If you’re looking for things to do in Oahu with kids, the Polynesian Cultural Center should be high on your list. For the past 55 years, it’s been of the most prominent family activities on Oahu. In fact, it’s Hawaii’s number one paid attraction. More than 1 million visitors experience the Polynesian Cultural Center each year. A day at the Polynesian Cultural Center is a MUST while exploring Oahu with kids.
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The last time I was at the Polynesian Cultural Center was 5 years ago. I was pregnant with my oldest and I remember thinking how cool it would be to take my son someday. This trip was extra special because I got to share this experience with him as a preschooler!
Hukilau Marketplace on Oahu’s North Shore
One of the newer features of the Polynesian Cultural Center is the Hukilau Marketplace. It has a nostalgic, 1950s era vibe. This is the place to get a feel for what the North Shore used to be like back in Hawaii’s Golden Age. They have food stands, sit down restaurants and shops.
FOOD OPTIONS IN LAIE, OAHU
Elsie’s Aloha Ice Cream is one of the cutest food stands I’ve seen. They serve New Zealand and tropical Hawaiian flavored ice cream, sundaes, banana splits and more with plenty of toppings to choose from! If you’re looking for a colorful Instagram background, here you go!
Other food options at the Hukilau Marketplace include: Pounders (farm fresh island style dining,) Aunty Emily’s Polynesian Bakery, Delice Crepes (from Tahiti,) Fia Fia Farms (specializing in mango smoothies,) Hale Pop’s (gourmet hot dogs,) Sam Choy and Tita’s Seafood Poke, So’Da Bomb (the first soda truck on Oahu,) Tita’s Grill (plate lunch,) and Tutu’s Sweet Shop.
NORTH SHORE SHOPPING
The Hukilau Marketplace is also an up-and-coming shopping destination. They also offer live music and dancing daily. While we were there, they were advertising outdoor movies, too.
Shopping options include: Goo’s Plantation Store, Hapa Home, Nona’s Tropical Threads, Amusement Ink (aibrushed tattoos,) Hukilau Salon, Magic Memories (photo service,) Mana `O Polynesia (imported South Pacific handicrafts,) My Island Spa, My Island Spa Toe Rings, Na Hoku (fine Hawaiian jewelry,) Paradice (Hawaiian shave ice,) Pearl Factory, Polynesian Wood Carving, and Tahitian Treasures.
LAIE IS HOME OF THE “SHAKA”
Has someone told you to “hang loose?” Hamana Kalili of Laie, HI originated the unique hand-sign now called the Shaka while working on the sugar mill railroad. It’s when you extend your thumb and little finger and curl the other three fingers into your palm. The Shaka has since gone global, spread by surfers, Hawaii residents, millions of visitors and even U.S. President Obama, who grew up in Honolulu.
JOSEPH KEKUKU STATUE
You know that twangy sound in classic Hawaiian songs? That’s Joseph Kekuku’s work. He was born in Laie, HI and invented the Hawaiian steel guitar as a boy. Then, he traveled the world sharing Hawaiian music through his Hawaiian steel guitar. He’s one of the reasons Hawaiian music became a global sensation!
Island Villages + Activities
The Polynesian Cultural Center focuses on 6 main Polynesian cultures: Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, and Maori (New Zealand.) Each of these cultures is featured in an Island Village with hands on activities for kids and cultural demonstrations. These activities run from Noon-6 pm everyday.
DAILY SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
When you arrive at the Polynesian Cultural Center, be sure to grab a little pocket program. This includes the daily schedule of events, presentation times and optional activities. We grabbed an extra one so my preschooler could thumb through it and help decide where to go next.
The first place we stopped was the Samoan Village. Having been here 5 years ago, I knew that my kids would be entertained by their cultural presentation. Our presenter showed us how to make fire in mere minutes on stage while telling jokes. Both my boys stared at the smoke and flames in awe!
We also learned about traditional Samoan food. In Hawaii, food is traditionally cooked in an Imu, which is an underground oven. Food takes hours and hours to cook. In Samoa, food is cooked in an Umu, which is an above ground over. Their food can be cooked in 45 minutes! We were invited to come back later in the afternoon to try some traditional Samoan food.
During the food presentation, there was a man shaving fresh coconut meat using a knife attached to a wooden seat. My 4 year old was very intrigued to see what he was doing. The man offered my son a handful of the fresh coconut. He was so excited to taste something that was created right before his eyes!
Something very unique to the Polynesian Cultural Center is their canoe pageant. It’s one of the most entertaining family activities on Oahu. Everyday, the entire park is invited to head to the lagoon to watch a Polynesian show that takes place on boats. Representatives from each Island culture dance on their canoe as they make their way around the whole grounds. It’s a great activity on Oahu for kids, especially if you aren’t sure your kids can sit through a luau.
HAWAIIAN HISTORY + CULTURE
Of course, since we were on Oahu with kids, we prioritized learning a bit more about Hawaiian history and culture. We met a young lady who taught us the art of ancient Hawaiian fishing. She carefully gathered her net, threw part over her shoulder and in one clean sweep, threw the net into a perfect circle. My 4 year old talked about this presentation the rest of our trip. He was so impressed!
We also got to explore a “hale,” or Hawaiian house. We happened to walk in right as someone was leading a tour. She explained that long ago, men and women ate in separate houses. She also talked about how land was divided up so that each family had a slice of mountain down to the ocean.
This hale was really interesting because it was thatched using leaves that seal together when it’s raining and the air is damp. But, when it dries, it shrinks and allows the home to ventilate. I’m so glad we got to eavesdrop on the tour because I don’t think we would have realized what an advanced society it was. Especially since it was so isolated from the other Polynesian islands.
Why the Polynesian Cultural Center is a Must on Oahu with Kids
Do I think the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the best family activities on Oahu? You bet! If you are looking for things to do in Oahu with kids where they won’t be bored, head to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie.
IT’S BABY-FRIENDLY + TODDLER-FRIENDLY
The paths are paved, so it’s easy to maneuver a stroller anywhere at the Polynesian Cultural Center and Hukilau Marketplace. There are also stroller parking areas outside the presentation buildings. It’s easy to find clean restrooms and snack stations throughout the space.
My 17 month old toddler had a great time watching the presentations, tasting the food. We were fortunate that he could stand in the back row to watch some of the performances. We were also ushered into the handicap seats a few times to ensure our kids could see the presentations.
POLYNESIAN FOOD SAMPLES
My kids are always up to try new foods. The runaway hit this trip was tasting the fresh coconut. My 4 year old carefully walked with his hands full of coconut so he could share with his brother. Both boys gobbled it up! There were also opportunities to try poi, coconut bread, taro and green bananas.
HANDS ON CRAFTS
My 4 year old’s favorite activity was weaving a lauhala fish. My favorite part was watching this lady involve my son in creating it, while taking the lead. The whole thing took about 2 minutes and my son walked away with a fish that he could “cast” and reel back in. This was something he played with our entire trip! For older kids and adults, there is an instructor who will tell you how to make your own.
For kids exploring the New Zealand village, they can get a temporary tattoo! My son was bummed that we didn’t make it over there in time for that.
My son spent about 10 full minutes trying to make fire the Samoan way. There was an area with long wood, short sticks, and coconut husk. You are supposed to move the stick really, really fast until the area gets hot and then put the coconut husk to start the fire. This was an unsupervised area, which makes me think actually starting a fire might not be common. But, my son gave it a full effort!
In the Tongan Village, families can hop into an outrigger canoe and paddle around their tropical lagoon. In the Tahitian Village, you can learn how to throw a spear and learn how to dance. And in the New Zealand Village, kids can try to master the Maori poi balls!
SNACKS + TREATS
As I’ve said before, my kids are motivated by food. We got hungry during the day but didn’t want to miss out on all the family fun at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Thankfully, we found a food stand that sold grab and go food like hot dogs, traditional New Zealand hand held meat pies, and Spam musubi. We grabbed a few musubi and the cashier told us that locals like to put mayonnaise on it and she handed me a few packets. Now, I’ve been eating Spam musubi for the past 20 years and I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. So, we tried it. It’s a GAME-CHANGER! Go ahead, try it and remember that I told you first!
One of the best ways to end an amazing day at the Polynesian Cultural Center was to enjoy this fancy smoothie as we soaked in the music and the Hawaiian breeze.
LUAU + HA: BREATH OF LIFE SHOW
Since we traveled with a toddler this time, I knew we’d only have stamina to explore the park. But, I’ve attended both the luau and the Ha: Breath of Life show and I recommend both. If your child is a fan of Moana, they will be entranced by the theatrics of the Ha: Breath of Life show. I’m looking forward to taking my kids back in a few years!
The Polynesian Cultural Center extended me a media rate for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
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