It’s easy to spend a fortune to make memories when visiting Oahu. From fancy luaus to guided tours, the options are endless. And many of those experiences are well worth the investment! But it’s possible to have just as much fun–and soak up some real, non-touristy island vibes–without breaking the bank. Experience the best parts of the island the way the locals do, and you’ll both save money and make memories that will last a lifetime.
These free or affordable options are easy and accessible for individuals, couples, and families–perfect for a day of exploring without paying hefty tour or admission fees:
Climb a Mountain
Oahu’s hiking trails offer something for everyone. If you’re up for an adventure that will really get your heart rate up, consider climbing to the top of Koko Crater (a short but steep ascent to gorgeous views) or one of the best ridgeline trails (like Kuliouou or Wiliwilinui). For shorter, easier hikes that are more doable for younger hikers, consider Makapu’u Lighthouse trail, Diamond Head (this one does charge a small fee), or Manoa Falls.
Your options are endless when it comes to hiking on Oahu; there are trails that will challenge your nerves and climbing skills, as well as easier trails that take you to secluded waterfalls. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them; just do your research before you go so you don’t get in over your head.
Enjoy a Coastal Walk
There’s nothing like spending an hour (or two, or three, or more) walking along the ocean. And there are plenty of places in Oahu where you can do just that, without even paying for parking. Try stopping at Kailua Beach Park for a long, leisurely walk along the sand; the beach stretches uninterrupted for about 2 miles north of the beach park parking lot, making for a 4-mile round trip on fine, soft white sand. Many locals also enjoy walking, running, or playing with their pups on this stretch of beach.
Another favorite coastal walk originates at Ka’ena Point on Oahu’s North Shore. You could opt to walk all the way to the tip of the island (about 2.5 miles both out and back), which is a protected bird nesting area. This is also a gorgeous photo opportunity if you just want a quick stop at the parking area; the waves roll in dramatically here, with the mountain/black lava rock backdrop offering dramatic views no matter what time of day or year you visit. If you happen to be visiting between January and April, you might see whales breaching or spouting off the coast here as well.
Price: Free (Just rent or buy snorkel gear)
You don’t have to go on a guided tour to enjoy snorkeling in Oahu; you just need a little local know-how. If you didn’t bring snorkel gear along, you’ll need to stop to rent some from one of the island’s many outfitters, which can also direct you to some of the best places to snorkel on the island.
If you’re not a confident swimmer or comfortable with ocean currents, you’ll want to be exceedingly careful about where you venture; there are spots where currents make it difficult to return to shore once you get too far out. But there are plenty of beginner-friendly spots to explore.
A couple of local favorites are Hanauma Bay and Shark’s Cove. Three Tables, located on the North Shore, is also a great snorkeling location, or Electric Beach on the Waianae Coast. When in doubt, ask the locals on the beach where it’s safe to enter and where the best sea life can be found.
Visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The Pearl Harbor Memorial and museum are free to the public, and they offer a glimpse into a dark slice of Oahu’s fraught history. Tickets are recommended if you’d like to take the passenger boat to the Arizona Memorial, but if you don’t have tickets walk-ins are sometimes available (just step up and ask). The park recently instituted a small fee for parking, but admission to the museum and the boat ride to the Arizona Memorial is free to all.
If you would like to visit the USS Utah Memorial or USS Missouri on Ford Island, you will need to book a tour through the government’s tourism service unless you have a U.S. Military identification card.
Stop by a Botanical Garden
Oahu boasts five botanical gardens. Four of them offer free admission and parking, while one (Foster Botanical Garden) charges a nominal entry fee. These gardens might shake up your idea of what a botanical garden looks like. Each of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens are very different, from Wahiawa’s winding, deeply forested trails speckled with vibrant tropical flowers to Koko Crater’s desert-like cactus gardens and expansive plumeria grove.
Stop by Ho’omaluhia to feed Cheerios to the thousands of goldfish stocked in the large pond, or to take Instagram-worthy photos with the stunning Ko’olau mountains as a backdrop. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the botanical gardens, and you just might find yourself wanting to spend the entire day exploring.
Visit the Aloha Tower for an Elevated View of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor
Just a 15-minute walk from Waikiki, the Aloha Tower was once the tallest building in town. It was built in 1926, and its Hawaiian Gothic design remains a hallmark of the downtown scene. Park in the adjacent lot or walk down and enjoy a free elevator ride to the top, where you can take in the surrounding shipyards, the town up the coast, and the airport/Pearl Harbor in the other direction.
Have a Poke Picnic
Hawaii restaurants can be very pricy, but you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a local-style meal with world-class surroundings. Grab some poke (pronounced POKE-ay) from Foodland (a local grocery store) or another stop like Poke Bar. Then all you’ll need is to grab a picnic blanket or beach towel and camp out on a beach to enjoy a meal with gorgeous views.
You could also try an acai bowl or smoothie or exotic fruit, depending on where you are, then take it to a beach or local park to enjoy.
These are just a few of the free or almost-free options you can enjoy during your time on Oahu. Don’t feel like you have to spend big money to have a good time; the locals sure don’t! Just get out there and take in the beauty around you. You might just enjoy your island time more than you ever thought possible.