10 Free or Cheap Things to Do and See 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.
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, it’s hard to resist saving an extra buck or two. Here are some of the best things to do in Oahu on the cheap.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.