In general, you’d be right to assume that vacationing in Hawaii can be pricey. Nonetheless, one of the easiest ways to make your trip more affordable is to look for attractions that won’t cost you anything! Therefore, we’ll be listing the 20 best free activities on Oahu, Hawaii, in this article. To further help you with your planning, we’ve even divided these attractions into groups by location on the island. You can find awesome free things to do in Honolulu, on the North Shore, and Oahu’s Windward Coast! Whether you prefer beach hopping, hiking, or photo opportunities, keep reading to find exciting things to do in Oahu for free.
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Free things to do in Honolulu
Spend the day at Waikiki Beach.
When visiting Oahu, it’s most likely that you’ll end up staying in Waikiki for at least part of your trip. With that said, you can’t miss spending some time at Waikiki Beach! This spot is one of the most famous places in Hawaii due to its history within the surfing world and its accessible location. So, grab your beach towel and gear and relax while you watch the surfers and fellow beach-goers pass by. You can also swim, paddleboard, or take a catamaran ride here. With its incredible view of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach is also a great place to take pictures in Oahu.
Participate in cultural activities and experiences at the Royal Hawaiian Center.
The Royal Hawaiian Center, located in the heart of Waikiki, is much more than just a shopping center! In fact, it hosts weekly cultural activities and experiences, which are some of the best free things to do in Waikiki. These exciting events include lessons in playing the ukulele, hula dancing, lei making, and lauhala weaving. Plus, you can attend live performances of hula and music from local groups. Check out the full list of free events at the Royal Hawaiian Center here. After you visit the Center, take a stroll through the beautiful Royal Hawaiian Hotel, known as “Pink Palace of the Pacific.”
Explore the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is one of the most popular things to do in Oahu. So, it may come as a surprise that it’s free to enter this historic site! Nonetheless, note that you do need to make a reservation for Pearl Harbor National Memorial’s USS Arizona Memorial Program via the Recreation.gov website. While you don’t technically have to pay for your ticket, this website does charge a $1 per person fee to complete your reservation (non-refundable). After receiving your confirmation email, make sure to print out your QR code or take a screenshot of it on your phone.
Take a walking tour of the Waikiki Historic Trail.
You’ll find the two-mile Waikiki Historic trail marked with bronze-cast surfboards, beginning in Kapiolani Beach Park and ending at Kalakaua Park. Along the way, you’ll learn about the history and culture of Waikiki, especially before it was the bustling area that it is today. There are 21 markers on this self-guided walking tour, featuring locations like the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the International Marketplace, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and more. The surfboard markers are over six feet tall, so they should be easy to spot! There are only two stops without markers: the Duke Kahanamoku Statue and the Healing Stones of Kapaemahu. To learn more about the Waikiki Historic Trail and to print out a map, click here.
Stop for a photo at the Duke Kahanamoku Statue.
If you’re looking for a fun photo opportunity around Waikiki, check out the Duke Kahanamoku Statue. Located on Kuhio Beach, this bronze statue commemorates “the father of modern surfing.” Apart from his incredible surfing skills, Duke was also a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and a military police officer during World War II. As a way to honor his impressive legacy, visitors often leave leis on the statue. However, please note that the Hawai’i Tourism Authority currently discourages this practice as the acidity from the flowers chips away at the bronze. So, if you’d like to leave a lei here, please place it at the statue’s feet.
Peruse the Hawaii State Art Museum.
You can find the Hawaiʻi State Art Museum (HISAM) in downtown Honolulu, located on the second floor of No. 1 Capitol District Building. This public museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is always free. It should only take about 30 minutes to an hour to check out the exhibits, but it’s a wonderful way to experience Hawaiian art! Take a video tour of the museum here.
Hike Honolulu’s free trails.
The Honolulu area is home to all sorts of incredible options for hiking! Two of the most popular free things to do in Oahu are the Manoa Falls Trail (moderate) and the Koko Crater Tramway to Koko Head Lookout (hard). Regarding Manoa Falls, entry is free, but you’ll need to pay $5 to park in the designated trail lot. For the Koko Head Stairs, you can find free parking at the Koko Head District Park parking lot.
Note that the most famous hike in Honolulu is Diamond Head (moderate), which currently has an entrance fee of $5 for non-Hawaii residents along with a $10 parking fee. However, this price still lands Diamond Head in the category of the best cheap things to do in Honolulu. No matter which hike you choose, always remember to verify trail conditions online before starting your trek. Trails in Hawaii will sometimes close due to inclement weather! Additionally, make sure you have a solid pair of hiking shoes with good traction.
Watch the Kuhio Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show. (Currently suspended)
The Kuhio Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show is a free event across the street from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. During normal times, you can watch the show on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (depending on the weather) from 6:30-7:30 p.m. During November, December, and January, it runs from 6-7 p.m. Unfortunately, this event is currently suspended. However, be sure to check here to see if this show will be back in time for your vacation.
Friday Fireworks show at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. (Currently suspended)
Are you looking for the best free things to do in Honolulu at night? We highly recommend checking out the free fireworks show that the Hilton Hawaiian Village puts on each Friday. The show begins at 7:45 p.m. from September to May and 8 p.m. from June through August. Make sure to arrive early to snag a prime viewing spot–we suggest bringing a beach towel and sitting along the beach near the Hilton Lagoon. Note that the Friday Fireworks are canceled at the moment due to current restrictions. Check the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s website for the latest updates.
Tour Aloha Tower’s observation deck on the 10th floor. (Currently suspended)
At 18 stories, Aloha Tower was once the tallest building in Honolulu. Nowadays, this retired lighthouse is home to an observation deck, providing incredible views of the Honolulu Harbor and the Koʻolau Mountain Range. During a normal year, the 10th-floor deck is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (weather permitting), and it’s completely free to visit. However, this attraction is currently closed to follow local restrictions. Check back here to see if the deck is open during your trip.
Free things to do on the North Shore
Take a photo at the Haleiwa sign.
If you’re looking for the best things to do on the North Shore during your Oahu vacation, don’t miss the highly Instagrammable Haleiwa surfer signs. Carole Beller, an artist from California, created these installations in 1996 to draw attention to Haleiwa Town. Since then, these signs have become a popular spot to stop and take pictures while you’re passing through. There are two versions: the surfer girl Haleiwa sign is located at 62-330 Kamehameha Hwy, while the surfer boy is at 62-400 Joseph P. Leong Hwy. Since both of these signs are placed along the side of the highway, it’s important to remember to be cautious when taking your photos here.
Relax in the sun at Sunset Beach.
Sunset Beach, located about an hour’s drive from Honolulu, stretches for two miles and features soft beige sand. It’s a great spot to relax, sunbathe, and watch the surfers catch waves. In fact, Sunset Beach is particularly famous as a big wave surfing destination– especially during the winter months. However, you can also go swimming here during the summer if the conditions are right. As you might have guessed from its name, one of the best free activities at Sunset Beach is to watch the sunset!
Observe the sea turtles at Laniakea Beach.
Laniakea Beach is also known as “Turtle Beach” because it’s a great spot to observe Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. After parking in a free spot across the street, walk to the far right end of the beach. The best time of day to try to see the sea turtles is during lunchtime–between 11 a.m.-1 p.m–especially during the summer months. Another possible time to observe the turtles is around sunset.
Please remember that it is illegal to touch or harass these animals. Therefore, Hawaiʻi’s Division of Aquatic Resources recommends keeping a distance of at least 10 feet (3 meters) from all turtles. Honu Guardian also stations volunteers along the beach to keep the sea turtles safe and to remind visitors of the laws. Feel free to ask the volunteers questions about the turtles!
Watch the waves and surfers at Banzai Pipeline.
Visiting the Banzai Pipeline is one of the best free things to do on Oahu if you enjoy watching surfing and big swells. This North Shore beach is famous for its perfect barreling waves, attracting high-level surfers from all over the world to its waters. As a safety precaution, it’s best to leave the actual surfing at this spot to the professionals. If you have the chance to visit, December is the best month to catch pro surfers at Pipeline.
Go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove.
Shark’s Cove is one of the best snorkeling spots on the North Shore. You can find all sorts of marine life here, including butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, sea turtles, eels, and more. Plus, you’ll be relieved to know that you won’t actually find sharks here. In fact, the name of this cove actually stems from the shape of the reef surrounding it, which looks like a shark from above! The best time to visit Shark’s Cove for snorkeling or swimming is during the summer months due to the large waves during the winter.
If you already have snorkeling gear, this experience is completely free! Just make sure to arrive early enough to snag a parking spot. Even if you need to pay a small amount to rent or purchase your own snorkeling equipment, this activity still ranks as one of the best cheap things to do in Oahu.
Free things to do on the Windward Coast
Visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is one of the best free Oahu activities and one of the most beautiful places on the island. “Ho’omaluhia” means “to make a place of peace and tranquillity,” so why not pack a picnic and relax here among the palm trees and plants? While visiting this botanical garden is free of charge, we still recommend arriving as soon as it opens at 9 a.m. This attraction is super popular, so sometimes it can be hard to find a good parking spot! Plus, the sun isn’t as strong in the morning, so it feels better to walk around during this time of day. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Sunbathe and swim at Kailua Beach Park or Lanikai Beach.
Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach are the two top-rated beaches on Oahu’s Windward Coast. Plus, they’re located directly next to each other, so you could easily visit both in one trip! Both beaches have warmer water and are ideal for swimming. While Lanikai Beach is often considered the most beautiful beach in Oahu, Kailua Beach has its advantages too. For example, the latter has a designated parking lot and public bathrooms. When visiting Lanikai, you’ll have to park along the street in a residential area, where parking violations are strictly enforced and there are no public restrooms. Please make sure to mind the parking signs when looking for a place to park. For example, do not block residents who are just trying to go about their daily life.
Take the Lanikai Pillbox Hike.
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of Oahu’s most picturesque free trails, overlooking Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands. The hike is approximately 1.8 miles and is considered to be moderate to hard difficulty. Depending on how much of the trail you complete, it should take anywhere between 60-90 minutes roundtrip. Before beginning this hike, remember to check trail conditions online. Additionally, make sure to wear hiking shoes since this area can be slippery. We also recommend packing an insulated water bottle so you can stay cool and hydrated in the heat!
Hike Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is one of the best things to do in Oahu for free with the whole family (pet-friendly, too!). This easy 2.5-mile hike is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Honolulu and provides an awesome view of the ocean and landscape. On clear days, you can even catch a glimpse of Molokai in the distance. Moreover, if you happen to be visiting from December to April, there’s a chance you’ll even be able to spot a humpback whale! If you’re traveling with kids, you may also want to check out Sea Life Park Hawaii while you’re in the area.
Check out the view from Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.
Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout offers one of the prettiest views of Oahu’s Windward Coast. You can spot Kaneohe, Kaneohe Bay, and Kailua from all the way up here! This lookout is located a short five-mile drive from Honolulu, making it a convenient spot to visit. Additionally, entry to the lookout is free; however, you do have to pay $7 for parking. Pro tip: make sure you’re prepared for strong winds! Bring a jacket and keep a tight hold on your hat if you’re wearing one. Due to the trade winds that blow through this area, Nu‘uanu Pali is situated within a natural wind tunnel.
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