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Free and Inexpensive Things to Do on Oahu

On the summit of Diamond Head

One of the benefits of traveling to the Gathering Isle of Oahu is that there are numerous activities and events geared toward visitors on the island. In areas like downtown Honolulu or Waikiki there always seems to be something going on, whether it is live music, concerts, light shows, markets or fairs. Nature lovers coming to Hawaii can also easily find adventures right up their alley. Oahu offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy swimming, walking, hiking, exploring and many other type of activities at very little or no cost, making it possible to enjoy a delightful and very affordable vacation. Here are a few of our favorite things that you can do to do in Oahu for free or at a very modest price.

Examine Hawaiian Art: From coconut shells designs, to wood carvings and jewelry made from kukui nuts, Hawaii’s natural resources on the State’s most populated island of Oahu have inspired native artisans for centuries. Attending craft fairs or stumbling upon local galleries is one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the heartbeat of Hawaiian craftsmen. One free venue is the Waikiki ArtFest, which showcases local arts and crafts, and is held on the last weekend of each month at Wakiki’s Kapiolani Park. Whether you admire bright paintings of exquisite sunsets, or you learn how ancient Hawaiian weapons were fashioned, we recommend exploring Hawaii’s art culture. Though we cannot guarantee that every museum will provide free entry, most of these art galleries do.

Hiking in Oahu: Diamond Head is a great hiking trail for an unparalleled view of Honolulu, the mountains and the coast. There is a modest fee of $5 for parking a vehicle or $1 entrance fee per person if you walk in. As the fee is quite modest compared to spectacular views that can be seen from the trail, we thought this attraction is well worth mentioning. Manoa Falls at the end of Manoa Valley is another spectacular trail to tackle. Park just outside the park entrance to avoid a fee and then set out for the short 30 minute walk in deep tropical forests before ending at the foot of one of Hawaii’s unique rock-face waterfalls.

Oahu State Parks: The entire island of Oahu boasts of beautiful state parks that usually are free and open to the public. For some trail ideas, here is a full list of Oahu State Parks and a description of the hiking grounds that await you. If you a drawn to panoramic vistas from staggering heights, then go to Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline on the eastern end of the island for a view from the Makapu’u Lighthouse.

Free Light Shows: Every week there is a firework show put on by the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach on Friday nights. Guests of the hotel as well as onlookers are able to sit under the starry blazes and bursts of light. At the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, a 3-D light show is projected over the pool water at the hotel’s Helumoa Playground. These magical–and free– shows are sure to make you feel like your vacation is an occasion to celebrate.

Sunrise at Lanikai Beach

Sunrise at Lanikai Beach.

Go to the beach: This is the most obvious way to delve into the luxurious landscapes of Hawaii, but we would be remiss not to mention a few of Oahu’s greatest beaches. We favor Lanikai Beach in Kailua and Laniakea Beach on the North Shore, where green sea turtles tend to congregate. If you prefer to stay close to town, visit Waikiki Beach to understand why this famous shoreline has been famously highlighted in film, TV and mentioned in songs. For swimmers and snorkelers, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of the loveliest places to admire marine life, reef fish and relatively calm waters.

Stroll through Chinatown: Will you be tempted to buy something or sample some of the delicious food? Probably. But experiencing a walk through the main markets of Chinatown in Honolulu will give you and your fellow visitors a glorious sensory overload of bustling crowds, bright colors, unique music, beautiful wares and friendly people.

Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial: Find out why a trip to the USS Arizona Memorial is one of Hawaii’s most visited attractions. The Arizona Memorial is a part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument administered by the National Park Service. The memorial, which includes exhibits covering Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and boat ride to the memorial itself, where the remains of the battleship USS Arizona lie, are available from 8 am to 3 pm on most days and are completely free. Tickets for the boat ride to USS Arizona are given on a first-come-first-serve basis, so arrive early if you don’t want to wait for later tours. However, there is a charge if you decide to visit the USS Bowfin Submarine museum, which is adjacent to the memorial.

Attend a festival: If you are lucky enough to be in Honolulu during a festival, be sure to stop by. Asian culture is celebrated at the Pan Pacific Festival in June every year. The Aloha Festivals, which showcase Hawaiian culture and traditions, occur each September.   Duke’s Ocean Fest, featuring surfing, paddleboard, swimming and other ocean sporting events, honors Hawaii’s most famous waterman and Olympic champion, Duke Kahanomoku, each in August in Waikiki.


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