It's been a long time since the word "Waikiki" has elicited mental
images of coconut-laden palm trees; of chilled, orchid-topped
chi-chi's; of Don Ho crooning "Tiny Bubbles" with a lone ukulele and
four grass-skirted hula dancers.
More likely, you hear "Waikiki" and think fast food, puka shell
necklaces, matching aloha shirts and masses of tourists competing for a
tiny slice of overused beach. You visualize cheesy hotel lobbies
adorned with ceramic porpoise sculptures and you figure Don Ho's long
gone (you'd be wrong; at 76, he's still holding court at the Waikiki
Many families left -- no, make that escaped -- the kitsch of Oahu's
Waikiki and its main boulevard, Kalakaua Avenue, decades ago for the
more sophisticated and less inhabited islands of Maui, Kauai, Lanai,
Our family joined that exodus after spending many Christmas and New
Year's holidays on Oahu. We resettled on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, the
"Big Island." We found it beautiful, luscious, and sparsely populated.
Aloha shirts were fashioned by Ralph Lauren, and there wasn't a puka
shell in sight.
Yet last December we headed for Waikiki Beach -- right back where we
started from. And we enjoyed -- even relished -- every moment of our
We left the Big Island because of our granddaughters, ages 4 1/2 and
almost 2. The very qualities that first attracted us to it ultimately
drove us away. The Big Island is wonderfully serene and secluded. But
secluded often means you have to climb into a mini-van -- with car
seats, strollers, Barbie Dolls and sippy cups -- to find restaurants,
markets, drugstores or a strawberry shaved ice.
And while there was always plenty for the kids to do in the Big
Island's sand, surf and swimming pools, we liked the activities Oahu
had to offer -- and the fact that many of those activities were walking
distance from our hotel, the Royal Hawaiian.
The new Waikiki
Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue has changed. It's not your mother's Kalakaua
anymore. It's your rich aunt's Kalakaua; she's the one person who might
be able afford the prices at such boutiques as Chanel, Burberry, Louis
Vuitton and Gucci. Most of the little shacks where they made those
matching mumus and shirts are gone, replaced by upscale shops that
attract a wealthy international crowd.
Luckily for our group, many of the kid-friendly spots remain, including
the open-air International Market Place with its carts of local wares
Not far from the Market, there's a California Pizza Kitchen and down
the block, a McDonald's. These are the kinds of places we tried to
leave behind when we headed for more glorious and less commercial
surroundings. Turns out when your kids are hungry and need food Right
Now, those burgers and fries work real well.
Waikiki's streets look and feel better these days, thanks to a
multi-million dollar upgrade to the sidewalks and beach paths. The
spacious, tree-lined walkway makes strolling the little ones a delight.
We walked those paths every day -- all four generations of us --
examining the banyan trees, seashells and fresh plumerias along the way.
We'd usually end up at the DFS Galleria so the kids could see the
tropical fish and magnificent manta rays in The Tube, a 65,000-gallon
two-story, walk-through saltwater aquarium.
Then we'd amble back to the hotel through the Royal Hawaiian Shopping
Center -- currently undergoing a massive renovation -- and go down to
the beach. We would find our sliver of sand amid the vacationers and
the locals, and settle in to build sandcastles and dance in the surf.
Visitors will find a tropical forest, an African aviary and a
children's zoo, along with lions and tigers and a red-footed tortoise.
The zoo is located between Diamond Head and Waikiki at the corner of
Kapahulu Ave. and Kalakaua Blvd. www.honoluluzoo.org
Sea Life Park
The park is a world-class marine attraction featuring dolphins, sea
lions and penguins, seals and more. Located 15 miles from Waikiki at
Makapuu Point. www.sealifeparkhawaii.com
The aquarium hosts an array of marine life from the tropical Pacific
and Hawaii. Visitors get up-close looks at reef sharks, living corals,
endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea jellies and colorful reef fish.
It's located on the east end of Waikiki Beach. www.waquarium.org
This is one of Hawaii's top snorkeling spots. Swimmers often encounter
a rainbow of reef inhabitants, including tangs, parrotfish, butterfly
fish, surgeonfish and more. Located on the southeast coast of Oahu,
about 10 miles east of Waikiki.
Hawaii Children's Discovery Center
The Center offers an interactive learning environment designed to
engage kids in learning and discovery experiences. It is located across
from the Kakaako Waterfront Park in downtown Honolulu. www.discoverycenterhawaii.org