We love Hawaii and we try to vacation on one of the islands every couple of years. Hawaii is truly a paradise, but paradise can be expensive. A vacation in Hawaii doesn’t need to break your budget. The beauty is free and there are plenty of free things to do in Hawaii. Here are some of the best free things to do on Oahu.
Waikiki Beach is not only the most famous beach in Hawaii but also one of the most recognized Oahu beaches in the world. Located on the south shore of Honolulu, the world-famous neighborhood of Waikiki was once a playground for nineteenth-century Hawaiian royalty. Now it draws scores of tourists looking to relax on its soft, honey-colored sand and gaze up at the majestic Diamond Head peak in the distance.
Some of the best Oahu hotels are located along Waikiki Beach, but the beach is free for everyone to roam. Popular areas along this stretch of sand include Fort DeRussy Beach (a well-liked snorkeling spot in coral-protected water), Kuhio Beach (come here if you’re just learning to surf; the waves are more forgiving), and San Souci Beach (a quieter section of Waikiki that’s great for swimming and snorkeling.)
Downtown Honolulu is home to some of Oahu’s most historic places. Next to the skyscrapers of the island’s main business district, you’ll find important landmarks like the Iolani Palace, the King Kamehameha I statue, the Kawaiahao Church, and the Aloha Tower. This area is also the seat of Hawaii’s government, home to the Hawaii State Capitol, Washington Place (the governor’s mansion) and Honolulu Hale (Honolulu’s City Hall). Clustered within blocks of each other, it’s easy to take a walking tour of these important cultural landmarks and architectural wonders.
Honolulu’s Chinatown is still primarily Chinese but 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!
This sobering memorial is part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It is built over the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona, the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941 when Japanese Naval Forces bombed Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center includes two museums that tell the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. Outdoor exhibits on the visitor center grounds continue the narrative. Visitors do not need tickets for the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and museums. Entrance is free.
The USS Arizona Memorial ticketed tour includes a National Park Service movie on the attack on Pearl Harbor and the boat ride to the memorial. The tour is approximately 75 minutes and is open to all ages.
The National Park Services hands out 1,300 free walk-in tickets daily, on a first come, first serve basis. It is highly recommended that you arrive at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center early. Doors open at 7 a.m. Advance ticket reservations are available through recreation.gov.
This is one of my favorite of the best free things to do on Oahu. It is also the biggest Farmer’s Market in Honolulu. The KCC Saturday Farmers’ Market is located on the Kapiolani Community College Campus in parking lot C and is open every Saturday from 7:30 am-11:00 am. Upon entering the market, there is the Hawaii Farm Bureau. You can purchase a reusable bag or borrow a straw mat in case you’d like to roll it out in the grass to enjoy all of the good eats. You will find fresh local fish, honey, macadamia nuts, rare tropical fruit jams, locally grown produce hand-made ice cream, freshly brewed Kona coffee, and more. The Market is for everyone—vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folk. Most of the stallholders accept credit cards.
The location of the cemetery wasn’t coincidence. It is located on what Hawaiians called “Hill of Sacrifice,” which used to be an altar where they offered human sacrifices to pagan gods. Now, it’s the final resting place for men and women who provided military service to their country. The National Memorial Cemetery stretches over much of the crater and receives thousands of visitors each year. It contains several moving tributes, including the Honolulu Memorial dedicated to armed forces who fought in the Pacific during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Notable veterans buried here include Ernie Pyle (the famous World War II correspondent) and Stanley Dunham, the maternal grandfather of President Barack Obama.
Punchbowl is beautiful with its lush shades of manicured green in contrast with the white granite and stonework. Within the crater’s gates, there’s a lovely pathway (on the left after you enter the gates) that leads to memorials and a view of Honolulu.
You’ll get breathtaking views, waterfalls, falling rocks, and the chance to take a gander at native wild pigs. The trail is located in the middle of the island and it’s a super rainforest ecosystem, no beaches here. A whole different world. There is nice scenery with a waterfall at the end of a short 1.5-mile trail (which takes about 20–30 minutes.) The initial part of the trail is paved. Eventually, it’s kind of rocky and slightly muddy, but pretty easy and it’s easy to follow the trail. This is a great place for a family hike but bring bug spray. Parking is $5.
It’s not hard to have an activity-filled vacation in paradise on a budget. In this post, I have concentrated on the best free things to do on Oahu. Oahu is just one of the most visited islands in Hawaii. In future posts I will share free things to do on Maui and the big island of Hawaii.