Oahu is expensive. There is no surprise about this and this is also one of the reasons many locals move away. However, this does not mean you cannot travel to Oahu on a budget. Here comes several fun and cheap, even free, things to do in Oahu.
Visiting the beach
With a handful of gorgeous beaches on the island, visiting any of them is a must for your visit. It is one of the free and most popular things do to in Oahu. Most beaches in Waikiki are tourism-driven, but if you travel to North Shore, Kailua, and even Ewa, you will find out there are way less people and the seascapes are exceptionally gorgeous on a sunny day.
There are many hiking trails on Oahu that are free to the public or costs next to nothing, and they make for a great half-day activity. Diamond Head Summit Trail is the easiest and the most popular trail among tourists, and costs $1 per person. Koko Head Crater is a bit strenuous, but the view from the summit is very rewarding. Manoa Falls and the Lanikai Pillbox both are easy hikes with a breathtaking view from the summit. The Stairways to Heaven are the most intense one and it can be dangerous (not legally hikable so do it at your own risk), but the view from the top is worth all the effort.
Museums on Oahu are a perfect place for history buffs and culture vultures. They are a great way to start your day and the admission is affordable.
The Bishop Museum is $22.95 per adult, and it has a collection of Hawaiian artifacts, Pacific cultures, interactive presentations, and exhibit tours. It is one of the best museums in Hawaii.
If you are in the downtown area, visit Hawaii State Art Museum that features the culture and art of Hawaii. This museum offers free admission and it is just across the street from Iolani Palace.
Watching a surfing contest
Watching the surfing contest is one of my favorite things to do in Oahu in winter. Every year, Vans Triple Crown of Surfing takes place on Banzai Pipeline on North Shore. You can spend days on the beach and watch the professional surfers surfing the beautiful waves on North Shore Hawaii. Add some excitement to your beach visit by eating shave ice, shrimp plates from the shrimp trucks, and huli huli chicken.
Tip: If you plan to drive, please arrive at least an hour early to find a parking spot. The surfing contest usually takes place in December, and the waves can be strong. I advise against going into the water during that time.
Friday Night Fireworks on Hilton Waikiki Village
Hilton Waikiki Village offers free fireworks display every Friday night around 7:45 pm. Locals and visitors alike set up their spot on the lagoon, or somewhere between Hilton Waikiki and Outrigger Reef on the Beach and wait for the fireworks to come. The fireworks last for about 10 minutes and the quality of the fireworks is no less than the 4th of July celebration. It is a wonderful way to kick off your weekend, mingle with locals and other tourists, and enjoy the gorgeous view and gentle breeze from the beach.
On the first Friday of each month when people finish working, they celebrate the state of pau hana (finish work) by reconnecting with their family and friends for drinking, partying, and various night activities. Local residents and hip travelers burst into the notorious downtown and Chinatown, hopping from bar to bar, which host live music and deejay. You can drink and dance all night from Hotel 39 to NextDoor to Soho Mixed Media Bar and get countless bar stamps on your arm as a great memory. Most bars and restaurants offer Aloha Friday drinks, food specials, and meal discounts. The art galleries on Smith Street and the Honolulu Academy of Arts open up during the night of Aloha Friday so you can have a self-guided tour. After that, feel free to throw yourself in the themed soiree somewhere in the downtown area.
Take a day trip to the North Shore
Regardless of where you stay, you can take a day trip to the North Shore to see the most beautiful beaches on Oahu. Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach are two of my favorite beaches on Oahu and they are only 10 minutes apart. There are other top-notch beaches like Turtle Bay, Hale’iwa Beach Park, Pupukea Beach Park, and Ehukai Beach Park. These beaches are close to each other so you can easily spend a whole day beach hopping. Most beaches have tons of surfing and diving spots and they are still unfamiliar beyond the circle of Kama’aina.
Waikiki Spam Jam
Kama’aina has a deep affection for Spam, with an average of six million cans consumed each year. And of course, if you are on Oahu at the end of April, you cannot miss this annual food festival to celebrate the love of spam with the locals.
There will be 40 different Spam dishes presented at the Spam Jam, including the local moco Spam burger, spicy Spam ramen, Spam brittle ice cream, Spam nachos and Spam Katsu Dynamite. You can purchase any of these dishes and eat at the beach under the sunset. At night, enjoy live Hawaiian music and hula halau on two main stages on Kalakaua Avenue.
Scenic lookouts on the Tantalus (Aka the Round Top)
If you want to have a bird’s eye view of Honolulu and Oahu, go on a late afternoon and sunset drive to the Round Top. It is a perfect place to enjoy a panoramic view of Honolulu and Waikiki. There are multiple scenic lookouts on the way as well as the waterfalls.
Once you get to the top, you will see an infinite stretch of the ocean, Waikiki, Honolulu International Airport, Pearl Harbor and the Punchbowl Crater. This is a great opportunity for landscape photographers who want to photograph Oahu and Honolulu from a unique angle.
When the sun starts to set, you will see the city start lighting up. The sunset and the city lights at night time are fantastic.
Watch the sunset
As cliché as it sounds, a trip to Oahu is not complete without watching the sunset on the beach. Sunset Beach offers the best view of the sunset in the winter. Although Waikiki Beach is crowded with tourists, it still has wonderful sunset in the summer. There are few nights I walked on the Waikiki Beach and was totally blown away by its beauty and serenity. Every Wednesday, my friend and I went to RumFire at Sheraton Hotel for happy hour, great live music, and the outdoor seating area for the jaw-dropping gorgeous sunset.
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