Oahu is a rather pricey destination in Hawaii, but it isn't impossible to enjoy this fascinating island on a tight budget. With a bit of planning, a holiday in Oahu doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Its most enticing features – powder-soft beaches, fiery sunsets, lush volcanic landscapes – are free to enjoy, while many of its cultural and historic sites like Pearl Harbor and the Hawaii State Art Museum charge little or nothing to enter.    

    Those who venture off the beaten paths of Oahu and choose to visit during off-peak months are often rewarded with lower prices for accommodation. Here are some excellent ideas to help you enjoy the best of Oahu on a small budget.


    Look for accommodation on the North Shore

    You don't have to stay in Honolulu

    The lesser-travelled North Shore of Oahu offers a good retreat for those hoping to avoid the tourist crowds. Located about an hour’s drive from busy Waikiki, the North Shore has laidback beaches and some of the world’s top surfing sites, including Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay Beach. You get a chance to see and marvel at massive waves, along with the gutsy surfers who ride them. 

    The luxurious Turtle Bay Resort is the main hotel in the North Shore, but for those on a budget, there’s a good choice of low-key holiday rental condos, hostels and guest houses. You can also enjoy lower hotel rates if you're travelling to Oahu between November and April.

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    photo by Acablue (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Go beach-hopping on the bus

    Explore Oahu like a local

    Oahu has an efficient bus service, which is a cheap and easy way to get around the island. Buy a day pass for about $5.50 and climb aboard for a trip to Waikiki and out to the more distant beaches in Lanikai, Kailua or the North Shore. Other sites that can be reached by bus include Bellows Beach, Hanauma Bay, the Halona Blowhole lookout, Sandy Beach and Waimanalo Beach.

    photo by Simon Clancy (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Shark’s Cove

    A gorgeous swimming and snorkelling spot

    Shark’s Cove is a small rocky bay brimming with colourful sea life on the North Shore. Set between Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline, the cove is a snorkeller’s dream location. It has clear waters and marine creatures to see, including parrotfish, keeltail needlefish, butterflyfish and turtles. The best time to go is during the summer months when the sea is calmer.

    There aren't any shops at Shark’s Cove, so it’s best to bring your own snorkelling gear. Shops across the road from the beach sell food and drinks. There’s no charge to enter the beach. Free public toilets and showers can be found in the car parking area. 


    photo by KenVanVleck (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Eat in and around Chinatown in Honolulu

    Lively markets and cheap eats

    Honolulu’s Chinatown serves up some great food at budget-friendly prices as well as being an eye-catching place to explore. The neighbourhood has transformed from its gritty past as a red-light and gambler's haven to a thriving centre for art, food and shopping.

    Hungry travellers might want to visit Chinatown Marketplace at City Square Shopping Center. Open every day from 8am, it offers a colourful mix of fresh vegetables, seafood and snacks for sale. Maguro Brothers at Kekaulike Market serves cheap and tasty lunches like yellowtail tuna, while the tiny Lam's Kitchen on Maunakea Street is a local favourite for its hearty Hong Kong noodles. 

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    photo by Prayitno / Thank you for (12 millions +) view (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki

    Free daily cultural classes and shows

    The Royal Hawaiian Center is an excellent place for delving into Hawaiian art and culture. Make your way to The Royal Grove to take a free course on ukulele, hula, and lei-making. Classes last about 1 hour and accept a maximum of 25 people.

    Storytelling sessions by master storyteller, Tom Cummings, take place at the Royal Hawaiian Center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There’s live entertainment at 6pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays.  

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    Location: 2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 10 pm

    Phone: +1 808 922 2299


    photo by Jack Miller (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Diamond Head Trail

    Enjoy spectacular views from the crater’s edge

    The Diamond Head crater is one of those must-see sights in Hawaii. Its convenient location – a 30-minute drive from downtown Honolulu – makes it an easy climb to conquer. The trail to the top is only about 1 mile long, but it’s steep in places. There are also many stairs to navigate so be sure to wear good shoes and bring bottled water along with you.

    Once you reached the top of this extinct volcano, majestic views over the 1-km-wide crater, the Pacific Ocean and the Honolulu city skyline greet you. Entry is around $1 per person, with a $5 charge for parking.

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    Location: Kapahulu, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 4:30 pm

    Phone: +1 808 587 0300


    photo by Daniel Ramirez (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Pearl Harbor

    Enjoy free daily tours of the USS Arizona Memorial

    Pearl Harbor has served as a sombre reminder of the horrors of war since it was attacked by Japanese forces in 1941. Daily tours of the harbour’s USS Arizona Memorial site are free but get there early as tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

    The tour lasts about 75 minutes and includes a boat ride to the memorial site and a documentary film. You could pay a small fee for an audio tour headset. The memorial site is suspended over the wreckage of the USS Arizona, a battleship that was sunk during the attack. 

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    Location: 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 808-422-3399


    Hawaii State Art Museum

    Go for a free guided walk

    Hawaii State Art Museum in Honolulu highlights the works of contemporary artists with a connection to Hawaii. Among its eye-catching displays are temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection of more than 6,000 works of art. Visitors have a chance to buy the works of local artists at the onsite shop and relax at the museum café.

    On the first Friday of the month, the museum offers guided tours of the museum and evening entertainment. It holds “meet the artist” lecture sessions on every last Tuesday of the month – all for free.  

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    Location: 250 South Hotel St, Second Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm (extended hours on the first Friday of each month from 6 pm to 9 pm)

    Phone: +1 808 586 0900



    Explore the town and beaches by bicycle

    Kailua, a town just a half-hour away from Honolulu, offers many stunning beaches and lush landscapes for outdoor lovers to explore. Hire a bicycle from a rental shop in town and set off for a ride along scenic stretches of road and miles of bike trails. Many shops will deliver bikes to your location by request.  

    With a mostly flat landscape, such sights as Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach, the Kawainui Marsh and Mokulua Islands are easy to reach by bike. Back in town, you could check out boutique shops and tasty dining spots or browse the Kailua farmers’ market on Thursday evenings.


    Free viewpoint at the top of Aloha Tower

    Shop and dine at Aloha Tower Marketplace

    Aloha Tower has been a prominent landmark in Honolulu since it was built in 1926. Found within walking distance of downtown Honolulu and Chinatown (15 minutes away from Waikiki), it’s easy to include a stop at the tower when you're sightseeing around the city.

    Though it’s no longer the tallest building in Honolulu, Aloha Tower remains a standout building with its Hawaiian Gothic design and large clock. Visit the observation deck on the top floor to enjoy panoramic views across the harbour and city for free.

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    Location: 155 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 808 544 1453


    photo by PaulT (Gunther Tschuch) (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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    COVID-19 Travel Alert

    Attractions and experiences recommended in our guides may be affected. Please check local guidance before you travel.

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