Hawaiʻi is unfortunately one of the most expensive destinations to visit in the United States. There is not much here that can be considered cheap or a bargain – airfare, accommodation, rental cars, organized tours, and food and drink will all push your budget to the limit (although there are a few tricks to save money on your Hawaiʻi trip).
That said, there are tricks to the trade once on the ground. Hawaiʻi boasts an abundance of free or cheap activities, many of them spectacular due to the abundance of nature, culture, and biodiversity present in the islands. Thanks to a major city on its shores, a variety of beach towns, and two volcano’s worth of mountains, Oʻahu has a blend of natural and metropolitan experiences that can be enjoyed for little to no cost.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
Below, are some of our favorite free (or very cheap) activities on Oʻahu.
Here are free or cheap things to check out as it relates to the natural world:
Despite being the most-developed island, Oʻahu is still a wonderful place for hiking, and almost all trails on the island are free to enjoy (there is a small fee to hike Diamond Head). You can traverse through the dense jungle and chase waterfalls on the windward side, catch panoramic views of Honolulu from the southern slopes, or climb Oʻahu’s highest peak, Mt. Kaʻala, on the west coast.
Not sure where to go? Check out our 15 favorite hikes on Oʻahu.
Coastal and Beach Walks
If you’re looking to keep your heart rate in check, don’t worry – there are plenty of mellow coastal hikes and beach walks to check out. The path out to Kāʻena Point on the North Shore is one of our favorites, and long white-sand beaches like Waimānalo and Kailua Beach are perfect for casual strolls. It’s best to take a beach walk in the morning, when conditions are calm and peaceful and the beach is relatively empty.
Need we say more? All beaches in Hawaiʻi are public and free, so grab a chair, towel, and book and bounce around from beach to beach. Waikiki Beach (shown below) is but one of many of the amazing white-sand beaches on Oʻahu.
Snorkeling tours are great for many reasons, but they aren’t necessary to enjoy the underwater world in Hawaiʻi. If you’re comfortable in the water and have a buddy to go with, bring or buy a snorkel set (about $40 or so for mask, snorkel, and fins) so you can snorkel multiple times and in multiple spots during your trip. There are many sites around Oʻahu that are accessible without a boat, such as Shark’s Cove, Sans Souci, and Hanauma Bay.
Check out our list of snorkeling spots on Oʻahu for more ideas and descriptions of the sites.
Surf lessons are pricey, but renting a board is not, especially in Waikīkī, where they can be had for as low as $10 for 2 hours. Most of the breaks close to shore in Waikīkī are very beginner friendly if you know the basics already.
Find out more about surf spots, surf rentals, and surf classes, in our guide to surfing on Oʻahu.
While many folks will be enjoying the sunset from a bar or restaurant, you can save a lot of money by planning your own sunset beach picnics. You can pick up a cheap cooler bag at the grocery store and fill it with poke, snacks, and drinks for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant. The ambiance of the beach is the icing on the cake.
Also known as the “west side,” the Waiʻanae Coast is filled with beautiful beaches that all offer a front-row seat to the sunset on Oʻahu. You can find more great suggestions in our overview of good places to see the Sunset on Hawaiʻi.
Gas is expensive in Hawaiʻi, but one tank will allow you to explore most (if not all) of Oʻahu. Take in the scenic beauty as you cruise (windows down) around the island, stopping at whatever town, beach, or point of interest you see fit. Definitely drive the south shore between Hawaiʻi Kai and Waimānalo, cruise up the east side to the north shore, or explore the west coast road up to Yokohama Beach.
History & Culture
There are many inexpensive ways to learn about Hawaiʻi’s history and culture.
Most museums charge entry fees, but they are typically nominal in the grand scheme of a Hawaiian vacation. And Oʻahu is loaded with options, specifically in Honolulu, including the Bishop Museum (Hawaiian history), the ʻIolani Palace (former home of the Hawaiian monarchy), and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
For more options, check out our complete guide to History and Culture on Oʻahu.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is free, as are the two on-site museums (Road to War Museum and Attack Museum) which tell the story of that fateful day. Tickets for the movie and boat tour out to the USS Arizona cost a mere dollar. It’s hard to find more bang for buck on Oʻahu than paying your respects with a visit to this historic site.
Deciding on the mix of free and pay-for activities that include museums, ship tours, and historical sites, is not straightforward and planning ahead can add a lot of value to your visit. See our Pearl Harbor visitor guide to sort out your trip details.
Agritourism in Hawaiʻi is growing like a weed each and every year.
Oʻahu is loaded with botanical gardens, and most entry fees are a reasonable $20 or less. They are a great way to spend a few hours, opening yourself to the beauty and variety of Hawaiʻi’s ecosystems. One of the botanical garden, Waimea Valley (see picture below), even has an easy to reach waterfall on-property in which you are allowed to swim!
Check out our complete list and descriptions of botanical gardens on Oʻahu for more.
Farm Tours and Voluntourism
Oʻahu has many farm tours to choose from, including coffee plantations, fishponds, and local farms. Many tours are free or reasonably affordable. For example, Green World Coffee Farm offers free tastings and a free self-guided tour. Others are more pricey: Kahuku Farms on the North Shore offers a one-hour tour for $50.
the possibilities for farm tours and other (sometimes free) culinary excursions are almost endless. See our list of culinary tours and activities on Oʻahu for a more extensive overview (+ map).
Some farms offer the chance to volunteer, which allows you to lend a helping hand and experience local life. Check out such an opportunity at Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi and Heʻeia Fishpond in Kāneʻohe (both places offer tours as well).
As most travelers already know, a great, inexpensive way to experience a city is to simply walk. Pick a destination (or not) and wander the city streets, popping into stores or whatever peaks your interest. By doing this, you will save money on a car/taxi, get free exercise, and discover things you would overlook otherwise. Neighborhoods to consider exploring in Honolulu include Kakaʻako (the left part of Ala Manoa) and Chinatown (north of Kakaʻako).
Food, Drink, and Shopping
Eating and drinking is one of the most expensive things you can do in Hawaiʻi. Here are some ideas to help save money:
Have a Poke Picnic
Restaurant prices are high in Hawaiʻi, especially when it comes to drinks and island favorites, like poke. To avoid these high prices, locals prefer to eat picnic-style, either on the beach or in a scenic area.
While expensive at a restaurant, poke is relatively cheap when purchased elsewhere. A pound of poke from the grocery store deli (we recommend Foodland) or a specialty poke store (Tamura’s), for example, will cost you between $10 and $15. Poke bowls (poke over rice) is an even better deal, often sold for less than $10.
Book Accommodations with a Kitchen
While not unique to Hawaiʻi, buying food from a local grocery store will save you a lot of money over the course of your stay. You may be able to save hundreds of dollars if you book an accommodation with a kitchen, allowing you to avoid eating out for every single meal.
The joke is that if you walk two blocks and don’t see an ABC Store, then you’ve somehow left Waikīkī. We don’t love the fact that ABC Stores have achieved such dominance, and we encourage you to shop at locally-owned, independent stores whenever possible. That disclaimer aside, ABC Stores can help you save cash when it comes to grab-and-go drinks, snacks, or souvenirs. T-shirts cost $10 or less, along with many other trinkets. If you’re in need of affordable souvenirs for folks back home, the ABC Store may come in handy.
More free and affordable activities guides
If you have made it this far down the page chances are that you will also enjoy our other island guides with free and affordable activities: