Want to take a tropical vacation without technically leaving America? Plan a trip to Hawai’i! This island chain offers balmy breezes, beautiful beaches, and everything else you could possibly wish for when planning your perfect beach getaway.
However, perfection comes at a price. One of the first things you’ll learn when planning a trip to Hawai’i – especially Oahu – is that things are expensive, and unless you’re working with an unlimited budget, you’ll likely want to find some free and cheap activities to pad your itinerary and soften the financial blow from the flights, hotel room, and activities you do want to spend money on. Fortunately, with a little research, you’ll find plenty of great activities and spots to experience for free, and lots of others that are accessible for a small fee.
Want to know all about the best affordable attractions on the island? Here are some of my favorite free and cheap ways to have fun in Oahu:
VISIT THE HOOMALUHAI BOTANICAL GARDEN
Plan to stop by one of the most stunning spots on Oahu to see the Hoomaluhai Botanical Gardens. This 400-acre park is free to the public and offers some of the island’s best views, with green cliffs stretching high above the tropical landscape. You’ll find plants from tropical regions around the world that you’d be hard-pressed to find in the continental 48 states, making it a fun and educational way to spend a few hours in the sun.
You can easily have a blast hiking one of the park’s many trails, enjoying a picnic lunch, or simply admiring the scenery. Love photography? Bring your camera and snap some shots of the local landscape or take some new family photos. For a little splurge, rent bicycles and take a spin around the park.
WATCH A HULA DANCE
When you think about the things that set Hawaiian culture apart, the hula comes to mind. This unique dance is very special to the local culture. The hula was used by ancient Hawaiians to tell stores, capture traditions, and ultimately preserve their history, and it’s celebrated by locals through various festivals, competitions, and exhibitions.
While you might be able to find hula dancers at your local hotel or resort, you can enjoy a hula show for free every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evening. The show takes place at the Kuhia Beach Hula mound as long as the weather allows and lasts roughly an hour.
PAY YOUR RESPECTS AT THE PEARL HARBOR NATIONAL MEMORIAL
The most visited tourist attraction in Hawaii can’t be missed. The site of one of the worst attacks on American soil has been converted into a memorial to honor the lives lost, and guests can tour the museum built from the sunken USS Arizona, attend free guided tours, and ultimately learn about the events that transpired. While you won’t have to pay to park or access the site, you will be asked to pay for a locker to hold your bags, as they aren’t permitted inside.
SPEND SOME TIME SNORKELING
An easy way to save money and have fun while you’re in Hawaii? Spend as much time on the water as possible. While splurging on surf lessons, sailing excursions, fishing trips, and other seafront entertainment can be expensive, there are plenty of ways you can have fun on the shore without spending an arm and a leg. One easy way to do it? Snorkel!
You can buy a cheap mask and snorkel on Amazon before you go or pick one up at a local surf shop. From there, you just need to find some solid snorkeling spots and start exploring! While you can’t go wrong with many of the beaches that line the shores of Oahu, some of the best snorkeling can be found at Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove, and Three Tables.
ATTEND A FESTIVAL
Blessed with perfect weather year-round, it’s no surprise to learn that festival season never really ends in Hawaii. Oahu is home to festivals throughout the year, and there’s a good chance your visit coincides with one of them. From farmer’s markets to festivals that showcase local music and cuisine, you’ll find that most won’t charge an entry fee. While you may want to keep some cash on hand for a snack or souvenir, festivals can be an easy way to have some affordable fun. Great annual options include:
- The Annual Ukelele Festival which takes place each July.
- The Annual Lei Day Celebration in early May.
- The Wahiawa Pineapple Festival, also in early May.
TRY YOUR HAND AT A HAWAIIAN TRADITION
Want to bring home a new skill as a souvenir? Visit the Royal Hawaiian Center. This center is a shopping and dining hub in the heart of Waikiki, but it also aims to promote Hawaiian heritage and culture. Because of this, you’ll find fun and interactive lessons on everything from hula dancing to making leis and playing the ukulele. Lessons are offered every day but Sunday. Check their schedule to see what you can do while you’re there!
ENJOY THE OUTDOORS
The easiest way to enjoy a budget-friendly trip to Oahu is to keep your activities centered around the outdoors. Hiking, walking, swimming, and sunbathing won’t cost you a thing – and there are endless opportunities to do each of them around the island. Free and easy ways to take advantage of Oahu’s natural beauty include:
- Packing a picnic lunch to enjoy at the end of a scenic hike.
- Watching the sunrise or sunset from a secluded beach.
- Checking out some of the best surfers in the world as they practice on the North Shore.
- Visiting Turtle Beach for a chance to see a sea turtle or two!
Your trip to Oahu doesn’t have to break the bank if you incorporate some of these budget-friendly activities into your itinerary. Keep your eyes peeled for other ways to have free fun while you’re there – you might be surprised to find plenty of opportunities have a blast in Oahu without spending a ton of cash.