Only a mere 2,392 miles from the nearest zoo, the Honolulu Zoo (151 Kapahulu Ave., 808/971-7171, 9am-4:30pm daily, $14 adults, $8 military adults, $6 children 3-12 with an adult, $4 military children with an adult, children 2 and under free) is a must-see in Waikiki. The plant and animal collections emphasize Pacific tropical ecosystems and are organized into three ecological zones: the African savannah, the Asian and American tropical forest, and the Pacific Islands. Mammals and birds are the spotlight here, with just a few reptiles on display, including a handful of Galapagos tortoises, a Komodo dragon, and dangerous-looking gharials. There’s an Indian elephant enclosure with two playful inhabitants. The baboons are quite interactive as well. Zebras, giraffes, hippos, and rhinoceroses are also major draws. The kids will love the massive jungle gym by the snack bar and the Sumatran tiger area. Right next door is the Keiki Zoo, with a crawl-through circular koi fish tank, lizards, farm animals, and a goat petting area.
There are several after-hours events at the zoo, as well. Twilight Tours are on Friday and Saturday evenings. The guided, two-hour walk is a great chance to see who wakes up after everyone has left, and the Dinner Safari is a buffet and a two-hour guided night tour. Every Wednesday during the summer, The Wildest Show Summer Concert Series is a fun family event featuring local musicians. Check the website for the schedule.
If you plan on returning to the zoo more than once during your stay or visit O‘ahu several times a year, consider an annual pass. There are several levels of membership, but the average family can take advantage of the Chimpanzee Family membership: unlimited entrance and benefits for one year for two adults and up to four children under 18. There is a pay parking lot for the zoo on Kapahulu Avenue, $1 per hour and the kiosks accept credit cards or coins only, no bills. Free parking is located at the Waikiki Shell parking lots across Monsarrat Avenue on the makai side (ocean side) of the zoo.
Situated on 2.35 acres right on the shoreline in Kapi‘olani Park, the Waikiki Aquarium (2777 Kalakaua Ave., 808/923-9741, 9am-4:30pm daily, $9 adults, $6 military, students, seniors, $4 youth 13-17, $2 children 5-12, children 4 and under free) has a number of beautiful collections focusing on the South Pacific and Hawaiian marine communities. With your paid admission you receive a free audio tour wand, which gives insight and information for all the different collections.
The aquarium has both indoor and outdoor viewing areas. Inside you’ll find displays showcasing the marine life around the different islands and the creatures living in different marine ecosystems, from the intertidal zone to the open ocean. Corals, giant clams, colorful reef-dwelling fish, predators like sharks, trevally, and groupers, jellyfish, chambered nautilus, and even a gold American lobster (only one in 30 million American lobsters show this genetic disposition) are some of the curious residents at the aquarium. Outside you’ll find the monk seal, a tidal pool with fish that reflect the marine life around Waikiki, an interactive area where people can hold hermit crabs and other little creatures, and a serene grassy open space under palm trees right next to the ocean for the kids to run around on and get some energy out or to sit and enjoy a snack.
The Waikiki Aquarium also has a signature summer concert series on the lawn that draws a more mature crowd than the zoo’s summer concert series. Ke Kani O Ke Kai: The Sound of the Ocean starts in June and runs through August. Check the website for the latest schedule and information. Parking at the aquarium is very limited. Park along Kalakaua Avenue, the ocean side is free and the mountain side is metered parking, $0.25 per half hour.