Things to Do on Oahu
If you're looking for the perfect family-friendly activity on Oahu, something that both the kids AND the adults are sure to love, then head to the Honolulu Zoo.
The Honolulu Zoo is 42 acres in size and is home to 905 species of animals from various tropical ecosystems. 1,230 animals are featured in total, housed in uniquely-designed habitats.
The mission of the Zoo is to ‘inspire the stewardship of our living world by providing meaningful experiences to our guests.’
History of the Zoo
Located in Kapiolani Park on the southeast end of Waikiki Beach, the site originally consisted of marshland and lagoons, and in earlier times it served the purpose of an ahupua’a. This was a section of royal land contained within the watershed, encompassing the land between mountains and sea. The ahupua’a contained all of the resources that the community required: fertile land for farming taro, trees like koa for many purposes, as well as fish in the lagoons.
In 1877, the marshes and lagoons were drained by the order of King Kalakaua, who wished to establish a grand park near the slopes of Diamond Head. He beautified the area in order to house his personal collection of rare and exotic birds, and the park was named Queen Kapiolani Park in honor of his wife.
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In 1914, Ben Hollinger, the Administrator of Parks and Recreation, began collecting and showcasing animals in the park; including a bear, a monkey, and some lion cubs. An African elephant soon joined the crew and with that acquisition, Honolulu officially had a zoo.
During the Great Depression, the Zoo was almost shut down but managed to continue operations despite financial difficulty and even began to expand the collection of animals.
The Zoo in Present Day
Today, the Zoo is home to numerous endangered species including nene, black rhino, Sumatran tiger, and the komodo dragon, among many others. There is a host of African animals as well as turtles, parrots, and even kookaburras. There is also an Animal Health Center, which provides excellent medical care for the animals.
The Zoo also features a variety of plants that are native to Hawaii and that have a history of cultural importance to the Polynesian people. Some of these include fragrant hibiscus, hala, kou, lehua and a’ali’i. The Kou plant has valuable dye, wood, medicinal, and lei-making uses, and the tough and durable leaves of hala make for fine woven items that last for years.
The Honolulu Zoo's Objective and Conservation Efforts
The educational objective of the Honolulu Zoo is ‘to create a global and Hawaii-based environmental awareness which leads residents and vacationers to feel responsible for the well-being of this very special place that is the Hawaiian Islands.’ The message of conservation is loud and clear as the zoo offers many educational programs and funds restoration projects with nature preservation as the focus. These programs include “Zoo to You” Outreach, which is a free-of-charge public service to help educate people about Malama I Ka ‘Aina (respect the land), by informing them about and providing solutions to the problem of invasive species. There is also an Orangutan Outreach Program, which aims to promote awareness for orangutans globally. Currently, there is a 20,000-acre reforestation project in Borneo to support local communities and an orangutan rehabilitation center.
Planning for the Experience and Parking
The Honolulu Zoo is larger than it appears from the exterior, and well-kept on the inside. Upon entering, you will be greeted by a group of stunning pink flamingos. There is a lot to see, so plan for at least a few hours and take a packed lunch or you may purchase food at the zoo.
Parking can be difficult to find so allow extra time for that. It is an easy walk from Waikiki, so parking in the surrounding streets can be an option. The zoo gets extremely hot in the middle of the day, so pack appropriate sun protection. The park is beautifully landscaped and there are plenty of shaded areas to stop and rest for a picnic or a cool drink. There are sizeable grassy playground areas for kids to run around in.
Our Oahu Tour Recommendations
Oahu is the perfect place for a Hawaiian vacation. Whether you're an adrenaline junkie looking for a thrill, a history buff eager learn more, a yogi or yogini yearning to deepen your practice, or simply want to sit back and enjoy the view on a guided tour, these Oahu adventures are sure to please.
2023 Oahu Visitor Guides
If you're visiting Oahu soon, be sure to download your copy of one of our updated 2023 Oahu Visitor Guides. We've updated both travel guides with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and those who've been a time or two as well).