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Oahu with the Kids: Honolulu, Kailua, and the North Shore are waiting

With Hawaii's travel restrictions revised, this holiday season is the perfect time to rediscover these family-friendly destinations

Shark’s Cove on the North Shore of Oahu is a great place to snorkel

Just in time for the holidays, Hawaii’s travel restrictions have been revised. As of October 15, the mandatory 14-day quarantine is gone, and American visitors to the island of Oahu ages five and older need only a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure, and a health questionnaire and temperature check upon arrival. This process makes it possible for families to celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and winter break with genuine aloha. Before making reservations, study the requirements as explained on the state’s official information site. hawaiicovid19.com/travel


Living Like a Local

Hawaii’s tourism infrastructure was shut down last March and re-opening is limited to U.S. mainland travelers. Some hotels and attractions remain closed, but the tradeoff for visitors now is enjoying a less crowded and less expensive Hawaii.  

My family and I spent Christmas 2019 in Kailua, a beachy, relatively un-touristy town on the southeast side of Oahu. For cost comparison, I checked “our” house (which I booked eight months in advance) and it’s still available for December 2020 at a significantly reduced price. gohawaii.com/islands/oahu/accommodations/vacation-rentals

I often opt for vacation rentals over hotels because I like feeling like a local, not a tourist. This year, it’s also the COVID-conscious thing to do. Throughout Hawaii, masks are required in public places, and restaurants are limited to 50 percent occupancy, but it’s far easier to socially distance with your kid-bubble in a house rather than a hotel. It’s also safer to dine at home. Having said that, some of my favorite memories of our Kailua stay involve meals with friends and family at Buzz’s Steakhouse. I also loved our big walk up to the Makapuu Lighthouse. (COVID restrictions limit hiking groups to five people.)

Nothing makes me feel like a local more than finding a way to help, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is making that easy. Its Malama Hawaii initiative encourages mindful tour-ism by giving travelers an opportunity to stay an extra day at no cost if they participate in a voluntourism activity. The aim is to help protect and preserve Hawaii for the future, while giving travelers a more meaningful and enriching experience. Visit GoHawaii.com for details.

Which Beach is Best?

When you’re looking for lodging on Oahu, you might want to consider nearby beaches. Kailua Beach and nearby Lanikai Beach are great for kite surfing, wind surfing, and kayaking; Sandy Bay is popular for body surfing; and the North Shore beaches — stretching from Waimea to Sunset — are internationally renowned for big wave winter surfing. 

Rock star surfers love North Shore winter waves
Rock star surfers love
North Shore winter waves

Regardless of where we stay, my husband and I always spend a day on the North Shore watching rock star surfers negotiating tubes large enough to drive a bus through. We’ve sometimes stayed at nearby Turtle Bay Resort and enjoyed casual meals at Ted’s Bakery (both temporarily closed, but Turtle Bay is accepting reservations beginning December 1). If your kiddos want to swim and mini-surf in calm water, nearby Haleiwa Beach Park is the place to go. They’ll also love Matsumoto’s Shave Ice in Haleiwa, an Oahu landmark since 1951. 

Disney Meets Hawaiiana

If you stay at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, the kids can have breakfast with Moana, Goofy, and Daisy Duck and then play all day in two pools, a lagoon, and a lazy river that offer waterslides, snorkeling, and a kid-friendly beach. The hotel complex, located 24 miles from Honolulu, includes 350 rooms and 841 Disney Vacation Club villas, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms. Aunty’s Beach House offers complimentary childcare, and rooms come with unlimited Disney movies. Aulani is scheduled to re-open in early November. disneyaulani.com

More Special Places

The Bishop Museum is welcoming visitors now, but a few of my favorite Oahu attractions have yet to open. Check the status of the Polynesian Cultural Center and, if you go, opt for the Super Ambassador Package. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is another memorable spot. 

The Polynesian Cultural Center is the most popular family attraction on Oahu
The Polynesian Cultural Center is the most popular family attraction on Oahu

I have great memories of snorkeling at the  island’s world-famous Hanauma Bay, but in 2019 I noticed it had suffered due to its popularity and overuse. Thankfully, I’m told now that the COVID closure has enabled the bay and its marine life to recover.

Iconic Hanauma Bay has provided the backdrop for numerous movies set in Hawaii
Iconic Hanauma Bay has provided the backdrop for numerous movies set in Hawaii

And speaking of recovering, after a strange year of working and learning from home, wearing masks, and endless hand washing, I think we need a break. We need a change of scenery and a relaxing holiday that comes with a big dose of genuine aloha. We need Hawaii.

Featured Photo Shark’s Cove on the North Shore of Oahu is a great place to snorkel


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