Hawaii is a Bucket List location for many people, but it’s not the cheapest place to visit. Even with airline points and/or a free place to stay, visiting the Hawaiian Islands can cost a pretty penny. So here are some fun, budget activities you can do while on Oahu that each cost $20 or less. Some are even free!
1. North Shore
Let’s start with an easy (and free!) activity – exploring along the North Shore. There are so many different landscapes along this coastline, you can spend a day beach-hopping and never see the same thing twice!
*Bonus Treat* Food Truck Park – along the route is a little parking lot with 4-5 different food trucks. It’s a great spot to take a break and get some excellent food. One of the trucks has a well-known name and a very long line, but don’t be afraid to try the neighboring trucks with less popular names, the food is just as amazing and you’ll be eating it a lot sooner than everyone else.
Cost for Shrimp Plate + Bottled Water: $15.75
2. Waimea Falls and Botanical Garden
Walk the beautiful garden trail (1 1/2 mile, round trip) to the Waimea Waterfall. Pass beside flowering gardens and historical structures, with informational markers telling you of their significance along the way. You can even swim at the waterfall when weather allows (life jackets are required of everyone and are included in your admission).
3. Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
One of the most beautiful and moving World War II Memorial sites I have visited yet are the historic sites at Pearl Harbor. It’s easy to see why it’s the most visited destination in Hawaii. Emotional, iconic, historical.
Personally, I highly recommend the audio guide while you walk thru the grounds and museum. It offers added tidbits of information to everything you’re seeing. Also, be sure to leave all bags in the car (even your purse!) or be prepared to spend $5 to check it in at their bag storage, outside the entrance.
Cost: Admission is FREE, optional Audio Guide $9
4. Dole Plantation
What started as a fruit stand in 1950, the Dole Plantation is now one of the more popular attractions in Hawaii! Offering the Pineapple Express Train Tour, a Plantation Garden Tour, and a Pineapple Garden Maze, you can pick and choose between the experiences and see exactly what you like. (I picked the Train and Plantation Garden for my visit.)
Cost for Train and Garden Combo Tour: $15
*Bonus Treat* While you’re there, be sure to try the famous dairy-free soft-serve pineapple goodness known as the Dole Whip!
Cost for Regular Cone: $5.75
5. Honolulu Museum of Art
Top of the budget, but well worth it if you like art is admission to the Honolulu Museum of Art. Focusing on their Asian influence and their own history.
SPLURGE: Shangri La Hawaii + Honolulu Museum of Art + Spalding House
For just a little bit extra, you can splurge and get a ticket to Shangri La Hawaii – Doris Duke’s iconic home filled with many influences and works of Islamic art. You do have to schedule your ticket ahead of time, as they are limited and can run out, but you get a guided tour of her beautiful home, plus access to the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Spalding House (contemporary art) on the same day. That’s 3 museums for only $26 (or $8.67 each!!)
6. Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
One of the best panoramic views on the island can be found at Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. Although technically free, you do have to pay for parking. And, take note: it’s SUPER windy there, it’s not just the view that will take your breath away! But the view is sure worth it.
Cost: Parking Fee $3
7. Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
Some of the most fun I had was when I hiked to the Makapu-u Lighthouse! I don’t consider myself much of a hiker, but this was an easy-to-moderate hike (approximately 2 miles, out and back) with a paved trail and gradual inclines. There are many spots along the way to catch your breath after an uphill climb and signposts along the way telling you about the ecosystems and history of the area. There isn’t much shade there so be sure to wear a hat and bring along your sunscreen!
*Bonus Treat* Leonard’s Bakery Malasadas
Reward yourself for all your hiking with a malasada from Leonard’s Bakery! Malasadas are a fried pastry, kind of a donut without a hole, often filled with creamy yumminess like the blueberry cream pictured here! Leonard’s is Hawaii’s original malasada bakery and have been making this baked deliciousness since 1953.
Cost for 2 malasadas + small coffee: $6.23
8. Byodo-In Temple
Walk into another world when you visit the Byodo-In Temple. Originally dedicated in 1968, this non-denominational temple is a half-size replica of a 950-year-old temple in Japan. It’s a beautiful space in which to worship, meditate or simply admire. Inside the temple is a statue of the Lotus Buddha and off to the side, you can ring the Brass Peach Bell. The day I was there, the air was misty and the clouds hung overhead, heavy with rain – it was like walking thru a mythical garden.
9. Iolani Palace When you’re here, be sure to visit the home of the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. Iolani Palace was built by King Kalakaua in 1882 and has been a national historic landmark since 1962. You can follow along with their self-audio-guide tour thru the first and second floors of the palace, including the Music Room (pictured in yellow) and Throne Room (the red room, which also includes highlights of the fashions of the time).
*Bonus Treat* A must have on your visit is Hawaiian Shave Ice! A delectable treat of fresh fruit surrounding shaved ice that’s surrounding a base of vanilla ice cream. It comes in a multitude of flavor combinations, and you can find many vendors all over the island, so you could try a different one every day!
10. Lanikai Beach
What could be a more iconic experience in Hawaii than watching the sun rise or set on the beach? You are almost always just a few steps (or, very short drive) away from a gorgeous, breathtaking view when you’re visiting Oahu. You can take a walk along the water, or grab a blanket to just sit & admire the beauty around you.
If you want to plan a trip to Hawaii and don’t know where to start, check out this great post by Sarah at Borders & Bucket Lists: Which Hawaiian Island Should You Choose.
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