9 (almost) free things to do on Oahu

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Hawaii as a whole has a reputation for being very expensive. And it can be. But with any travel destination, research is major key in helping you stay on budget. This could be the difference in having a vacation that is budget friendly vs breaking the bank. I prefer the former, therefore I'm willing to put in a little legwork to help me stretch my coin. I’ve said this time and time again, but for the people in the back, go to Pinterest (my travel search site of choice) and type in free or cheap things to do in __________ (fill in your destination of choice) and be amazed at all the things to do that are fun for virtually pennies! The island of Oahu is no exception. It has lots of national parks, viewpoints, hikes, and beaches that are absolutely free.

Travel Tip:

Are you traveling on a budget? Plan 2-3 things that costs $50-100 so you still get some island adventure (catamaran, luau, snorkeling) and spend the rest on food and mojitos!  Then dig into these (almost) free things to do on the island.

1) Sunrise at Kailua beach then head in town for breakfast

Early bird gets the worm and this time it’s no different.  I actually enjoy waking up early while on vacation because I tend to get much more done, such as watching the sunrise over the water. Who wouldn’t love that? Kailua has several restaurants that are some of the best to eat at on the entire island. Check out trip advisor and yelp for some tasty options.  My vote is for kono’s, especially if you are a pork eater. 

Cost: sunrise, free. Breakfast can run you up to $14.

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2) Hike Lanikai Pillbox

One of the most popular hikes on the island is Lanikai Pillbox.  If you search Oahu on the location tag on Instagram (pro tip), I’m sure pictures of the pillbox will be in abundance.  Close to Kailua, this hike has several pull off stopping points to help you catch your breath and to allow you to take in all the beautiful ocean views. Do just that, and don’t forget to look behind you!

Cost: free

3) Eat at shrimp trucks in Hailewa

Hawaiian people are serious about their shrimp trucks.  I first learned about them from watching Hawaii 5-0. One of the most popular trucks on the North Shore, if not the most popular, is Giovanni’s.  I arrived mid afternoon and waited 20 minutes to order, then 30 minutes to get my food.  But it was so worth it, so delicious that I forgot I almost waited an hour for it.  I ordered the scampi shrimp (with a side of spicy sauce) and it comes with two mounds of rice.   I’m drooling all over thinking about it. 

Cost: $14 (cash only)

4) Visit Waimanalo Beach

Waimanalo was one of the more private/empty beaches I visited.  I admittedly went early on a cloudy, windy day, so a beautiful clear day in the middle of the afternoon might yield different results but considering other reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, this beach tends to be empty, giving you private beach vibes.  I can’t recommend this place without mentioning there are homeless in tents near the parking area.  However they didn’t bother me, nor did I see them from the beach.

Cost: free

5) Stop at viewpoints: Halona Blowhole and Pali

Viewpoints are a must when visiting Oahu and there are no shortage of them. I love that they give you a chance to get out the car and fully take in the scenery at your own pace, not while speeding down the road.  Two that I visited and would recommend are Halona and Pali.  Halona is just past Hanauma Bay from Waikiki, and the drive there gave me Pacific Coast Highway vibes.  Pali is just before you get to Kailua (from Honolulu) and costs $3 to park, which really is a rip-off considering it’s not something you spend extensive time visiting.  However the views are dope.  Honolulu and ocean views way in the distance, surrounded by the greenery of the jungle.

Cost: free/$3 dollars to park at Pali

6) Head to Chinaman's Hat viewpoint

One of the more popular viewpoint spots for photos on the eastern side of the island, Chinaman's Hat is just off of Kualoa Regional Beach Park.   If you are bold you can walk through the water to the island and explore its cave and private beach but I wouldn’t recommend it because you have to correctly time the rising of the tide. If you don’t you can be SOL, i.e. stranded or run the risk of drowning if you decide to walk/swim back across.  So either kayak or boat there, or stay on the Kualoa beach side and enjoy the view.  I arrived very early in the morning (recurring theme) to fly my drone in peace and to enjoy the beach in private.  There’s also a path for running, and several picnic tables to enjoy. Again, don’t forget to look behind you to see the Jurassic Park mountain vibes.

Cost: free

7) Hike Diamondhead

On my most recent trip I did not get the chance to hike Diamondhead, however, I have done it before, and would definitely recommend for more amazing island views and an easy workout. If you do nothing else on this list, this would be the one thing not the skip out on. A classic Oahu adventure. Go early to avoid major crowds and tons of people in your photos.

Cost: $5 per car or $1 per walk in

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8) Relax at the Hilton Waikiki lagoon

Head early to the famed Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel (as seen in movies and a consistent backdrop on Hawaii 5-0) and relax in the lagoon. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel or have a special pass.  Separate from the beach and ocean water, the lagoon offers a more relaxed and tamed atmosphere, however, you do run the risk of more children being in this area.  Your best bet to avoid this? You guessed it, go early!   There’s also a bunch of water activities you can sign up for near the lagoon.

Cost: free 

9) Watch the sunset at the marina

This was not in my plans but as I headed to Waikiki beach to sit by the ocean and watch the sun set, time got away from me.   The sun was going down so I made an executive decision to stop in the marina to watch and capture the beauty and it blew my mind.  It was an unexpected beautiful surprise.  Bring your camera and capture your silhouette in the sunlight.  If you are lucky you can capture it on a night where the skies are purple.

Cost: free

The islands of Hawaii, specifically Oahu for purposes of this post, is very cultured.  A much different experience you can get from the mainland.  If it’s your first time on the island, take some time to visit the Polynesian cultural center and hear a little bit about the island and the people, from the people. From here you have the option to sign up for one of their many tours and activities.

Have you been to Oahu or other Hawaiian islands? What was your favorite activity? Making a list for next time!  

Happy travels! 

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