We saved for 4 years to take our family of 7 to Oahu. You can better believe we were determined to make the most of it. I researched for 25+ hours, polled my @wholefoodfor7 community, as well as bought this Oahu Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Honolulu book to get all the tips. And also, we are a large family on a budget, so cost is always a consideration though we did have some splurge activities. Here is the food we ate, the activities we did, and how much it cost.
We flew in and out from Saturday to Saturday, with about 6 days total on the island. A few years ago I got a Southwest credit card just for the flight points. Overall, we avoid credit card debt like the plague when possible, but using it for our regular purchases and immediately paying it off over a few years resulted in being able to get 7 tickets from Sacramento to Hawaii for no cost – wahoo! I also love Southwest as you can check 2 bags per person for free, allowing us to bring all the luggage we needed.
COVID Restrictions: I had a lot of questions about how COVID is handled on the island. As of when we went in February 2022, we had to register through the Hawaii safe flight program proving we had vaccines or a negative covid test just to fly there and not be quarantined for 5 days. We are vaccinated, so it wasn’t a big challenge, but my friend whose children are not vaccinated had a lot of stress making sure she got her test results back in time. Also, Oahu is the strictest I’ve seen on enforced masks in every building and proof of vaccine required to dine indoors everywhere (though many offer to-go options). I definitely hope I will be able to delete this section soon enough and that COVID generally becomes a thing of the past.
Where we Stayed
We stayed in Honolulu by Waikiki Beach. I would have preferred to be out of the city, but that was all we could find that fit our family and price range. Waikiki has lots of shopping and dining, so that part was convenient (and one of my boys loves the city vibe), as well as being right next to the beach. It is not the cleanest city with a large homeless population, but I never felt unsafe. I also would have preferred to spend half our trip on the southern part of Oahu and the other half up north, but never found availability up north for our family size and dates.
We looked at hotels, Airbnb, and VRBO and ended up booking an Airbnb. I wanted something with a kitchen so we could cook breakfasts at home. I originally booked a condo in November for $1800 for 7 nights. However, the owner canceled the booking and I frantically looked for something else at the end of December and was only able to find 1-2 options that fit our family by then and it ended up costing us $2200/7 nights.
Car rental – We rented a car, as we wanted the freedom to explore the island (especially since we were staying in Waikiki the entire time). There are definitely taxis, shuttles, and Ubers on the island – that just adds up really fast for our large family.
I had heard horror stories about people booking Hawaii car rentals and then it falling through, so we paid more for a company that had a better star rating and could pick it up at the airport. It went nice and smoothly and cost us $900 for a minivan for a week. Gas was actually very similar to our CA gas prices at $4.39/gallon.
Another option a friend used with great success is the app Turo – which is basically like Airbnb for local’s cars. I would have explored this option if I had heard about it sooner.
Other things we brought – We bought 4 snorkel sets on Amazon and brought them in our checked luggage for the cheapest price. We LOVED these full face snorkels – so much easier for everyone, especially my littles. The L/XL size fit us all well. When I went with my sister, we just bought snorkel gear at Walmart in Oahu (also a great place for cheap souviners!). If you are going to snorkel on the island, I would recommend BYO or buying it at Walmart in Honolulu.
The food we brought
I had been told many times that the food in Hawaii was SO expensive. Feeding a large family of 7 (especially my 5 tall growing boys) is already by nature expensive. Additionally, we are a family that eats mostly Paleo, GF/DF and accommodating those dietary preferences can take some extra planning.
With that, I brought a LOT of snacks and breakfast items with us. Like 75 pounds worth. You can see photos of most of the items below, with a FULL VIDEO and more details HERE. My goal was that these would cover most of our breakfast and lunch needs and then we would only need to eat out one meal per day.
Things to consider when bringing trip food on a flight:
- Non-perishables are easy, I had a large bag holding 50 pounds (50 pounds = not having to pay for oversized fees)
- I was worried some of the items like pretzels or puffs would get smashed into crumbs in a checked in bag, so I put them into a carry-on bag, as we had room.
- I also brought a small cooler for lunch on the plane. You can actually even bring ice packs as carryon on the plane IF they are frozen solid when you go through security. I do this often and have never had a problem. I considered pre-making taco meat and bringing in a cooler for our first night’s dinner, but ran out of time.
- You can also check a cooler onto an airplane as a check-in bag, both hard-shelled and Styrofoam are allowed. Again, consider your airline’s size and weight restrictions here. I didn’t do it this trip but had many recommend it. If you do, I recommend freezing everything you can within it prior, so it will stay cold longer. For example, you could pre-make chili for dinner, freeze and bring it in a cooler. Most airlines will also allow you to have dry ice in it to keep things cold (only in checked bags).
The groceries we bought
Our first stop after the airport was Costco for some perishables. Though I had heard both sides as to it being way more expensive than the mainland or not too bad price-wise, I found it to be not too bad. Most items were similar in price or $1-2 more than the items cost for me in my local CA Costco.
For example, what we bought included: Almond milk ($9.99/3), breakfast meat, OJ ($6,49/gallon), fruit (banana bunch = $2.39, grapes = $6.99, 2 lb strawberries = $8.59), juice boxes, chips & salsa, eggs ($5.29/3 dozen), rotisserie chicken ($4.99)
The restaurants we ate at
Every restaurant we chose to eat at had GF options. As we are GF by choice and not celiac, I cannot speak to their GF procedures or things being celiac safe. COST for each of these = final average cost per person for that meal, so you can get a sense of what it would be for your family. Keep in mind, we rarely get drinks or desserts at restaurants to save $$, so this cost reflects just the entrees + tip and taxes, not any drinks, appetizers, or desserts.
- OMG (Oahu Mexican Grill): Some of my boys got tacos on GF corn tortillas and two of us got these amazing loaded fries. I took off the sour cream and crème sauce to make it DF as well. Very filling and one of our favorite meals. COST per person: $15.43
- Steak Shack: This little spot on the beach is like the In-N-Out of steak in that they only serve two things: chicken or steak, with rice and salad greens. Though their options are few, they do them really well and it was delicious and not expensive. They make them to order, so be prepared to wait 20-30 minutes. See treats for the DF soft serve next door you can have while you wait ; ). COST per person: $13.67
- The Counter: A fun customizable burger place that was great for the family. They give you checklists to check off what sauces, toppings, etc. you want on your burger for a fun burger-building experience, including the option of a GF bun. They also have delicious sweet potato fries. COST per person: $24.34 (this one surprised me, but there were no prices on their burger checklists and even though we didn’t let the boys get a lot of toppings with additional prices, drinks, or individual sides, somehow this one added up fast!)
- Pieology: I love it when we can find a GF/DF pizza option! They aren’t common and my boys love it. Not all Pieology’s have DF (vegan) cheese, but the Oahu ones do. We ordered it online as we drove back from the other size of the island for easy pickup. The cost reflects GF crust, which is $3 extra. COST per 10″ GF/DF pizza: $15
- North Shore Food Trucks: We got a smattering of items from the food trucks. Note that many of the food trucks are cash-only.
- Giovanni’s Shrimp truck came highly recommended, though my boys had never tried shrimp. We got one plate of their famous garlic shrimp to share. COST per plate: $15.
- North Shore Crepes was a delightful surprise in that they offered GF/vegan crepes by request, made with just buckwheat flour and water. Wahoo! We got two to share and they were delicious. COST per crepe: $10.78
- North Shore Tacos: We had a hankering for tacos again and dove into this option. Most of us got tacos, one of us got loaded nachos (not DF). The tacos were nothing to write home about and $6/taco. This was the one place I would have skipped if we did it over again. Cost per 2 tacos: $13.84
- Giovanni’s Shrimp truck came highly recommended, though my boys had never tried shrimp. We got one plate of their famous garlic shrimp to share. COST per plate: $15.
- Hard Rock Café: This one is a bit of an exception as a friend treated us to dinner and was more about the experience than the cost. It’s not super budget-friendly, though they do have a GF bun option for their burgers.
- Holey Grail Donuts: This was a favorite! This little donut truck is all vegan, with the donuts being made out of taro so they are not 100% GF but are very low gluten. They make them fresh to order and are made with such artistry from the flavors to the Louie Viton style box liner. My boys were nervous about some of the most exotic ingredients in the flavors, but they were more for coloring and we didn’t taste them. 10/10 recommend! COST: $3.60/donut
- Halewai Bowls: We love acai bowls as a treat as they are usually DF and sometimes GF. My boys got a kick out of the blue spirulina bowls that are literally BLUE (you don’t taste the spirulina). COST per bowl: $13.84
- Matsumoto’s Shave Ice: Though there are shave ice places all over the island, this is THE place that I had recommended the most and was worth the wait! Even the smaller size is plenty big, not pricey, and just delicious. Very tasty with the condensed milk on top, but leave off for DF. Fantastic texture and flavor! COST per bowl (small): $4.28
- Banan Ice Cream: This little stand is right on the beach by The Steak Shack and offers DF banana-based soft serve. Fun and tasty, as well as nice to have a DF ice cream option. COST per cup: $8 ($13 for a larger bowl)
- Sunrise Shack: We also got acai bowls here after we sunrise hiked Diamond Head Crator. Fast service and very tasty. Here the granola is GF. We got mediums, as the small seemed a bit too small to have any impact. COST per medium bowl: $16
- Dole Whip: There are many places that offer Dole Whip on the island, but we got ours from the Dole Plantation. The serving sizes are large, and so are the prices, lol. We especially enjoyed the creative Dole Whip float – which is the soft serve pineapple ice cream topped with pineapple juice. COST per Dole Whip: $7-10
- Leonard’s Bakery (NOT GF/DF): You can’t miss the pink donut boxes and long lines outside of Leonard’s. They do not have a GF option, but was the one treat that was worth it to us nonetheless. Their malasadas are AMAZING and not expensive. I highly recommend the ones with cream in the middle. COST per malasada: $1.50
Treats we didn’t get to but wanted to try:
- Pu’uwai Aloha Bakery – A GF bakery with vegan options that a local friend recommended. They weren’t open on the days and times we were in the area, but looks delicious!
- Anu Plant-Based Desserts – DF vegan soft serve in Honolulu. Looked amazing!
Before you plan your activities I encourage you to consider what you want to get out of your trip. I know many people who come to Hawaii to relax on beautiful beaches. Though we did that too, our main goal was to have new adventures. Also, maybe it’s from the college days of being broke and trying to “get our money’s worth” but we adventure hard. We aren’t afraid to get our kids up early for a sunrise hike or to get a snorkeling spot and none of my boys are of napping age anymore. Our boys are used to our adventuring pace. Keep that in mind as you see what we fit into in 7 days. We didn’t run ourselves ragged and also might have a pace that doesn’t suit your family.
Keep in mind we were there in February, where the waves on the North Shore are large and make most North Shore beaches not a safe swimming option. Most of our beaching happened in the southern part of the island for that reason.
- La’ie Beach (often referred to as Pounders): Commonly know as a great spot for boogie boarding, we had a great time. However, the waves were almost too big there this time of year and may not be ideal for littles. We also had a hard time finding boogie boards to rent available on this side of the island. Check BYUH (the local university)’s store in that area for $5/day boogie board rentals – an awesome deal, though they didn’t have any available for us. We ended up renting boogie boards from Surf and Sea on the north west side and then driving over to La’ie Beach. No cost.
- Sunset Beach: The waves were too big to play in the water at this beach in February, but we went there to watch the surfers and the sunset, both of which were spectacular there! You can also checkout Banzai Pipeline just a little further south for good surfing as well. No cost.
- Waikiki Beach: We got to our rental late in the day and this was the closest option. Can’t say I would recommend it overall – the water is full of coral that cut up our feet really badly and it’s crowded. I wish we had….No cost.
- Lanikai Beach: This windward side beach had very calm waters and was our first snorkeling spot. The snorkeling is easy and was a lovely first snorkeling experience. The beach is long and the sand is nice. The only challenge for us was the wind – once my boys got out of the water, they didn’t want to go back in. No cost.
- Ko’Olina Lagoons: These were lovely and I highly recommend. The lagoons are man made coves that are calm, nice sand, and Lagoon 4 has easy snorkeling. Though they are part of the Marriott Resort, they are open to the public. We recommend Lagoon 4 for the most parking spaces and the snorkeling. This would be excellent for littles as well, as the water is so calm and shallow for a ways. Very calm, uncrowded beach that left us all feeling relaxed. No cost.
- Laniakae Beach (Turtle Beach): My 12 year old has been obsessed with turtles since he was 3 and had a bucket-list goal to see them IRL. This beach is well known for large sea turtles coming up to rest on shore. We stayed for 1.5 hours and didn’t see any. But, we came back 2 hours later and saw a large female one in the sand. IT WAS MAGICAL. There are volunteers roping off the turtle to help keep distance. There were also some who snorkeled to see the turtles in the water, but the water was a little too choppy for us for that. Don’t confuse this one with Turtle Bay resort or just type in “Turtle Beach” to your GPS or you will end up in the wrong spot! No cost.
- Kualoa Ranch Ziplining: SEE A VIDEO OF THIS ONE HERE. This one was a splurge that was 1000% worth it. I came here 5 years ago with my sister and knew I needed to bring my family back. It’s not cheap, but it’s a full half day of adventure that is very unique and incredibly fun. These 7 ziplines through the jungle put those little pumpkin patch ziplines to shame! Plus, there is a 20-minute drive to the ziplines that take you past amazing scenery and sites for filming movies such as Jurassic Park, Congo, … We loved this experience and highly recommend! They also have bike, horse, and jeep tours there if ziplining isn’t your speed. The green jungle mountains are stunning and this is one of the most beautiful areas of the island. Double check their website to make sure your family fit the size requirements. COST: $175/adult (ages 13 and up) $147/child (ages 10-12)
- Hanauma Bay: This is THE snorkel spot for Oahu. Though we snorkeled on our own at two other beaches, they all pale in comparison to this bay. To protect the bay, you now have to book online reservations two days in advance and they aren’t easy to get. I definitely set an alarm, made sure my credit card was saved to my device, and clicked the order button right on the hour when tickets became available to get them! WORTH IT. One of my all-time favorite adventures in Oahu. The variety, number, and size of fish here are unparalleled. COST: $25/person (ages 13 and up, 12 and under free + $3 parking fee and any snorkel rentals if needed)
- Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC): This experience is so incredibly well done and a must-do IMO. I went 5 years ago with my sister and had to bring the family back. Though the cost adds up for a large family, the cultural experience is worth it! There are various sections of the center representing various Polynesian islands including Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, and New Zealand. Each area has hands on activities my boys loved such as palm frond weaving, learning the hula, spear throwing, ukulele lessons, or learning how to cook in a pit or poi or coconut oil is made. Each island area also has a 15-20 minute educational show put on by those native to that island that are so well done and entertaining, plus there is a canoe ride tour of the entire park. The quality is exceptional!I also love that it’s a non-profit organization that funds scholarships for Polynesian students at the local university.You have the add-on option for their luau buffet and night show, which I highly recommend. The buffet is quite extensive and full of Polynesian food, each labeled clearly for allergens such as GF/DF/nut-free. The buffet also has lovely live music. The night show is beautiful with fantastic Polynesian dancing and fire dancing. My family loved it! COST (including show and buffet): $140/adult, $112/child (ages 4-11)
- Pearl Harbor: Another must-do on Oahu. This is another one you need to get reservations online to get into – do that in advance! The park itself is free, but I recommend the boat ride out to the USS Arizona as well as the audio tour. The USS Arizona is a sunken battleship that is powerfully reverent. The audio tour isn’t a must-do, but helped my boys focus and really get something out of the museum. COST: To visit the site is free, $7.99/person for audio tour
- Aloha Stadium Swap Meet: THE best place for souvenirs is this local swap meet. Check the schedule before you go, as it is only open on Wednesday and Sunday from 8am-3pm. But dozens of booths with all the Hawaiian souvenirs you can want, with more variety and lower prices than the ABC or other touristy stores. We got Hawaiian shirts, personalized art, jewelry, and hats here. COST: $1/person admission
- Rock a Hula: A follower generously gifted me tickets to this downtown Waikiki show. Family friend and well done, it covers everything from Elvis to Michael Jackson to Moana with fun dancing (including Hawaiian and other Polynesian dancing). We loved the live band and vintage video footage that accompanied it as well. So fun! COST: $69/adult $41/child
- Macadamia nut farm: A tour was recommended to us and my hubby loved macadamia nuts so we stopped by here after Kualua Ranch. However, they aren’t currently offering tours due to COVID. They do have various macadamia nut flavor samples as well as a store to enjoy though.
We loooove hiking. My husband has a whole IG account to share just about our family hikes. The top hikes on Oahu are not long (2-3 miles round trip), though most of them have some incline to get a good view. We found them all pretty easy with our hiking background, but I recommend double checking the details on AllTrails to make sure they are right for you.
- Manoa Falls: This one you feel like you were dropped into the jungle from the movie Journey or Jumanji. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and one not to be missed! The falls at the end are tall and beautiful, but the hike there is actually the best part IMO. Just gorgeous!
- Pillbox Hike: Sunrise here is a top recommendation so we got the crew up early to make it. Keep in mind parking is in a neighborhood and a little tricky, and the path was muddy with uneven terrain (at some points there’s even a rope to help you pull yourself up). We parked around 6:20am and wished we had gotten there earlier. My hubby ran to the top and I pushed the boys to hike at a fast pace with the phrase, “Come on boys, the sun waits for no one!” I mean, if you miss the sunrise on a sunset hike…; ). It was stunning and resulted in one of my favorite photos from this trip. Highly recommend as a sunrise hike, just give yourself lots of time.
- Diamond Head Crater: This crater is iconic to the Waikiki area, not a long hike, and beautiful for sunrise as well. However, I wish I was more aware of the parking and pay situation: we got there at 6:10am for the 7am sunrise and due to a 1-way tunnel and pay booth, we weren’t able to park until 6:30. Parking is limited and you won’t get it or have any other options if you come much later. I also didn’t realize you have to pay $10 to park AND $5/person to hike. Plus, the hiking permits are purchased from a machine kiosk you have to stand in line for again. We weren’t on the trail until 6:40. With sunrise at 7am, I literally RAN to the top, or as much as I could with the somewhat steep path up *out of breath*. I did snag sunrise and the 360 views up top are beautiful. Again, just give yourself lots of time. COST: $10 to park PLUS $5 per hiker
- Lighthouse Trail: We prioritized this one for the vast ocean views and the report that many people had seen whales off the shore here. Parking is very limited as its off the highway with no options outside of the small parking lot and the trail has NO shade, so come early in the day. The trail wasn’t much of note except for the ocean view and the views were pretty but not as stunning as some of the other hikes. BUT we did see a pod of whales off the shore (just close enough to see blowhole spurts and tails)…so that made it exciting.
- Waimea Falls: These beautiful falls are in a botanical garden and have the option to swim out to the falls, which is really cool (though life jackets are mandatory). I did it with my sister when we went 5 years ago. I didn’t this time because it has gotten expensive, so my hubby and a few boys just went. COST: $20/adult $12/ages 4-12
I almost didn’t include this section but many of you have asked and I don’t think money is talked about transparently. BUT, please review all the rest of this blog where I say we SAVED for 4 years to make this happen. We already had someone at church flippantly say “Must be nice to be rich enough to take your family to Hawaii.” N-O. First, we don’t get to judge other people’s spending. Second, we saved and did all low-budget camping, hiking, driving adventures for most of my boy’s lives (two of them had never flown before this trip). So please don’t go there and see this for what it is.
- Flights = FREE. Normally $300-600/per ticket, free for us through Southwest points
- Lodging = $2347.25/7 days
- Rental Car = $1211.98
- Activities = $1700.00 (again you can make this more affordable by skipping Kualoa Ranch and PCC)
- Food = $1600 (includes eating out dinners, treats, groceries we bought and food we brought)
- Gas = $112.31
TOTAL (again, not including flights): $6,971.23
- Arrived at 1:30.
- Picked up rental car. Stopped at Costco, then checked in to Airbnb.
- Went to Waikiki Beach for swimming and sunset then OMG restaurant and walked around stores downtown
- Half-day at Kauloa Ranch
- Macadamia Nut Farm
- Lanikai Beach snorkeling
- Manoa Falls
- Pearl Harbor
- Ko’Olina Lagoons
- Holey Grail Donuts
- Lighthouse hike
- Polynesian Cultural Center
- Hanauma Bay snorkeling
- Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
- Hard Rock Cafe and walked around downtown
- Pillbox Sunrise Hike
- Watched surfers at Banzai Pipeline
- Turtle watched on Lanikae Beach
- Dole Plantation
- North Shore food trucks
- Rock a Hula show
- Friday: North Shore
- Boogie boarding at La’ie Beach
- Photos at La’ie Point
- Shaved ice at Matsumotos (dad snorkeled at Shark’s Cove during this)
- Surfing watching and sunset at Sunset Beach
- Picked up Pieology on way home
- Diamond Head Crater sunrise hike
- Flew home!