Emily Buckley, editor in chief

Waimea Falls

It’s about this time of winter that Utah families start to dream of trading the inversion for sunshine and the snow for sand. This year we checked a big dream off our family bucket list and took the kids to Hawaii.

When deciding where exactly to go, my husband and I discussed several options, including which island to visit and where to stay on the island. After settling on Oahu, we determined that the main purpose of the trip was to relax and enjoy family time, and with a little research, we determined that Waikiki didn’t fit the bill for us. We opted for a whole different experience on Oahu’s North Shore, a preeminent destination for beautiful beaches.

We made a reservation at the Marriott Courtyard North Shore in Laie, which proved to be a fantastic choice for family travel. With five kids, we have outgrown a single hotel room, and with Hawaii land-use ordinances that require 30-day rental of residential properties, a legitimate VRBO isn’t a very viable option. Thankfully, the Marriott Courtyard North Shore has beautiful adjoining rooms available that allowed our family to settle in and spread out for over a week without feeling like we were living on top of each other.

Although most Courtyard Marriott properties are designed with business travelers in mind, this hotel is uniquely suited for family travel. Resort features include a resort-style pool and activity rentals with everything you need for a day at beach, whether you plan to play in the sand, surf, or bodyboard, all without an added resort fee.

Aunty Kela teaching a daily ukelele lesson at the Courtyard Marriott North Shore

Our favorite part, though, was the immediate understanding of what the “Aloha spirit” is from the moment we walked in the door. The Aloha Spirit is so highly valued by Hawaiians that it is a state law to treat people with the same care and respect as their ancestors did. At the Courtyard Marriott, they take that even further, employing locals who share their rich heritage with their guests.

Our family had the pleasure of meeting Aunty Kela, a local woman who dedicates her life to sharing her culture. She teaches hula, lei- making, and ukulele lessons most mornings in the hotel lobby. She told me that her mother told her, “When you hear good Hawaiian music, don’t waste it, go share your Aloha.”

Within moments we felt completely comfortable calling her Aunty as she took time to teach us about the Hawaiian way of showing respect to older generations. It was heartwarming to see her actual family come and join her in hula dancing on a Sunday evening when a local band played Hawaiian music in the lobby.

The parking lot of the Marriott Courtyard North Shore is adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), which has been rated the best attraction in Hawaii by USA Today and among the top ten experiences in the United States by Trip Advisor.

The PCC will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year. Set on 42 acres, the PCC has six island villages representing the unique island cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. At each of the villages, you can be entertained by performers from the islands and participate in hands-on activities ranging from dancing and canoeing to tasting ancient foods and playing traditional games.

At the PCC you can end the day dining like royalty at an authentic Polynesian lū’au and top it off with the most spectacular evening show, “Ha: Breath of Life,” which features both hula and fire dancing.

We spent our first full day in Hawaii at the PCC, which allowed us to come back a second time using their free bounce-back offer, to experience activities we didn’t have time to do the first day. Additionally, starting our trip at the PCC gave us all a greater appreciation for the culture we would experience throughout the rest of our visit.

Outside of a day trip to Honolulu to visit Pearl Harbor and hike Diamond Head, we made the conscious decision to spend our week in Hawaii at a slower pace, relaxing on the North Shore, and we had no trouble finding just that. Here are a few of our favorite experiences:

  • Snorkel. Although winter can bring rough waters to Hawaii, hopefully you’ll get the opportunity to snorkel. Our favorite snorkeling spot in Oahu is Shark’s Cove. It isn’t nearly as crowded as the popular Hanauma Bay and there are no fees to park or swim. There is a tide pool area that is great for kids to learn to snorkel, and more experienced swimmers will enjoy heading out toward deeper waters. You can either bring snorkeling gear from home or rent it from the hotel. We also suggest wearing reef or water shoes to protect your feet as you get in and out of the water.
  • Watch the surfers. During the winter the North Shore becomes an expert surfer’s paradise. Huge swells are common, which did make the water too dangerous for us to play in some days but watching the pros ride enormous waves was a thrill. We were lucky enough to be there during the Bonzai Pipeline Surf Competition.
  • Spend time at the beach. The North Shore runs from Ka’ena Point to Kahuku, featuring over seven miles of beach. We enjoyed hopping from beach to beach, including Sunset Beach and Laniloa Beach, which was a quick walk across the street from the hotel and felt more secluded than other beaches. At Waimea Beach, the water was a clear blue-green and the sand was white. It was a great place to boogie board and there are public bathrooms and showers.
  • Swim in a waterfall. Waimea Valley, located across from Waimea Beach, is a beautiful cultural and historical site. You can take a three-quarter-mile walk through a stunning botanical garden to reach a 45-foot waterfall that is open for swimming most days. Lifeguards are on duty at the waterfall, and life jackets are required. Make sure you arrive early enough for the walk and allow time to swim; the waterfall closes to swimmers at 3:30 p.m.
  • Zipline. If you’re up for an adventure, CLIMB Works Keana Farms is a three-hour guided zipline tour that includes Oahu’s longest ziplines ranging from 500 feet to nearly a half-mile long. Zipline over a working agricultural farm on eight world-class dual lines, rappel, and enjoy three sky bridges. This activity is for ages 7 and up.
  • Eat. Try these local favorites:
    • Most visitors hit up one of the three shrimp trucks on the North Shore: Fumi’s, Romy’s, and Giovanni’s. All are delicious but you should know that Giovanni’s serves frozen shrimp while the other two serve shrimp fresh from the farms their stands reside on.
    • Don’t miss getting shave ice from Matsumoto’s, where you can choose your flavor and top it off with ice cream, azuki beans, or condensed milk.
    Ted’s Bakery is famous for their chocolate haupia pie, but we were even more pleased by their fried rice and breakfast sandwiches and fantastic donut holes!/
    Seven Brothers Burger’s is a family-owned institution in Oahu. With four locations on the North Shore, Seven Brother’s is known for their juicy burgers and coconut chocolate chip banana bread.






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