A trip to Oahu can be expensive, but there are many free or almost free (less than $20 per person) things to do.
Even if you don't rent a car, almost all of the places and activities listed below can be reached by foot from Waikiki or by using Oahu's excellent public transportation system called TheBus. It has more than 90 routes and 4,200 stops around Oahu, and is a quick and inexpensive way to get around. The one-way fare is just $2.50 and a four day pass costs just $25.00.
Here are our picks for some free or almost free things to do on Oahu.
Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial remain top tourist destinations in Hawaii with over 1,500,000 visitors annually. The addition of the Battleship Missouri and the 1999 opening of the USS Missouri Memorial have further enhanced the importance of this historic area.
A visit to the Arizona Memorial is a solemn and sobering experience, even for those who were not alive when the attack occurred. You are literally standing over a grave site where 1177 men lost their lives.
Admission is Free.
O'ahu's North Shore is home to the top world-class surfers in the world when the winter waves reach their majestic heights. It is an easy hour's drive from Waikiki to lovely Hale'iwa town where the North Shore begins for most visitors as they travel in an eastward direction around O'ahu.
Be sure to stop at the Banzai Pipeline where you can see surfers make their way through the middle of a wave.
Located in the heart of Honolulu you'll find many of Hawaii's most historic buildings including the 'Iolani Palace, home to Hawaii's last monarchs, and the only palace on U.S. soil.You'll also want to visit the Hawaii State Capitol, the Kamehameha I Statue, Kawaiaha'o Church - the first Christian church in Hawaii, the Mission Houses Museum and the Old Federal Building.
All of historic Honolulu is within easy walking distance of downtown parking at the equally famous Aloha Tower.
The walk and many sites are free. Both 'Iolani Palace and the Mission Houses Museum charge for guided tours of their interiors.
Diamond Head looms large over the Waikiki. Actually named Le'ahi by Hawaiians, it received its more well known name in the late 1700's when British seamen saw calcite crystals sparkling in the sunshine and thought they had found diamonds.
A hike to the top of Diamond Head takes about an hour over a well-worn path. The summit offers a spectacular 365-degree view of O'ahu and is a must trip for photography enthusiasts.
Entrance Fee: $5.00 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians.
What was thousands of years ago a large volcanic caldera has been flooded and subjected to centuries of wave erosion to produce one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in Hawaii - Hanauma Bay.
Hanauma means "curved bay" in Hawaiian. Today its clear blue waters and beautiful reefs are home to thousands of tropical fish, green sea turtles and a controlled number of snorkelers.
Hanauma Bay is both a Nature Preserve and a Marine Life Conservation District where visitors are required by law to refrain from mistreating marine animals or from touching, walking, or otherwise having contact with the coral.
Entrance Fee - $1.00 per car to park and $7.50 per person to enter. Admission fee is waived for persons 12 years & younger.
Created in 1876, Kapi'olani Park is the largest and oldest public park in Hawaii. Located on the east end of Waikiki, this large park is named after Queen Kapi'olani, the wife of King David Kalakaua.
The park is by law a free public park and recreation ground which cannot be sold and for which entrance cannot be charged. The park is home to the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki, Aquarium, Waikiki Shell, and Waikiki Bandstand. It is host to many annual festivals and numerous sports activities. It is a popular area with joggers.
It's the perfect place to enjoy a eat a plate lunch and then stroll through the park and see all of the activities.
Park Admission Fee - Free Zoo General Admission (13 years and older) $8.
The Pali Highway connects Honolulu to the Windward side of the island. Located high above a tunnel on the Pali Highway, the Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside Park and Overlook welcomes almost 1 million visitors each year.
From the lookout you have beautiful views of Kane'ohe Bay, Kailua, the Ko'olau Mountains and the Mokapu Peninsula which is home to the Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base. It's one of the most windy spots on O'ahu, so if you go, hold on to your hat! Be sure to read the placards giving the history of the site.
Admission is Free
Located at the foot of the 2,000 foot Ko'olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples in O'ahu's Kaneohe Region sits the beautiful Byodo-In Temple. While always a popular stop for visitors who seek locations off the beaten track, the Byodo-In Temple has become more popular since it was used as a filming location in the ABC Emmy Award winning drama series Lost.
The Byodo-In Temple was built in the 1960's to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant workers in Hawaii who came to work in the sugar plantation fields. It is a replica of the 950-year-old Byodoin Temple located in Uji, Japan on the southern outskirts of Kyoto.
Entrance Fee - $2.00 per person.
Honolulu's Chinatown has been the subject of urban renewal in recent years in an effort to make it more attractive to the all-important tourist trade. Although still primarily Chinese, you will see many shops and restaurants run by Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipinos, Laotians, and Koreans.
Chinatown remains a small area which can easily be explored on foot. It's really the only way to experience the sights, smells and sounds of this historic district of Honolulu.
Admission is free, but you'll have to pay for the great food!
Hawaii's Plantation Village is a non-profit, living history museum and ethno-botanical garden located on a 50-acre site in the heart of sugar plantation country in Waipahu.
Established by the Friends of Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, its mission is to ensure that the struggles, sacrifices, innovations and contributions of Hawaii's sugar plantation forebears are preserved and acknowledged as the cornerstone of Hawaii's successful multi-ethnic society.
Hawaii's Plantation Village opened its doors in 1992 and offers docent-led tours through the Village as well as special events and activities.
Admission Fee: Adults - $13, Seniors - $10, Youth (4-11) - $5, Children (3 and under) - free
For many visitors to Waikiki the International Market Place is one of the places that they most remember. For repeat visitors, it's one of the few places in Waikiki that always seems to be there and, for the most part, always looks the same.
A bazaar of clothes, jewelry and souvenirs from over 100 of the island's most colorful merchants are all set under the shade of a large banyan tree. The International Food Court offers a variety of local and international cuisine, plus free Hawaiian entertainment five nights a week.
Open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. 2330 Kalakaua Ave., next to Waikiki Town Center.
Admission Fee - Free (souvenirs cost money!)
O'ahu is home to over 100 festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate culture, community, music and art.
You can see a dragon boat festival, Chinese new year lion dances, Hawaiian rodeo, and numerous music festivals featuring ukulele, slack key guitar and hula. The annual Aloha Festivals, Lei Day Festival and Spam Jam as three of the most popular annual events.
Most festivals are free.