Family Outing: Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center

Review of the not-so-hidden gem of a Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center. A great place to beat the heat if you need a break from the sun, or go to play when it’s rainy out. Perfect for a homeschool field trip!

When I first started writing this post, I called the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center a “hidden gem” in Honolulu.

Then I realized it’s not really hidden. Lots of people know about it and where to find it. After all, the building is pretty obvious once you see and it’s conveniently located by Kaka’ako waterfront park. I’m just oblivious and we lived here over a year before I knew about it. And it took two trips for me to realize the place had a third floor of exhibits.

Yeah…

So, while not exactly a hidden gem, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center is a gem. It’s the perfect change of pace from outdoor activities when you need a break from the sun or bad weather (hey, sometimes it does rain). Moreover, it’s geared towards the younger crowd, which is awesome because many of the “cool” Hawaii activities are best with older children. Though we haven’t used it as such yet, it would also be really great for capping any number of homeschool curriculums.

Like many of these centers, it’s not a museum in any sense of the word. There are “exhibits,” but nothing comes with a “Do Not Touch” sign on display. Everything is meant to be interacted with. While some exhibits also include some educational information, such as information about rainforest plants in the Rainforest Adventures exhibit, many of them are purely for imaginative play and exploration.

We usually begin our visits with the aforementioned Rainforest Adventures area, which is essentially a giant water table that models the Amazon river. It features all the cycles of water, from vapor to pond, with magnetic fish and fishing poles for little explorers to try their skill at landing a big catch. My kids could seriously spend an hour just here.

It’s also worth noting that in the same room as the Rainforest Adventures exhibit is the Little Explorers play area for children under 3. It’s a little closed off space to let toddlers roam at will! In my opinion though, older two year olds would probably be bored in there after too long, but it’s perfect for younger toddlers and older infants.

Next, we head around the corner into a large, open area which has the Fantastic You and Your Town exhibits.

Fantastic You features several exhibits all about the human body: from the heart and stomach to teeth as well as a wheelchair obstacle course so that kids can experience what it would be like to be physical disabled. My kids love rolling around in the “stomach” and sliding down the “intestine” slide.

Your Town is a bunch of mini-exhibits where kids can experience what it’s like to be a grown up, except better. There’s a diner, a doctor’s office, a bus, a theatre, a news channel studio, a bank, a grocery store, a fire station, an auto shop, a police station, a post office, a vet’s office…. And more that I’m sure I forgot. The theatre, featuring music and lighting that the kids can operate for their “shows” and tons of dress up costumes, is probably the most entertaining for me. My kids are both total hams and love to put on shows for me to record.

Past the Your Town exhibits is the Imaginarium and the reading area. The reading area features story times every Tuesday from 10:30-11, or you can go in on your own for a snuggle and a book. The Imaginarium is a classroom used for, I assume, the center’s regular classes such as Kids in the Kitchen, though we haven’t yet attended any of those events to know for sure.

During our first two visits to the center, we thought this was it. And it was still amazing! Little did I know, there’s actually ANOTHER floor with awesome stuff, and it’s probably better than the first floor. So don’t be like me and miss the third floor! (The second floor is roped off and not open to the public).

The third floor has the Hawaiian Rainbows and Your Rainbow World exhibits. Hawaiian Rainbows is all about everything that makes Hawaii awesome, from some of the history and native culture, to tropical reefs, to an exhibit by Hawaiian Airlines with a kid-friendly flight simulator in a real airplane cockpit that you can imagine the kids just LOVE.

Your Rainbow World is probably my personal favorite area, but so far my kids have only had a passing interest in a rush to play in the airplane. It features tiny houses from several different cultures around the world (particularly cultures that are commonly found in Hawaii), complete with traditional decorations, dress up clothing, furniture, and play food. You can pick up a telephone at the house and hear a message in that culture’s language. I think it’s such a neat, creative way to show kids about cultures they might not know much about. Note: according to their website, Rainbow World will be under renovations from March 26 – May 5, but I’m not sure if that message is up to date or not…

Now for the nitty gritty of what you really want to know: the cost.  

I like this place, but it isn’t a place we visit often enough for an annual pass. We’ve gone about 4 times in 2.5 years living here. We go, my kids have a blast, and then they’re good with it for 6 months. Their memberships are also strangely organized, where a base membership is “2 people,” presumably 1 adult and 1 child, for $150. But then the next level up is 2 adults and 1 child for $225. Seriously, who has 2 adults and 1 child going to these places? The next level allows for 2 adults and 2 children for $300. But with military/kama’aina discount a day pass is $10 per person. That’s $30 per visit for the 3 of us. We would have to go 10 times in a year for that to work… so in my opinion the annual pass is not worth it. However, the $30 is well worth the price to go once and spend a few hours.

The location is decent enough being in Kaka’ako. At times there can be several homeless encampments in the park, but I’ve not had any negative experiences related to that. The parking is part of the park parking, so it’s a large, free lot. Parking has never been an issue when visiting.

The hours are a bit strange, and that’s where I’ve seen the most complaints on their Facebook. They are only open Tuesday – Thursday from 9am – 1pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am – 3pm. Now, it doesn’t bother me because my kids are morning people, but it does leave out any after school visits if you keep a regular school day. Also, I will warn you now that it gets SUPER crowded on rainy days and if school is out (doubly so if both occur), so get there early if the weather is bad.

Overall, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center is a great place to visit when you and the kids are in the mood for something different. It’s great for just a fun day of play or as a homeschool field trip. Plan a visit soon, and then come back and tell me what you thought!

Websitehttp://www.discoverycenterhawaii.org/

Admission: $10 military/kama’aina, children under 1 are free

Hours: Tues – Fri, 9 am – 1pm; Sat & Sun, 10 am – 3pm

Parking: Dedicated free parking lot next to the center.

Family Outing: Honolulu Zoo

Living in Hawaii doesn’t always have to be about warm, sunny beaches and waterfall hikes (though, those are all pretty awesome). Sometimes, you and the kids might want to spend a few hours doing something a little more low key. Luckily, Honolulu is a vibrant, active major city with all of the amenities that major cities have to offer – including a zoo.

The Honolulu Zoo isn’t the biggest or the fanciest zoo I’ve ever visited. Let’s be honest, if you’ve ever visited the San Diego Zoo, all other zoos will pale in comparison. But we’re not here to compare. It is, however, a nice, quiet zoo right in the heart of Waikiki. There are some areas where its age is showing, but as of this writing several of the exhibits are undergoing renovations – notably the hippos and the reptile house, so effort is being made towards improvements. The rest of the zoo does seem well-cared for and has been quite clean on all of our visits.

As this zoo is a little on the small side, but does offer a pretty great jungle gym and keiki petting zoo, the ideal age range for kids is probably young toddlers through age 8-9, maybe a bit older if you have passionate animal lovers in the family. Older kids who are not as into wildlife may breeze through the exhibits rather quickly and get bored. The good news is, Waikiki beach is just across the street, so there’s always time for surfing!

I love how wide and open the paths are and how much green space they have preserved. Rather than jam the animals together, for the most part the enclosures are fairly large and spaced apart. My youngest loves to run from exhibit to exhibit. We’ve visited so frequently she knows exactly where her favorite animals are.

There is a dedicated Keiki Zoo with lots of educational displays for little ones to explore. This includes a massive fish tank with a tunnel that they can crawl through.

My keiki, being the hands-on types, love petting the goats, of course!

As of this writing, the zoo does allow you to bring in outside food. We almost always bring a picnic lunch and finish up the visit with lunch and some play time on the jungle gym. That is always sure to leave us with tired kids who nap all the way home, leaving me free to listen to my podcasts. #winning

While the admission for military families is pretty inexpensive at $8 for adults and $4 for children 3-12, I really recommend getting an annual pass. For $55 you get a pass for 2 adults and up to 4 children, which includes admission to the zoo for the full year, a members-only entrance line, and discounts on food, the gift shop, and educational programs. You’ll also receive their email newsletter about upcoming zoo events, such as the summer concert series and Twilight Tours.

Despite its location, parking is actually really easy. I tend to visit right as the zoo is opening (9am) to avoid the crowds. So, there is usually ample parking in the zoo’s lot, which is right outside the entrance and costs $1 per hour – which is super cheap for Waikiki. This lot is not exclusively for the zoo, so feel free to leave your car and head into Waikiki if you plan to spend a longer day. The cool part is, the parking meter takes credit cards and has the option of texting you if your time is running low so you can add more time right from your phone!

Another pro of visiting the zoo in the morning is that the lions are usually out and about! Check out this handsome fella.

If you’re unable to get into the zoo’s lot, there is a lot of metered street parking all around Kapioloani Park. Also, there is a free parking lot by the Waikiki Shell on Montsarrat Avenue.

Overall, the Honolulu Zoo is a great way to spend as little as a couple of hours, or as much as a whole day if you spend some time in Waikiki as well.

Our favorite animals are the gibbons and howler monkeys. After you visit, come back and share your favorites with us!

Websitehttp://honoluluzoo.org/

Admission: $8 military/kama’aina, $4 children 3-12, children 2 and under are free. Free admission with membership!

Hours: 9 am – 4:30 pm daily

Parking: $1 per hour lot right out front if you get there early, metered parking all around Kapiolani Park, or free parking by the Waikiki Shell on Montsarrat Ave.