One of the most common reasons people give for never having visited Hawaii is that it is so expensive. Granted, depending on where you live, airfare alone can take up a big chuck of a family's vacation budget and the airlines continue to raise prices every year. Most airlines, however, do offer sales to Hawaii, often as part of package that includes lodging.
Still, unless you plan to spend all of your time laying by the pool or on the beach, you'll want to get out and do things. Each of the main Hawaiian Islands is beautiful in its own way and each has plenty of things to do, many of which are free or which cost very little.
Here are some ideas on some of those free, or almost free, things that you can do while you're in Hawaii.
Our first suggestion starts right where you pick up your luggage at the airport. Look around you, normally near the exits. You'll see numerous racks filled with all sorts of publications and pamphlet. They'll all free. The trick is to which ones are the best and these are my suggestions. Not only do these publications have lots of tips to help you plan your activities, they also have great free maps and many have valuable discount coupons. If you rent a car, be sure to ask for a Drive Guide from the rental agent. Dedicated to each specific island, these have the best maps that you'll find.
The island of Oahu, home to Honolulu and Waikiki, has the best public transportation system in Hawaii, called TheBus. It goes almost everywhere on the island that you would ever want to go. So, even if you decide not to rent a car (which will save you a lot of money), you can easily get to such free attractions as Diamond Head State Park, the USS Arizona Memorial, downtown Honolulu, and the North Shore. If these 12 suggestions aren't enough, then check out our feature on 101 Free (or under $10) Things to Do on Oahu as suggested by the Oahu Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Most first time visitors to Hawaii stay in Waikiki and for good reason. Waikiki has more hotels, resorts and condominium hotels than anywhere else in Hawaii including some of the top resorts in all of Hawaii. You can find out more about them in our feature Tips for Choosing Your Waikiki Hotel or Resort. With so many top resorts and great public spaces, there is an endless assortment of free entertainment including band concerts, hula shows, live local music and big annual street festivals. There's also a great museum where you can learn all about the history of the US Army in Hawaii.
If you enjoy Hawaiian music, Oahu is a great place to visit. It's where most of the biggest names in Hawaiian music perform live and where many of them make their homes. Almost every weekend there are free concerts somewhere on the island, most often in the Waikiki area. Whenever there's a big festival, you're sure to find free performances. In some cases, where the artists are performing at a hotel lounge or restaurant, you may need to buy a drink or eat dinner to catch the show, but how much you spend is most often entirely up to you.
Hawaii Island, most often known as the Big Island, is very big. At over 4,000 square miles, it is almost twice the size of all of the other main Hawaiian islands combined. While I always enjoy spending a few days on the Kona-Kohala side of the island and a few more on the Hilo side, it involves a lot of driving to do so. If you only have a few days to spend on the Big Island, I suggest that you choose one side or the other and devote your time to exploring that side. Wherever you stay, there are lots of free things that you can do. Of course, most folks want too see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($10 admission per car), but keep in mind that it's a 2-3 hours drive each way if your staying at one of the resorts on the Kona-Kohala Coast. If you decide to stay in Hilo, there are lots of attractions nearby and most don't cost a whole lot of money.
The island of Kauai has a number of different nicknames. For years known as the "Garden Island," the island is today marketing itself as Hawaii's "Island of Discovery." Both are totally applicable. Kauai is the most lush and green of all the islands and there are an endless number of things to discover on each visit. Kauai is a very easy island on which to drive since there is basically just one main route that circles the island from Ke'e Beach and Ha'ena State Park in the North to Koke'e State Park and the Na Pali Coast State Park in the west. Along the way there are so many places where you can turn off the highway to explore. You'll find majestic waterfalls, beautiful beaches, a birdwatcher's paradise, historic old plantation towns and, of course, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon.
If you're going to visit Maui, you'll likely get a rental car. There's no real viable option. The good news is that having a car gives you the freedom to get to the numerous free, or almost free, things that there are to do. If you plan to visit the summit of Haleakala (just $10 per car) or drive the Road to Hana (free), keep in mind that the roads are narrow with lots of very tight turns. You're better off saving some money and getting only as big a car as you need to carry your luggage to and from your place of lodging. With great parks and beaches, fun drives, and lots of historic places, how much money you spend while on Maui is really you're decision.
On any given month only about 4,000 people visit the island of Moloka'i. Compared to the more than 400,000 who visit Oahu and 200,000 who visit Maui, it's a very small number. In most ways, that's a good thing. There are a limited number of places to stay and island residents have made it clear that they don't want to be like Oahu or Maui with hoards of tourists. Let's be honest. A lot of tourists are rude and inconsiderate. The residents of Moloka'i like their privacy and laid-back island lifestyle. If, however, you're willing to slow down and be respectful, you'll find most of the folks on Moloka'i to be very welcoming. But there's nothing to do there, you say? You couldn't be more wrong. Not only are there things to do, but many of them cost nothing.