I’m a frugal traveler. I’m not one to drop an extraordinary amount of money on a lavish hotel room or a five-star restaurant. Give me a place to sleep, an affordable plane ticket, and an itinerary filled with adventure and I’m all set. In the spirit of frugality, I set out to find as many free things to do in Oahu as possible during my last trip to the Hawaiian Islands.
1. Spend the Day at the Beach
Aside from purchasing reef-safe sunscreen and any food or beverages you may bring along, trips to any of Oahu’s gorgeous beaches are completely free!
Although your first thought might be to sprawl out on the long-stretched Waikiki Beach, I recommend finding a more secluded beach with better views. There’s no need to go to Oahu’s most packed beach when there are tons to choose from. Consider spending the day at one of these stunning beaches on Oahu instead:
- Lanikai Beach
- Sandy Beach
- Waimanalo Beach
- Sharks Cove
- Waimea Bay
- Kailua Beach
- Pokai Bay
After all, you can’t go to Oahu and NOT go to the beach.
2. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor
Did you know you can tour the USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor for free? Considering this memorial and landmark is one of the top free things to do in Oahu, it is in your best interest to plan ahead for this excursion.
While you can pay a fee to secure tickets ahead of time, only 1,300 complimentary tickets are distributed at Pearl Harbor daily. The memorial begins giving out the free tickets right at 7:00 am. Be sure to get in line as early as possible. These free tickets are gone within minutes! During our honeymoon, my husband and I got in line right at 7:00 am and while we were fortunate enough to receive free admission for a designated tour time, this was a huge rookie mistake. Get in line as early as possible.
To stay within your vacation budget, take the bus to Pearl Harbor. Taxis and Uber/Lyft, while convenient, will be an expensive ride to Pearl Harbor.
3. Go for a Hike
Hiking is one of my all-time favorite things to do, no matter where I travel. However, the hiking trails in Oahu are unparalleled. This is why it shouldn’t be a shocker that hiking is among the most popular free things to do in Oahu.
While some trails such as Diamond Head have small entrance fees, others are free for you to explore. My personal favorite trail is the Aihualama Trail connecting to the Pauoa Flats Trail, which can be accessed from the Manoa Falls Trail. While not extraordinarily long, the elevation gain is what gets you—but the views are worth it!
If you choose to hike Diamond Head, do not drive. Instead, walk-in for a lower entrance rate. You can either take the bus or an Uber and walk-in or park your car at the nearby community college and walk to the trail as well.
4. Check Out the Friday Night Fireworks at Waikiki Beach
For free entertainment, grab a seat at Waikiki Beach on Friday nights. Each Friday, the resort hosts a massive fireworks show at 7:45 pm from September through May and 8:00 pm from June to August.
Grab a towel, a few drinks, and get ready for an epic start to your weekend on Oahu. Try to get there a half hour early to secure prime seating for the show!
5. Attend a Free Hula Show at Kuhio Beach Park
If you’re not interested in paying for tickets to a luau, check out the free torch lighting ceremony and hula show performed at Kuhio Beach Park. Located over by the Duke Kahanamoku statue, this performance occurs each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night at either 6:00 pm or 6:30 pm depending on the season.
The show is approximately an hour long and features local performers, musicians, and dancers. Be sure to bring your own beach chair or towel as only lawn seating is offered.
6. Browse Through a Farmers’ Market
Oahu is home to a ton of different farmers' markets. You can pick up everything from inexpensive authentic gifts to some of the best food you’ve ever tasted here. I love to sample the different flavors of Macadamia Nuts and pick up a bag (or two… okay, three) of Kona coffee.
As one of the tastiest free things to do in Oahu, the farmers’ markets do not require an entrance fee. However, it’s up to you if you want to spend money or not. Even just browsing the assortment of vendors is fun!
7. Go to a Free Event or Festival
Oahu hosts thousands of festivals and events each year. Many of the events are totally free as well! From hula festivals to cultural holidays, there’s always something happening on the island.
For example, one of my previous trips to Oahu lined up with Kamehameha Day. We sat on our hotel balcony and watched the massive parade stroll by before heading over to the free festival in a nearby park.
8. Go Snorkeling
Snorkeling is a must when visiting any Hawaiian island. Depending on your itinerary and packing list, snorkeling can even be among the free things to do in Oahu. If you own a mask, snorkel, and fins, be sure to bring them and stop by any of Oahu’s beaches for an underwater adventure.
Even if you don’t have your own snorkeling gear, you can rent it for cheap. The North Shore has several surf shops offering inexpensive rentals by the hour.
If you’re an experienced swimmer, I recommend renting gear and snorkeling at one of Oahu’s less frequented beaches, such as Sharks Cove. While Hanauma Bay is fantastic (and ideal for first-time swimmers and snorkelers), it does have a $7.50 entrance fee. And that’s before the $20.00 snorkel gear rental fees.
Never-Ending Free Things to Do in Oahu
Of course, this is only a handful of the free things to do in Oahu! From events to outdoor adventures, an affordable vacation is waiting for you in Hawaii. If anyone tells you a trip to Hawaii is expensive, tell them to think again!