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!

The Hukilau Marketplace at the Polynesian Cultural Center has fun things to do on oahu with kids.
The Hukilau Marketplace at the Polynesian Cultural Center is a fun place to eat on Oahu with kids. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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 at the Hukilau Marketplace is a great family activities on oahu
If you’re looking for a quirky souvenir, how about this stuffed Easter Island Moai statue? Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

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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.

Celebrate the Shaka (aka hangloose) sign at the Polynesian Cultural Center
This statue of Hamana Kalili commemorating the “shaka” is a fun photo op on the walk to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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!

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This photo op is just one of the things to do in oahu with kids at the Polynesian Cultural Center
This statue celebrates Hawaiian ukulele music. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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 best family activities on Oahu include the Hukilau Marketplace, the Polynesian Cultural Center and experiencing Hawaiian culture.
When it comes to family activities on Oahu, exploring the Polynesian Cultural Center is great for a Hawaii family vacation. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

CULTURAL PRESENTATIONS

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!

Samoan cultural presenation at the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the fun things to do on oahu
During this Samoan cultural presentation, this man created fire in front of our eyes. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

The Samoan Village offers lots of family activities on oahu at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii
At the Samoan Village, they prepared taro root and green bananas to share with guests later in the day. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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!

If you're looking for family activities on oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center has hands on demonstrations, presentations, crafts, and food samples.
My son watched in awe as this man scraped the meat out of a fresh coconut. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

CANOE PAGEANT

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.

The Polynesian Cultural Center has a canoe pageant featuring Polynesian dancers dancing on the river and is lots of fun on Oahu with kids.
When spending the day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, their Canoe Pageant is a great way to see Polynesian dancing. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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!

The Polynesian Cultural Center is full of family activities on Oahu with kids.
This Hawaiian fish net throwing demonstration mesmerized my son at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is full of Hawaiian history and culture.
This replica of a Hawaiian shelter was fascinating. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

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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.

When visiting Oahu with kids, the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the best family activities on oahu
The Polynesian Cultural Center was a blast for my family exploring Oahu with kids. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

Fresh coconut was a hit on Oahu with kids at the Samoan Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
Both my boys devoured this fresh coconut at the Samoan Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

The Polynesian Cultural Center has tons of fun things to do on Oahu, like hands on crafts, cultural demonstrations, and audience participation.
The Polynesian Cultural Center has so many family activities on Oahu, like weaving lauhala to make a fish in the Tahitian Village. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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.

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FAMILY ACTIVITIES

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!

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Learning how to start a fire is one reason the Polynesian Cultural Center things to do in Oahu with kids
My preschooler was determined to make a fire using traditional Samoan tactics. Spoiler alert: he was not successful. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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!

When visiting Oahu with kids, the Polynesian Cultural Center has so many fun things to do on Oahu.
My son and I laughed so hard when trying our hand at the New Zealand poi balls which may be one of the most fun things to do on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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!

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The Polynesian Cultural Center has lots of snacks that are perfect for families on Oahu with kids.
My son was stoked to drink a smoothie out of a pineapple at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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 Polynesian Cultural Center 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.

Other Family Activities on Oahu

Family Guide to Oahu with Kids
Toa Luau is Oahu’s Newest Family-Friendly Luau
Aulani Tips to Maximize 2 Nights at Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii
Is the Disney Aulani Character Breakfast on Oahu Worth the Price?
How to Maximize the Disney Aulani PhotoPass Service

Honolulu Cookie Company Features Pineapple Shaped Cookies
Oahu Travel Hacks + Budget Tips for Families


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Find out why the Polynesian Cultural Center is a top attraction on Oahu, Hawaii. Click to read more or pin to save for later. www.marcieinmommyland.com #polynesianculturalcenter #laie #oahu #hawaii #hawaiiattractions #familytravelHeading to Oahu with kids? Find out why the Polynesian Cultural Center should be at the top of your list of Oahu attractions! Click to read more or pin to save for later. www.marcieinmommyland.com #polynesianculturalcenter #oahu #oahuattractions #familytravel #hawaii #hawaiianculturePolynesian Cultural Center is things to do in Oahu with kids

Author

Marcie writes the family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. When she's not traveling the world, she's home in Seattle with her husband and two little boys.

47 Comments

  1. Educational and fun. That’s a Mom’s dream activity! What a neat place to share with your family.

    • marciecheung Reply

      I love it when my kids have experts who can answer their questions!

  2. What a great list! I’m definitely pinning this so when we’re ready to visit, we can have it all planned out. What a beautiful culture.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Awww, thanks! It was hard to narrow down my photos because there was so much to take in!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I hope you get to go to Hawaii! It’s one of our favorite destinations!

  3. This would surely be a dream vacation! I would love to be able to explore all of these wonderful places with my children. They would love the native crafts.

    • marciecheung Reply

      My oldest couldn’t get enough of the crafts and dancing. He could have spent another day there!

  4. This looks really fun! It’s always so amazing to experience different cultures that you aren’t familiar with

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, it’s a great intro into Polynesian culture!

    • marciecheung Reply

      YES! Book your tickets to Oahu now! There’s so much to do and see there!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Thanks! There’s so many things to take photos of there!

  5. oh wow how gorgeous are these photos you’ve shared! I’ve always loved learning about other cultures and I’m also glad to see your little one enjoying himself too 🙂

    • marciecheung Reply

      My kids had so much fun at the Polynesian Cultural Center!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yum! Shave ice is the BEST! I like to get mine topped with condensed milk and mochi!

  6. That seems like a really great to go to with the whole family. You can learn so much about a culture that you don’t hear that much about and you get to try some really good food.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Polynesian culture is so rich! We can’t get enough!

  7. This is awesome! I seriously can’t wait to go to Hawaii. I love learning about other cultures. 🙂

    • marciecheung Reply

      I hope you get to go sooner rather than later 🙂

  8. This is awesome! My husband and I went to Maui for our honeymoon and I remember dreaming of the day we go back to Hawaii with a family in tow. I love that there are so many options for toddlers/babies/families. The cultural side of Hawaii is a must for anyone visiting!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I totally agree! I highly recommend Oahu for family travel!

  9. I love traveling and learning about different cultures! My fiance and I are going to Hawaii on our honeymoon!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Ooh! What a romantic honeymoon destination! Congrats!

  10. Looks like a great place for family and a wonderful experience to share with kids!

  11. This looks SO fun! I love that they everyone gets to learn about history and culture, in such a fun and unique way. The canoe pagent sounds so neat too!

    • marciecheung Reply

      The canoe pageant was such a cool show! My kids thought it was amazing!

  12. This looks so fun. I love learning about other cultures. I think that is a perk to traveling and it makes me sad when people stay right in their comfort zones.

  13. What a fun experience! I love activities like this that exposes kids to different cultures. I think it’s really important.

    • marciecheung Reply

      It’s super important to expose kids to other cultures.

  14. I love this culture! It is awesome that your son got to do so many hands on activities there!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, he loved learning how to do things for himself! So much fun!

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