Whip all over Waikiki, and literally every pineapple in this state is as fresh as what you get there. The other stuff we didn’t really do, but going through a 2-hour+ pineapple maze (that’s literally billed as the longest maze on earth) with a child in the hot Hawaiian sun is nightmare fuel to me. But maybe you really like mazes? Still, I actually liked the overall experience, so if you’re really interested in Dole’s corporate history, and feel like spending $13 per person ($11 for kids over 4) to rumble around their plantation, have at it! Oh also, there were signs warning of 2+ hours wait time (and Google reviews/complaints seem to confirm this) so beware! We didn’t wait at all though.
From the Dole plantation we headed north up the coast. Jacob fell asleep in the car so we ended up just driving around for a little, finally ending up getting lunch at 7 Brothers Burgers in Kahuku. If you’re looking for an outstanding vegetarian option that still is very satisfying, the “Keep the Country, Country” sandwich was amazing. After lunch we went to Haleiwa Beach. This was a very nice beach, with not huge waves (unlike some of the north shore beaches, which can be quite treacherous) and was fine for a small child as long as you are holding hands. Be advised though that while it’s very shallow at first, there is a very sudden dropoff. Like waist-deep to neck deep for an adult in the span of like one long step.
The other highlight of that day was Laniakeia Beach, aka Turtle Beach. That’s right folks, sea turtles come RIGHT OUT OF THE WATER onto the land. We saw two, but apparently we were pretty UNLUCKY since they usually are all over the place there. Great great stop. Jacob loved the turtles and so did we.
The last stop I wanted to talk about in detail was the Nu’uanu Pali overlook (the featured image for this post) on the Pali Highway. We did this on the same day we did a bunch of LOST sites, but it deserves a mention in its own right. It was a pretty short drive from downtown Honolulu, and the views were really outstanding. It was very windy when we were there so Jacob wasn’t too thrilled about it – and like what 4 year old is going to love an overlook. Still, it’s a must stop in my opinion, and definitely worth the $7 it costs to park there. The views are incredible, and it’s literally on the way to so many other attractions. Maybe take a picnic lunch or have a snack to keep your kid occupied while you take in the views. Oh and you’ll want to literally hold on to your hats – everyone in our group that had a non-fitted hat had theirs blow off.
An honorable mention for Kualoa Ranch which I mentioned in detail on my LOST post. If you have kids that are fans of the movies filmed there (especially Jurassic Park or Jumanji with The Rock), this is a must-see, although our kid fell asleep on the bus, he was really blown away by the dinosaurs and giant prop bones from Kong: Skull Island the two times they let us get out and walk around.
A somewhat dishonorable mention for the Waikiki area in general, or at least the part we stayed in (in/around the Ilikai Resort). The beach was really rocky (like practically unusable), although it seemed like maybe further down near the other resorts it was more sandy.
There were also no public playgrounds anywhere near us, nor at our hotel. Also – and this is really the critical knock on the area – traffic was truly abominable. I’d heard about how bad it is around Honolulu, and I’m not criticizing them for it… it is what it is. But getting in/out of the area by car was a miserable experience during the week. On the weekend it wasn’t as bad, but if you’re planning on moving around a lot like we did via car, stay in a different area… especially if you’re going with kids who don’t enjoy bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s also pretty loud at night if you or your kids are light sleepers since every resort does their own luau and a lot of bars have live music. You’ll hear all of it, even on the 25th floor. The Hilton next door did have fireworks which was cool for us since we were really high up and they were almost at eye level.
Anyway, that’s a summary of the first half of our Oahu experience. Coming next, the Polynesian Cultural Center, the east coast, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to, and a word of warning about Diamond Head…
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