Best of Waikiki for Families – Ideas to Make the Most of Your Hawaii Vacation

For the love of Waikiki

Many people dream of Waikiki with it’s clear blue water, rolling surf and umbrella laden cocktails. You can easily spend a week people watching, playing in the water, shopping and eating all the food – so many desserts and so little time. Parking is pricey and car rentals have skyrocketed in the past years so most opt to go car-less. If you’re stuck in the city and feeling little stir-crazy or if you simply want to experience more I put together a list of the best of Waikiki for families.

young kids hiking in the rainforest near waikiki oahu

Take a Hike

If you’re in the mood for a change of scenery, there are several nearby hiking trails. Even if you don’t have a car you can take the bus or an Uber/Lyft to get you there.

  • Manoa falls Trail – Experience the rainforest with a canopy covered stroll along the stream culminating in a waterfall. It’s a 1.7 mile hike to get to the waterfall and back, but the path is wide and well-marked. Expect to pay a parking fee and go early or late to avoid crowds.
  • Diamond Head – Make your way to the top of this icon crater for stunning Waikiki views. They created a reservation system to limit crowds so plan this one in advance by snagging your spot from the park here. P.S. it can get super hot so try to go early or late.
  • Waahila Ridge – Escape the beaten path with this steep ridge hike or take your pick from an extensive trail system at the back of Makiki Valley just beyond Waikiki.
fireworks over waikiki viewed from ala moana beach park

Alternatives to Waikiki Beach

The bright, clear waters and perfect waves of Waikiki are not to be missed but if you’re looking for alternatives you might consider these nearby options.

Magic island – A bustling park and perfect little crescent beach sit at the top of Ala Moana Beach Park. A great spot for a swim and picnic with sunset views of Diamond Head and the Waianae Mountains. If you happen to visit on a Friday evening, you might luck out with a bonus fireworks show at the Hilton.

Diamond Head Beach Park – If you’re a surfer looking to escape the crowds at Waikiki or have a curious kid who loves tidepools, this narrow rocky beach is a fun change of pace.

Wailalae Beach Park – You can escape the crowds for a stroll along this palm tree lined beach in the upscale neighborhood of Kahala. The water is usually calm and clear but the beach is narrow so it’s best at low tide. It’s spot I love for sunset family photos.

pirate ship in waikiki sets sail for family adventure

Take to the Seas

There are lots of different flavors here depending on your interests. You can dive (meh, not great), snorkel at turtle town (can get very crowded but an easy way to see turtles), take a sunset sail, a whale watch tour (better from the north or leeward shores from Dec-May), charter a fishing boat, see Waikiki from above by para-sail or you can take a pirate ship.

Pirate ship adventure If you’re not a snorkeling kind of family, this is a great way to get out on the water and keep the family entertained.

boy navigating the honolulu zoo with a map in front of lemur mural

For Animal Lovers

If you’re an animal lover you might want to check out the Honolulu Zoo or the Waikiki Aquarium. Both are small and … perfectly fine. No, really, I like them both quite a bit and have spent countless hours at both. However, if you’re visiting and short on time you may want to skip them. Especially if you have access to a nice zoo or aquarium.

Best of Waikiki for Families

Best of Waikiki for Families?

What would you add to the list? If you’re lucky enough to have a car you can find more ideas for the best day ever here.

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    Unique Oahu Activities for Adventurous Families

    oahu activities for adventurous families

    Who is this list for?

    Oahu activities for adventurous families is list of personal favorites. This list is for families who love nature, the beach and like to get off the beaten path to try something a little different. There are ideas for a few beaches, a few hikes and a bonus.

    jumping off the waimea bay rock at sunset on north shore of oahu

    Adventurous Beaches

    Is an adventurous beach a thing? Yes, it most definitely is. These are spots where should know how to swim and keep an eye on ocean.

    • Halona Beach Cove – This tiny beach is tucked away along Oahu’s southeast rugged shores. The steep ascent and high surf make it tricky, but rewarding.
    • Snorkel at Electric Beach – Oahu’s Leeward coast has a thirsty, rugged beauty. You’ll find raw beaches studded by sharp kiawe trees and pounded by the surf. Experience the power of the ocean from the stretch of coastline beyond Koolina to Kaena Point.
    • Waimea Bay – In the summer months this bay is a placid lake dotted with sailboats, but in the winter the shore break is a beast eager to slam you into the sand. The popular jumping rock tests your bravery and the memories stick with you for a lifetime.
    • Ke iki Beach – This wide expanse of beach has my heart – from the mountain view to the glorious sunsets silhouetting whales, dolphins, and manta rays. True, the massive rocks draw you in but then threaten to shred you feet, but it’s worth it. At low tide, there is a fun little tidal shelf to explore. Not nearly as big as adjacent shark’s cove, or Three Tables but a lovely alternative. If you can brave the shore break (easier in summer), you can snorkel out and around toward Shark’s Cove.
    dramatic view of kids hiking from the koolau summit on kuliouou trail in oahu hawaii

    Adventurous Family Hikes

    Hawaii has no shortage of adventurous hikes with its knife ridges and slippery waterfalls. This list is safe enough for families who don’t want to cheat death necessarily, just adventure a little further. A little harder.

    • Kuliouou Trail – This is a ridge trail so you get great views and a summit trail so you get views of both Honolulu and windward Oahu. The final bit takes you through some native vegetation which you can examine with great care as you pant for breath.
    • Poamoho Trail – This may be my favorite hike on the island. True, it’s not accessible without a 4WD and (an easy to obtain in advance permit), but it’s level, beautiful throughout and its a summit hike.
    • Crouching Lion Trail – Crazy steep and a bit sketchy but super short. You can keep going up the mountain if can’t get enough but we prefer to make our way down for lunch at the Poi Factory instead.
    horseback riding option for Oahu families

    Bonus Family Activity

    We regularly have this conversation at our home on weekends – Do you want to go to the beach? No. Do you want to go for a hike? No. Well, then there’s nothing else to do. Honestly, we don’t have this conversation anymore because –

    1. There no free weekends. They all belong to soccer and we spend most of our time moving back and forth from Kailua to Waipio Soccer Complex.

    2. We know the answers will invariably be no to both questions because as teens/tweens my kids never want to go to the beach or for a hike. It’s frustrating.

    Anyway, if you’re at the point in your trip where you don’t feel like the beach or a hike but still want to do something active (that doesn’t involve soccer, the mall, or PokemonGo), you can ride horses at Gunstock Ranch.

    And there you have it, Oahu activities for adventurous families. If you’re looking for ideas, you can see four versions of the “Best Day Ever” on Oahu here.

    Hanalei Family Beach Portraits | Kauai’s Bluest Blues

    family plays on the beach during family photos at sunrise hanalei bay kauai

    The Best of Kauai – Hanalei family beach portraits

    Hanalei Bay is hands down my favorite spot on Kauai. The white sand beach curls gently around the deep blue of the ocean while bold mountains watch over the salty scene. When Melissa reached out for family photos and mentioned it was her favorite beach too, I was happy to jump onto a flight and meet them on the north shore of Kauai.

    It’s the perfect spot for a family who deeply loves the ocean. I had to hold the kids back for a bit for some, well, dry family portraits. Not to worry, I have lots of tricks up my sleeve in the forms of games and random silliness to distract from the lure of the ocean – at least for a little bit. Slowly we moved closer to the water and began to explore. Tiny seashells and interesting sticks were all examined with care.

    Low tide left a smooth slick of water on the sand and waves had carved out mini streams. Navigating these obstacles kept us busy until it was too warm to deny the ocean any longer

    Into the blue

    After a quick change it was finally time to dive into the bay. I readied my water camera and braced for impact. Honestly, it was the perfect temperature – a slight chill to ward off the bright heat of the sun. However, I’m a definite wimp in the face of anything moderately cold and it shocks me every time. While I waded in slowly with a pained expression, the kids showed no hesitation. One look at the perfect, clean waves and they were submerged.

    Perfect, clean waves made it an ideal playground. They spent the rest of the morning jumping waves and body surfing. Deep belly grumbles put an end to our fun and they headed off for breakfast with promises to return soon.

    boy playing on the beach hanalei bay
    mom and daughter portrait on the beach north shore kauai
    mom and son portrait sunrise hanalei kauai
    kauai family portraits at sunrise in hanalei
    mom and daughter photo at hanalei beach on kauai
    calm blue water at hanalei bay
    portrait of a girl with a plant and mountains on the beach in hawaii
    sibling portrait at sunrise during family photoshoot on kauai
    siblings jumping in synchrony north shore kauai vacation photos
    photo of a boy with glasses laughing and kauai mountains in the background
    girl with long hair watching the waves in hanalei bay during family photoshoot
    dad hugs daughter at the beach in hawaii with mountains beyond
    portrait of mom and son laughing during family photo session kauai haawaii
    family beach portrait at hanalei bay kauai
    girl at the beach with blue sky beyond hawaii beach
    dad and son tossing a ball at hanalei beach kauai
    boy body surfing at the beach
    kids swimming in hanalei bay
    kids playing on a sand bank at a beach in hawaii
    family plays in the blue water of hawaii

    Do you have a beach loving family?

    Family photos don’t have to be a painful, stressful affair. Let’s meet at the beach to make some beautiful family portraits alongside salty Hawaiian memories. Find out more about my easy family photo sessions here.

    Lanikai Beach sunrise photo session | A morning to remember

    lanikai beach sunrise photo session for family on vacation

    If I was to make a must-visit, best ever, don’t miss it beach list for Oahu, it would certainly include Lanikai Beach in Kailua. The sand is light and fluffy underfoot and palm trees perpetually dance in the tradewinds. Just offshore, Flat Island and the Mokuluas shimmer in turquoise waters. If you look carefully you can see turtle heads surfacing for a quick breath while they scour the reef for snacks. In the winter months you can catch the sunrise directly between the islands. It feels magical – as if anything is possible.

    Memories captured: still and video

    I’ve always loved photos, but video has become more important to me as my memories begin to get jumbled and faded. That’s why I added video to my photo sessions. They’re like little precious time capsules that you can escape into.

    Watch their mini family film here –

    And see a sample of their photos here –

    kids watching sunrise over the mokulua islets from lanikai beach oahu
    kids playing on lanikai beach at sunrise
    boy playing with the fine sand at lanikai beach kailua
    mom and daughter hug during a lanikai family photo session
    couple kisses at lanikai beach while kids run around
    sunrise family photo session at lanikai
    family photos at lanikai
    dad kisses toddler son with palm trees behind during sunrise photoshoot in hawaii
    sisters play along the waters edge in hawaii
    family plays at lanikai beach oahu
    dad and son build a sandcastle at lanikai beach kailua
    closeup of girl with glasses laughing at the beach
    mom and daughter snuggle during hawaii family photos at lanikai beach
    dad carry laughing boy at the beach
    couple portrait at lanikai beach in kailua
    happy family hugging at lanikai beach by little bird photography
    family walking along empty lanikai beach at sunrise
    dad and daughter
    family watching the waves at lanikai beach kailua

    Into the Lanikai Blue

    About an hour after sunrise the call of the clear blue water because too strong and it was time to jump in. Sunblock was applied, floaties were hastily inflated and it was a mad dash to the ocean. This time of morning – about an hour or so after sunrise – is a magical time at the beach. Any ambitious sunrise gawkers have taken their photos and departed while the morning beach crowd has yet to arrive. A normally crowded beach can suddenly become a private family adventure.

    My personal favorite way to experience Lanikai is with a pre-sunrise hike to the Lanikai pillboxes towering above the beach followed by a refreshing ocean dip. First you take in the view and then you experience it close up. Spectacular.

    girl leaping into the ocean at lanikai beach
    girl playing on a float during hawaii photo session
    dad throwing daughter in the air against blue sky during fun family photo session in hawaii
    family building sand castles a the beach in kailua
    boy playing in an inter tube at lanikai beach
    girl sitting in a rainbow float at kailua beach as waves wash in
    toddler boy plays in the surf at kailua beach
    tattooed dad holds daughter in the water during hawaii family photos

    Want to make the most of your vacation?

    Let’s take advantage of all beautiful Hawaii has to offer with a family photo session. I’ll put together options that fit your needs and you enjoy an easy morning of fun and laughter! Learn more about my family beach photo sessions here.

    Upcountry Maui family photographer | A colorful beach alternative in Kula

    a family walks along a winding road in kula maui during a family photoshoot

    Relief from the heat

    A trip to Maui is always a treat. It makes a great excuse to visit friends and explore the island a bit. This was one of the first inter-island adventures I took post-pandemic. Or post the start of the pandemic anyway. Traveling after such a long break was a strange experience full of hand sanitizer, masks, and long lines.

    Once I snagged the last rental car and made it out of the airport successfully, I made a beeline to beautiful Kula. Winding roads took me up the mountain past strawberry farms and flowering jacaranda trees. The air was instantly cooler and if was a welcome relief the oppressive summer heat at sea level. Welcome to Maui.

    So we meet again

    Kim first asked me to photograph her family on a Maui vacation a few years ago. We planned at sunrise beach session near their hotel in Kaanapili. This time, they wanted something a little different. Something that felt uniquely Maui. So up the mountain I drove loving every minute.

    We met at a quiet little pull out tucked against rock walls holding in herds of curious animals. The boys were overflowing with energy from the long drive and probably just a break from the heat. We played games, laughed and made memories while watching the sun set from up high. It was a lovely afternoon and I was sorry when it was time to head back down the mountain and make the long journey back home.

    family portrait on maui
    siblings hugging during maui family photo session
    mom and son hug against flowering jacaranda trees on maui
    dad and kids being silly
    boy jumping into father's arms during photo session
    squishing boys cheeks during a fun photo session in hawaii
    family walking at sunset in upcountry maui
    parents play with kids in kula maui
    portrait of a smiling boy
    mom and son walking along kula road
    dad and son portraits during maui family photo session
    mom and son against flowering jacaranda trees in kula maui
    colorful portrait of a boy at sunset
    dad and son share a laugh
    dad playing with sons during hawaii family photo session
    dad and son at sunset
    family enjoying sunset upcountry maui
    dad and son watch a maui sunset

    Looking for something different for your family photo session?

    Let me put together some fun options so you can relax and play together as a family. You get to have fun and take home beautiful images from our time together – the best combination! Find out more about my fun family photography sessions here.


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