The Best Free or Cheap Things to Do In Oahu, Hawaii

Ohhh, Hawaii. The name alone evokes memories of warm breezes, fragrant plumerias, and total paradise. Hawaii is one of the most beloved luxury vacation destinations in the world, but “luxury” doesn’t have to mean expensive. Many of the islands’ best activities and attractions can be experienced without spending a fortune.

Waikiki Beach sunset, Oahu, Hawaii

Sunset over Oahu’s Waikiki Beach

Oahu is home to Hawaii’s capital of Honolulu and the state’s biggest airport, making it a popular island for travelers. It also offers a large number of fascinating places to explore and things to do, and the best part is that many of these are inexpensive or even free…particularly if you manage to snag yourself an inexpensive flight. Whether you’re treating yourself to stunning Oahu beach rentals or keeping your entire Hawaii trip on a budget (for budget travelers, I highly recommend this conveniently located Waikiki hostel I stayed in on my last visit!), it’s hard to resist saving an extra buck or two. Here are some of the best cheap things to do in Oahu.

Things to Do in Oahu for Free

Enjoy Complimentary Classes and Shows at the Royal Hawaiian Center

Want to learn to dance the hula? Eager to learn how to make your own leis? Itching to become a master of the ukulele? The Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki offers an extensive program of free cultural classes Monday through Saturday and live entertainment Tuesday through Sunday, making these some of the best free things to do in Oahu.

Watch a Free Hula Show

Hula dancing has become synonymous with the Hawaiian islands, so you’d be remiss to not catch a show during your stay. Tons of places around Oahu offer luau dinners, which can get pricey, but there’s also a free hula show, complete with torch-lighting and traditional conch shell-blowing, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday at Kūhiō Beach across from the Hyatt Regency. What’s not to love about a free performance?

Kirstie is the name, travel blogging, digital marketing, and hula dancing are the game.

Watch Fireworks from Waikiki

Each Friday evening, the Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts a fireworks spectacular. Bring a towel, find a spot along Waikiki’s two miles of shoreline, and settle in for a free show in one of the world’s most beautiful settings. For $30 you can also purchase a poolside seat (mai tai included!) for the hotel’s Rockin’ Hawaiian Rainbow Revue, featuring hula, torch lights, drums, and more, culminating in the fireworks display.

Climb the Aloha Tower

The Aloha Tower, built in 1926, is one of Oahu’s most iconic landmarks. Today, visitors can climb to the tenth-floor observation deck for views of the harbor and the cruise ships that dock nearby — and admission is free. After admiring the views, climb down to the Aloha Tower Marketplace for shops, restaurants, a Wednesday farmers’ market, and occasional free events.

Honolulu’s Aloha Tower (photo credit)

Explore the Rainforest and Manoa Falls

One of Oahu’s best-maintained hiking trails will lead you through 1.6 miles of rainforest valley, leading to an impressive 150-foot waterfall. Swimming is discouraged, but the hike is popular for its proximity to Honolulu and its lush scenery and magnificent flora. Admission is free, and parking at the trailhead is $5.

Admire the North Shore’s Surfers

Oahu’s North Shore is one of the most popular spots on Earth for surfing due to its perfect waves, gentle in the summer but towering in the winter. Banzai Pipeline is a surf reef break that hosts major surfing competitions. Whether your visit coincides with one of these competitions or not, the area is fantastic for choosing a spot on the beach and observing the guts and grace of some of the world’s most talented surfers.

Hawaii surfer

Surfing Hawaii (photo credit)

Visit Pearl Harbor

The U.S. was drawn into the Second World War when Japan bombed Oahu’s Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today, visitors can pay their respects and learn about a fascinating chapter in American history by visiting the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the USS Arizona Memorial. Both are free, but reservations to the memorial should be arranged in advance to ensure admission.

Plus 3 Cheap Things to Do in Oahu

Hike Diamond Head

Looming over Waikiki Beach, Hawaii’s most iconic landmark is the volcanic cone Diamond Head. For just $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian, tourists can enter the state monument and hike to the cone’s peak for unbelievable views. The hike is about three-quarters of a mile in each direction and takes ninety minutes to two hours round-trip. I dare you to find any view in Hawaii that isn’t absolutely gorgeous, but the sweeping views over Waikiki’s blue waters and Honolulu’s skyline are hard to beat.

Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii

Viewing Diamond Head from Waikiki

Check out the Dole Plantation

No visit to Hawaii is complete without enjoying a juicy pineapple or two, so why not visit the heart of Hawaii’s pineapple production at the Dole Plantation? Admission to the plantation is free and includes complimentary activities like a pineapple-cutting demonstration. While there, for under $11 per adult each, you can also join a garden tour, find your way out of the pineapple maze, or ride the express train tour. Don’t forget to also taste Dole’s pineapple treats like my personal Disneyland favorite, DoleWhip.

Explore the Island’s Beaches by Bus

Waikiki Beach is a gem and is easily accessible from many of Honolulu’s accommodations, but it can also get overcrowded. The good news is Oahu has tons of other amazing beaches sprinkled around its shores. If you’re renting a car, what are you waiting for? The entire island deserves to be discovered! But if you don’t have a car, Oahu’s bus system can get you around the island for just $2.50 each way. My top pick for a bus-accessible but insanely beautiful beach is Kailua, which can be reached by the 57 bus from Waikiki in about an hour. Google Maps is the best way to find your way from point A to point B when you’re exploring Oahu.

Kailua Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Visiting Kailua Beach

Oahu — and Hawaii as a whole — is an amazing place, plain and simple. It offers unforgettable scenery and complete luxury, but it can be explored on any budget. Your wallet will be saying “mahalo” to you as you enjoy the best paradise has to offer at these ten attractions.

43 Responses

  1. Rebecca Collins says:

    Ah, Hawaii! I haven’t been on Oahu in decades. so I really enjoyed your suggestions. Were you just there? It was fun to see the hula girl photo again!

  2. lizzie says:

    It looks like paradise there. I would absolutely love to visit, if only just for those amazing sunsets!

  3. Mike G. says:

    Have traveled extensively in the states but Hawaii is the only place I would return to in a heartbeat. The scenery and the people cause all the stress and aggravation to disappear. Someday . . .

  4. Well, let me confess I have never been to Hawaii! Somehow I have flown past it a couple of times (well, more or less past it) on my way from Australia to the USA, but stop-overs were always prohibitive in cost. So it’s good to know that there are plenty of free things to do in Hawaii once to set foot on the ground…

    • It can definitely get pricey, but there are ways to explore Hawaii no matter what budget you’re on. My last visit to Hawaii was on an L.A. to Sydney flight, and the layover cost me nothing, so hopefully you find one of those deals too!

  5. Warm breezes, fragrant plumerias and total paradise…yes, that’s the vision i have in mind. Is that green color real…wow! Hawaii is definitely on my list.

  6. Sarah says:

    I agree, the Pearl Harbor Museum is a moving experience, and I’d forgotten it was free. But who knew you could climb Diamond Head or take cultural classes for free? Helpful tips for keeping Hawaii affordable.

  7. Nisha says:

    I am a sucker for sunset at the sea! It is a nice collection of things to do for free. It is surprisingly good to know that a museum has a free entry. Just coming from Europe so I think you understand 🙂 I am not a surfer at all but I love to watch people surf.

  8. Kirstie says:

    I have to agree that Hawaii’s skyline is hard to beat and is simply iconic. I also always thought Hawaii is extremely expensive. Never thought that you could get poolside seat view of the fireworks with Mai Tai for only 30 USD. And of course, the surfing. Maybe I will find myself in Hawaii soon!

  9. Fiona says:

    I think I would be mesmerised by the surfers in that perfect blue sea! I love the idea of the hula show though. And of the fireworks with Mai Tai! Definitely need to look into how to visit Hawaii from the UK!

  10. Kevin Wagar says:

    Oahu was just amazing! There were so many incredible places to see, and I’m happy to see you’ve show so many great budget adventures. I also loved all the food trucks around the island, they made eating great food on a budget a real treat.

  11. I love this list! I have spent quite some time in Southern California in the last few years and a standard trip for many there is to Hawaii. But, they also all warn me about how expensive Hawaii is and that is one of the main reasons why I haven’t been yet. So this article is very helpful and I do hope to make it to Hawaii soon 🙂

  12. Hi Kirstie,

    Brought back some great memories of our visits to Hawaii.

    We have been able to get a very cheap room overlooking Waikiki beach which enables us to see all the activities from our room balcony. You must get a water view room at the Aston Circle. Rooms are cheap, but a little small. Still for the price, who cares.

    Cheers Sharon…

  13. I went to Hawaii with my family a few years ago. indeed it was like a paradise to me, everything was so wonderful to me. I will definitely come back here soon. Thanks for your great sharing

  14. Michael says:

    I would like to thank everyone for their advise. i am headed to HAWAII for the first time. it is #1 on bucket list. been trying to go for the past 30 years and now i am going, but I need to be thrifty. Thanks for the comments

  15. Colleen says:

    My 85-year-old mom and I will be heading to Oahu for the first time in March so these tips are so helpful. It’s always been on both our bucket lists and we are SOOO exited! Thanks for all the suggestions.

  16. Dan says:

    I went to Hawaii last year, and I’ve got to say Oahu is a sight to be seen. Definitely very beautiful and lots to explore. This is great for next time, keep up the great work.

  17. Emmi says:

    Wow, what a great reading for me to know more about Oahu place. I will surely visit here. Very amazing and informative article you shared with us. Thank you for sharing it.

  18. Rachel Frampton says:

    My friends and I are planning to head to Hawaii Honolulu for a grad vacation, which is why we’re currently looking for an airport shuttle service that may prick and drop us off. Well, thank you for sharing here that it would be a great idea to visit Kuhio beach. We’ll also keep in mind to visit the Aloha tower marketplace since it’s filled with shops and restaurants.

  19. Steve says:

    I have a bunch of friends from Hawai here in Taiwan and they are always asking me to go with them for one summer finally I have made up my mind and I am going there this summer. I will bookmark this post and share it with them for sure.

  20. It has always been a dream of mine to go to Hawaii one day but I have kept pushing it to later because of the cost. It’s nice to know there are free and cheap activities to choose from as well!

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