25 Free things to do in Honolulu or really cheap!
The Capital city of Honolulu in Hawaii is a fantastic starting point or hub to visiting the island but it isn’t cheap. But if you are resourceful and can research or do things on your own without expensive tours, restaurants and places that can really bust the budget then you can visit the city and even splurge on a few must do activities that fit your lifestyle and budget. Here are some free things to do in Honolulu that you should consider if you are on a tight budget but still want to have some fun.
Things to consider when visiting Honolulu in Oahu
Visiting during the off season is cheaper
Honolulu in Oahu typically has two main peak seasons to visit in Wintertime from December to February and June to August. Consider visiting during the should season from March until end of May and September until Thanksgiving timeframe. This doesn’t include US Holidays which does have a small uptick on visits for short vacations.
You’ll be saving big time on plane fare, hotels or Air bnbs and even activities that might be priced for bargains during the shoulder season.
Weather conditions year round
When you visit the shoulder season, the weather is actually more pleasant and mild compared to the peak season visits in Honolulu. Spring and fall season are very comfortable with variable weather ranging in the low to mid 80s around the region and typically dryer than the winter season travel.
Using search engines for travel and hotel bookings
Use a variety of search engines you are comfortable with and set up alerts so you can track the price points or you can easily use the calendar on many search engines to target the lowest prices to visiting on Oahu.
Here’s 25 free things to do in Honolulu now
1. Visit the Foster botanical garden in Honolulu or surrounding area
Foster Botanical Garden, located in downtown Honolulu, is a serene and captivating oasis that showcases a diverse collection of tropical plants from around the world. Here is a brief description of visiting Foster Botanical Garden:
Foster Botanical Garden spans over 13 acres and offers visitors a tranquil retreat from the urban bustle of Honolulu. As you enter the garden, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of lush greenery, vibrant flowers, and towering trees.
The garden features various themed areas, each with its own unique charm. You can explore the Orchid Garden, where you’ll be greeted by a stunning display of colorful and exotic orchid species. The Economic Garden offers a fascinating insight into plants that have economic importance, such as spices, medicinal herbs, and fruit-bearing trees.
One of the highlights of Foster Botanical Garden is the Prehistoric Glen, where you can take a step back in time and encounter plants that have existed for millions of years. This area features primitive ferns, cycads, and other living fossils that provide a glimpse into the ancient plant kingdom.
There are 8 spectacular botanical gardens to visit around Honolulu and Oahu and most of them are actually free for visitors.
2. Go snorkeling for free in Honolulu
There are so many fantastic snorkeling spots around Oahu and Honolulu has its share of fun and free snorkeling spots to enjoy. If you can get free snorkel sets from your airbnb or buy some inexpensive sets then you are all set to visit these spots around the city and explore the underwater world for free.
Places to consider snorkeling around Honolulu area includes Magic Island, Ala Moana Beach, Kaimana Beach Park and Queen’s Beach by the rocky areas.
3. Hang out at Ala Moana Beach
If you you want to have a fun beach day in town that offers a variety of experiences and Ala Moana Beach park is the place to go. With coastal walks, a nice long beach area, food venues, biking options through Biki Bikes and even excercising venues like tennis courts, walking coastline trails and even go snorkeling or swimming. Beyond the breakers are popular surfing spots and you can even take surfing classes or just rent some surf boards or SUPs to enjoy some time on the water at Ala Moana.
4. Explore Ala Moana Shopping Center
Shopping is free and fun at the largest outdoor shopping mall in Oahu at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Of course if you just window shop that’s easy and free, but can be difficult if you are a shopper at heart. Better yet to watch the free performances offered at the center or grab a cheap bite or drink at the many eating venues around the Ala Moana Center to explore.
For free shows and events happening at the center, check out their calendar of events here for more information and details.
5. Visit Pearl Harbor
A visit to Pearl Harbor is a free option but you do have to reserve online for a specific date to visit this historic site. Pearl Harbor is the biggest attraction to see in Oahu and it is operated by the National park services so the visits here are free to the memorial, the introdution video and some of the other attractions and museums that do not charge. There are other admission fees for other places of interests and museums that are nominal in prices if you are interested in exploring more about the fascinating base and history of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor that launched the USA into World World II with the Japanese military.
To make reservations at Pearl Harbor and see all the special events happening, check out their main website here for more details and information to visiting.
Check out touring Pearl Harbor below for more inspiration.
6. Free walking tour of downtown Honolulu
The downtown section of Honolulu is a fantastic place to explore all the historical buildings and cultural gems to visit in central Honolulu. This is a walkable part of downtown Honolulu that covers everything from the state capital building, the missionary homes, Kamehameha building and the Federal court building, the State Art Museum and the various historic churches of Hawaii in Honolulu.
You can sign up for the free walking tours here for more information and details.
7. Visit lush Manoa falls close to Honolulu area
Manoa Falls, located just a short drive from downtown Honolulu, is one of the best free activities in the area. This relatively easy hike spans about 0.8 miles roundtrip and offers a picturesque journey through lush, green landscapes, including bamboo forests, rainforests, and the foothills of the Exercise mountains.
As you hike, you’ll follow alongside the enchanting Manoa stream until you reach the magnificent 150-foot-tall waterfall at its base. If you have an affinity for waterfalls, be sure to explore the best waterfalls in Oahu for additional inspiration and more opportunities to indulge in their beauty.
Check out our post on visiting Manoa Falls here for more information and images.
8. Stroll down Kalakaua Boulevard
Exploring Kalakaua Boulevard in Waikiki is a delightful and cost-effective activity to enjoy in Honolulu. Take a leisurely walk along this bustling street, especially during the morning or late afternoon. You’ll be entertained by street performers and have the opportunity for some enjoyable people-watching.
While strolling along Kalakaua Boulevard, you can visit popular tourist attractions like the Duke Statue at Kuhio Beach Park. Engage in some window shopping, which can be both entertaining and affordable. If you feel like indulging, treat yourself to Happy Hour drinks, a refreshing shave ice, or pick up an inexpensive souvenir from the numerous tourist shops lining the street.
Here’s a quick tour of Kalakaua Boulevard below.
Additionally, you can embark on a historic Waikiki beach stroll to discover the various cultural and historical sites dedicated to the Waikiki area. This adds an enriching aspect to your exploration of the boulevard.
You can do your own free DIY tour of Waikiki Beach area here for more details and images.
9. Free Fireworks shows on Friday nights
You’ll enjoy this popular and free fireworks display right on the beach every Friday night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The show typically starts at night around 7:45 pm every Friday, so come early so you can find the best vantage point on the beach to watch this spectacular and free firework display.
For more updates on this show, check out the main website here for more information and details.
10. Free Kuhio Beach Hula and music event
Experience the enchanting rhythms of Hawaii at the Free Kuhio Beach Hula and Music Event. This captivating cultural extravaganza takes place at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki and offers an unforgettable evening of live music and mesmerizing hula performances. As the sun sets over the horizon, immerse yourself in the sounds of traditional Hawaiian melodies and witness the grace and beauty of hula dancers swaying to the music. Whether you’re a visitor or a local, this free event provides a wonderful opportunity to connect with the rich heritage of Hawaii and create lasting memories of the island’s vibrant cultural traditions.
Here’s a quick video demonstration of the hula performance at Kuhio Beach
Check out the calendar and website information here for more details to enjoy the show.
11. Find your perfect beach spot in Waikiki Beach
Did you know that Waikiki Beach is actually a string of over 8 beaches that are tied together into the whole Waikiki Beach area? Some of the beaches are family friendly and protected with rock barriers and sandy beach bottoms and others are more surfing friendly and sailing launch spots to catch those perfect sunset and coastal views of the area. We share the pros and cons to visiting each beach area below so you can find the best beach area that fits your specific needs for family fun, adventure experiences, entertiainment and foodie venues or other needs.
Check out our Waikiki Beach Guide here for more information and images to visiting the area here and find your perfect beach day.
12. Go to a local farmers market
There are quite a few farmers market that you can visit around the Honolulu area that are free to visit and shop. Of course purchasing something locally made or grown is a great way to support local growers or businesses and a more inexpensive way to shop and eat in the area while enjoying something fresh and local from the area. You can even find great crafts and other locally locally made items to take home as souvenirs or gifts to friends and family.
Check out all the local farmers markets to shop around Honolulu here for more information and details.
13. Hike Up Koko Head
If you are in the mood for a real challenge and cardio experience, trying hiking up to Koko Head. A hiking venue for local exercise buffs that love to hike up these historic railroad ties that used to be a rail track to carrying supplies to bunkers above Koko Head to defend the island, the route is now a popular hiking spot. It’s all uphill and challenging but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the East Hawaii coastline and other monuments in the area.
Check out this post on doing the Koko Head hike here for more images and information.
Here’s a video tour experience of Koko Head Trail below.
14. Visit Makapu’u Point and lighthouse
Also located on the eastern side of the island, the Makapu’u Point and lighthouse trail is another popular local hiking spot. This easy to do trail is paved all the way to the lighthouse observation area and is easy for families, seniors and all age ranges to do on a slight incline. For more challenging routes on this trail, you can hike down to the tidepool areas and blowhole which is definitely harder and very rocky and not to be done by those that cannot do more difficult hikes.
Check out this post on doing the Makapu’u Point hike here for more images and information.
15. Check out the magnificent viewpoints from Nu’uanu Pali Lookout above Honolulu
This beautiful Nu’uanu Pali Lookout above Honolulu is not only a fantastic spot to check out the views of the eastern side of the island but is also a historic marker to the famous battle of Nu’uanu which was fought here. This famous battle cemented a great victory to Kamehameha 1st against the Oahu alii and fighters and secured his win to becoming the king of all of the Hawaiian chain of islands. This is an easy spot to visit with enough parking that requires a parking fee to check out the viewpoints in the area looking into the eastern side of the islands.
Check out more details to visiting the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout here for more details.
Here’s a quick video tour of Nu’uanu Pali Lookout below
16. Check out the Punchbowl at Honolulu
The Punchbowl, officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, is a significant landmark and a place of remembrance. Located in a volcanic crater, it offers a serene and solemn atmosphere with stunning panoramic views of Honolulu. Take a peaceful walk through the meticulously maintained grounds and pay your respects to the brave men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.
Here’s a quick video tour of the Punchbowl
The Punchbowl is not only a site of historical importance but also a beautiful and contemplative destination that provides a unique perspective on the sacrifices made for our country. You can get to the Punchbowl at Honolulu by the following;
By Car: If you have a car, you can drive to the Punchbowl. From downtown Honolulu, head east on Vineyard Boulevard. Continue onto Pali Highway, and then take the exit toward Punchbowl Street. Follow the signs for the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific/Punchbowl.
By Public Transportation: If you prefer public transportation, you can take a bus to the Punchbowl. Use the Oahu Transit Services (TheBus) website or app to find the bus route that suits you best. Several bus routes pass by the Punchbowl, including Route 4 and Route 20. Check the schedules and plan your trip accordingly.
By Tour: Another option is to join a guided tour that includes a visit to the Punchbowl. Many tour operators in Honolulu offer sightseeing tours that include stops at the Punchbowl and other popular attractions on the island. Check with local tour companies for options and availability.
17. Check out Kapiolani Park in Waikiki area
Kapiolani Park, located in the Waikiki area of Honolulu, is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. This beautiful public park offers a serene and picturesque escape from the bustling city. Take a leisurely stroll through its lush green spaces, enjoy a picnic on the expansive lawns, or simply relax under the shade of swaying palm trees. The park is also home to the Honolulu Zoo, where you can explore a diverse range of animal exhibits.
With its stunning views of Diamond Head and its proximity to the beach, Kapiolani Park is a perfect spot to soak up the natural beauty of Hawaii and enjoy some recreational activities in a peaceful setting. Queen’s beach on the edge of the park is the perfect way to unwind and walk around or just watch the beach scenes in the area.
18. Catch a perfect sunset moment around Honolulu
For the perfect sunset moment along Waikiki Beach, there are several ideal spots to choose from:
Duke Kahanamoku Beach: Named after the legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, this beach offers a wide stretch of sand and a great view of the sunset. Find a comfortable spot near the water’s edge and watch as the sun dips below the horizon, casting vibrant hues across the sky.
Kuhio Beach Park: Located near the Duke Statue, Kuhio Beach Park provides a lovely setting to witness the sunset. With its grassy areas and palm trees, you can relax on the lawn or stroll along the beach while enjoying the breathtaking colors of the setting sun.
Queen’s Surf Beach: Adjacent to Kapiolani Park, Queen’s Surf Beach offers a less crowded setting for sunset viewing. Sit on the sandy shore or find a spot on the seawall and marvel at the beauty of the sun as it paints the sky in magnificent shades of orange and pink.
Magic Island: Situated just outside of Waikiki, Magic Island is a popular spot for watching the sunset. Its location at Ala Moana Beach Park offers unobstructed views of the ocean and downtown Honolulu. Take a leisurely walk along the waterfront or find a spot on the grassy lawn to witness the stunning sunset spectacle.
Remember, sunset times can vary throughout the year, so check the local weather forecast or consult a reliable source to determine the best time to experience a magical sunset along Waikiki Beach.
Check out my post on seeing the best Waikiki Sunsets here for more information of fantastic places to hang out for sunsets in the area.
19. Enjoy the nighttime scene along Waikiki Beach area
Waikiki Beach comes alive at night time whether you area just strolling and window shopping, enjoying a beach walk at Waikiki Beach or checking out the menus and bars lining up Waikiki Beach and fronting the ocean area. You can easily splurge for a nice meal or drink or just as easily bring a picnic for a fun and easy sunset and dinner right on the beach with local finds from a local market or grocery store.
In either case, the night breeze, and lights along Kalakaua Boulevard along with many street show performances make this a lively area to just explore at night time.
20. Learning how to surf for free
You can easily just pick up surfing in the Waikiki area or Ala Moana Park which has nice and easy sandy bottoms making it an easy spot to learn how to surf. DIY your surfing fun for free by just watching the other groups that are giving lessons at the beach and you can easily learn the basics of surfing on You Tube with various videos. Here’s one that you can easily learn the basics on surfing fun below.
21. Halona Blowhole
The Halona Blowhole is a natural geological formation located on the southeastern coast of Oahu, Hawaii. It is a popular tourist attraction known for its impressive spouts of water shooting into the air. Here is a brief description of the Halona Blowhole and how to get there:
The Halona Blowhole is formed by underwater lava tubes that funnel ocean waves into a narrow opening along the rocky shoreline. As the waves surge into the tube, the trapped air and water pressure create a spectacular water spout that can reach up to 30 feet in height. The force and size of the spout vary depending on the ocean’s swells and tides.
Check out this quick video experience of the Halona Blowhole
To get to the Halona Blowhole, follow these steps:
Location: The blowhole is situated on Kalanianole Highway (Route 72), between Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach Park, approximately 10 miles east of Waikiki.
Transportation: You can reach the Halona Blowhole by car or public transportation. If driving, you can rent a car or hire a taxi or rideshare service. Alternatively, public buses, such as TheBus, serve the area, and you can check the routes and schedules to plan your trip.
22. Visit Kailua town and beach
Kailua is a charming town located on the windward coast of Oahu, Hawaii, and is known for its beautiful beach and laid-back atmosphere. Here is a brief description of visiting Kailua town and beach:
Kailua town is a picturesque community that offers a mix of local shops, restaurants, and a welcoming small-town vibe. The town center features a variety of boutiques, galleries, and eateries, offering a chance to explore and experience the local culture. Visitors can stroll along the main street, browse through unique shops, sample delicious Hawaiian cuisine, or simply relax in one of the cozy cafes.
One of the highlights of visiting Kailua is its breathtaking beach. Kailua Beach is renowned for its pristine white sand, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and gentle trade winds. It consistently ranks among the best beaches in the world and is a favorite spot for both locals and tourists.
At Kailua Beach, visitors can indulge in a range of activities. The calm waters are perfect for swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, or simply wading in the refreshing ocean. The beach is also a popular destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing enthusiasts due to the consistent trade winds that provide ideal conditions for these water sports.
Check out our post on visiting Kailua town and beach here for more inspiration and images.
23. Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu
Lyon Arboretum, located in Honolulu, Hawaii, is a lush and enchanting botanical garden nestled in the beautiful Manoa Valley. Here is a brief description of visiting Lyon Arboretum:
Lyon Arboretum is a living museum that showcases the rich biodiversity of Hawaii’s tropical flora. Spread across 194 acres of verdant land, the arboretum offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city. It is affiliated with the University of Hawaii at Manoa and serves as a research facility, conservation center, and educational resource.
Visitors to Lyon Arboretum can explore a network of scenic trails that wind through diverse ecosystems, including native Hawaiian rainforests, bamboo groves, and tropical plant collections from around the world. The trails range in difficulty, providing options for both leisurely strolls and more adventurous hikes.
As you wander through the arboretum, you will encounter an incredible array of plant species, including towering trees, vibrant flowers, and exotic foliage. Some of the notable attractions include the Dipterocarp Forest, which showcases trees from Southeast Asia, and the Hawaiian Native Plant Garden, which highlights the unique flora of the Hawaiian Islands.
Lyon Arboretum also features several specialized gardens, such as the Herb and Spice Garden and the Children’s Garden, which offer educational opportunities and sensory experiences for visitors of all ages. The arboretum regularly hosts workshops, guided tours, and cultural events that provide insights into Hawaiian botany, conservation efforts, and traditional uses of plants.
24. Visit Lanikai Beach in East Hawaii
Lanikai Beach, located on the eastern coast of Oahu, Hawaii, is a breathtakingly beautiful stretch of coastline known for its soft white sand, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and stunning views of offshore islands. Here is a brief description of visiting Lanikai Beach:
Lanikai Beach is often considered one of the most picturesque beaches in Hawaii, attracting visitors from around the world. Its name, which means “heavenly sea,” perfectly captures the ethereal beauty and tranquility of this tropical paradise.
The turquoise waters of Lanikai Beach are renowned for their clarity, allowing you to see the vibrant marine life below. Snorkeling enthusiasts will delight in exploring the shallow reefs teeming with colorful fish and fascinating coral formations. Be sure to bring your snorkeling gear or rent some from nearby vendors to fully enjoy the underwater wonders.
One of the highlights of Lanikai Beach is the mesmerizing view of the Mokulua Islands, also known as the Mokes. These two small offshore islands add to the idyllic scenery and provide a great backdrop for memorable photos. Kayakers often paddle out to the Mokes to explore their secluded beaches and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Check out our post on visiting Lanikai Beach here for more images and inspiration.
25. Explore Chinatown in Honolulu
Exploring Chinatown in Honolulu is a vibrant and culturally rich experience that takes you on a journey through the sights, sounds, and flavors of this historic neighborhood. Here is a brief description of what to expect when you explore Chinatown in Honolulu:
Chinatown in Honolulu is a bustling district located in downtown Honolulu, known for its bustling markets, eclectic shops, and diverse culinary scene. As you enter Chinatown, you’ll immediately be greeted by a vibrant atmosphere filled with the aroma of exotic spices, the sounds of street vendors, and colorful storefronts.
Wandering through the streets of Chinatown, you’ll find a mix of traditional Chinese architecture alongside contemporary buildings. The area is home to numerous specialty stores, herbal shops, antique boutiques, and art galleries, offering a treasure trove of unique finds and cultural artifacts.
One of the highlights of exploring Chinatown is the bustling markets that line the streets. The Maunakea Marketplace and Oahu Market are popular destinations where you can browse through stalls selling fresh produce, exotic fruits, seafood, and a wide array of Asian ingredients. Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy as vendors display their goods and locals go about their daily shopping.
Check out our post on visiting Chinatown here for more information and images.
Conclusion to visiting Honolulu and 25 free things to do here
Free things to do in Honolulu abound, and Kalakaua Boulevard in Waikiki offers a captivating array of experiences. Take a leisurely stroll along this bustling street, where street performers entertain and people-watching is a delight. Explore iconic attractions, such as the Duke Statue, and indulge in some affordable window shopping.
Treat yourself to Happy Hour drinks or a refreshing shave ice. Immerse yourself in the history and culture of Waikiki through a beachside stroll. Kalakaua Boulevard is a vibrant hub where you can enjoy a memorable day, filled with entertainment, local charm, and enticing treasures—all without spending a dime.