It goes without saying that Oahu is one of the best places in the United States. Of all the Hawaiian Islands, it’s the most visited each year and there are so many things to see and do during a short trip. Luckily for budget travellers, there are a few ways you can make sure you don’t blow all your money in Hawaii. This list contains the best free things, as well as cheap things to do on Oahu so you can save money for other trips or use it to visit other Hawaiian islands!
Visiting Oahu on a Budget
Hawaii isn’t the most budget-friendly destination but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it on a budget. As a long-time budget traveller myself, who’s been to Hawaii twice, I know that it’s possible to do it on a tight budget.
Budget travel comes with a bit of sacrifice but ultimately, it’s up to you and where you want to spend your money! I’ve found that one of the best ways to travel to Oahu on a budget was by making most of my food from a hostel. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on food, so look for accommodation that has a kitchen available. This is an easy way to save hundreds while you’re in Hawaii.
I also discovered the best cheap things to do on Oahu! Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to do than you might think.
Budget Accommodation in Oahu
You’re going to spend most of your budget on accommodation, without a doubt. Luckily, there are a few different options when it comes to keeping costs low!
- Hostels – Use HostelWorld or Booking.com to find dorm rooms. They generally start at around $50/night BUT they always have discounted rates for 1-week stays.
- Airbnb – If you’re planning a longer trip to Oahu, Airbnb might be your best bet! Longer stays (1 month+) are always discounted. Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate rates with the Airbnb host! If you have a following on social media or can offer other skills such as photography/videography, you can utilize that to get huge discounts on your stay or sometimes even paid work.
Cheap or FREE Oahu Activities
From one budget traveller to another, Hawaii isn’t cheap but these activities will help ensure you stay on top of your budget.
All of these cheap things to do on Oahu are $50 or less per person (minus one sneaky activity) so you can make the most of your time in Hawaii and still get to experience the best of the island!
Cost: Varies – Usually just the cost of a drink at the venue!
There are endless options when it comes to live music in Oahu. In fact, if you’re simply wandering the streets of Honolulu, you’re bound to come across a bar with great music. When it comes to cheap things to do on Oahu, you don’t want to miss out on the music scene.
Here are a few places to add to your list:
Visit Hamauma Bay State Park
Cost: $25 + $3 parking lot fee
You need to visit Hamauma Bay when you’re in Oahu! It’s a quick 25-minute drive from Honolulu but you can also get there by taking the 1L bus for $3.00. The bus takes about 1.5 hours to get there including the time it takes to walk down to the bay from the bus stop.
So what’s there to do? It’s a pristine coastline and is one of the most amazing spots to swim or snorkel. With that being said, it’s become quite overcrowded by tourists and therefore it’s important to keep reef conservation in mind. The park has many volunteers that work to educate tourists that visit.
Hamauma Bay State Park is now limited to 1000 people per day, to help preserve the area and is closed every Monday and Tuesday.
Visit Pearl Harbor
A visit to Pearl Harbor is a must if you’re visiting Oahu. Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a historic site from World War II.
There are many different tour options that start at $48 but if you want to save a little cash, you can book entry ahead of time for $1. You won’t have access to every section but it will give you a taste of what happened during the Second World War.
One of the best things about Oahu is that you don’t have to go very far to find a beautiful beach! If you’re staying in downtown Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is the obvious choice but make sure you check out other beaches as well!
You can get to other beaches by bus but it will definitely make things a LOT easier if you have a car to get around. When I was in Oahu, I made friends with the manager of the hostel I was staying at (and other travellers) who had or rented a car. That gave me the opportunity to visit new beaches that were further away.
Lanikai Beach is one the best beaches on the island and is only a 30-minute drive or 45-minute bus!
Laniakea Beach is another must but is slightly further away (45-minute drive or a 2 hour bus ride).
Beach days are without a doubt my favourite of all the cheap things to do on Oahu.
Fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
The Hilton Hotel in Waikiki puts on free fireworks every Friday evening at 8 pm for 4 minutes. It’s a great little activity to do if you have nothing planned and you don’t need to be staying at the hotel to enjoy the show!
Meander Through the Botanical Gardens
Cost: FREE +
There are many different botanical gardens to visit during your stay in Oahu! After all, it’s one of the lushest places on earth with so much beauty to explore.
These are some of the best free gardens to visit:
- Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden – 30-minute drive from Honolulu
- Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden – Within Honolulu
- Wahiawa Botanical Garden – 30-minute drive from Honolulu
- Koko Crater Botanical Garden – 30-minute drive from Honolulu
- Halawa Xeriscape Garden – 15-minute drive from Honolulu
- Lyon Arboretum – Within the uplands of Honolulu (suggested donation of $10)
And these are some of the paid gardens that are worth checking out:
- Foster Botanical Garden – $5 entry fee and within Honolulu
- Waimea Valley – $25 entry and about 50-minute drive from Honolulu
Discover Hawaiin Culture
Don’t be afraid to educate yourself about Hawaii’s culture! It’s important to do a little research before or during your stay so that you better understand the Hawaiian people and Hawaiian culture. It’s always best if you’re able to connect with locals and ask them questions. Locals love to share stories and their culture with those visiting the island!
Snorkel at Shark’s Cove
Cost: FREE +
Shark’s Cove is along the North Shore of Oahu and is a must-see if you’re hoping to spend a good amount of your time in the water! It’s a rocky beach with rockpools that many types of sea life swimming around. Make sure to check the sea conditions before planning a day at Shark’s Cove, as you might not have the best visibility after heavy rain.
Bring your own gear with you or you can hire gear in Honolulu.
Explore the Hawaii State Art Museum
While the natural beauty of Hawaii is magnificent, it does rain a lot depending on what time of year you’re visiting. So, it’s good to have a few activities planned for rainy days. A visit to the Hawaii State Art Museum is a solid one for budget travellers, as it’s always free and in the middle of Honolulu!
It’s open every day of the week, except for Sundays and be sure to check their website for announcements, as they sometimes close temporarily, while new exhibits are installed.
Royal Hawaiin Center
The Royal Hawaiian Center is a big shopping mall, only a 1 minute’s walk from Waikiki Beach, making it a convenient place to engage in cultural classes and experiences such as doing hula lessons, lauhala weaving lessons, lei making classes, amongst other performances.
It’s known for its outstanding wifi on both floors (available and free for 2 hours per day), making it a great place to get a few hours of work done if you’re a digital nomad travelling through Hawaii.
Watch the Sunset
Catching a beautiful sunset is one of my favourite free activities to do while travelling. There are endless options when it comes to finding a nice spot to watch the sunset in Oahu, which can sometimes be overwhelming.
Waikiki Beach is a great place to start when you first arrive but it’s definitely worth a short drive to more secluded beaches on the island!
Sunset Beach is known as one of the best spots to watch a sunset on Oahu. It’s about a 1-hour drive from Honolulu. Just search “sunset beach state park” to get directions to the nearest parking lot across the street and bring a picnic to enjoy with friends or family.
Day Trip to the Dole Plantation
A trip to the Dole Plantation is certainly up there when it comes to cheap things to do on Oahu! This historic pineapple plantation is about a 30-minute drive from Honolulu (or 1-hour bus #52 that runs every 30 minutes) and entry is free!
What once started as a fruit stand in 1950 is an incredible plantation, offering many different tour opens when you arrive. Besides learning about its interesting history, there’s a pineapple garden maze, pineapple express train tour and plantation garden tour. These tours come at an additional cost of around $7.75+ per tour for adults but they have a few different tour combos for $26 or less, that make it worthwhile if you want to spend an afternoon there!
USS Arizona Memorial
If you want to see some of Pearl Harbor but don’t care about spending money on a tour, you should visit the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s a structure above where the battleship sunk and is a place to reflect upon the events of the attack on December 7, 1941.
Tickets are free but must be booked ahead of time through the National Park Service.
Get Out in Nature
There are endless hikes to do in Oahu and they’re all stunning! Most are fairly easy to get to but some require a car.
Here are a few of the best hikes that you can get to by bus!
- Diamond Head – You can choose from 3 different hikes at Diamond Head State Monument. I’d recommend doing the Summit Trail that’s 2.9km and takes about 1 hour to complete.
- Koko Head – This is an out-and-back trail that’s 2.6km that goes up an abandoned railroad. It’s fairly steep and rated a hard hike but if you’re in relatively good shape, it should only take around 1.5 hours to complete.
- Kuliouou Ridge Trail – If you’re after a slightly longer hike, the Kuliouou Ridge Trail is 7.6km and takes about 3 hours to finish. It’s another out-and-back trail with beautiful views the entire way!
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
If you’re a history buff, you need to check out the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. It was established in 1948 and is the burial place for many of the U.S. military. It’s in the heart of Honolulu so you can easily get there by bus or walk, depending on where you’re staying. The cemetery fits inside the circular crater of an extinct volcano and is a beautiful place to spend the day walking around.
Do a Food Truck Tour
Cost: You decide!
There is no shortage of food trucks in Oahu, which is great if you’re a foodie. The best part about a food truck tour is that you can customize it to your preferences. You could try foods from 10 different trucks or only visit a few. Regardless, you’re bound to get your hands on some of the best food in Hawaii!
Make sure you stop by Gilligan’s Beach Shack if you’re in the mood for seafood or surf & turf. Holey Grail Donuts is another must! They stand by their mission to provide you with the world’s greatest donut experience and who can say no to that?
Cost: $5.00 for adults, $2.00 for children
A visit to the Byodo-In Temple is one of the best cheap things to do on Oahu! This Buddhist temple was established in 1968, located in the lush Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial park. It’s only a 30 minute drive from Honolulu and it’s certainly one of the best activities for a budget traveller in Hawaii.
Temple grounds are open daily from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm and they only accept debit or credit cards as of January 1, 2023.
Check out the Ala Moana Center
If you have a rainy day to kill in Oahu, you should take a spin around the Ala Moana Center. This shopping mall is the perfect place for some window shopping and you can also enjoy daily hula shows at 5 pm for free.
Polynesian Cultural Center
It’s important to take in the culture if you’re visiting Hawaii. The Polynesian Cultural Center offers a great way to get immersed in the culture! There are many enriching experiences offered such as visiting authentic native villages and learning about their traditions, enjoying a lu’au with mainland dishes over dinner, and an evening fire show.
While it’s definitely on the pricier side of cheap things to do on Oahu, it’s an experience you won’t forget! You can view the different packages and their pricing here.
Check Out Iolani Palace
Cost: $32.95 (for adults) – General Admission
This is another must for anyone interested in Hawaii’s history! Iolani Palace was home to King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani who once ruled the Hawaiian Kingdom. Many official functions took place at the palace and it’s where the Queen was imprisoned when the Committee of Safety overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1895. She was originally sentenced to 5 years of prison but it was eventually reduced to 8 months of imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of the palace.
While walk-ins to the palace are accepted, it’s based on availability and it’s recommended that you book in advance to secure a spot!
Otherwise known as Jurassic Valley, Kualoa Ranch was established in 1850 and is a private nature reserve. It’s exactly what you picture when you think of Jurassic Park! The reserve offers a range of tours to ensure that the environment is taken care of for future generations while sharing its beauty with tourists.
The Ocean Voyage Adventure tour takes you across Kaneohe Bay to a secret island, where you might even come across a few sea turtles amongst the reefs.
If you’re dying to see where Jurassic Park was filmed (I mean, who isn’t?!), among 300 other movies and TV shows, you should go with the Hollywood Movie Sites tour!
It’s Your Time to Explore Oahu!
A trip to Oahu is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Choose a few of your favourite cheap things to do on Oahu and I guarantee that it will be a trip to remember! By taking a few extra moments to plan your trip ahead of time, you’ll save yourself a lot of money which you can put towards future trips.
If you’re planning a solo trip to Hawaii, check out my solo travellers guide to Hawaii here! I’ll be back shortly with another blog but in the meantime, you can follow my travels on Instagram or TikTok! I’m working remotely from Colombia at the moment and can’t wait to explore more of South and Central America soon.
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