Fun things to do in Hawaii -- a little off the beaten path

With its mild climate, the city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu in Hawaii offers visitors and locals an array of enjoyable low or no-cost activities. Sun, sand, and surf usually provide a prominent backdrop -- especially the famed Waikiki Beach.  However, if you want to avoid the crowds and are looking for things to do in Hawaii that are a little different, check out one or more of these top 5 free activities on Oahu, Hawaii for kids and families.

5. Ko Olina Beach Lagoons

Ko Olina Beach Lagoons
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92 Aliinui Dr, Makakilo City, HI 96707, USA

In central Oahu, about 45 minutes from Waikiki, you will find four man-made lagoons located inside the grounds of the Ko Olina resort.  These lagoons are accessible to the public. To enter, drive up to the guard stand and check in.  Once past the gate, you will find beautiful beaches with clean restrooms and showers.  

Find shelter from the sun under one of the many trees or lay out your beach towels on the sand or on the grassy lawn areas. Free parking is very limited and resort parking is expensive so plan to arrive early.  While you’re there, you might want to take a peek at the Ko Olina Beach Lagoons’ newest neighbor -- the ‘Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, which opened in August 2011.

4. Hilton Lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort

Hilton Lagoon
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2003 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

You might recognize the Hilton Hawaiian Village Lagoon from CBS’ reboot of the Hawaii Five-O TV series.  As a sponsor of the show, the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort is frequently featured. The resort boasts several beautiful pools and amenities for its guests.  However, you don’t need to be a guest of the Hilton Hawaiian Village to swim in the Lagoon.  

Sea water is pumped into the Lagoon from the ocean, so the water is crystal clear and the temperature cool.  Bring a pail and a scoop; the children will be able to catch guppy-sized fish. The Lagoon is calm and perfect for using inflatable rafts and toys that you bring with you.  Or, to purchase inflatables at affordable prices, head on over to the nearest ABC store near the Hilton Grand Waikikian Hotel.

You might encounter some crowds (particularly on holiday weekends), but because of the large size of the area, it’s easy to find a nice spot on the sand.  Free and metered parking are available in the lot behind the Ilikai Hotel.

3. Honolulu Fish Auction (United Fishing Agency)

Honolulu Fish Auction at Pier 38.
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1131 N Nimitz Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA

Get a close-up look at the ocean's bounty without stepping foot in the water!  Head over to Pier 38 and explore the snappy action of a fish auction.

The auctions are held Monday through Saturday. But you’ll have to get an early start.  The auction begins at 5:30 a.m.  And, depending on the amount of fish, the auction can go on for several hours.

Bring a jacket and covered shoes to walk around.  You’ll see island chefs purchasing fresh fish from fishermen using an intriguing (and mostly unrecognizable) method of communication. Later, grab some breakfast at Nico’s Pier 38 before continuing on with the rest of your day. 

Here's one family's experience:

2. Tidepools at Baby Makapuu

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Makapu‘u Beach Park, Waimanalo, HI 96795, USA

Baby Makapuu Tidepools

Across from Sea Life Park Hawaii, just past Makapuu Beach Park but before the Makai Pier, is a beautiful  tidepool area.  To reach the tidepools from Honolulu, drive past Makapuu Beach Park, bearing northwest till you reach an unmarked and unpaved road on your right (ocean-side, or makai as the locals say).  Free parking will be to your left. 

Note: Google Maps uses the label "Makapuu Tidepools." 

On a nice day when the ocean is calm, kids (toddlers and older) enjoy splashing in the clear water of the little tide pools. Children can get up close to small fish and hermit crabs.

1. Catch and Release Fish Pond at Ho'omaluhia Regional Park

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45 Luluku Rd, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA

Hoomaluhia Regional Park is located about 30 minutes from Waikiki.  This park boasts a garden, hiking trails, and camp grounds near  majestic mountains.  The park is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free guided tours at 10 a.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The real attraction for families with young children is the catch-and-release pond (Waokele Pond on the map), which is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission and parking are free.  

When you first arrive, stop at the Visitor’s Center to borrow fishing poles. Walk through the garden for about 15 minutes by foot to reach the fishing area. The restrooms and water fountain are about 10 minutes away from the fishing area.  

Bring a chair or blanket to sit on, lunch, and drinks. Trees in the fishing area provide nice shade from the sun and occasional rain.  Depending on the day’s weather, you might need sunscreen, an umbrella, and bug spray (although not usually a big deal).  Bring bread to feed the ducks and to use as bait for the fish.  Live bait is not permitted.

Other Tips and Information

* Your best bet is to rent a car to get to these venues, particularly if you have young children and all your swim gear.

* Oahu, Hawaii is safe for kids and families, but never leave valuables in your car.

* Instead of four seasons, Hawaii has just two seasons -- “wet” and “dry.”  The average temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26° C) in cooler months and rarely gets above 90 degrees (32° C) during the summer.  The tradewinds keep the weather cool and comfortable, helping to make conditions ideal for these activities.

Oahu Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Honolulu, Waikiki & Beyond (Oahu Revisited) [Paperback] Andrew Doughty (Author)Credit: Amazon.comIf you're looking for a travel guidebook, I highly recommend Oahu Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Honolulu, Waikiki and Beyond. It's like an insider's guide with candid and accurate insights on places on the island.  The book includes a section on activities for children (free and otherwise). 

Oahu, Hawaii is a great place for kids and families, and there are many things to do in Hawaii on the cheap.   The 5 activities listed above are my favorites.  Enjoy!