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30 free things to do in Oahu
When it comes to Hawaii (and Oahu) vacations, they can be expensive! However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of free things to do in Oahu.
Getting to Hawaii from anywhere is going to be costly. The average hotel room in Hawaii is currently over $400 per night, and we haven’t even talked about renting a car. (Hint, the Jeep is worth the extra money!)
Fortunately, some of the best things to do in Hawaii are free. I’ve written a series about free things to do in Hawaii, and we’re moving on to the most popular island for tourism, Oahu. Once you’re finished, don’t forget to check out the rest of the series here:
Free things to do in Oahu
Here is a list of free things to do in Oahu, listed in no particular order. I will also include some cheap things to do on Oahu.
There are plenty of great things to do in Oahu that are NOT free, such as visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center or exploring “Jurassic Park” at Kualoa Ranch. So while you can spend plenty of money in Oahu (it’s an expensive place!), there are plenty of free things to do in Oahu (or cheap things to do in Oahu) too!
It’s best to find a balance so that you can do everything you want on Oahu without breaking the bank.
1. Visit Pearl Harbor
Visiting Pearl Harbor is almost always on the list of things to do on Oahu. It’s a solemn place, but it’s somewhere that you need to see if you are visiting Oahu. If you or your family has any military background, it is an absolute must-do.
One of the things that I always tell my clients is that I will not tell them to buy a ticket for something they can do for free. Sure, you can do a guided tour if you want to, but you can also visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial for free.
You do not need tickets to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial or museums, but you do need tickets to go out to the USS Arizona. You can get free tickets, but there is a $1 processing fee. Still worth it to avoid waiting in line!
If you haven’t reserved in advance, the best way to get a free ticket to the USS Arizona Memorial is to show up when the park opens at 7 AM. Here is a hint, plan to go earlier on your trip. You’ll be awake, I promise!
Don’t forget tickets to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
2. Check out the famous Waikiki Beach
Let me tell you a secret: Waikiki Beach isn’t my favorite beach on Oahu; not even close. That said, I know it’s on your bucket list! The good news?
Hawaii’s beaches are completely free and open to the public. If you’re staying in a Waikiki Hotel, you can walk right down to the beach. Even if you are staying outside of Waikiki, it’s easy enough to get to the beach.
Waikiki may be the most famous, but there are better beaches in Oahu! Check out The 21 best beaches in Oahu to find the best beaches for you.
3. Check out the Hawaii State Art Museum
The Hawaii State Art Museum is small, but it’s also free. The museum also holds regular events for the public, including “First Friday,” a gallery walk held on the first Friday of every month. Check out the calendar of events to see what is happening during your Oahu visit.
4. Visit Iolani Palace.
Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States, is another great place to learn about Hawaiian History. Although it is not free, it’s a reasonable $26.95 for adults and $11.95 for children.
5. See Fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
The Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts a firework show every Friday night at 7:45 PM. It’s part of a resort show, but anyone can watch the fireworks. All Hawaii beaches are open to the public, so you can bring chairs or a towel and sit on the beach to watch the show.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village is one of my favorite resorts on Oahu. If you’re looking for a place to stay, it’s a great option. You can check the current pricing here.
6. Hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
If you’ve read any of my other free things to do in Hawaii posts, you’ll know that I love hiking. You do have to pay to park to enter some hiking trails, but fortunately, not at the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail. The path is completely paved, making it ideal for most ages and ability levels.
7. Check out sea turtles at Laniakea Beach
Also known as “turtle beach,” Laniakea Beach is one of the best places to see green sea turtles on Oahu. You’ll find the beach on the North Shore between Haleiwa and Waimea Bay off of Highway 83.
Please remember that the law protects sea turtles, and you should never try to touch or approach them. You are in their home, so make sure to show them respect.
8. Go snorkeling
My favorite place to snorkel on Oahu is Hanauma Bay. You can save money by bringing your own snorkel equipment.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Oahu in the winter, you’ll likely be able to see some incredible waves on the North Shore. The best spots for watching winter waves are Sunset Beach, Ehukai Beach, and Waimea Beach. You might even spot some humpback whales!
10. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is one of the best beaches on Oahu, which is why it’s making the list of the best free things to do on Oahu. This beach is a popular spot for snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking. Pillbox Hike (Kaiwa Ridge Trail) is also nearby and a fantastic moderate-level hike.
Once at the top, you’ll see panoramic views
11. Learn the Hula, lei Making, ‘ukulele and more
The Royal Hawaiian Center offers complimentary classes from Monday-Saturday. You can learn arts like ‘ukulele playing, lei making, hula dancing, and lauhala making. Check out the Royan Hawaiian Center Cultural Programming Schedule to learn more.
12. See the Duke Kahanamoku statue
Duke, the father of modern surfing, has a state on On Kuhio Beach in Waikiki.
13. Byodo-in temple
Visiting the Byodo-In Temple is another one of the cheap things to do in Oahu. It is not free, but very affordable at only $5 for adults and $2/children. You can also schedule a guided tour.
Please keep in mind that this is a solemn, religious area. Be respectful and quiet while in the Valley of the Temples. It is also asked that you remove your shoes before entering the Temple.
14. Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Lanikai Pillbox hike is not an easy hike, but it is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu. If you don’t mind the moderate difficulty, Kaiwa Ridge (the actual name of the hike) is one of the best hikes in Oahu.
Check out The best Sunrise Hikes Oahu for more incredible sunrise hikes.
15. Visit Haleiwa Town
I have a blog post with things to do in Haleiwa. If you have a car, visiting the North Shore of Oahu and the town of Haleiwa is a must. Wandering around the town is free, of course, but there are also plenty of cute shops and fun things to do.
You also must check out the food trucks!
16. Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art
If you love art, or if you have some extra time during your vacation to Oahu Hawaii, make sure to check out the Honolulu Museum of Art! Walk-in guests are welcome but you can also reserve tickets in advance.
Entry is $20 for adults, but all children under 18 are free. So while it’s not one of the free things to do in Oahu, it’s very inexpensive.
17. Check out the Dole Plantation
I’m often asked, “is the Dole Plantation worth it?” and that really depends on you. I find it a bit touristy but some people do enjoy it! The best part is that it’s one of the best free things to do in Oahu. Well, kind of. Going to the Dole Plantation is free, but they do charge for any activities there.
Still, you can go for free to say you’ve been! Plus, they have free parking, which is a rarity on Oahu.
18. Ho’omaluhia botanical garden
This is where “the photo spot” is that you see plastered all over. Just know that you are actually not supposed to stop and take photos there. 😉 It’s an actual road.
Although Hawaii’s botanical gardens can be overlooked (because Hawaii is generally beautiful everywhere), they are definitely must-sees! Best of all, Ho’omaluhia botanical garden is free to visit!
19. Window shop in downtown Honolulu
Okay, so shopping isn’t free and, in fact, can be very expensive. However, you can always window-shop at the high-end stores available. If you do want to do a little high-end shopping, the island of Oahu is the only island in Hawaii with many options.
20. Visit Ko Olina
Ko Olina offers four man-made lagoons and a few of the best resorts on Oahu, including Disney’s Aulani, The Four Seasons, and Marriott Ko Olina Resort.
Since Hawaii beaches are public, there is access to the lagoon beaches even if you are not staying at one of the resorts. You can get reservations and have dinner or even go shopping at the resorts if you’d like. This is a great way to see some of the fantastic resorts without staying there.
21. Watch humpback whales in the winter months
Sure, you can go on a whale-watching tour (and I’d recommend it if it’s in the budget), but you can also often see them from the shore.
Now you can’t always see whales in Hawaii; it depends on the time of year. However, if you’re visiting during the winter months, watching whales can be one of the best free things to do in Oahu. There are a few types of whales that visit Hawaii, but the humpback whale is the most common.
Check out my guide for The Best Time for Whale Watching in Hawaii.
22. Visit Manoa Falls
Manoa Falls is a 1.7-mile out-and-back hike just a short drive from Honolulu. This is the perfect place for a family hike. If your family wants to see a waterfall, I highly recommend this easy hiking trail.
23. Makapu’u Tidepools
Check out tropical fish at the Mokapu’u tide pools. This is one of the best free activities in Oahu when it’s open, but sometimes the trail will be closed due to hazardous conditions.
Please make sure to follow any rules or signs and stay away if it’s dangerous.
24. Visit Ala Moana Beach Park
Ala Moana Beach Park is popular with locals. Make sure to be respectful and avoid being “that tourist” who is rude, littering, getting too close to animals, or just generally being a jerk.
25. Visit the National Memorial Cemetery Of The Pacific
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is a cemetery located in Punchbowl Crater and is often referred to as “Punchbowl” or “Punchbowl Cemetery.”
Punchbowl Crater formed some 75,000+ years ago during the Honolulu period of secondary volcanic activity.
Over 50,000 veterans from World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnam War are buried here.
26. Hike Diamond Head
You need reservations to hike Diamond Head. It’s not one of the free things to do in Oahu, but it’s very inexpensive. The entrance fee is $5 per person, with children under three being free. Parking is also $10 for a non-commercial vehicle.
Diamond Head hike is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu (and one of the most popular in all of the Hawaiian islands), so make sure to get your reservations as soon as possible.
27. Kailua Beach Park
I mentioned earlier that Waikiki Beach is far too crowded, and I recommend going to some of the other beach parks. Kailua Beach Park is a great option. Kailua Beach Park offers picnic tables, beach volleyball courts, showers, restrooms, plenty of shade, white sand beaches, and a calm swimming area.
28. Watch Pro Surfers on the North Shore
Even if you don’t surf yourself (or want to learn), Oahu is a great place to watch pro surfers practice.
29. Watch a free hula show in Waikiki
There is a free hula show daily at 5 PM at Centerstage at Ala Moana Center. You can also see a Keiki (children’s) show for free at 1 PM on Sundays.
These free hula shows are very popular, so make sure to arrive early to ensure a good seat. This is one of the best fun activities to learn about Hawaiian culture with live music and local artists.
30. Visit Ehukai Beach Park
Ehukai Beach Park is home to the Banzai Pipeline. This is one of the best places to watch surfers. Just don’t attempt to surf here yourself; it’s definitely not safe for beginners!
Free Oahu Activities
There you have it – 30 free things to do on Oahu. If you’re looking for more things to do during your vacation, make sure to check out 100 things to do in Hawaii.
If you have anything to add to the list, please share it in the comments below. Planning an Oahu vacation and looking for more information? Check out some of my other Oahu blog posts:
- 10 best things to do on Oahu
- 10 best things to do in Waikiki
- The 7 Best Luxury Resorts on Oahu
- What is the best luau in Hawaii?
- The questions you’re afraid to ask about Hawaii
Book your Oahu vacation with a Hawaii Travel Specialist.
If you’re looking for an Oahu honeymoon vacation personalized just for you, give me a call! I specialize in working with clients to create the perfect vacation for you. That means no packages; everything is personalized. Make sure to contact me, and I’ll get back to you to start planning ASAP!
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