If you’re looking to take a break from the beach or pool, the Waikiki Aquarium is only a short walk away from Kuhio Beach and offers an educational experience showcasing the diverse marine life of the Pacific.
Little T has always enjoyed observing the marine life at aquariums we’ve visited – the one at the London Zoo (which at eight months old, he seemed to prefer over looking at the animals!), the London Aquarium and the Acquario di Cattolica – so I had the Waikiki Aquarium on the list of places to visit during our stay on Oahu. The aquarium is just less than a mile from the Moana Surfrider, so the morning we decided to visit, we could easily go by foot, admiring the view from the beach parks along the way.
Established in 1904 and built next to a living coral reef, the Waikiki Aquarium is the second oldest public aquarium in the United States and is run by the University of Hawaii. Its exhibits highlight the marine communities throughout Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific, offering an up close look at a wide array of fish, coral, sea anemones, jellyfish, seahorses and more. The aquarium houses more than 3,500 organisms and 500 species of Hawaiian and South Pacific marine life.
One exhibit contains the chambered nautilus, that lives on the deep reef slopes of the western Pacific. The Waikiki Aquarium was the first aquarium in the world to maintain the chambered nautilus and the first in the United States to breed them. These unique creatures are the last of a primitive mollusc line dating back 500 million years and they move around by propelling water through a muscular tube called the siphon.
The jellyfish exhibits were enchanting to watch and featured jellyfish found locally and abroad, including moon jellies, Atlantic sea nettles and blue blubbers. The jellyfish tanks are specially designed with constant water currents to keep the jellies moving throughout the exhibit.
During feeding time, you could have the chance to watch the jellyfish grabbing their live food with their tentacles and moving it through their stomach chambers.
The Waikiki Aquarium is fairly small, and for us, it turned out to be just the right size for a one hour visit with a toddler. Little T was entranced watching the colorful tropical fish darting about the coral.
There is also an outdoor coral reef exhibit with the typical marine life you’d see snorkeling along Hawaii’s reefs, including parrot fish and sea urchins.
You obviously can’t touch the fish but it was oh so tempting to Little T to try to reach in!
There is also an interactive area with a touch pool run by university volunteers and great for little ones, where you can have a close look at a sea urchin and hold a hermit crab in your hand. In this area, there is also an enclosure for two Hawaiian monk seals that were rescued as pups.
Overall, we enjoyed our visit to the Waikiki Aquarium and I’d recommend visiting it. The aquarium took us about an hour to walk slowly around. It’s a great place to learn about and have a good, up close look at the typical marine life you might see snorkeling or scuba diving along Hawaii’s reefs. The indoor exhibits are fascinating, especially the display of the South Pacific and Hawaiian marine communities and the jellyfish, and the touch pool is a good interactive experience for children to learn more from one of the volunteers.
Waikiki Aquarium, 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815
Tickets: Adult tickets (age 13 to 64) are $12; junior tickets (ages 4 to 12) are $5; children age 3 and under go free. Each paid admission includes a free Audio Tour Wand.
Parking: There are a very limited number of free parking spots located in front of the entrance that are available only to visitors of the aquarium; two hour parking passes are available at the admission desk on busy days. Metered street parking is also available on the left-hand side of Kalakaua Avenue.
Good to Know:
The Waikiki Aquarium runs various events, including special family nights, Hawaiian performances and educational activities for both children and adults.
The aquarium also runs a Keiki Time class, designed for kids 1 to 4 years old to learn about sea creatures through crafts, singing, storytelling, dance and play.
There isn’t a restaurant on-site but the Barefoot Beach Cafe is very close by in the park next to the aquarium.
For more tips on visiting Oahu with kids, have a look at our Oahu Destination Guide.