10 Best Free Activities and Sights on Oahu

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Visiting Oahu and having a great time does not have to cost a bundle. You’ll find plenty of  free or very inexpensive activities and sights on Oahu.

As I’ve written my recommendations for the top things you should do and see on each island, I focus on the aspects that are unique to that island. For Oahu, I think the military history and scenery are two of the major highlights, and you’ll see that reflected in this list of suggestions for what to see and do on Oahu.
(Click the links for detailed information on each activity)

      1. Visit the USS Arizona National Memorial in Pearl Harbor. The first time I saw the memorial, I was speechless for a while and then I was moved to tears. Though it is a solemn place, the history that you’ll learn here is very much worth the time to visit it. There are several things you need to know so that you are prepared for your visit, so see my detailed advice for visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.
      2. See Punchbowl National Cemetery. This is a another solemn, yet peaceful site. Where else would you find a cemetery in the crater of an extinct volcanic crater? You will find tremendous views of Honolulu at lookouts here, as well. See my tips for visiting Punchbowl.
Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach

3. See the stunning scenery. If you don’t have a rental car and you are on a limited budget, you can take Oahu’s excellent public transportation, TheBus, to tour around the island. TheBus’ Web site actually has has some very useful information aimed at sightseers. I’ll list just a sampling of the places I’d love for you to see. I’ll attempt to put them in somewhat of a logistical order starting Southeast and going counterclockwise around the island.

      • The rocky coast line, beautiful beaches and small islands from Hawaii Kai to to Kailua Beach Park. (Follow Kalanianaole Highway 72 and then divert off to Kailua and Lanikai beaches.) Some consider Lanikai Beach to be the most beautiful in the world. See my post on visiting beautiful Lanikai Beach.
      • Byodo-In Temple near Kaneohe is simply stunning. (Entry requires a nominal fee of $3 per person.)
      • Mokolii (Chinaman’s Hat)
      • Laie Point
      • North Shore beaches
      • Ancient Hawaiian temple at Puu O Mahuku to learn about ancient Hawaiian culture and a great view, too.
      • Scenic North Shore town of Haleiwa town for a shave ice for a nominal price.
      • The Pali Lookout towards the center of the island is off of the Pali Highway, Hwy 61. (Update: after originally publishing this article a $3 parking fee went into effect for all non-Hawaii residents. Though I don’t like that non-residents are forced to pay the fee, the views from the Pali Lookout are excellent.)
      • On foot, consider taking a self-guided walking tour of Waikiki. You can download a free guide with a map. (Note: it’s 21 pages long and the map is on page 21.)
      • For panoramic views of Honolulu, consider taking a drive up the jungle-like, winding road of Tantalus-Round Top drive and stop off at Puu Ualakaa State Park.

 4.  See a free fireworks show from Waikiki Beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Friday nights. See my post on this long-standing Friday night fireworks show on Waikiki with suggestions of where to see the fireworks.

5.  See the free torch lighting ceremony and hula show at Kuhio Beach Park in Waikiki. You’ll find a delightful show filled with traditional Hawaiian music and dancing. The excellent beach side setting can’t be beat. This show is presented every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights around sunset (around 6:00pm or 6:30pm) depending on the time of year. Follow this link to learn more about the free Kuhio Beach hula show. Please note that this hula show normally operates as scheduled, but occasionally, it is subject to change without notice.

Manoa Falls

A hike to Manoa Falls is a fun adventure

6.  Admire the honu (sea turtles)  at Laniakea Beach which is also known as Turtle Beach. You’ll find this beach on the North Shore between Haleiwa and Waimea Bay off of Highway 83. The best landmark for finding this beach is to look for the southern end of Pohaku Loa Way and the cars parked off the mountain side of the road. (Update: parking may be difficult per this news.) Use this Google Map link to find Turtle Beach. Laniakea Beach spot makes a nice place to have a picnic at lunch or sunset. I should make sure I caution you that sea turtles (honu) are protected and you should never approach one or attempt to touch one. Remember that you are in their territory and they are coming to land for a rest.

7.  Lace up your hiking shoes and hit the trails. For a nice variety of hikes that will show you a contrast of Oahu’s diverse terrain, check out my top 3 favorite Oahu vacation hikes.

8.  Go snorkeling. Some of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu are Hanauma Bay around Honolulu and Shark’s Cove on the North Shore. For more information on snorkeling on Oahu, see this guide.

9.  In the winter, watch those incredibly tall waves along the North Shore. The top spots for watching the winter surf are at Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the famous Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach. Also in the winter, watch for humpback whales splashing in Hawaii’s water. A great vantage point is to take a short hike on the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail (off Hwy 72 north of Hawaii Kai) or at the lookouts off Diamond Head Road just above Diamond Head Beach Park on the east side of Diamond Head Crater.

10. Watch the sun sink into the ocean with a sunset picnic. You can either pick up your own picnic supplies from a grocery store or restaurant. Even the ABC Stores that are all over Waikiki have a decent selection for a picnic. Alternatively, many resorts will offer “to-go” picnic baskets. Please note that alcoholic beverages are prohibited on Hawaii beaches. See my article on enjoying a Waikiki Beach sunset picnic.

See these links for more great Oahu vacation ideas:

* More than 50 great things to see, do and taste on your Oahu vacations

*  Top 10 Oahu Family Activities and Attractions

*  Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day on Oahu

* Where to find free entertainment and cultural activities on Oahu

* You’ll find many more ideas from our free Oahu Vacation guide.

If you’re visiting other islands, be sure and read these other articles on great budget friendly things to do in Hawaii:


Ohana Beach Rentals

About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

41 comments

  1. Nice list! Combine with your post 3 Ways to Have a Luxurious Hawaii Vacation on the Cheap and you can Go Visit Hawaii for peanuts!

  2. Well, maybe not peanuts :-) , but for a much more affordable price than you might expect!

  3. OK, maybe mac’ nuts, they’re a little more pricey. ;-)

    (Mmmmm, macadamia nuts!)

  4. You can visit part of the Polynesian Cultural Center for free (they have several shops and a snack bar that can be accessed at no cost), if you want to just browse around or watch people eat. PCC also offers a free 3 day pass to visit PCC three days so long you purchase a regular package. This is convenient because it is difficult to do everything in one day, just the same way it is difficult to experiene all of Disneyland in one day.

    I also like to visit the Hawaiian temple (heiau) above Waimea Falls beach. It is a State Park and there’s free parking too. If you visit, please do not touch any stones or offerings.

    Laie Point is a great place to visit at no charge. Also, Hukilau Beach is one of Oahu’s best beaches and there is plenty of free parking too. Castle Beach near Kahuku is a nice park with free parking.

    It’s interesting to visit the Birthing Stones monument near Whitmore Village. It’s a very peaceful area. It is where ancient Hawaiian royalty were born (in the middle of Oahu).

  5. Christian – Thank you for sharing your top picks.
    I agree that the PCC has more than enough to see in one day!

    Is the temple that you mentioned near the Foodland grocery store off the Kam highway?

    Laie Point is beautiful! And you could spend a day or two just stopping to admire all the beautiful beaches on Oahu!

    I’ve not been to the Birthing Stones. I read some interesting things about the Hawaiian customs about the stones. If I remember correctly, priests would watch the baby being born and then take the baby away from the mother immediately. The child would be raised by other people because it was common for royal decendents to be stolen away by rivals.

  6. Hi Sheila,

    Here is a link to the Kukaniloko Birth Stones location in the middle of Oahu:

    http://www.govisithawaii.com/2009/01/21/kukaniloko-hawaiian-birthing-stones-on-oahu/

    Yes, the other temple is just above the Foodland in Pupukea on OahuL:

    http://www.govisithawaii.com/2008/06/30/oahus-largest-heiau-hawaiian-temple-puu-o-mahuka/

  7. When you get to Oahu, pick up the local Advertiser or Honolulu Star Bulletin for announcements. There always seems to be some kind of free festival celebrating the many ethnicities in Hawaii, or a hula festival, or sunset on the beach, different sports events like surfing, block party, outdoor craft fairs, a parade…usually held on the weekend.

    I was born and raised on Oahu but now live on the Big Island. What I miss most are the restaurants. Hilo only has a few places that I like.

  8. Thanks for adding your advice, HVG! You know what, we have had a hard time finding good restaurants on the Big Island in general. Maybe we were just having bad luck when we were there. I didn’t get to try the Merriman’s restaurant and I’d like to give that a try.

  9. Hey Sheila, these are all great ideas. In fact, I’ve added a link from our blog so readers can check it out!

  10. Mahalo, Susan! I’m glad you like the ideas!

  11. I’m so glad that I found this as I’m heading to Oahu next month– great links here!

  12. Aloha Karen – I’m even more glad that you found Go Visit Hawaii! I love to provide tips to help people make the most of their Hawaii vacations.

    Since you are going to Oahu soon, you might also find these recent articles on Oahu restaurants to be helpful:
    http://www.govisithawaii.com/2008/04/25/top-oahu-restaurants-dave-alices-picks/
    http://www.govisithawaii.com/2008/04/23/where-are-the-best-oahu-restaurants/

    I hope you have a wonderful visit to Oahu!

  13. omg, i should totally go to the PCC place with my girlfriend. :D

  14. @ Chris – I just posted about one of your favorite spots – the birthing stones – http://www.govisithawaii.com/2009/01/21/kukaniloko-hawaiian-birthing-stones-on-oahu/

  15. Hey Sheila,
    I am just back from my oahu trip. This list was awesome. We covered pretty much everything, you mentioned here. :)

  16. Aloha Rohit – I’m so glad you had a great time. Thanks for the feedback on this list. I’m glad it help. :)

  17. Hi Sheila, just stumbled across your site now..better late than never(!)..with just a week to go before our trip and having done quite a bit of research(!), I still picked up loads n loads of useful info & just had to stop by to say MAHALO! I really liked the parking tips & map, circle tour & self-guided tour ideas as well as the important advice about the snorkelling places. And could you help me choose a Luau – between PCC or Paradise cove – i can do only one this trip & dont know which to pick? Thanks again.

  18. @ Sapna – oh, dear, that’s a tough choice as they both have a great reputation.

    I would say that if you have time to see the evening show after the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, that you might want to lean that way. The evening show there is truly excellent. See my review: http://www.govisithawaii.com/2007/09/04/review-of-horizons-evening-show-at-polynesian-cultural-center/

    If you choose the Polynesian Cultural center, consider making a whole day of it starting at noon. We found it very interesting and entertaining to learn about all the Polynesian cultures.

    I hope you’ll come back and let us know what you decide and how you liked it.

    Aloha & Enjoy!

  19. Aloha Sheila! Thank you so much for your suggestions, we went with the polynesian cultural centre & really liked it – the evening show was excellent especially the fire show. We did start at noon & enjoyed the luau as well, so me made almost a day of it & I think that worked out real well. Hope its fine if I mention you in my travel blog. Mahalo again!

  20. Hi Sapna,

    I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the Polynesian Cultural Center.Thank you for taking the time to comment to let me know how it worked out for you. Of course, I’d be honored if you mentioned Go Visit Hawaii in your blog. Mahalo :)

  21. Thank you for this wonderful list! I have spent the better part of today researching for our trip which is in 6 weeks, we booked it yesterday. As two self-employed Canadians we are nervously pushing ourselves out the door to travel, this being the year of our 10th wedding anniversary and I will officially turn 5-0 on our first day in Hawaii on Nov 21st.

    While it’s not hand-wringing trip, it is a conservatively priced trip of a lifetime, and we’re betting on a wealth of memories and pictures. It seems that your list will provide us with opportunities for exercise, up-close beauty, a chance to meet people who live in Oahu and some precious moments.

    Thank you! – Kelley & Brian

    • Hi Kelley – I’m glad you found this site and that it’s helping you make your plans. I know how daunting it can be planning a first visit, so with this site, I aim to help folks navigate through the jungle of information nto find what really matters.

      I hope you and Brian enjoy your time on Oahu. Please come back and let us know how it goes.

      Aloha,
      Sheila

  22. Hi Shelia,

    I appreciate ur efforts to gather all the information at once place. I am planning my first visit along with my wife this november and i have few dbts..Please spare some time to answer them..

    1. Is nov 2nd week is a good time to visit Hawaii?
    2. Is 4000$ enough for complete hawaii trip for 7 days?
    3. I am planning to book a hotel for 7 days in Qahu itself. It commute between diffret islands is easy? Or I may have to book the hotel based on my stay…like If I visit Big island..Do you have to book the hotel there or can i come back to Oahu in the night?
    4. Hows is the transportation between different islands?

    • Hi Lokesh –

      You’ve asked quite a few questions…here are my responses:
      1. Is nov 2nd week is a good time to visit Hawaii?
      Sheila: Yes it is a good time. Weather is nice, while crowds and hotel rates are down.

      2. Is 4000$ enough for complete hawaii trip for 7 days?
      It’s difficult answering that question not knowing if you are including the cost of flights and from where you’ll be flying. The average Oahu hotel rate is approximately $160 per night. (Of course if you want 5-star and oceanfront view, you’ll pay more.) If you budget $75 per person per day for meals, you should be able to achieve that. A car rental will cost approximately $180 for a week. If you are staying in Waikiki, tack on another $25 per day for parking. Perhaps you might want to add an organized tour or two, so add in another $200 per person for that. Those should be some achievable budgetary numbers.

      3. I am planning to book a hotel for 7 days in Qahu itself. It commute between diffret islands is easy? Or I may have to book the hotel based on my stay…like If I visit Big island..Do you have to book the hotel there or can i come back to Oahu in the night?
      Oahu has more than enough to do for a week, but if you really, really want to island hop, Oahu is the best island for island hopping because the Honolulu airport is the hub for the islands. It is feasible to fly to another island from Oahu for a day trip.

      4. Hows is the transportation between different islands?
      From Oahu, you must fly to the other islands.

      • as far as transportation it is the best.. you can take the bus everywhere even to the best beaches to the best tourist areas for $2.00 and get a transfer to get back.. for neighbor island you must book your flight in advance if possible.

  23. November is one of my favorite times of year. October for Aloha Week is another.

    Interisland flight prices are creeping up. Book early and do the changable option if you are planning to day trip

    Aloha,

    Lottie

  24. A few weeks ago I printed this list out and took it on my visit to Oahu. Here are a few things that I experienced:
    Not everything on the list is “still” free.
    The visit to the Arizona, is still free. Didn’t get to Punchbowl, but I imagine it is too.
    Saw turtles on the beach, not at Turtle Beach, because there was a crazy long line up of cars to get in.
    Did get to see the Byodi-In Temple, though their website does now say $2, it is actually $3.
    Hanauma Bay is $5 to get in. The parking lot was filled up so, we had to come in by bus, that was an adventure. However, it is $5 entry and more for parking.
    Hiked Diamond Head, took “the bus” and walked in. It’s $1 entry and moreto park.
    The best stuff that are still free is the torch lighting and hula at Kuhio Beach Park, sunset and stunning scenery!
    With that said, though it wasn’t all free, it was still inexpensive stuff to do and see. Especially, compared to the money the real touristy places were charging. OMG!
    I hope this helps those who are planning a trip to the beautiful island of Oahu! Aloha!

    • Thanks for your report, Deana.

      Most everything on this list is free with very few exceptions. If you click on the link of each place, like Byodo-In Temple for example, you’ll see from there that there’s a nominal fee.

      Also, I do note at the top that most things listed are either free or very inexpensive.

  25. Ca you get a trip to Hawaii (oAhu) for 4000? 10 day trip and visiting friends.
    Can I?
    Got
    A deal on travelocity,
    3800 for flight and hotel w/ breakfast and a few activities…
    Whaddaya think?

  26. This information is gonna be very helpful for me. I’m planning to go to Hawaii the first week of May, but my budget is small. I would like if that is ok with you some suggestions about food, a place not very expensive and nice to eat. And how much could be per meal. Thanks a lot

  27. Hello Sheila,
    My husband and I are planning a trip to Oahu for a week in 2nd week in Feb. We already got our flight/hotel (~$3300)stating in Waikiki. We are on a $4000.budget so we only have $700 left to spend on food and sightseeing. This is our first time going to Hawaii and want to see as much as possible for as little $ as possible. please what advice do you have for us.
    P.S. we’ll be attending a wedding the Saturday that we’ll be there (Tuesday-Monday). Mahalo in advance :)

  28. Hello Sheila,
    Our family plus two are vacationing on Oahu this month…got flight, house, van booked…just looking for activities & loved your interactive list…very helpful…thanks so much! I let the kids (teenagers) choose one thing to do or see when we take a vacation & one son wants to visit a black beach…darn! They are on other islands if my research is correct. What is the most economical way to visit a black beach from Oahu? There are 7 of us…
    Thank you!

  29. thank you so much, to have the time to post your experiences about hawaii
    im so grateful for all the information you are sharing.
    my husband and I are going next week and its our first time in hawaii.. so we are so excited and i want to have the best experience in one of the best places in the world.
    Sheila Beal you are the best
    best wishes ever
    Betsabe :)

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