Hawaiian History for the Kids

Learn about Hawaii and explore Oahu’s natural wonders on these affordable kid-friendly excursions.


Honolulu and the island of Oahu offer families many adventure activities from casual to challenging, limited only by your interests. Adventures will take you from seashore to mountaintop and provide cultural and educational experiences as you discover and explore Hawaii’s capital city. The following are among the best adventures in Honolulu. Some require admission fees, while others are free.

Historic Hawaii

USS Arizona and USS Missouri Battleship Memorials

The memorial is built over the hull of the battleship USS Arizona Memorial, sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunging the United States into World War II. Free admission includes a film on the attack, museum tour and boat ride out to the memorial. With all that this major historical site has to offer, there is bound to be something that appeals to kids of all ages.

1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu. Tel. 808-422-0561. Hours of visitors center: daily, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Adjacent to the USS Arizona at Ford Island is the famed “Mighty Mo,” the battleship USS Missouri, which might be of particular interest to boys going through their war phase. The surrender of Japan took place on the Missouri’s deck on Sept. 2, 1945. Visitors tour the main deck, admiral’s cabin, command center, control deck, battle stations, crew quarters and get a close-up look at the Mighty Mo’s famed 16-inch gun turrets. Admission fees required.

Battleship Missouri Memorial, Historic Ford Island. Tel. 877-MIGHTYMO (877-644-4896). Admission: $16 for adults, $8 for children 4 to 12. Hours: daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

‘Iolani Palace

The ‘Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the United States. Built by King Kalakaua in 1879, it was home to Hawaii’s monarchs until Queen Liliuokalani was deposed in 1893. The ‘Iolani Barracks on the palace grounds housed the royal guards. Visitors see the throne room, private quarters, and displays of royal regalia, crowns, jewelry and other memorabilia of Hawaii’s monarchy—this is best left for children over 5 to peruse. Admission fees and reservations required.

Corner of King and Richard streets, next to the Hawaii State Capitol Building. Tel. 808-522-0823 or 808-522-0832. Admission for the guided tour: $20 adults,$5 children 5 to 12 (no children under 5 years old allowed on guided tour); self-guided tour: $6 adults, $5 children, children under 5 are free. Hours: Tue. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Historic Downtown Honolulu Walking Tour

This tour covers Honolulu’s early historic buildings and sites near the downtown center, which includes the oldest wood-frame western-style house still standing in Hawaii. The buildings and displays depict early American missionary life in the 1820s. Nearby is Kawaiahao Church, built in 1842 of coral stone blocks, and is one of the first permanent churches in Hawaii. King Lunalilo’s Tomb is in front of the church. Along King Street are Honolulu Hale (city hall), ‘Iolani Palace and Aliiolani Hale, the judiciary building (once the home of King Kamehameha V), with a fine statue of King Kamehameha the Great on the front lawn.

On nearby Beretania Street is the Hawaii State Capitol Building and Washington Place, the former home of Queen Liliuokalani and now the official residence of Hawaii’s governor. While interesting for parents and young teens, the endless walking and architecture touring might become tiresome for younger kids. Hawaii Capitol Cultural District Walking Tours are offered on the second Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.; $20 per person.

Mission Houses Museum, 553 S. King St. Tel. 808-531-0481.

Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum is Hawaii’s renowned museum with various galleries and collections showcasing the culture and natural history of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. There are superb displays of early pre-European-contact Hawaiiana, artifacts from across the Pacific Islands and special programs that educate and inform on island culture and heritage. This is a great way to encourage your kids to learn about the culture of Hawaii—just be careful not to exceed the attention span of little ones who might get antsy and eager to go play on the beach. Admission fees apply.

1525 Bernice St. Tel. 808-847-3511. Admission: $15.95 for adults, $12.95 for children 4 to 12, free for children 3 and under. Hours: daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

This somber memorial to America’s war dead overlooks numerous graves of military veterans in a beautiful setting inside a volcanic crater above Honolulu. The names of thousands missing in action are inscribed on large monuments. Although many kids might not necessarily jump at the thought of visiting a graveyard, older teens might appreciate the history of the site. Exhibits and displays detail many famous battles and operations of World War II in the Pacific. Free.

2177 Puowaina Drive. Tel. 808-532-3720.

Natural Hawaii

Diamond Head (Mt. Leahi) State Park Trail

Located inside Waikiki’s famed landmark volcanic crater, Diamond Head’s trail leads to the crater ridge summit and spectacular panoramic views of Honolulu. The moderately difficult half-mile trail follows steep switchbacks on the crater wall, a 300-foot tunnel and two steep staircases. This destination is ideal for kids who love the outdoors or teen boys who are major history buffs—there are several old World War II bunkers and lookouts on the crater rim summit. Allow two hours for a round trip and viewing time; take walking shoes, hat, sunscreen and water. Free.

The Banzai Pipeline/North Shore of Oahu

Known as Hawaii’s surfing mecca, the fabled “Banzai Pipeline,” lies seven miles northeast of the town of Haleiwa, on a wide stretch of beach along Kamehameha Highway. This is the ultimate surfer challenge where the shallow water and coral shelf combine to create monster tubular waves that resemble pipes, thus its name. Spend a day at the beach with your kids watching the surfers ride the waves. The big waves are best during the winter season, November to March, or anytime that strong northerly swells occur. Free.

Nu`uanu Pali State Wayside

Nu`uanu Pali is located just off the Pali Highway 61 which crosses the Ko`olau Mountains to Kailua on the windward coast of Oahu. A short walk takes you to the stunning windswept vista of the 1,200-foot pali (cliffs) lookout and a panoramic view of the windward coast including the Waimanalo, Kailua and Kaneohe areas. Although this natural backdrop makes for an ideal family photo, make sure to keep the little ones close to you when admiring the views at the lookout spot. Interpretive signs relate the story of the invasion of King Kamehameha the Great from the Big Island in 1795. Kamehameha’s forces fought the defending Oahu warriors, pursuing them into the Nu`uanu Valley and, in the final battle, forced 300 warriors over the pali to their deaths. Kamehameha’s victory over Oahu led to the unification of all the islands under one kingdom.

Nu`uanu Pali summit, off Pali Highway. Tel. 808-587-0300. Free; open daily.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay is one of Honolulu’s most popular water recreation sites and is a state underwater park and conservation district. Swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers enjoy colorful reef fish, marine life and corals in the usually calm waters. Kids can learn about Hawaii’s fragile marine ecosystems through the onsite Marine Education Center.

Located 10 miles east of Waikiki off Kalaniana`ole Highway 72. Tel. 808-396-4229. Admisson: $1 per car to park, $5 per person, free for children under 13. Hours: closed Tuesdays; open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter.

Destinations: Hawaii, Honolulu, Oahu

Themes: Family Travel, Historical Vacations, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Sightseeing

User Comments

The people in Hawaii, developed a tribal society in relative isolation. The famous British explorer James Cook landed in Waimea Bay on the island of Kauai, at the beginning of 1778 and named the islands the Sandwich Islands, a tribute to his patron, John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich. A year later, Captain Cook was killed in Kealakekua Bay, Big Island of Hawaii. Since 1790, Westerners had settled throughout the islands of Hawaii. Influences of newcomers Western diet, and the standard of living of the natives has changed considerably. Although many positive changes included, there were also many who were not welcome to all the natives, such as alcoholism and deadly diseases which were Westerners. These diseases destroy many of its original inhabitants, who had not developed any real resistance to these forms of disease.

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