7 Affordable Hawaii Vacation Activities
Let’s cut to the chase: There’s a lot of Hawaii activities that are definitely worth the money and provide value-added perks. These activities are worth the price of admission because they’re memorable, unique and in more ways than one, really fun. Just take a look at some of our offerings, from luaus to ATV rides to even zip line tours. Simply put, these are activities that you’ll brag about with your friends and fondly remember.
But that doesn’t mean that everything that you do while you’re in Hawaii has to cost an arm and a leg. There are numerous activities and sights that you can enjoy and experience around Oahu without you shelling beaucoup bucks. Some of them are actually free, even with transportation factored in (hint: they’re most likely within walking distance of your hotel if you’re staying in Waikiki).
As long as you have some form of transportation (we’ll write about the best forms of transportation in Hawaii on our next blog post) these activities are definitely worth your time and effort especially if you really want to dive into the historical and cultural facets of Hawaii.
So without further ado, here’s a list of seven affordable activities that you can do during your Hawaii vacation:
Visit the island’s beaches
This one’s a no-brainer. One reason why people enjoy the islands is the beaches. And what’s not to like? Hawaii’s beaches are idyllic representations of paradise. The white sand, the swaying palm trees and the turquoise waters of Hawaii’s beaches create a picturesque scene that people want to see and experience.
While Waikiki Beach is just a few blocks away from most Waikiki hotels, we suggest checking out neighboring Kuhio Beach and Queen’s Beach if you want a less crowded venue. Both are just along the stretch of beach along Kalakaua Avenue heading towards Diamond Head, with Queen’s Beach being the farthest from Waikiki but still within walking distance.
Your beach options exponentially increase once you venture out of Waikiki. From Sandy Beach and Makapu’u all the way to the North Shore, you can hang out at a different beach for a week and not run out of options.
Here’s a list of beaches that you might want to consider outside of Waikiki:
- Ala Moana Beach Park
- Hanauma Bay (Closed every Tuesday; $12.00 entry fee per guest)
- Halona Beach Cove (bonus: check out Halona Blow Hole while you’re here)
- Sandy Beach
- Makapu’u Beach
- Waimanalo Beach
- Lanikai Beach
- Sunset Beach
- Banzai Pipeline
- Waimea Beach
- Laniakea Beach
Hike to the top of Diamond Head
Nothing screams “Hawaii” like Diamond Head. This iconic natural landmark is well known throughout the world and is practically Hawaii’s trademark scene. It’s on posters, postcards, magazines, movies and TV shows. Want to evoke that “Hawaii” feeling? Just add a shot of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. Works every time.
We’re not going to bore you with the details on how Diamond Head got its name, but if you want a challenging experience with a visually satisfying reward, then hiking to the top of Diamond Head is should be on your list of activities.
This hiking trail is popular to both locals and tourists alike for a good reason: while the hike may look daunting (you’re climbing up a mountain after all), this 1.6-mile hike (round-trip) is actually rated as moderate, with a mostly paved trail that’s flanked by wild flora and of course, spectacular views that get better as you ascend to the summit.
Once you’re on the observation deck, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of Honolulu, Waikiki, Manoa, Palolo and other East Honolulu neighborhoods. You can even see Koko Head Crater in the distance!
Entrance fee is only $5.00 per car or $1.00 if you’re planning on taking TheBus and walking in. Unfortunately, no cards are accepted; all payments must be made in cash.
More info: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/diamond-head-state-monument/
Check out Aloha Tower
At one point in Hawaii’s history, Aloha Tower was the tallest building in the islands. Today, the tower continues to serve as a welcoming beacon for ships entering Honolulu Harbor. This historic landmark allows visitors to go up to its observation deck where you’ll again be greeted by stunning views of Downtown Honolulu, Chinatown and its surrounding areas.
Visiting the observation deck is free and parking is available for a nominal fee.
More info: https://www.alohatower.com
Visit the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii
The history buff in you will appreciate a trip to this museum located in the heart of Waikiki. It’s a great place to learn about Hawaii’s role in various wars around the Pacific Rim. Also of worthy note is the museum’s exhibit on ancient Hawaiian warfare, detailing ancient Hawaiian rituals, preparations, strategies and weaponry.
Admission to this museum is free, but we recommend doing the audio tour for $5.00. As with a lot of museums that rely on donations, the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii isn’t any different, so donating a dollar or two will help in making sure other visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the museum as well.
More info: https://hiarmymuseumsoc.org
Nestled at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountain Range lies Byodo-In Temple, a smaller-scale replica of the century-old Byodo-In Temple located in Uji, Japan. The lush landscaping, koi ponds and the scent of incense give this temple that serene atmosphere all Buddhist temples are known for. The Ko’olau Mountains serving as a backdrop only makes this temple an even more alluring sight to feast your eyes on.
Admission is only $5.00 per person. Cash and cards are accepted.
More info: https://byodo-in.com
Visit Iolani Palace and King Kamehameha Statue
Quick fact: There’s only one royal palace in the United States, and that would be ‘Iolani Palace. With its present iteration commissioned by King Kalakaua in 1882, the palace served as the official residence of the Hawaiian Monarch until the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. It then served as temporary headquarters to various governing bodies until restoration work started in the 1960s. The palace was then opened to the public in 1978.
Saying that this place is magnificent is an understatement. While a virtual tour of the palace is available online, nothing beats going there and seeing each room for yourself as well as the displays in the basement of the palace. Don’t forget to check out the Royal Hawaiian Band’s free concert, which will hopefully resume once pandemic restrictions are lifted.
A docent-led tour is worth the $27 admission fee, but a self-guided audio tour is also available for $20. We strongly recommend booking well in advance as there are only 5 spots per tour time due to COVID rules.
Once you’re done touring the palace grounds, head on over across the street to the King Kamehameha statue for a photo op or two. FYI: King Kamehameha I was Hawaii’s first king who united all of the Hawaiian Islands under one ruler. You can read more about Hawaii’s greatest king—and his statue—here.
More info: https://www.iolanipalace.org
You’ve seen Honolulu and much of the city sights atop Aloha Tower and Diamond Head, now get ready to see the lush and verdant landscape of Oahu’s Windward side. Yes, we’re talking about none other than Nu’uanu Pali Lookout – a place that’s not only a nice photo op but also carries great importance in Hawaii’s formative history.
Kaneohe, Kailua and Chinaman’s hat are all visible from the lookout’s vantage point, as are the towering cliffs of the Ko’olau mountain range, often draped in wind-swept clouds. And speaking of wind, be sure to hold on to your hats, scarves, sunglasses and anything that might blow off while you’re visiting, as strong gusts of wind can easily blow them away. The wind can sometimes be so strong that you can literally lean against it.
Oh, and remember King Kamehameha I? Well, Nu’uanu Pali is the site where King Kamehameha I won a very important battle that paved the way for him to unify all of Hawaii into one kingdom. During the battle, hundreds of warriors fell to their deaths from this vantage point, signaling their defeat in the hands of Kamehameha.
Parking fee at the lookout is $7 per vehicle.
More info: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/nuuanu-pali-state-wayside/
And there you have it. Seven things you can do on Oahu that are either free or relatively inexpensive. We know there are a lot of other things you can do that we didn’t list here (Tantalus hike, Punchbowl Crater, and of course, a visit to Pearl Harbor to name a few) but we’ll leave that for another blog post sometime in the future. Until then, let us know what you think in the comments below.