Hawaii’s Most Fun and Affordable Things to do For The Military Family: Part 2 Outdoor Activities

My son, clearly excited for snorkeling and beach time!

This is part two of a series on fun and affordable things to do in Hawaii.  This series also aims to highlight the need to find the positives in every assignment, even if it is not in paradise.  🙂 Check out part 1 of this series here.

In the land of sunshine and warm weather, there are plenty of things to do outside. In Hawaii, nearly everything is outside or in an open-air style setting; even schools are often comprised of multiple buildings with wide hallways and classrooms to circulate air and sunshine. With all this sunshine and warm weather, it’s no wonder that Hawaii is one of the happiest states in which to live! Whether you are here to visit or here to stay, there are plenty of outdoor activities that stretch beyond the beach.

My son, clearly excited for snorkeling and beach time!

Let’s start with beach and water activities. A entire day can be spent lounging on the sand and swimming, but there is more to a beach day than this (and I covered beaches pretty thoroughly in my first post of this series!). If you are looking for an active day, there are plenty of new things to try: snorkeling, diving, paddle-boarding, bodyboarding, and even surfing. Even if you have never tried these activities, take the challenge! I enjoy the quiet of snorkeling, and the opportunity to view life under the water is fascinating. The beaches are lined with businesses that rent equipment by the hour or day, and there are often lessons that accompany your rental.

If you are a military ID holder, you can take advantage of MWR (Morale, Recreation, and Welfare) rentals for daily and weekend equipment rentals at a discounted rate. There are MWR facilities on nearly every installation in Hawaii, so contact a location for the best rate possible.

For a little more thrill, take the adventure out on the water. There are daily tours of various parts of Oahu and neighboring islands by boat or catamaran. Many visitors also use their time here for scuba diving, shark diving, deep sea fishing, parasailing, and boat rentals. Some of these activities require more instruction and training — not to mention more money — to accomplish. However, try searching for deals on Groupon or through your military ITT (Information, Tickets, and Travel) to find a better deal. I have seen coupons for as much as 50 percent off the normal price! Another great idea is to book your rental or tour as a group with friends; some companies will offer a discount for a large booking. Finally, try your activity in the off-season, as there are usually lower rates after the peak tourism seasons.

So beyond the water … Hawaii is not just about the beach! Before I moved here, I was a casual hiker, i.e. I only did it if I really wanted to see something. I had friends who recommended hiking so enthusiastically that I tried a few trails, and now I am hooked. Oahu alone has dozens of marked trails, some of which are even part of the state park division. Best of all, hiking is usually a free activity! Just drive to the start point, take plenty of water, and off you go.

The view from the top of Diamond Head

How do you decide what hikes are best for the whole family? Here are some easy, kid-friendly hikes to try:

Makapu’u Lighthouse trail

This simple hike is a paved, 1-mile trek on the eastern side. This trail ascends 500-feet and offers spectacular views of the coastline, Makapu’u Lighthouse, and even whales during the winter months.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is a must for tourists and residents alike. This is a state park, with a $1 per person or $5 per car entry fee. The climb can be accomplished in less than an hour, and there are various points throughout to stop for a drink or catch your breath. After the final 99 steps to the top, enjoy the amazing views of Waikiki, the mountains, and the interior of the crater! Souvenirs and shave ice can be purchased at the entrance, but the views from the top are the greatest treat here.

 Manoa Falls

Located just above Waikiki in the Manoa Valley, this trail is short but rewarding. Kids will enjoy climbing over rocks and logs through the bamboo and guava trees. The path can be slick during or after rainfall, so wear sturdy shoes and prepare for a little mud. The end of the trail hosts a 150-foot waterfall!  Entry is free, but parking near the trail entrance is $5. There also is a small cafe, gift shop, and restaurant on-site for before or after your adventure.

Lanikai or Ehukai Pillbox

Before I could even venture to these, I had to research what a pillbox was; these were structures set up around the island to be used for reconnaissance and as lookouts for the military. These structures are now abandoned and covered in graffiti, but the hikes to these are the perfect length and skill level for kids. The Lanikai pillbox is located on the eastern side above Kailua/Lanikai, and the Ehukai pillbox is located on the North Shore and opposite Sunset Beach. Each includes some steeper steps and ropes to help pull during inclines, but both are less than 2 miles. The reward of a pillbox structure to explore is almost as good as the views from the top, and the kids can learn a little history while exercising!

 Ka’ena Point

The northwestern tip of the island reaches a point, Ka’ena Point, and a small lighthouse marks the destination of the trail. The entrances to this hike can be accessed from both the western and the northern side, and both trails are equal in beauty and length. The trail hugs the coastline, offering ocean breezes and opportunities to view seals and crabs along the walk. While this caps out at over 3 miles round trip, it is not as difficult of a hike. I would categorize this as a nature walk; there are no real inclines or changes in elevation, and the terrain is easily navigated. Kids will love all the rocks to hop over, sea life to view, and ample sunshine to soak it.

No matter what your skill or motivation level, there is an outdoor activity that is both FUN and AFFORDABLE here on Oahu.

I again stress that I am barely scratching the surface of what is available here — the opportunities are endless. With a little research, flexibility, and the use of a military discount, you and your family can experience many outdoor activities during your time here!

Previous articleDeploying as a Mom
Next articleNothing Left to Give: When Your Glass of Water is Sucked Dry
Rachel Carpenter
Rachel has been an Air Force spouse for 17 years. Her husband's career had taken them to many assignments around the world, and she currently lives in Hawaii. She is a mother of four children; their ages range from fifteen to four years old, so her life is often exciting and challenging. She holds a BA in English and a MA in Management. When not busy with work or her family, she enjoys volunteering within the military community and has even been a Key Spouse at two stations. Rachel has always enjoyed writing and literature, and she is happy to find this community to combine these interests. She has been featured on We Are The Mighty, Her View From Home, AMSE, The Beautifull Project, Hand-in-Hand QC, and other publications - but The Military Mom Collective is her home. :)