Aloha, fellow Oahu enthusiasts!
Let me tell you, I’ve been venturing to this island paradise with my boyfriend for quite some time now, and we just can’t get enough. We’ve seen firsthand how costly a vacation in Oahu can be if you’re not careful; but fear not, because I’ve got the scoop on the top free activities for you to enjoy during your stay in Oahu. These gems won’t leave you penniless or feeling like you missed out on all the amazing experiences that the island has to offer.
You see, over the years and numerous trips with friends and family, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on finding free and budget-friendly (utterly fantastic) things to do in Oahu. From basking in the sun at picture-perfect beaches to exploring rich culture through hula dances – there’s something for everyone without breaking the bank!
Warning: Your appreciation for Hawaii might increase exponentially after reading this article – proceed with caution! Or better yet… pack your bags and sunscreen!
So buckle up as we embark on a virtual journey filled with laughter, adventure, and unforgettable memories. And who knows? Maybe one day soon our paths will cross under the swaying palm trees of beautiful Oahu!
Visit the Beaches
A trip to Oahu is incomplete without hitting its terrific beaches, which have miles of white sand, and beautiful blue waters perfect for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and any water activity you can think of. Plus, every beach is open to the public and completely free to visit!
Families with children will love the Waikiki and Ala Moana beaches on the island’s South side, which have lifeguards on duty all day, and offer fun water sports like surfing and snorkeling. However, if you’re seeking some privacy, head to Sunset beach and Turtle Beach on the North shore, as the latter is home to colonies of Hawaiian green sea turtles.
My boyfriend and I also love relaxing at the Lanikai beach on the Windward coast, which is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii.
So make some time on your itinerary for the beaches in Oahu, as spending a day relaxing on them is one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- You can find the best snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Beach and Shark’s Cove.
- The North shore beaches are ideal for watching expert surfers ride the waves.
- Most Oahu beaches have amenities like restrooms, showers, picnic tables, ample parking space, and lifeguards on duty.
Hike to the Diamond Head Volcano
Wherever you go in Honolulu, Diamond Head’s shadow will loom over you as this ancient volcano towers over the island’s Southside. So travelers love hiking to its rim, which gives excellent aerial views of the island. However, the drive to the volcano takes a half-hour from downtown Honolulu, so use a car rental or Uber.
The roundtrip can take two hours, depending on your fitness level, and is generally considered an easy to moderate trek. You’ll be hiking on a well-maintained track with handrails along the way for support, so even children can make the trip.
Along the way, enjoy stunning views of Oahu from the volcano’s elevation, see the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, and breathe in the fresh island air. However, there’s a minor entrance fee for visitors on foot, $5, and $10 for cars.
My boyfriend and I love hiking to Diamond Head as it’s a great way to see the island from a bird’s eye view and one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- Try going early in the morning to avoid tourist crowds in the afternoon.
- There’s a visitor center where you can buy hiking essentials and refreshments.
- Many scenic points on the trail serve as great photo ops.
Attend a Free Hula Show at Kuhio Beach
Hula is a traditional Hawaiian dance dating back to ancient Polynesia, and watching them is a great way to acquaint yourself with the culture. Although most hulas take place alongside expensive luaus, you can watch this terrific dance at the Kuhio Beach Park in Waikiki for free.
The hulas on Kuhio Beach are held most nights of the week and are an immersive experience beginning with the sound of a conch shell being blown. The ceremonial tiki torches are also lit, and traditional Hawaiian music fills the atmosphere as the best performers in Oahu grace the beach with their beautiful hula dance.
Plus, you can find similar hula shows daily at the Ala Moana Shopping Center and every Saturday at the Royal Hawaiian Center, which are fun events for families.
We love watching the hula on Kuhio Beach, as it’s one of the most fun things to do in Oahu for free.
- The beach hula allows viewers to experience a gorgeous sunset before it begins.
- Kuhio Beach Park holds hula performances on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
- You can stop to see the famous Duke Kahanamoku statue close to the beach on your way.
Visit the Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial
Experience a naval base and historical landmark at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, which was the attack site of Japanese forces during World War II. In addition, you can explore the Harbor’s visitor center for free, which has incredible exhibits displaying the morning of the attack, and take in scenic views from the Harbor.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial museums commemorate the men and women who lost their lives in the attack through two unique gallery exhibits, audio tours, and a short documentary film reliving the events of December 7, 1941.
Plus, you can sign up online for the USS Arizona Memorial program, which charges $1 for a visit to the battleship’s memorial site.
It was incredible getting to see Pearl Harbor and its exhibits, and it is one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- Entry to the Harbor is free for the first 1000 visitors after opening at 7 am.
- You can buy souvenirs from the on-site gift shop.
- The visitor center has guides who take you through the Harbor’s history and answer all your questions.
See the Byodo In Temple
Oahu is home to the Valley of Temples on its eastern side, where the Byodo-In Temple lies nestled in the lush Ko’olau Mountains. This Buddhist temple was built in the 1960s in honor of Japanese immigrant workers coming to Hawaii and has become a tourist-favorite spot for its gorgeous gardens and peaceful atmosphere.
Although the temple is non-practicing, it’s maintained as a site of meditation and reflection for the people visiting. Guests can explore the vast temple gardens, see koi ponds, many small waterfalls, and a huge Buddha statue, and ring the ceremonial bell on their visits.
However, there’s a small entrance fee of $5 for adults, but it’s worth it as you get to experience the beauty and tranquility of the temple.
My boyfriend and I have visited Byodo-In temple many times for its peaceful atmosphere, which makes it one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- Driving to Byodo-In Temple through the gorgeous Ko’olau mountains makes for a scenic ride.
- The temple was the filming site of the hit TV series Lost.
- There are often discounts on the entrance fee for adults and children.
Hike to the Manoa Falls
Leave the sounds and crowds of the city behind when you visit Manoa Falls, which has an accessible trail and a gorgeous 150-ft drop. Hiking to the falls is a two-hour round trip, but you can easily spend a couple of hours here wandering through natural scenery on the trail.
Since the trail is rocky and gets slippery after it rains, make sure to wear sturdy shoes for the trek. Besides, it’s an enjoyable trip with glimpses of a bamboo forest, tropical flowers and trees, and streams running near the trail.
Once at the waterfall’s base, you can take in breathtaking views of the cascading waterfall, which also makes for a stunning photo op.
My boyfriend and I love trekking to Manoa Falls as it’s an easy hike, which makes it one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- Facilities like bathrooms, showers, and a food truck are available at the trail’s base.
- The hike is great for families with children and beginners.
- Manoa Falls was used as a backdrop for filming Jurassic World and Lost.
Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Oahu’s waters are home to Hawaii’s beautiful native marine life, and the best way to see them is by snorkeling on its shores. So visit Hanauma Bay on the Southeastern coast, which acts as a marine life conservation area and offers the best snorkeling on the island.
The Bay was formed by volcanic activity centuries ago and lies inside the Hanauma Bay State Park, which is also an underwater park aiming to protect the sea life and educate visitors about them.
From the Bay’s magnificent coral reef, you can swim and snorkel alongside 450+ species of tropical fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and even moray eels. In addition, the golden-sand beach is a favorite spot for sunbathing and taking in views of the clear blue water.
We love snorkeling at Hanauma Bay as it’s a terrific way to see the sea life in its natural habitat. Here’s why it’s one of the best things to do in Oahu for free:
- There’s a small admission fee that’s waived for children under 12 years.
- The Bay’s calm waters are ideal for families with younger children wanting to snorkel.
- You can beat the crowds by arriving early when the shore is nearly empty.
Explore Downtown Honolulu
A great way to learn Hawaiian history is by exploring downtown Honolulu, which is home to a palace, government buildings, bustling markets, local eateries, and more. Of course, you can take a walking tour of the major historic sites in the downtown area, but we find a self-guided tour much more entertaining – and completely free!
You’ll start the trip by seeing the Aloha Tower, which served as a lighthouse to guide ships to Honolulu Harbor in the past. There’s also a huge marketplace near the tower, with great local and international retailers and tons of great restaurants.
Next, you’ll want to visit the Capital District, where the Iolani Palace was once home to Hawaiian royalty and now serves as a museum with royal exhibits on display. The District also has important government buildings, like the Hawaii State Capitol, the city hall (called Honolulu Hale), Washington Place, and the governor’s mansion.
We always love touring downtown Honolulu as it’s a great way to tour the city and one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- Northwest of downtown is Honolulu’s Chinatown, which is one of the largest in the US.
- There are great local eateries like the Hukilau Cafe in downtown Honolulu, where you can try authentic Hawaiian food.
- The local transport system runs through the downtown area, so you can easily get from one place to the next.
Take free classes at the Royal Hawaiian Center
Close to Waikiki beach and located in the heart of Honolulu, the Royal Hawaiian Center is a hub of cultural activities, local eateries, and daily events, most of which are free! The Center is also part of the infamous Royal Hawaiian Hotel, known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, for its striking color.
You can try various cultural activities at the Center, such as taking ukulele lessons, hula classes for adults and kids, lauhala weaving lessons, and learning to make a lei. There’s also a terrific hula show every Saturday, led by local groups who put up a fantastic performance to live music.
In addition, guests can take a free weekly walking tour of the city with the Royal Hawaiian, with guides narrating fascinating stories about their hotel.
My boyfriend and I love taking classes at the Royal Hawaiian Center, as it’s one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- The activities are family-friendly and great for keeping kids entertained.
- The Center has great local restaurants serving delicious Hawaiian food.
- You can tour the gorgeous Royal Hawaiian Hotel after visiting the Center, which is open for visitors.
Climb the Koko Crater Railway Trail
Oahu is home to a few dormant volcanoes, which now serve as natural scenic destinations, like the Koko Crater. A grueling hike takes you to the Koko Head’s rim on a steep railway trail up the side of the dormant volcanic crater, which is made entirely of stairs – 1048, to be exact!
The hike is a real fitness test from all the stairs but not at all dangerous, as it only requires endurance to finish. However, the view from up Koko Head is an unmissable sight, as it gives unmatched views of the ocean, Diamond Head, and Hanauma Bay, going all the way to Makapuu Point and its lighthouse.
In addition, the sunrise and sunset views from the top are some of the best in Hawaii, so try to schedule your visit to fit either one and experience a stunning view.
My boyfriend and I love the challenging hike to Koko Head, and we consider it one of the best things to do in Oahu for free.
- There’s free parking in the Koko Head District lot near the trail’s beginning.
- There are abandoned military bunkers at the top and a metal platform that gives the best views.
- This trek is ideal for experienced hikers as it presents a real physical challenge.
What is there to do in Honolulu for free?
You can hit the beaches like Waikiki, Sunset, and Lanikai, watch surfers on the Banzai Pipeline, go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay or Shark’s Cove, and visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the Capital District in downtown Honolulu for free. There are plenty of great activities visitors can enjoy for free in the city, and only some require a small admission fee.
Are the beaches in Oahu free?
Yes! All the beaches in Oahu are public and free for visitors to enter and spend time on, such as the famous Waikiki beach. In fact, every beach in Hawaii is open to the public unless it’s on private property, in which case you need to get a permit.
What is the first thing to do in Oahu?
You have to visit Waikiki beach if it’s your first time in Oahu and swim in its gentle waves, learn surfing or relax on its shores. The beach is also right next to the island’s central hub of restaurants, shopping stores, clubs, and much more. Other great activities for first-timers include taking a hike to the Diamond Head crater, visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, and sightseeing on the North shore.
Winding Up The Top Things to do in Oahu for Free
Oahu is aptly called the Gathering Place in Hawaii as it entertains thousands of tourists yearly on its shores. And despite being one of the more expensive islands, Oahu offers great opportunities for people to explore it for free without splurging on expensive tours.
My boyfriend and I have tried all the free activities and self-guided tours in Oahu, and we’ve concluded that exploring the island on your own is a lot more fun than with a tour.
Want to try free, family-friendly activities in Oahu? Hit the Waikiki and Ala Moana beaches, and visit the Royal Hawaiian Center for cultural activities.
Looking for the best free hikes in Oahu? Hit the Diamond Head crater trail, the Manoa falls trail and the Koko Head Crater trail.
Want to explore Oahu’s historical landmarks for free? Head to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the Capital District in downtown Honolulu.
The free activities in Oahu offer unmissable fun for everyone!
Last Updated on March 31, 2023 by Brigitte