Blog Archive April 2011

Makiki Valley Loop

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The Makiki Valley Loop Trail is located at the Makiki Valley State Recreation Area, just 10 minutes from downtown Honolulu.  It’s proximity to the dense urban center of Oahu makes it a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers.  Its extensive network of trails ranges from beginner to expert difficulty and you will see a collage of hikers from every skill level and aspiration enjoying the lush valley and striking views.  The Makiki Valley Loop Trail is actual made up of three separate trails.  Maunalaha Trail and Kanealole Trail both lead to the Makiki Valley Trail which traverses the ridge line above the historic valley.   The 2.5 mile loop created by the combination of these trails makes for a moderately challenging family adventure that will leave you tired but satisfied!  To get to the trailhead enter Makiki Valley State Recreation Area and park in the parking lot to the left.  Grab your gear and kids and head a little further up the road you drove in on until you reach the Hawaii Nature Center on your right.  Just past the Nature Center there are restroom facilities, a few picnic tables and facilities to clean your shoes.  Make any breaks you need and then head to the bridge just to the east of the restrooms and walk for about 5 minutes up the path, through the ruins of a coffee plantation and past the taro lots, until you reach an intersection with a brown and yellow sign that displays a map of your adventure to come.  Take a quick look at the sign to familiarize yourself with the trail and then choose a direction.  To the right, is the Maunalaha Trail.  It is the steeper of the two and laden with roots.  To the left, is the Kanealole Trail which has a more gentle grade but is covered with rocks.  Both are approximately the same distance, 0.7 miles, and take you up the ridge to the Makiki Valley Trail.  At the completion of your uphill trek, signs greet you at the top of the ridge pointing out the intersecting trail.  Head to the right if you came up the Kanealole Trail or slightly to the left and down the hill if you came up the Maunalaha Trail.  You will be on the Makiki Valley Trail for approximately 1.1 miles until you reach the last of the three trails which will take you back to the trailhead near the Nature Center.  At the intersection of the Makiki Valley Trail and the Maunalaha Trail, you will see a sign for the Ualaka’a Trail.  You can take this trail for approximately 0.5 miles for a unique view of Diamond Head.  Be sure to stay to the left, towards Round Top Drive, at the intersection and shortly afterwards look to the southeast over the vegetation and you should see the great symbol of Oahu.  Depending on the foliage, this may be a worthy side trip, but sometimes it can be overgrown and the view blocked.  The entire adventure should take 2-2 1/2 hours depending on how much time your family spends enjoying the greenery and views.  This is not a stroller friendly hike.  Rocks, roots, and lengthy uphill sections make it impractical.  School age children who have the endurance should be able to handle the trail with help, but watch out for very steep drop offs on multiple sections of the trail.  There are no fences or barriers and one misstep can be disastrous!  Toddlers and below should be in a backpack or carrier.  Bring plenty of water, a hat, your camera, and bug spray!  Be sure to review basic hiking safety precautions and check the weather, parts of the trail can be muddy.  This is a delightful trail full of vegetation, history, and scenic vistas and a great trail for the family.   A wonderful escape from the city disturbances, we recommend this for your adventurous family. 

Bishop Museum

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The Bishop Museum located in Honolulu, is a great place for your family to take a break from the beach or find refuge on a rainy day and learn a bit about the culture of the islands that we enjoy so much. The museum is dedicated to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family and was originally established to house the extensive collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms of the Princess. Today, it has expanded to include one of the largest collections in the Pacific of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island cultural artifacts, historical documents, plant and animal life, and works of art. The museum consists of four buildings connected by gardens and uncovered walkways, so bring an umbrella if you do go on a rainy day! The original Bishop Museum building is full of Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts and is a beautiful historic building. Adults will enjoy this look into Hawaii's past but for toddlers and preschool age kids this building may be dull. Use caution in this building! Display cases full of delicate and invaluable artifacts in such close proximity to small children are a recipe for disaster! Additionally, the compact quarters and tight spacing between displays in this area makes maneuvering a stroller a challenge as well. There is a whale and shark suspended from the ceiling of this building that is worth a look but for little ones other sections of the museum seem more age appropriate. The Castle Memorial Building contains national traveling exhibits. The current exhibit on display until September 2011 is "Dinosaurs Unearthed: Feathered Discoveries." Most children will love exploring the fifteen life-sized animatronic dinosaurs on display both inside the building and the surrounding lawn. There are several interactive stations, including a dinosaur dig site where kids can dust for fossils (see photo above). There is also a small gift shop (one of two at the museum complex) in this building. In the Science Adventure Center, sure to be another favorite for the kids, young adventurers can learn about volcanoes, crawl through a lava tube, slide down the side and watch it erupt! The remaining building, Paki Hall, contains the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame and the museum's library and archives. If you find yourself still at the museum at lunch time the cafeteria is located near the museum's main entrance at the Jabulka Pavilion (also the location of the second Gift Shop and the Planetarium). There is a fine variety of sandwiches, salads and even baked goods available. The food is actually quite good and the prices are reasonable. If you prefer to pack your lunch, there are some benches surrounding the trees in the front parking lot and lots of room to spread out a blanket on the Great Lawn. Exploring all of the museum exhibits does entail a lot of walking for the little ones so be prepared to make frequent stops or bring a backpack carrier. It can be exceptionally crowded on days when there are several school field trips in attendance so we recommend calling in advance to see what is scheduled for that day. There are restroom facilities available in all of the buildings and elevators available for those who bring strollers. The museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but closed on Tuesdays. We feel that admission is a bit pricey, $17.95 for adults, children 4-12 are $14.95, and three and under are free, but they do have a kama'aina and military discount available with valid I.D. for $11.95. If you will be on the island for awhile or are kama'aina, for $70 you can get a one year pass for the family (2 adults and 2 children). A daily schedule of events can be downloaded from the museum website www.bishopmuseum.org so you can manage your time and be sure not miss any of the great presentations, shows, and tours. We recommend taking the time to check out the museum. It contains a tremendous amount of insight into the Hawaiian and Pacific Island culture and offers some terrific interactive activities for the children to do too! 

Race World Hawaii | ABCRI Box Car Track

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The ABCRI Box Car Track in Kunia offers some of the best old fashioned family fun on Oahu.  The concept is simple, use gravity and your body weight to propel a wooden box car around a simple 3 lane asphalt track.  What would at first glimpse seem to be a fun time for your children, inevitably, transforms into a fierce family competition for bragging rights!  Children and inner children alike will find their competitive natures exposed as they lean into the turns and try desperately to gain any advantage they can to achieve that extra edge at the finish line. Track personnel will school you on the finer points of box car racing and give all track users a mandatory safety brief prior to the first race and each family is required to read and sign a Track Waiver of Liability upon entering the facility.  The staff covers the rules of track and how to safely use the cars.  Children under 7 are required to ride with an adult and most children will need help pushing their cars up the incline to the starting lines. Sports shoes which cover the entire foot are a must and children under 18 must wear long pants for safety reasons.  Helmets are also required and can be rented at the track or you can bring your own helmets.  There are two tracks available for use and both have a covered area to sit and get out of the sun while you wait for your turn impersonate Lightning McQueen from “Cars.”  Thankfully, they even have a misting system to help with the leeward Oahu heat.  There are port-a-johns available at the facility.  Papa John’s Pizza and Taco Del Mar have catering and delivery options available or you can bring your own food and drink.  We recommend at least bringing a small cooler with drinks for your family.  Pack your sunscreen as both the box car tracks receive full sun the entire day.  There is plenty of free parking available.  Check the website at www.boxcarracing.org for open track times and current pricing. They also offer special packages for parties which is a great way to celebrate a birthday or other special event!    This is a fun way for a family to spend an afternoon together and we highly recommend it if you are looking for some good old school family fun! 


Waimea Valley | Waimea Falls and Gardens

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Just across the road from one of the Oahu's most famous North Shore beaches, Waimea Bay, is Waimea Valley which contains Waimea Falls and Gardens. The valley contains some of the best cultural, historical, botanical, and ecological marvels on the island. Gorgeous tropical plants fill the valley and line the trails. Religious sites, Hawaiian stream life, and cultural activities can all be explored throughout the valley. Guided tours run daily (additional fees may apply), check with the Visitors Center for details. Not all of these are kid-friendly so be sure to ask before purchasing. Listen closely as you enter the gardens, often the calls of the peacocks that have made the gardens their home can be heard and they often make special appearances. The hike to the falls is a nice, leisurely 3/4 of a mile trail that is paved which is perfect for children and strollers. The falls themselves can fluctuate depending on how much rain the area has received. There are lifeguards present at the falls and life jackets available for those who want to take a dip. Children are required to wear lifejackets. The lifeguards will also give you a quick safety brief and are often willing to take your picture. Word to the wise though, this water can be a bit chilly, but most kids tend not to mind. There is a rocky entrance into the pool so water shoes are a good idea. We also recommend that you bring your own towels! They also have noodles and body boards for floating out to the falls. Mosquitoes tend to like the shade and moisture of the valley so we recommend bringing insect repellant. There are bathrooms located just past the parking lot, as well as port-a-johns along the trail. Entrance fees can be found at www.waimeavalley.net. They do have military and kama'aina discounts available with valid I.D. If that doesn't apply to you, you can often find discount coupons in the various tourist brochures found throughout the island. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. If you plan on swimming in the falls, we recommend that you call ahead as lifeguards decide on a day-to-day basis whether or not to open the falls to swimmers. There are venders near the falls that sell snacks and beverages. You can also bring picnic lunches into the park and there are lots of shady places to enjoy your lunch and the plant life. If you do not bring your own lunch, the Waimea Valley Grill located near the Visitors Center sells some moderate priced lunches. In addition to the paved trail to the falls there are several side trails that allow you to explore other parts of the valley. These, however, tend to not be as stroller friendly. Visiting the falls and gardens is a great way to discover some of Hawaii's cultural and native plant life and swim in one of its many waterfalls. Best of all, the paved path, lifeguards at the falls, and many shady areas make this an ideal place to bring children. We highly recommend spending a family afternoon here. 

Hawaii Polo Club at Mokuleia

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Sunday afternoons on the North Shore of Oahu are no longer reserved solely for the beach and surfing!  Instead, the thundering sound that you hear may not be the crashing of the surf on golden sand but the pounding of horse hooves on the polo field!  The Hawaii Polo Club season is open!  Every Sunday from April to September you can come watch the “sport of kings” at the polo field in Mokuleia (near Dillingham Airfield past Waialua).  The gates open at 12:00 p.m. and the matches start around 2:00 p.m., just after the parade of ponies.  Two polo games are played each Sunday with an entertaining halftime show between them which usually includes skydivers and other exhibitions that will keep everyone in your family thoroughly entertained.  Following the main match, live entertainment continues the celebration until dusk.  This season the club hosts teams from China, Philippines, and  Argentina among others.  It’s a bit of a drive to the “Country” from the south side of the island so plan accordingly.  The location of the field right next to the beach, though, makes for an extraordinary and unique backdrop for the afternoon.  There is a small fee to enter (discounts available for military with ID) and park.  Plan on arriving early if you want a spot next to the field where you can tailgate and get a good vantage point for the matches.  The club now has speakers on the ocean side of the field so if you park or sit there, you can now listen to the announcers call the game.  Thankfully, they seem to realize that not all of the spectators  know the rules of polo, and they explain most of what is happening as the match progresses.  There are food and drink stands located near the announcers stand on the mauka (mountain side) of the field.  There are port-a-johns scattered around the field which seemed to be relatively well maintained for the general admission crowd.  If you are members of the club or pay to sit in VIP seating there are facilities available specifically for you near your seating area.  If you don’t plan on arriving until closer to starting time, we recommend you bring your beach chairs or blanket to sit on.  There is plenty of room around field and near the announcers stand for the whole family.  Besides the thrill of seeing the horses and skydivers, what made this event really special for children was the players who took the time before and after matches and between chukkers to talk to the crowd and let the children touch the horses and pose for pictures.  Toddlers and up will enjoy the excitement and festive atmosphere of the whole afternoon.   If your family enjoys the sport, wants to learn it, or you are just looking for something a little different to try then this is well worth your time and we enthusiastically recommend it. 

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Wai'alae Beach Park | Kahala Hotel & Resort Beach

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Wai'alae Beach Park in the Kahala area of Oahu is an enjoyable beach park with a decent beach fronting it.  Wai'alae Stream flows through the middle of the park and divides the grassy lawn area on the west side from the parking lot and covered pavilion picnic area on the east side.  The beach is calm and protected by a reef just offshore that makes surf conditions ideal for children.  However, the beach is filled with rock and coral making walking on it difficult and painful and water shoes are recommended both in the water and on the beach.  This also makes it poor for sandcastle building or playing with beach toys, and makes finding a soft place to lay down on your beach towel difficult. There is shade offered by trees that line the narrow beach.  If this particular section of the beach is not to your liking, however, we highly recommend taking a short walk to the east to the Kahala Hotel & Resort Beach. From the Wai'alae Beach Park parking lot, walk to the beach and turn left. A short walk (5-7 minutes) towards the tiny manmade island just offshore, will take you to the resort’s pristine sand beach (see photo above). This is the section of Wai’alae Beach that you want to head to if you have children!  There is a hotel security guard that sometimes sits near the beach access but, rest assured, they are only there to keep folks out of the hotel property, not the beach. Like all beaches in Hawaii, this one is public too! Here, you will find smooth, soft sand that stretches the length of the moderately sized beach and extends far into the water. This part of the beach is great for the exploring toddler. The water is shallow and calm. Small fish and other sea creatures are easily visible near shore. The beach has some shade in the western corner, but its minimal.  The beach chairs and umbrellas on the beach are reserved for the resort guests so we recommend bringing your own. There is a large raft just offshore ideal for kids to play on that is supposedly for hotel guests only but they did not seem to be too strict on its usage. The resort also rents paddle board, kayaks, and rafts.  There is also some descent snorkeling around the small island just off the beach. It is a popular place for locals to go spear fishing too.  There is a small lookout at the east end of the beach with some benches and great views of the coastline towards Koko Head Crater. There are no public facilities at the resort but if you parked at Wai'alae Beach Park parking lot and walked, the facilities and showers that are there are well maintained. There are no dining options here except for the resort (which can be quite expensive!) but there are grills located at the beach park. Because it is down the beach a bit from the park, the area fronting the resort, tends to be less crowded, occupied only by resort guests and a handful of locals!  We found the beach in front of the Kahala Resort extremely family friendly and much nicer that the beach fronting the beach park. We highly recommend heading to this part of the beach if you go. It is a short walk and takes some effort to haul all of the family beach gear and kids there, but your labors will be rewarded by one of the nicest beaches on Oahu. Bring your hat, sunscreen, cooler, and water shoes for the short walk and enjoy a top notch beach.


KCC Farmers Market

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If you're looking for a place to sample some of the great produce and unique flavors Hawaii has to offer, this is the place to go. The Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market located in the lower parking lot (Parking Lot C off of Diamond Head Road) of the college which faces the side of Diamond Head Crater is open every Saturday from 7:30 am to 11:00 am.  The farmers offers a wide variety of Hawaii grown fruits and vegetables. You can find everything from apple bananas, papaya, pineapple, and coconut to fruits you may never have tasted before, such as, guava, lilikoi (passion fruit), star fruit, dragon fruit, and pomelos. There are lots of fresh vegetables to be found, as well, but the great thing about this market, besides it being the largest and most popular farmers market on Oahu, is that fruits and vegetables are not the only things you can find. There are coffees, preserves, and honeys from the Big Island, shrimp from Kauai, veal from Maui, and macadamia nuts and fruit butters from Oahu.  If you don’t have a fridge in your hotel room but are still looking for a local sampling, you can find fresh fruit cut and served in a papaya bowl, scones, breads, omelets with Portuguese sausage, and for the nontraditional breakfast, the fresh tomato pizza and fried green tomatoes are very popular and tasty. The kids at the market tend to gravitate to great finger foods, such as, corn on the cob or spicy sausage on a stick and, of course, there is Hawaiian shaved ice!. Our son has become a connoisseur of fresh apple bananas! If you are looking for gifts to bring home, there are several venders selling made in Hawaii chocolates and jellies.  What makes this market so fun for the family, though, is tasting all of these yummy treats. The farmers are very friendly and more than happy to discuss the location of their farms and growing practices. Most will give you a sample of their product if you ask, and everything is made right here in Hawaii!  Flowers are also available at the market at a reasonable price including birds of paradise, orchids, and hibiscus.  Regular patrons get there early to survey the merchandise and make their purchases.  Produce especially tends to get picked over by late morning.  The market can get quite crowded by midmorning.   It is  very popular with tourists who come by the trolley and busload from nearby Waikiki.  To help navigate through the crowd, we recommend a front carrier or back pack or your smallest stroller.  Most vendors take cash only so bring lots of small bills. The market is open air but there is some shade near the backside of the market and a nice shaded grassy area by the parking lot to sit and enjoy your purchases. The restrooms are located at the back of the market close to the road, they are relatively clean but there can be long lines. There is a playground behind the restrooms if your little ones still have some energy to burn off. There are several activities and great beaches nearby if this is just the first stop for the day.  Ideas include the Diamond Head Crater Trail, Kaimana Beach, Kapiolani Park, the Honolulu Zoo or the Waikiki Aquarium.  All are within a few minutes drive from the market.  This is a great opportunity to enjoy some of the fabulous tastes of Hawaii and we highly recommend taking a few hours out of your Saturday morning to check this out!  

Big Beach

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Big Beach on Maui’s south shore is a superb example of a classic Hawaiian beach.  Picture postcard perfect, this long (almost 2/3 of mile) wide crescent of golden sand stretches out before you with stunning vistas of picturesque Kaho’olawe Island filling the horizon.  It is a popular location for locals to enjoy boogie boarding and skim boarding. The sand is soft and the beach is seldom as crowded as other popular south Maui beaches.  Sounds terrific right?  Yes, but...the surf at Big Beach is unrelenting!  It is rough and breaks right at the shore, making this a very dangerous place for children AND adults.  There are two lifeguard stations at the beach and there is a reason that they are there!  Plenty of unsuspecting swimmers and boogie boarders have taken nasty tumbles (and worse) here because of the rough conditions.  Definitely check with the life guards before letting your children get anywhere near the water!  If your plans are to just enjoy the sunshine, play in the sand, read a book and relax, then this is a great beach.  If you want to spend time in the water, we recommend heading elsewhere such as Wailea Beach, Polo Beach, or Maluaka Beach which are close by and where conditions tend to be much calmer and more kid friendly.  If you do decide to go, there are two parking lots that provides plenty of parking.  There are no shower facilities at Big Beach, something we found particularly frustrating when we tried to wipe off the powdery sand from our feet and beach gear.  A row of port-a-johns near the parking lot serves as the only restroom facilities.  The closest place for food and drinks are the food stands and wagons that line Makena Alanui Road leading to the beach.  There are some picnic tables at the back of the beach where you will also find some shade among the large trees.  We recommend taking your hat, sunscreen, and packing the cooler with some food and drinks if you head here.  This is a great beach for pictures and for viewing a classic Hawaiian sunset, however, this beach is not for children due to the dangerous surf conditions.  

Waikiki | Kaimana | San Souci Beach

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Kaimana Beach is a wonderful stretch of sand just far enough outside of Waikiki to not feel touristy!  It is tucked in between the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial and the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in the shadow of Diamond Head and across the street from Kapiolani Park.  Also known as San Souci Beach, this gem is small but wide and features a little bit of everything for the water enthusiast.  Surfers, stand up paddle boarders, kayakers, and outrigger canoeists all use the beach to access Kapua Channel and the waters beyond as a favorite venue for their sports.  Fitness swimmers regularly parade through the channel out to the windsock offshore taking advantage of the beaches serene conditions as a place to train.  The calm waters make this a terrific place for children and families.  The beach is far enough off the regular tourist beat that it is filled with mostly locals and families that live in the nearby neighborhoods surrounding Diamond Head that just want to go to the beach and enjoy the beautiful Hawaiian sunshine.  It has a laid back friendly feel to it that makes it a great place to relax and let the children roam.  The beach is mainly crushed coral that extends a fair distance out into the water making it a great place to play in the water with the kids.  Even when the surf is high, closer to the shore the water remains placid thanks to a wide reef and the protective walls of the natatorium.  There is a lifeguard station on the beach.  The bathrooms are located at the natatorium.  They aren’t in great condition but they are functional!  There is a grassy area and some picnic tables and grills located at the back of the beach.  Showers are located here too on the east end of the beach next to the hotel.  There are restaurants at the hotel and if you walk around to the front of the hotel there is a convenience store where you can buy sunscreen, magazines, and a cold drink.  On the weekends the parking tends to fill up early so be there no later than midmorning.  There are parking spots along the access road to the natatorium and metered stalls along Kalakaua Avenue.  Across Kalakaua Avenue from the beach is Kapiolani Park a great place to spend an afternoon outdoors with the family.  There are regularly festivals and activities being held in the park that may be of interest.  Check the local paper for more details.  If you want to make this beach a second stop for the day, the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium are within walking distance.  We highly recommend this beach for your family outing!  Bring your beach chairs, sun screen, coolers, beach toys, and a camera to this beach and plan on having a lot of fun!