Oahu or Maui for families?

A lot of people ask, it’s our first time to Hawaii what’s the best choice Oahu or Maui for families?  My first response is typically………….go to the North Shore, which is on Oahu, and is definitely NOT  Waikiki.  When we go to Hawaii we seldom go anywhere near Waikiki…………it’s crowded with tons of hotels, and what feels like millions of people.  The North Shore is about an hour drive to the other side of the island, and in all reality a completely different experience.  Fewer people, more laid back and just feels more Hawaiian.  Maui in fact has a reputation now of being the most busy of the islands, so if you want a bit more quiet and a bit more Hawaii try the North Shore.

You do have to be more adventurous on the housing side of things because there few hotels on that side of the island.  Turtle Bay Resort is about all their is, but there are plenty of homes to rent.  Another option we like is to stay at the Marriott Ko’ Olina which is away from Waikiki, and then drive to the North Shore.

The North Shore is where the LDS community of Laie is, the LDS temple, BYU Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC).  We also think the best beach, Hukilau Beach and the best cafe, Hukilau Cafe, are on on that side of the island.  In addition there are the  famous beaches, Sunset Beach, Pipeline and Waimea.  There is also great snorkeling at Shark’s Cove (no Shark’s to be seen).

I love all the islands, but I have been to Oahu the most, and never tire of visiting there.  The flights to Oahu are typically less expensive, there is so much to do and buying food at the local Costco helps to save on costs.  If someone was only going to Hawaii once in their life time I would recommend the North Shore on Oahu.

Maybe we should leave the kids and fly to Hawaii!

It’s time to fly to Hawaii.  As I sat at work today this alert appeared!

Airfare Alert!
$408 RT Salt Lake City (SLC) to Honolulu (HNL)
As of Thursday, October 4, 2012 12:12 PM EDT

Airline: United
Wow, can you believe you can fly to Hawaii for that price from Salt Lake City?  I haven’t seen a price like that for years………….at least that I’ve noticed.  Do you ever receive emails that promote great fares, but when you go to the website you can’t find them?  That happens to me all the time, but I found this one………..leave in two weeks, fly to Hawaii, and you get this great price.  That is a very low price, since most of what I see is $650 and more.  Makes me want to leave the children and just fly to Hawaii with my wife………………………..Perhaps that is why this time of year we are seeing these low priced fares.  It’s a difficult time to go as a family…………..but if you could, you should take advantage of this deal or at least plan for next year at this time.  Hmmm how long until all the children have left home……………well that could still be a few years.

The North Shore of Oahu is an ideal Hawaii vacation for families

I’m a little nervous writing this post because I’m afraid I am giving away one of our favorite secrets about Hawaii…………and that is the North Shore.  The North Shore is a reference to the North side of the island of Oahu.  It is opposite side of the island from Waikiki and Honolulu, and we love it because it’s nothing like the South Shore.  There are fewer people, fewer tourist traps and it’s just beautiful.

I think many visitors believe they have to visit the islands of Kauai or Maui to experience the “real” Hawaii, but in reality I don’t think you have to leave the island of Oahu……..you simply have to drive to the other side.

The North Shore is about a one hour drive from Waikiki.  It is home to the three of the most famous surf beaches for big wave surfing Waimea Bay, Pipeline and Sunset Beach.  From November to February these beaches are home to big waves and experienced surfers.

Surprisingly the North Shore does not have many hotels.  The Turtle Bay is the primary hotel on that side of the island.  Renting condos or homes on the North Shore is usually the best way to go if you wish to stay there (highly recommended).

For families the North Shore boasts, good beaches and waves (during the summer), fewer people, great hiking, Hukilau Beach, Hukilau Cafe, BYU Hawaii, the LDS Temple, the Polynesian Culture Center, snorkeling, shrimp trucks and much more.


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Sharks Cove and snorkeling

One of the most fun family activities to do in Hawaii is snorkeling.  Our favorite snorkeling location is on the North Shore at Shark’s Cove.  Yes, this is it’s name, and although Sharks Cover and snorkeling don’t sound like the go together, don’t worry you won’t be snorkeling with sharks and we don’t usually tell our younger children the name, or they won’t get in the water. Everyone knows about snorkeling at Hanamau Bay, for a fee, but this is great snorkeling and at no cost.  You have to have your own gear, but you’ll have fun and see all kinds of fish.  In all our visits to Oahu we haven’t even bothered to snorkel at Hanama Bay.


Shark’s Cove is on the famous North Shore between the big surf beaches Wamaea Bay and Pipeline and is part of the Pupukea Beach Park.  Because of it’s location on the North Shore, in the winter you can encounter large swells, but in the summer time it’s always been a great place to snorkel.

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Shark’s Cove is not a sandy beach so you have to be prepared to hike down to the waters edge and then leave your shoes and towels there.  On the South side are the tide pools that are fun to wade and explore.  We have found it to be a popular place, but never too busy and although there is not a lot of parking, there always seems to be space.

Waimea Bay – Jump from the rock

Waimea Bay is a popular and famous beach on the North Shore of the island of Oahu and is home to the large waves during the winter surf season.  During the summer months the waves are a size you can play in, although they are fairly rough and break on the beach, so we usually swim beyond the break.  We visit Waimea Bay though, not for the waves and beach but rather for the rock jumping.  Without a doubt our children’s favorite thing to do at Waimea Bay is to jump from the rock.

As you enter the beach the rock to jump from is off to the left, you will likely see people already doing it.  It’s quite a safe jump while at the same time being high enough to give the children a thrill.

Plan ahead when going to Waimea Bay, it’s a popular location with limited parking, so parking can be a challenge.  We typically make it our first trip of the morning to beat the rush.  We also find that later in the day the sand can be very hot.  It’s a wide open beach without much shade so the sand gets very hot and it can be a long walk from the rock and water back to the parking lot.

On our most recent trip to Hawaii, there were dolphins swimming in the bay, which was just amazing.  Wild dolphins that seemed to enjoy the swimmers and really had no fear of being close.  We had the opportunity to swim with the dolphins and it didn’t even cost anything.  That will be forever one of our families favorite memories from Hawaii and Waimea Bay.


Oahu Lodging

Oahu lodging can be challenging, but also rewarding when you find the right location for your family.  My first few visits to Hawaii were with a sales group and a bunch of single guys.  We stayed in hotels on Waikiki, and I thought that was really the only option on Oahu.  In fact, most people that haven’t been to Hawaii or haven’t been more than a few times, might believe that.  Granted, for Oahu lodging there are a lot of hotels on Waikiki, but there are many other options to consider, especially for families.  The hotel rooms typically don’t hold more than four, they don’t like to allow or even provide rollaways and they put heavy emphasis around putting more than the approved number of people in a room.  So, with a family of five or more you are pretty much stuck with two hotel rooms no matter what you do, and no matter how good the price that usually ends up being pretty expensive.

Condos and rental homes are a great option and really your only option if you want to stay on the North Shore.  There are not many hotel choices on the North Shore, in fact Turtle Bay is about your only choice, but there are many rental homes and condos.  Choose VRBO or another rental site to find homes to rent.  We have had luck on the North Shore near Laie including renting from one of the BYU professors while they were here on the mainland.  We have also had luck trading our Marriot Timeshare from Park City to Ko’Olina.  That may be my children’s most favorite resort.  It’s somewhat on the West & South shore, away from Waikiki.  It takes 45min to drive to the North Shore but our children think it’s worth it.

Hukilau Cafe

Perhaps it’s only fitting since our favorite beach is Hukilau Beach that our favorite place to eat on the entire island of Oahu is Hukilau Cafe.  Fitting it’s name it’s only across the highway and a couple blocks from Hukilau Beach.  It’s hidden back in the local neighborhood and is our absolutely favorite place to eat on the island.  They serve breakfast and lunch and are closed on Sundays and Mondays.  Don’t miss this place, we eat there multiple times while we are there, you must at least try breakfast and lunch.  Both  meals are delicious, large and affordable.  We love the scoops of rice that come with every meal, and often try to emulate the meal at home on a Sunday.

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Hukilau Beach

I know we are biased but the best beach on Oahu bar none is Hukilau Beach. This is the beach nearest Laie on the North Shore of the island. It’s a small beach not heavily used and not a lot of tourists. It’s more for locals and BYU Hawaii students. In addition, it has nice sized waves for body surfing and boogie boarding. Our family are good swimmers, but we are not crazy surfers and enjoy this beach tremendously.

Last time we were there some new friends taught us the sport of chasing crabs. If you go to the beach at night with flash lights and buckets you can catch crabs, which the children love to do. These aren’t the large, let’s eat them kind, but we mainly caught the little ones that we then released.

We have run into the occasional “blue bubbles” on this beach. Blue bubbles are a small jelly fish but their sting is painful.