Aloha! So you’re going to Oahu. Or maybe you’re not anytime soon, but you’d like to some day. That’s wonderful news! It’s amazing and you’ll love it. However, if you’re like me, you might not be able to stay at the fanciest hotel and go zip lining where they filmed Jurassic Park and eat $50 sushi. You might just be trying to experience everything the island has to offer while saving as much money as possible. We, my friend, are kindred spirits. Want to enjoy some free (well, mostly free) super fun things in Oahu? Read on!
We were on Oahu for 6 days and decided from the start that we wanted to do as much as we possibly could. While keeping our sanity/bodies in tact, of course. I was concerned because I didn’t have much money to spend OR room in my suitcase (Lol I weighed in at 49 lbs coming from LAX) for souvenirs. But that was okay, because these days when I travel, it’s all about the pictures/videos I take to remember my trip – not the stuff. Whatever your reason for reading this post, I think you’ll definitely find some things to put on your itinerary!
If you Google places on Oahu to snorkel, it’s likely that Hanauma Bay will be one of the first names to pop up! There’s a catch to this freebie, though. You’ve gotta show up before 7:00 am! Which honestly is not bad advice anyway because by the time we left around 10:00, it was starting to get fairly crowded (they were bring trams full of people down the mountain). The parking lot also only has 300 spots and it fills up fast. Anyway, if you get there before 7:00, they’ll waive the parking fee ($1) and the admission fee ($7.50)!
You can rent snorkel gear for $20, but we brought our own. I would recommend just picking up an $8 set from Walgreens! Or if you’re staying in an Airbnb, you might check there first and see if your host already has some available for you to use. Ours did! Also, don’t get discouraged if it’s kind of hard for you to see any fish at first. If you get there that early, the sun isn’t up high enough to cut through the water! Give it some time. Get a snack from the snack bar. Soak up some rays (safely – wear that sunblock! But make sure it’s safe for the reefs!) then try again! NOTE: Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday, so plan accordingly.
Always coated in sunblock! I get my tan out of a bottle – when I got back from this trip, I got so many compliments on my tan. Little did they know it wasn’t real!
Diamond Head Crater Hike
We did this the same day we got up at 6 am to snorkel Hanauma Bay! AND I did it in Chacos. I’d definitely say this is a great hike for beginners. Make sure you’re chill with stairs, though, because there are a lot of really steep ones during the last little bit of the trail. The only thing you’ve gotta pay here is the entrance fee! $5 per car or $1 per person if you’re a pedestrian. Cash only!
I could walk up and down this beach and people watch all day long! Plus there are a ton of food options. I would recommend the coconut shrimp from Gilligan’s Beach Shack! Plus on Fridays there’s a free fireworks show! We were at the Polynesian Cultural Center during our one Friday night on the island, but I’ve heard that the beach fireworks are awesome.
If you’re looking for some great beaches that won’t be crowded anything like Waikiki will be, here are 5 beaches on Oahu that won’t be packed with people (disclaimer: they’re all free!)!
Aloha Swap Meet
If you take nothing else away from this post, HEAR THIS: If you’re looking to buy souvenirs (Hawaiian shirts, magnets, leis, dresses, decor, literally ANYTHING), COME HERE FIRST. Seriously. We went to alllllllll the souvenir shops around Waikiki and they were so overpriced. We found the EXACT same stuff here for 1/10th of the mainstream price!! It’s totally free to look around, but be prepared to spend several hours. I’m pretty sure it was like, a dollar per person to enter.
While there are certain parts that you can pay to tour, regular entrance is free! This includes a boat ride out to the USS Arizona and a lot of information about the attack you’ll be glad you soaked up. I definitely learned more there than I ever did in history class. It was a sobering experience much like visiting the 9/11 Museum in New York and very very worth it.
Manoa Falls Trail
100% one of my favorite things we did the whole trip. The whole hike felt like I was on another planet (think Pandora from Avatar)! The falls themselves were a tiny bit of a disappointment because they were roped off to keep people from getting too close. Apparently there was a rock slide recently and they deem it unsafe. That didn’t stop several of the other hikers, though! Personally, the hike itself was my favorite part. These are just a few of the pictures we took!
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Completely free AND you can drive through it! There’s a road that winds through the whole place, with several parking lots throughout where you can stop and walk for a little bit. Very worth the short drive from Honolulu!
Also completely free unless you decide to do any of the “extra” activities (maze, train ride, etc.). There’s also a HUGE gift shop/restaurant where you can get some delicious Dole whip! 1000% recommend splurging on this. Would NOT recommend the chocolate covered pineapple, though. It was more cheap chocolate than pineapple and I ended up throwing away half my bag because it just was not worth the calories, believe me.
It’s $5 to enter the temple grounds, but if I’m gonna pay that much for my morning coffee, I’m sure as heck paying it to get in here. It’s actually been featured in some Hawaii 5-0 episodes and an episode of Lost! I’m betting you can see why. 😉 It’s incredible!! Extremely peaceful and lots of places for you to explore.
Window Shop at Ala Moana
Okay, so I don’t actually have any pictures from here. But this has gotta be the most gorgeous mall I’ve ever been to in my LIFE. And I’ve been to a lot of malls. A big portion of it is open air, which makes it even better, since the weather there is basically perfect always. I loved being there at night, because it would stay right around 70° (yusssss). I felt so boujee (and poor hahahaha) walking around and seeing a Prada store right across from Louis Vuitton, then turning the corner to find Chanel next to Burberry.
BUT lets be real, the only “store” I went in was the FOOOOD COURT, BABY. I’ve never seen such a massive food court!! If you’re wanting to go somewhere and no one can decide because everyone wants something different, this is the best place ever. I actually brought my food from Gilligan’s here to eat it because Shawn wanted Panda Express! PRO TIP: Head to Honolulu Cookie on the lowest level and try some of their free samples! I hate to break it to you though, you’re gonna want to buy a box once you do. 😉 BEST shortbread cookies I’ve ever had!
There you have it! 10 of my favorite *almost* totally free things we did while we were in Hawaii! If you have any questions at all, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’d be happy to answer them!