Discover Oahu on a Budget: Free or Cheap Things to Do in the Island Paradise (updated 2023)

Free or cheap things to do in Oahu

For such an expensive place to visit, you can actually do a lot of free or on the cheap things to do in Oahu. From seeing attractions, doing an adventure experience, or just enjoying the beach in Oahu, there’s quite a lot you can do for free or cheap attractions or activities if you plan ahead and take the effort to visit these venues and places that offer them.

There are many free or cheap things to do in Oahu when you are visiting Waikiki, the North Shore, Kailua area or many of the other popular attractions around the island now and the good thing is that you won’t be breaking the bank when you visit here.

If you are wondering what to do in hawaii that is best free or cheap then check out all these fun activities below.

Things to consider when Visiting Oahu and keeping on budget

Timing is everything when you visit the islands and this includes peak season and off season travel, even though Hawaii is a year-round destination it does have a shoulder season period where you can save on basic flights, hotels and even entertainment.

The shoulder season in Hawaii typically runs from March until beginning of May and then from September Until Thanksgiving time frame. Although seasonal holidays and events can also bring in tourist to visit for those holiday events and quick getaway periods.

If you price your airline search during these time frames then you’ll probably find some beater deals on flying to the islands.

This also applies to hotel and entertainment or even package deals that can be searched on various search engines to get you the best price for all the major expenses when you visit the islands.

Here’s 23 fun free or cheap activities and things you can do in Oahu now

You can do a lot of cool and fun activities in Oahu for free or cheap if you are open to planning and doing some of the legwork to getting to the sites and doing all these fantastic activities. Most of these free things to do are relatively easy get to and do on your own all for free and are fun activities to do around Honolulu or the tourist district of Waikiki.

Most of doing these activities exploring Oahu are outdoors and adventure oriented which is a great way to exploring around the island.

Free HIkiing trails in Oahu trails

1.Go on a hike

There are so many amazing hikes that you can do around the island and most of them are free and a great way to see the fascinating and beautiful landscape of the area. You can hike to famous landscapes for cheap or free like Diamond Head or the Makapu’u lighthouse, the Lanikai Pillboxes or even the Koko Head trail. Check out these fabulous hikes here for more details and inspiration.

Check out these hiking inspirations to the best places to explore around Oahu below

2. Go snorkeling for free in Oahu

Snorkeling fun in Sharks Cove Oahu
Snorkeling fun in Sharks Cove Oahu

Snorkeling can be done around the island at various places where the tropical fish and coral still thrive and you have some snorkel equipment available to use. Among the most popular places include the protected snorkeling beach at Haunama Bay, Sharks Cove and Kahe Point Beach park.

** To find out the best spots for snorkeling check out all these fantastic snorkel sites here for you to visit for more information and additional web sites.

3. Rent a bike

You can do a cheap bike rental in Oahu at Waikiki through the Biki system which has over 130 Biki stops around Honolulu and rates as cheap as $4.00 in a one-way route to longer use passes you can do for a day or longer depending on your needs. You can easily rent for a day or few days and really get around Waikiki and Honolulu for cheap!

Check out the Biki system and fares here for more details on these cheap rent a bikes here in Honolulu area.

Here’s an easy look at the biki bike systems here in Honolulu

4. Climb Diamond Head

Climbing up Diamond Head in Oahu
Climbing up Diamond Head in Oahu

One of the most popular attractions to do in Waikiki is to climb Diamond Head and enjoy the spectacular views of the city and coastline below. The visit and hike up through Diamond Head is only $5 for admission (non – resident) and $10 per car to the park. The total hike up is about 1.4 mile roundtrip walk or about a 45 – 60 minute round trip walk depending on how many stops you make along the way. Also, any out of state visitors have to make a reservation to visit the state park and you can find out more information on doing so below.

You can do this easily and better in the early morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat but also get spectacular light for views and photography. Check out the parks website here for more details and hours.

Here’s a quick overview of HIking up to Diamond Head Crater

5. Ride The Bus around the island

A different take on riding around the island on the cheap instead of renting a car or doing a tour, you can go on The Bus on a one way trip around the island for only $2.00 for one way and this includes one free transfer/stop you want to do along the way. Daily fares are also a good deal at $7.50. Check out more details on the circle island bus tour cheap or multi day passes on The Bus here for more information.

Here’s a primer on riding “The Bus” in Oahu and getting around the island

6. Visit a botanical garden

Visit a Botanical Garden in Oahu Hawaii
Exploring a Botanical Garden in Oahu

Visiting a botanical garden is one of the free things to do in Oahu you can actually do for free.

You can go to a many of Oahu’s botanical garden for free and explore the many tropical plants and lush landscapes on your own instead of booking a tour. Check out the Parks and Rec botanical garden site here of all these spectacular gardens for doing your own DIY tour or follow along with a docent on a guided tour.

Checking out the gorgeous tropical plants and flowers along with some amazing vista points at some of these wonderful gardens will give you a real sense of place to Hawaii’s fantastic gardens and natural environment.

**Check out all our favorite botanical gardens in Oahu here for more inspiration and images.

Here’s one of our favorite gardens at Hoomaluhia and it is free!

7. Explore Pearl Harbor for free

Free visit to Pearl Harbor national monument

One of the top things to do in Hawaii is to visit Pearl Harbor which is surprisingly free and fun to do as a day trip or visit around the island.

If you catch The Bus to Pearl Harbor or a faster Uber ride, the rest of the visit and boat trip to the monument to the USS Arizona is all free. You can visit the grounds, video show and docent tour all for free as part of the national monument at Pearl Harbor. and the Arizona Memorial You do have to book reservations in advanced at this site to secure a timed entry admission, so book early. Although there are cancellations and availability different times during the day.

The entire experience is emotional, historic and solemn but it is a worthwhile experience and a tribute to American history in the Pacific Islands.

This is one of the best free things to do in Oahu, so make sure you put it on your must do list.

Here’s how to visit Pearl Harbor below

8. DIY historic walking tour of Honolulu

Visit historic Honolulu in Oahu
Visit historic Honolulu and the Iolani Palace in Oahu

One of the free things to do in Honolulu is to walk through the historic downtown district. You can actually join a free walking tour of Honolulu’s historic attractions here and enjoy the highlight attractions and key monuments in the area. This walking tour will give you a peek to the history, settlement and architecture of this historic district in Honolulu.

The DIY tour is free and just follow the direction on the web site. There’s also a free walking tour sponsored by this site and organization here for more information.

** Check out our post on visiting Iolani Palace here for more information to this cultural treasure.

You can also check out my tour of the historic landmarks of downtown Honolulu here for more inspiration.

** tips are kindly accepted with the guided walking tours if you enjoyed the tour and service.

Check out this fun video tour of the downtown area here

9. Go body surfing

Body surfing adventure in Oahu Hawaii
Body surfing at Lanikai in Oahu

There are so many wonderful body surfing beaches on Oahu and Waikiki beach being the most popular beach to do that in with a fantastic sandy bottom to enjoy this sport. Check out these other fun body surfing spots around the island you can go and have a real water adventure for free. There are also many fun kid friendly beaches in Oahu to explore here with calm and safer waters and beaches to enjoy around the island.

If you are exploring the North Shore area and want to do more body surfing, check out all the cool North Shore beaches here for more information.

Body surfing is big at Sandy Beach in Honolulu area, check out this cool video below

10. Go surfing for cheap

Learn how to surf in Oahu Hawaii

One of the top things to do in Hawaii in everyone’s bucket list is surfing.

If you know how to surf, all you need is to rent a board for a few hours and there are many beach areas that have hourly renting of surf boards available for you to enjoy.

Check out this rental reviews website here for more information on rentals and surfing schools available in the area. If your new to surfing, you can go on the cheap by watching some free You Tube tutorials to get the basics and then rent a board and hang out with the newbies on the beach.

Or if you are already on the islands, watch what some of the instructors are doing at the beach with their students. Spend time just observing the activity and instructions with what’s going on at the sessions and hopefully you’ll pick up some easy tips to get started on surfing.

If you still find the need to get lessons, then definitely sign up for a class with a group session for better prices on your surfing experience.

** You can rent surf or boogie boards on Waikiki beach easy by the hour on the beach area around Kuhio beach area.

Check out this easy to follow video of surfing basics you can do and practise on your own.

11. Kayaking on the cheap in Oahu

Kayaking in Oahu Hawaii
Kayaking in Lanikai, Oahu Hawaii

Kayaking is one of the easy things to do in hawaii that you can master quickly.

Same as surfing above you can rent a kayak for a nominal amount by the hour or half day to save on some costs of the equipment versus doing a kayak tour which is pretty pricey with the various operators. Check out this site on reviews of kayak rental sites you can actually rent kayaks by the hour to full days.

Popular places to kayak and rent kayaks are at Kailua Beach, Lanikai, Ala Moana and Waikiki beach areas with outfitters that you can easily rent by the hour, half or full day rentals.

Here’s one of the popular kayaking places to kayak in East Oahu below

12. SUP boarding on Oahu

Learning how to SUP board in Oahu

Want to do some SUP or try a SUP (Stand up Paddle) experience? You can do like the other water sports above by renting a SUP board by the hour from various locations. If your new to SUP, check out some easy beginning You Tube videos for basic instructions on how to get started on this easy sport.

You can rent Sup boards and here is a review of the best rated rental spots around the island depending on where you want to hang out for the day.

Check out this basic SUP training clip showing you all the typical easy to follow instructions below.

13. Challenge yourself to climb up Koko Head

Excercise climb up Koko Head, Oahu
Molokini climb up Koko Head, Oahu

One of the free things to do in Honolulu is to climb and why not a cinder cone in Hawaii?

Climbing the steep Koko crater trail is a big challenge but you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the Eastern side of Oahu on your 1050 steps up to the top of the crater.

Parking is free and easy and the trail head is easy to spot and before you know, you’ll be doing a major stair master challenge. Check out more details of the Koko Crater trail here for more information and images.

Of course this is a big cardio challenge but definitely worth all the amazing views you will be from the top of the crater rim and looking down through all of East Hawaii.

Challenge yourself to climbing up Koko Crater trail below

14. Go running at these iconic Oahu routes

Running along Waikiki beach
Running along Waikiki beach

Running is one fun things to do in Hawaii especially in Waikiki.

Picture a perfect beach and jogging through the soft sands back and forth a few times to get a workout in and enjoy the scenery at the same time. Or you can run through various historic districts or fantastic landscapes that are beautiful to pass through and enjoy these popular local running routes.

Check out these top runs in Honolulu here for more inspiration and images.

15. Enjoy a waterfall at Manoa Falls

hike for free at  Manua, Oahu

One of the best free thing to do in Honolulu and just a short drive from downtown is Manoa falls. A relatively easy hike to get to at Manoa falls, this short .8 mile roundtrip hike is easy and passes through green and scenic landscapes meandering through bamboo forests, rainforest and the base of the Exercise mountains.

You’ll walk parallel to the Manoa stream until you hit the base of the waterfall which is 150 feet in height.

If you’re into visiting waterfalls, check out the best waterfalls in Oahu to explore here for more inspiration to visiting.

Here’s a highlight tour of Manoa Falls below

Stroll Kalakaua Boulevard on Waikiki

16. Stroll Kalakaua Boulevard on Waikiki

One of the fun and cool free things to do in Honolulu is to stroll down Kalakaua Boulevard in Waikiki. Enjoying a morning or later afternoon stroll around the main drag on Kalakaua Boulevard is fun with street performers, people watching.

Visiting along the main tourist attractions like the Duke Statue at Kuhio Beach Park and some fun and cheap window shopping is easy and you can always splurge on Happy Hour drinks, a shave ice treat or some inexpensive souvenir you might find in the many tourist shops that line the street.

You can also do a historic Waikiki beach stroll here to see some of the historic and cultural sites dedicated to the Waikiki area.

Enjoy this walking tour of Kalakaua Avenue below

Ala Moana Shopping Center 11

17. Visit Ala Moana Shopping Center

One of the fun and cool things to do in Oahu is to check out the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. You can take the bus from Waikiki and various locations to the Ala Moana Shopping Center, the biggest outdoor mall in Hawaii and probably all of the Pacific Islands around Oceania. Fun things to do on the cheap includes window shopping, watching the free events and performances on the main stage, grabbing a nice to go meal from the expansive food court below.

A fun and cool place to explore is the Japanese village walk called Shirokiya which is colorful, entertaining and fun to also explore at the center. Check out their website here for more details and information.

Explore the Ala Moana center below

 Visit Ala Moana Beach and Magic Island

18. Visit Ala Moana Beach and Magic Island

A fun and easy beach park in Honolulu to explore is the Ala Moana Beach park and Magic Island. An easy walk from Ala Moana Shopping center, it’s fun to explore the Ala Moana Beach and Magic island for its low-key vibe, protected swimming and snorkeling venues or just a nice walk along the paved promenade.

You can check out the fun wedding photography shoots on the beach, surfing and body surfing activities or even take a surfing class here if you are game for some sporting adventure at the beach. This beach park is not as crowded as Waikiki so there’s plenty of room to spread out and enjoy a fun beach day in this part of Honolulu.

Here’s a virtual walk around Ala Moana Beach below

Shave Ice for cheap eats on Oahu

19. Shave Ice for cheap eats

Shave Ice on the island is really a small splurge to enjoy anywhere on the island and maybe more than a few times to satisfy your cravings to try different flavors. With so many different shave ice and local favorites to choose from, it’s so hard to really choose a shave ice place to visit.

But we have you covered with this guide to the best shave ice places to visit in Oahu here for more information and what you may want to try out on the island.

So these guys seem to know a lot about shave ice in Honolulu

 Sunsets are free on Oahu

20. Sunsets are free

One of the best things to do in Oahu for free is to enjoy a magical sunset on the beach or coastline. The best way to end the day around the island is to find some quiet time preferably around the shoreline or beach and enjoy the end of day with a spectacular sunset on the beach in Hawaii.

Bring some drinks or pupu’s (appetizers) and you can enjoy a nice picnic into night or if the mood is right why not take a fun sunset swim when everyone is starting to leave the water and you get the waves and sea with mostly the locals to hang out with.

For more inspiration, check out the best sunset places to visit around the island here for more inspiration of special places to go.

How about the best sunset hike and view below

21. Free Hula Shows

There are Oahu attractions you can watch free including hula shows with performances at various places around Waikiki and Honolulu offered to visitors on the island.

Typical places to watch a free hula performance with live music can be at Ala Moana Shopping center, the Royal Hawaiian shopping center and even the hula mound at Kuhio Beach close to The Duke statue on the beach. Many of the performers come from local hula halaus (hula schools) and some even professional entertainment venues to perform for free at these various venues.

Here’s a typical hula show you can watch for free in Waikiki

Watch a free fireworks show at Waikiki

22. Watch a free fireworks show at Waikiki

Every Friday night after sunset, a free sunset show is held on the beach and sponsored by the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

This free show is spectacular and is held next to the resort on the beach and lasts for approximately 10 minutes so get to the beach early to take advantage of the best spot for viewing the show.

Yes free Friday shows at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, here’s a look

23. Check out the Honolulu Fish Auction

The Largest fish auction in Hawaii is a smaller version of the famous fish market Tsujiki market and the only large fresh tuna site in the USA. Located at Pier 38in Honolulu fishing docks the auction is open to the public for viewing and the action starts really early from 1am until 2pm, with the auction start at 5:30am. You’ll find hundreds of large tuna laying on the floor with an auctioneer going down the rows in a live auction with buyers and an average of 100,000 tons of fish sold on the site daily.

To find out more about the auction and visiting, check out their website here for more details. You can also sign up for tours to get more information and direction about the auction house and process while you are visiting the site.

Location: Pier 38, 1131 N Nimitz Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA

Open: Monday – Saturday from 5:30 am to 2 pm (closed on Sundays)

Phone: +1 808-536-2148

Check out the free fish auction activities below

Budget friendly hotels and inns in Oahu

Looking for a budget friendly place to stay in Oahu, check out these affordable accommodations reviewed through TripAdvisor here for more details and current prices.

Ilima Hotel – Affordable price and located a few blocks to the beach with full kitchens, spacious rooms and large lanais so your can stretch your vacation dollars and make your own meals.

Sheraton Princess Kahiulani – value priced and good location in Waikiki and across from the beach with lots of shopping and dining venues, a little dated but very comfortable and friendly staff

Castle Waikiki Grand – just across from the Honolulu zoo and a block walk to the beach, the Grand is convenient with ocean or mountain views, kitchenette and friendly staff.

Check out the best reviewed and affordable accommodations here for updated prices, availability and calendar.

Check out these other posts on visiting Oahu

Things to do in Waikiki at night

Exploring the North Shore of Oahu

Virtual tours of Oahu

Top things to do in Waikiki Now

A Diamond Head Hike in Honolulu

Family friendly beaches in Oahu

Top things to do in Honolulu

Explore and Hike Waimea Valley

Horseback Riding in Hawaii

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Free or cheap things to do in Oahu
Free or cheap things to do in Oahu
Free or cheap things to do in Oahu

Conclusion to free or cheap things to do in Oahu

In conclusion, Waikiki is a treasure trove of free activities and attractions that offer visitors a chance to experience the best of Hawaii without breaking the bank. Whether you prefer to lounge on the beach, take a scenic hike, learn about Hawaiian history and culture, or simply soak up the island vibes, there is something for everyone in Waikiki. By taking advantage of these free things to do, you can make the most of your time in Oahu without sacrificing your budget. So why not pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and head to Waikiki for an unforgettable Hawaiian adventure?

There you have it, What to do in Oahu for free or cheap with 20 tips that won’t break the bank. Bookmark this post for future reference when you are looking for some Free or cheap things to do in Oahu from the typical sightseeing experience.

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  1. Sherianne

    There are so many great things to do in Oahu it is hard to decide how to spend your time. After reading this, I am realizing how much I missed during my visit, and that they were free things! For sure want to return and hike Diamond Head and snorkel Haunama Bay

    • emorata

      There are so many fun and free things to do in Oahu, it’s just a matter of finding them and planning to do them

  2. Tami

    Really, almost anywhere you go, there’ll be free things to do. You just need to find a good blog post like this one or talk to a local. You put together a great list here, and our family did almost all of them when we went to Oahu. I think the only thing we spent money on was the Polynesian Cultural Center (which is definitely worth the admission), but even then, we found discount coupons!

    • emorata

      Yes it is a matter of effort and being resourceful and finding out these posts on free or cheap things to do in Oahu, glad you saw this

  3. Paula

    This was a great list! Snorkeling is definitely my favourite things to at Hawaii and it is usually free. There is nothing better than that beautiful sea life. Hiking is also always fun. I have never heard that they too have a fish auction just like in Japan. That would be interesting to see.

    • emorata

      This is great that you have tried some of these free things in Oahu and yes the fish auction is also a cool attraction to visit here.

  4. Amalia

    This is exactly the post I was looking for, budget tips for Hawaii as it can be so expensive! It’s super high on my bucket list and I’m hoping to visit in 2023, lovely to see you can climb Koko Head by yourself and no need to spend extra on that too!

    • emorata

      Budget and free is good with these things to do in Hawaii, you just have to plan ahead to do it.

  5. Angela

    I haven’t travelled to Hawaii myself yet, but I have heard comments from others about how expensive it is there, so this post was an eye-opener into activities that can be enjoyed at little expensive. It is good to know that there are options for travellers on a budget.

    • emorata

      Yes there are some fun and free things you can do on your own in Oahu, just takes a little bit of effort to do these and on a budget.

  6. Pilar

    Wow! How cheap it is to rent a bike and bus transport in Oahu. I am really surprised. Climbing Diamond Head and snorkelling are pretty appealing to me. Those Hula shows are the kind of think that I would love to do after a hard days exploring around. I did not have a clue there are so many cheap things to do in Hawaii. What an awesome list!

    • emorata

      Thank you, yes you can do all these things for free or on a dime visiting Oahu, just takes a little bit of pre planning to do most of these activities.

  7. Linda (LD Holland)

    I loved the long list of things that were free or cheap to do on a visit to Oahu. It was great to see so many of the awesome outdoor spots on this list. Although I am probably only watching body surfing. Wandering around on a self guided tour is often our way to get to know a new spot. Good tip about renting a kayak rather than taking a kayak tour. And I know I would not leave without many great sunset hours!

    • emorata

      For a very expensive city, Oahu still has a lot of cool, cheap and fun things to do if you are willing to do things ahead and plan accordingly.

  8. Natascha

    Great that there are so many free and cheap things to do in Oahu. Hawaii has the reputation of beeing very expensive. Exploring nature by bicycle alway enhances the experience of a new place.

    • emorata

      There are lots of free or inexpensive things to do around Oahu if you plan and do some of the initial work and logistics yourself so it is good to stay in budget.

  9. Beth Chang

    Hanauma Bay is not free unless you are a resident. Without Hawaiian Id it is $25.00. With $1 parking



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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.