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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A reminder, all links are for your convenience only, I am not an affiliate of any company and do not make money off recommending them. I just want to make it easy for you to find them if you’re interested!
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I love that you add snack suggestions on spots because that’s what I like to do when traveling! That Dole whip looks so yummy. Taiwan – the country I’m living in for now – is famous for pineapples and pineapple sweets. When I visit Oahu, I should compare how pineapples from two regions compare. 🙂
Oh, I would be very interested to hear how different the pineapples are between the two!! The Dole Whip was really delicious – especially on a warm day, it was a refreshing, cool treat!!
I’m actually from Hawaii, and this is quite the solid list! North Shore and Lanikai are probably my two favorites out of what you mentioned :).
Thank you – that makes me so happy to hear I have the nod of approval from someone who is from there!! Lanikai was such a beautiful beach – it was near where I stayed and I had such a peaceful morning just sitting there watching the sunrise.
This is really helpful! I plan to meet my parents in Hawaii at some point, me coming from NZ, them from Canada. It is so nice to know there are such fun things to do that aren’t so expensive! For sure going on my list! Thanks for sharing!
That sounds like the perfect central meeting place!! I hope you have a great visit and get a chance to try some of these. And, of course, I hope you like them as much as I did! 😉
Great list! Good to know about keep things to do in Oahu, since it’s overall an expensive place. I think Pearl Harbor is definitely a must visit, the memorial is so well done.
I absolutely agree, Pearl Harbor is a must visit and I’m so glad I had the chance to go. They did an amazing job with the memorial and the museum, they’re both educational and powerful.
that islamic art museum looks incredible. I never would have expected to find it in Hawaii! I love that you listed all the great places to stop for treats along the way…the money I’d save on activities would immediately be going into that ice cream.
The Shangri La was absolutely incredible to see, and I’d highly recommend a visit. Even though it appears ‘out of place’ it was the home of a woman who loved the island + loved that art, so made her home of both things!!
That ice cream looks sooo good! Especially that I’m lactose intolerant, I’m glad that I could have one serving. I didn’t know there was a monarchy in Hawaii if I ever go, I will be sure to check the palace so I can learn more about this part of Hawaiian history.
There were some very interesting happenings around the monarchy and Hawaii becoming a state – a lot more than I ever realized. So it was very cool to go thru the palace and learn about the history.
One often reads about various destinations how expensive they are. But once at the location, it turns out things aren’t all that bad after all. Not only are there many budget options but also are numerous activities free of charge. In my experience, one should never get discouraged because a location appears to be expensive. Happy travels.
It sometimes takes a little extra research but there are SO many things to be found that don’t cost much, if anything! It may not be the trendiest or most hyped things to see/do, but sometimes they’re a lot more interesting!
Thanks for this list, Cynthia! You are so right: Hawaii is a bucket list location and the cost is what’s keeping it on the list 🙂 It’s really good to know there are affordable things to do that are also fun. Waimea Falls and Pearl Harbour Museum would be my first choices, I think.
P.S. Love the way you organized the list with the “bonus points” added. I do that, too :))
Thank you, I’m glad you liked the bonuses! It certainly helps make things more accessible when you can find the budget options. While it might not mean you can see *everything* it allows you to see *some things* that you might not otherwise get the chance to see!
I’m definitely more likely to lean towards the free things to do. Although, I’d probably still do the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout because it looks gorgeous!
Free is always best! But, truthfully, I don’t mind a small fee when I know it goes to the upkeep of a place. Some sites are definitely worth maintaining for future generations to see!
Great suggestions! I’ve only been to Hawaii as a kid but I remember visiting a few of the places on your list vividly. I’m all about that Malasadas pastry. Yum…blueberry cream? Oh my! Thanks for the suggestions. I was quite skeptical when I read the title but you did it!
Hawaii is definitely a memorable experience, at any age! And I highly recommend the Blueberry Cream Malasadas, they’re quite delicious.
The view from Nu’uanu Pali looks great! Was the hike difficult or was the parking lot just next to the spot you took the photo from?
Not difficult at all, parking is right next to the spot. Just had to contend with the very strong wind!
Wow, Hawaii is cheaper than I thought it would be. I love the sound of malasadas (probably because I like donuts :)). The hikes look amazing too.
The hike was great fun, I really enjoyed it. There are a great many others on the island, some more difficult some less, but the views would all be amazing!
Its great to know these are places which can be visited in a low budget ..
Pearl harbour will be my must to go place. The north shore resembles the South Pacific islands quite a bit 🙂
I haven’t been to any other South Pacific islands, but if they’re like the North Shore I’m all up for exploring them! Pearl Harbour is absolutely a Must Do – definitely a place I would even visit again if I have the chance.
I’ll be honest I didn’t know there was that much to do for under $20. I always thought of Hawaii as expensive and tourist trappy. These suggestions show so many great options and many tasty treats. Maybe we can afford a trip to Oahu!
There is so much here that is applicable to even those who are not 60+. So much to take in, it will require a couple reads. Great advice for all travelers!
Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!
I agree – I didn’t realize there was so much I could do without spending loads of money! I felt that Waikiki was quite tourist trappy and was quite uncomfortable there, but there is so much more to the island than just that area. And, while Pearl Harbour is a popular tourist site, it’s very genuine to me and such an important historical site I think everyone should go at least once. I hope you find a way to visit yourself – would love to hear what you end up seeing!
Here in Europe everybody says that Hawai it´s very expensive, so it´s so good to know that it´s possible to make interesting things with less than $20.
Oh, can be expensive but if you put a little time into planning it can be much more affordable than you think!
Love your blog. Like how you also share the cost for everything. I will definitely be using your blog to plan my trip budget.
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear you like it. Good luck with your budget and have fun on your trip!!