12 Top Free and Cheap Things to Do on Oahu

Waikiki beach
M Swiet Productions/Getty Images

A trip to Oahu can be expensive, but there are many free things to do while on the island.

Even if you don't rent a car, almost all of the places and activities listed below can be reached by foot from Waikiki or by using Oahu's excellent public transportation system called TheBus. It has more than 90 routes and 4,200 stops around Oahu and is a quick and inexpensive way to get around. The one-way fare includes two free transfers and a four-day pass allows for unlimited rides.

Here are our picks for some free (or almost free) things to do on Oahu.

01 of 12

Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor Memorial

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818, USA
Phone +1 808-422-3399

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial—which encompasses the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and USS Utah Memorials—remains one of the top tourist destinations in Hawaii, with some 3,000 to 5,000 people visiting the site every day. Altogether, the memorial commemorates the 1,664 crewmen and sailors who died during the attack on Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941, and it is a solemn and sobering experience even for those who were not alive when it occurred. At the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, you can learn more about the Pacific War via two exhibit galleries, interpretive exhibits, an audio tour, and a documentary film at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater. Be sure to sign up for the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial program, which will take you to the site of the battleship's memorial.

Admission to both the Pearl Harbor National Memorial museums and grounds are free.

02 of 12

Hit the Beach

Skyline of Honolulu over the beach from Ala Moana Beach park, Hawaii, at sunset
Steve Heap / Getty Images

Oahu's beaches are famous the world over for their incredible beauty, and are free for all to enjoy. At the famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, you can swim, sunbathe, and snorkel, while the 76-acre Ala Moana Beach Park attracts locals with its man-made peninsula, Magic Island. If you love to surf, there are excellent surf breaks throughout the island, particularly on the North Shore, which is home to Ehukai Beach Park, Waimea Bay, and Pupukea Beach (more on that below). For Oahu's best snorkeling spots, head to Shark's Cove, Kahe Point, and Hanauma Bay—just don't forget your reef-safe sunscreen!


03 of 12

Watch Surfers at O'ahu's North Shore

Surfer
Pierre Tostee / Getty Images
Address
Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA

When the winter waves reach their majestic heights, Oahu's North Shore attracts some of the best surfers around the world to hang ten. It is an easy hour's drive from Waikiki to lovely Hale'iwa town, where the North Shore begins for most visitors as they travel in an eastward direction around Oahu. Consider planning your trip around the North Shore's world-class surfing competitions, including the annual Billabong Pipeline Masters (held at Banzai Pipeline) and the World Cup of Surfing (held at Sunset Beach).

04 of 12

Talk a Walking Tour of Historic Honolulu

Exterior of Iolani Palace

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813-2900, USA
Phone +1 808-522-0822

Located in the heart of Honolulu, you'll find many of Hawaii's most historic buildings, all of which are within easy walking distance of downtown's iconic Aloha Tower. For a self-guided walking tour, download this Historic Hawaii Foundation map, which will take you past 25 historic sites via a 5-kilometer route. Attractions of note include the Hawai'i State Capitol, an 18-foot bronze statue of King Kamehameha I, Kawaiaha'o Church and Cemetery, and the Mission Houses, which are the state's oldest-standing Western structures. Along the way, you will also pass Iolani Palace, home to Hawaii's last monarchs and the only royal palace on U.S. soil.

Although many of the sites are free to visit, both 'Iolani Palace and the Mission Houses Museum charge for guided tours of their interiors.

Continue to 5 of 12 below.
05 of 12

Hike to the Top of Diamond Head

People hiking to the top of Diamond Head

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Diamond Head, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

Diamond Head, a volcanic cone that's part of the Ko'olau Range, looms large over the Waikiki. Actually named Le'ahi by Hawaiians, it received its more well-known name in the late 1700s when British seamen saw calcite crystals sparkling in the sunshine and thought they had found diamonds.

A visit to Diamond Head's 300,000-year-old crater, located within Diamond Head State Monument, is one of the top things to do on Oahu. It takes between one to two hours to hike the 1.6-mile, round-trip Diamond Head Trail, with handrails available to help you throughout much of the climb. The summit offers a spectacular 365-degree view of O'ahu and is an absolute must-do activity for photography enthusiasts.

Note that there is a minor entrance fee of $10 per car, though pedestrians can get in for $5 each.

06 of 12

Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Hanuama Bay

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii 96825, USA

One of the most popular snorkeling destinations in Hawaii, Hanauma Bay was created by volcanic activity about 32,000 years ago, and formed by the subsequent centuries of wave erosion. Lying inside a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay State Park is today both a protected marine life conservation area and an underwater park that aims to protect and educate visitors about the local wildlife. Boasting clear blue waters and beautiful reefs that house thousands of tropical fish and green sea turtles, the park welcomes up to 3,000 visitors a day to snorkel, swim, and sunbathe on the beach.

Although there is a $25 admission fee and $3 parking lot fee, children 12 and under can visit for free. Reservations are required.

07 of 12

Relax and Have Lunch at Kapi'olani Park

Queen Kapiolani Park

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
151 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Phone +1 808-926-3191

Created in 1876, Kapi'olani Park is Hawaii's largest and second-oldest public park. Located on the east end of Waikiki, this large park is named after Queen Kapi'olani, the wife of King David Kalakaua. Throughout the park, you will find a host of family-friendly attractions, including the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, and the Waikiki Shell, a performing arts theater. While there are entry fees to enjoy these points of interest, you don't have to spend money to wander around the park, picnic under the trees, or play sports like tennis and soccer. Pack a picnic, people-watch, and play sports like tennis and soccer. In the summer, be sure to swing by on a Sunday afternoon, when the Royal Hawaiian Band performs free concerts at the Kapiolani Bandstand.

08 of 12

See the Views from the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

Nuuanu Pali Lookout
Dana Edmunds / Getty Images
Address
Honolulu, HI 96744, USA
Phone +1 808-587-0400

The Pali Highway connects Honolulu to the Windward side of the island. Located high above a tunnel on the Pali Highway, the Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside Park and Overlook welcomes almost 1 million visitors each year. From the lookout, you have beautiful views of Kane'ohe Bay, Kailua, the Ko'olau Mountains, the Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base, and the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden. It's one of the windiest spots on O'ahu, so if you go, hold on to your hat! Be sure to read the placards giving the history of the site.

For non-residents, the admission fee is $7 per car.

Continue to 9 of 12 below.
09 of 12

Feel at Peace at the Byodo-In Temple

Byodo-In Temple

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Byodo-In Temple, 47-200 Kahekili Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA

Located at the foot of the 2,000-foot Ko'olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples sits the beautiful Byodo-In Temple. While always a popular stop for visitors who seek locations off the beaten track, the Byodo-In Temple has become more popular since it was used as a filming location in the ABC Emmy Award-winning drama series "Lost."

The Byodo-In Temple was built in the 1960s to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Hawaii's first Japanese immigrant workers, who came to work in the sugar plantation fields. It is a replica of the 950-year-old Byodoin Temple, located in Uji, Japan, on the southern outskirts of Kyoto.

A non-practicing Buddhist temple, the Byodo-In Temple features a reflecting pond, small waterfalls, and places to meditate and reflect during your visit. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., general admission is $5 per adult; discounts may apply.

10 of 12

Wander Around Honolulu's Chinatown

Chinatown

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, Honolulu's Chinatown has undergone a Renaissance in the last few decades—although it's still maintained its community-oriented feel. You'll find no shortage of excellent Asian cuisine, including Cantonese food at Little Village Noodle House and butter mochi at Sing Cheong Yeun Chinese Bakery. If you love to window shop, you'll find antiques and collectibles at Tin Can Mailman, while Ginger13 is a top destination for handmade jewelry. For an affordable night out on the town, come by on the first Friday of every month, when musicians take to the streets and local restaurants offer great deals on food.

Admission is free, but you'll have to pay for the great food!

11 of 12

Learn About Hawaii's Plantation Era at Hawaii's Plantation Village and Museum

Address
94-695 Waipahu St Ext, Waipahu, HI 96797-2601, USA
Phone +1 808-677-0110

Hawaii's Plantation Village is a non-profit, living history museum and ethnobotanical garden located on a 50-acre site in Waipahu. Established by the Friends of Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, its mission is to ensure that the struggles, sacrifices, innovations, and contributions of Hawaii's sugar plantation forebears are preserved and acknowledged as the cornerstone of Hawaii's successful multi-ethnic society.​

Open since 1992, Hawaii's Plantation Village offers docent-led tours as well as special events and activities. There is a $17 admission fee, with discounts available for seniors, military, and children between the ages of 4 and 17. Kids 3 years and under can enter for free.  

12 of 12

Enjoy a Festival or Annual Event

Princess of the Island of Lanai, Aloha Festivals Parade
Daniela Duncan / Getty Images

O'ahu is home to more than 100 (mostly free) festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate culture, community, music, and art. The annual Aloha Festivals, ​Lei Day Festival, and Waikiki Spam Jam Festival are three of the most popular events, but there's a whole lot more. You can also enjoy Honolulu's Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese New Year lion dances, Hawaiian rodeo, and numerous music festivals featuring the ukulele, slack key guitar, and hula. Every November, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing takes place on O'ahu's North Shore, and if you're on O'ahu over Christmas, don't miss Honolulu City Lights.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Are the beaches free in Honolulu, Hawaii?

    Yes, Honolulu's beaches, including the famous Waikiki Beach, are free to enjoy.

  • What is the best month to visit Oahu?

    The best time to visit Oahu is from April to June. During this late spring/early summer season, the weather is perfectly pleasant and the summer crowds have not yet reached their peak. However, if you love to surf, you may want to consider planning a December trip, as this is when pro surfers from around the world come to Oahu's North Shore for international surfing competitions.

  • What is the coldest month in Oahu?

    January and February are the coldest months on Oahu. Average temperatures this time of year are 80 degrees F—still pretty warm compared to the rest of the U.S.!

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12 Free Things You Can Do on Oahu