39 Fun Things to Do on Oahu for FREE (or Cheap)

by | May 20, 2022 | Oahu, Things to Do

(Please double-check on these activities because some activities may be canceled due to COVID)

TOTALLY FREE IN WAIKIKI

Waikiki Beach

Spend a day at Waikiki Beach (Beach hopping alone will keep you quite busy. Check out: Favorite Beaches to Visit on Oahu.)  All beaches are free and we’ll have a separate post about Oahu’s beaches.

Hanging out with family at Waikiki Beach

Hanging out with family at Waikiki Beach

Kuhio Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show

Watch the Kuhio Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show every Saturday from 6:30 PM – 7 PM (6 PM – 7 PM during November, December, and January). The shows are free and open to the public and take place at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound near the Duke Kahanamoku Statue and across the street from the Hyatt Regency Hotel. For current information, please check here: https://www.waikikiimprovement.com/events

International Market Place

Walking around International Market Place is pretty with pathways curving around the courtyard and around a beautiful Banyan tree. Check out the schedule for free live music in the Queen’s Court, free Fabletics Fitness classes, craft markets, farmers markets, and more: https://shopinternationalmarketplace.com/events/

International Market Place with Banyan Tree in the back

Walking around International Market Place before heading over to Waikiki Beach.

Fireworks on Friday nights

(BACK ON AS OF JUNE 3RD, 2022!) Hang out at the lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for a fun fireworks display every Friday night. Fireworks start around 7:45 PM – 8 PM shortly after sunset but it gets crowded so come early with your spam musubis or plate lunches and park yourselves on a few beach towels until the show starts.

Fireworks at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki

We went out to check out fireworks at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki and our son got to watch fireworks for the first time.

Royal Hawaiian Band

Listen to the Royal Hawaiian Band at the Iolani Palace grounds on (most) Fridays from 12 PM to 1 PM. Check out their performance schedule here: https://www.iolanipalace.org/events/royal-hawaiian-band-concerts/

Movies on the Beach

Watch free movies, enjoy live entertainment, and more as Queen’s Surf presents “Sunset on the Beach” a program that transforms Waikiki Beach into an outdoor movie and entertainment theatre. For the most up-to-date schedule go here.

Hawaiiana cultural experiences

Enjoy free cultural activities at the Royal Hawaiian Center from lei-making, to ukulele lessons, to hula lessons and more. These events are free but some have capacity limits and/or require registration so please check here for more details: https://www.royalhawaiiancenter.com/events

Hula performances

The Royal Hawaiian Center also hosts a number of free hula performances at the Royal Grove, usually at different times on Friday and Saturday, but check here for more details: https://www.royalhawaiiancenter.com/events

Learn about Saint Damien

In the 1800s, Father Damien ministered to the people of Kalaupapa on Molokai, exiled due to Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). This museum at the St. Augustine Church in Waikiki is dedicated to his work from 1864 until his death in 1889. The museum is free and open to the public. For current hours please check here: https://staugustinebythesea.com/museum/

Festivals

Waikiki is famous for hosting over 100 festivals and cultural programs throughout the year, if you’re on Oahu during one of these events, we encourage you the check it out!

Honolulu Marathon

Did you know that Oahu hosts an internationally recognized marathon every year? If you’re visiting or planning to visit in December, the Honolulu Marathon participants with be running their way through and around the Waikiki area. For information to watch or participate in the Honolulu Marathon go here: https://www.honolulumarathon.org/

Beach Clean-Up

Do you feel like doing a little good while you’re visiting? Join a quarterly beach clean-up, held three times a year on Waikiki Beach. For more information go here: https://www.waikikiimprovement.com/events

Oceanarium

Visit Alohilani Resort and check out the two-story, 280,000 Oceanarium in their lobby. Daily feedings are at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM: https://www.alohilaniresort.com/hotel/oceanarium/

Art at the Zoo Fence

Check out local artists at Art at the Zoo Fence, an art market along the fence of the Honolulu Zoo on Monsarrat Avenue every weekend from 9 AM – 3 PM (art is also for sale).

 

FREE NEAR WAIKIKI AND THE SURROUNDING HONOLULU AREA:

(You’ll probably need to either drive, ride The Bus, or book a ticket on the Waikiki Trolley to visit these areas.)

Walking tour of downtown Honolulu

(Fareharbor – https://www.hawaiifreetours.com/)

Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island

Swim or take a walk around Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island. There are two separate beaches close together with winding walking paths connecting them and the larger park. A lot of locals like going for their daily walks or runs there and often you’ll see pop-up tents, family gatherings, and maybe a few larger events there, especially on the weekends.

Ala Moana Beach family having BBQ party

Many locals go to Ala Moana Beach Park. A family is having a BBQ by the beach.

Aloha Tower Marketplace

Visit Aloha Tower Marketplace and visit the observation deck on the 10th floor of the Aloha Tower to experience a gorgeous view of the harbor and downtown Honolulu. The observation deck is open every day from 9 AM – 5 PM (weather-permitting) and is free. It’s also fun to stop along the pier and watch the fish, it’s really beautiful and our kids loved it! https://alohatower.com/index.html (Currently, due to Covid, the observation deck is closed).

Honolulu City Lights

In December, enjoy the Honolulu City Lights and take a walk through downtown Honolulu to see our local business district draped in holiday lights during this time of year. Start at the area near Honolulu Hale and have fun walking around. There are also paid activities and ways to see the lights as well. Go here for more information: https://www.honolulucitylights.org/

Ala Moana Shopping Center

Walk around Ala Moana Shopping Center, the largest outdoor mall in the world. With over 350 shops and restaurants, department stores, boutiques, and over a hundred places to eat, it often feels like more than just a shopping center, but also a gathering place. When I was a kid, Ala Moana Shopping Center was the easiest place to meet up with friends. There were so many places to shop and things to eat, plus it was spacious enough that even a group of 10+ teenagers didn’t seem too crowded for this place. Since then, Ala Moana Shopping Center has added a few play and rest areas for kids, as well as a few more department stores, eateries, and stores, making it a great place to walk around, even if you’re not planning on buying anything!

Performances at Ala Moana Shopping Center Center Stage

While you’re at the mall, check out a free performance at the Ala Moana Shopping Center Center Stage. I don’t think there’s a set schedule, but they usually host over 800 performances a year and you can usually hear it throughout the open mall if there’s a performance going on. It’s usually local groups ranging from school bands, local musicians, fashion shows, and more. Our daughter has performed there several times with her kindergarten/1st-grade dance classes as well as groups from the mainland and internationally (if that gives you an idea of the variety of performances).

Ala Moana Shopping Center Center Stage Performance

Group of hula dancers performing at Ala Moana Shopping Center Center Stage

Hawaii State Art Museum

The Hawaii State Art Museum in downtown Honolulu is free to the public and open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM – 4 PM. Make sure to check the schedule before you go, they are also closed for state and federal holidays (which can be a LOT in Hawaii!): https://hisam.hawaii.gov/

Visit Honolulu Chinatown

There’s a lot of history to Honolulu Chinatown and it’s one of the oldest Chinatowns in the US. Compared to a lot of Chinatowns in the mainland (continental US), I find Honolulu’s Chinatown is fun but much smaller and less hectic. However, if you have some time to spare and want to try one of the many popular, trendy restaurants in the area, I think it would be worth spending some time walking around.

 

FREE AROUND THE ISLAND

(You’ll need to drive or ride The Bus to visit these areas. If you are planning to visit other parts of the island via bus, make sure you check current bus schedules as buses are less frequent further out and in rural parts of Oahu.)

View from Tantalus

Drive up to Tantalus and check out the view of Honolulu, Diamond Head, and the surrounding area. It’s also a beautiful place to watch the sunset and the winding drive up and down Tantalus is fun as well! Some people do bike or run up but you’ll need to be careful of cars zooming up and down the single-lane roads. One of our favorite drives on Oahu.

Tantalus drive overlooking diamond head

The view from Tantalus is great! Stopped for a second to take a picture with the fam.

Panoramic view from Tantalus

Panoramic view from Tantalus.

Hike Koko Crater Trail

Dare to hike the Koko Crater Trail. Climb up over 1,000 stairs made from abandoned railroad tracks, up almost 2 miles to the top of Koko Crater, and experience an amazing view of southern Oahu. Fantastic hike, but if you have bad knees you might want to skip this one.

Koko Head hike trail

Koko Head hike is something else.

Family picture at the top of Koko Head

We made it to the top! Took a moment to take a picture with the family.

Hike Makapu’u Light House Trail

It’s one of the few paved hikes on the island and it’s very stroller-friendly (as far as hikes go since you’ll be pushing said stroller up an incline). If you go in the winter, you’ll sometimes see whales while admiring the beautiful ocean views. Parking is free but limited and it does get crowded, especially on weekends.

Makapuu Lighthouse view

A nice hike with a nice view. You can even push a stroller up. No shades, though. Get an umbrella out and sunscreen for sure.

Visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

A little out from the downtown Honolulu area, Punchbowl Crater is home to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a military cemetery honoring the men and women who served in the U.S. military in Hawaii. There are several tributes to the armed forces who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Hike Manoa Falls Trail

The hike is free but there is a $5 parking fee if you park in the designated lot. My grandparents used to live in this area so oftentimes, we walked to the trailhead from their home but there is usually some street parking further down before the entrance if you do not want to pay the fee. It could take an additional 10-15 minutes to enter the area though.

Visit Lyon Arboretum

Within the same area as Manoa Falls Trail is the Lyon Arboretum; it’s a pretty 200-acre botanical garden and part of the University of Hawaii. It’s free but reservations are required: https://manoa.hawaii.edu/lyon/

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

All museums and grounds are free but program reservations are recommended. We’ve never had to book online, but we usually avoid high traffic times like the weekends and during peak travel seasons. The site for online reservations charges a $1.00 service charge to book online tickets; getting tickets on-site is free: https://www.nps.gov/perl/uss-arizona-memorial-programs.htm

Go to Goat Island

Head out to the North Shore and go out to Goat Island. When the tide is low you can paddle, swim, or walk out to the Goat Island from the beach in Laie. There are a lot of reefs there though so make sure you have reef walkers or old (non-slippery) shoes on your feet.

Watch pro-surfers

During the winter months, head out to the North Shore beaches and watch pro-surfers at one of the world-renowned surfing competitions at Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, or Sunset Beach. (In the winter months, the waves will usually be too large and rough for most people to play at these beaches. Go there to watch rather than swim.)

Check out Pali Lookout

Pali Lookout has one of the most beautiful views of Oahu’s windward (eastern) coast. The lookout is free but if you drive, parking costs $7.00 per vehicle. Be prepared for strong winds as you get closer to the lookout.

Looking out from Pali Lookout

A must-stop. Absolutely stunning view. I always take visitors here.

Visit Lanikai Beach

Tucked in the town of Kailua, Lanikai Beach is an absolute gem; it’s often voted “the most beautiful” beach on Oahu and ranked as one of the top beaches in the world.

Hike Lanikai Pillbox Hike

While you’re in Lanikai, we recommend hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. It has one of the most gorgeous views of the area and you’ll have a chance to explore the old pillboxes used as observation stations for soldiers during World War II. There isn’t a lot of shade though, so make sure you have sunscreen and water.

Visit Shark’s Cove

Go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove on the North Shore, although, despite the name, there aren’t really any sharks at Shark’s Cove, instead there are tons of little tide pools and a wonderful variety of fish and little sea critters. You’ll need to bring your own gear but if you go to Walmart or Target, they usually carry inexpensive snorkeling sets. You also don’t need snorkeling gear to enjoy the area; even as preschoolers, our children loved checking out the tidepools and skipping over the rocky areas. The only downside was during our first venture there, our oldest stuck his fingers in the sand and got pinched by a crab. (Poor kiddo cried because the crab drew a speck of blood, but I honestly never heard of anyone in my whole life growing up in Hawaii who was pinched by a crab that quickly. Sorry, Bud!)

Visit Foster Botanical Garden

Tucked between Chinatown and H1 Freeway in Honolulu is Foster Botanical Garden. The entrance fee is $5 per adult and $1 per child 6-12. There are also free guided tours available daily at 10:30 AM, though they recommend making reservations. Get current information here: https://www.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/honolulu-botanical-gardens/182-site-dpr-cat/568-foster-botanical-garden.html

CHEAP AROUND THE ISLAND

Ride The Bus anywhere on the island

We recommend you get The Bus discount card (HOLO card) and pre-load it so you won’t have to worry about carrying bus fares, plus you’ll get a discount on your rides. If you take 2 rides within the same day, then the rest of the day is free! Also, it caps the monthly fee at $70 for adults, $35 for youth, and $6 for seniors.
Here are the locations where you can buy HOLO cards: https://www.holocard.net/where-to-obtain-load-a-card/
HOLO information for visitors: https://www.holocard.net/for-visitors/
For more information and bus schedules check here: http://www.thebus.org/default.asp?f=y&m=main

Diamond Head Summit Trail

The entrance fee is $5.00 per person for out-of-state visitors and $10 per out-of-state vehicle. (NEW process) You used to be able to walk in, now, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance in order to go: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/diamond-head-state-monument/
A reservation can be made up to 14 days in advance.

Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe

The entrance fee is $5 for General Admission 13-64 and $2 for Children 2-12. You can get more information here: https://byodo-in.com/admission.htm

Byodo In Temple

What Hawaii aloha is all about. In this Valley of the Temples, you will see various denominations of religions sharing the same space. At the end of the drive, you will come across this stunning Byodo-In Temple.

 

 

Aloha!

Hi, we are the Kim Family. We wanted to share our experiences living on Oahu and traveling around Hawaii.  We have four kids and who enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities.  We’ve learned a lot raising our kids here and wanted to share with you.  We hope it helps with whether you are visiting, living, or a little bit of both.

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Please note that many of these places we have visited personally or have been recommended by one of the more seasoned travelers within our friends-and-family circle. As someone who was born and raised in Hawaii and then had the experience of being a transplant from the mainland as an adult with a spouse and children, we want to make sure that we recommend things we enjoy or would like to do ourselves. Thank you for your support!

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