A completely free list of things to do on the island of Oahu.
General: DIY / How-To
General: Good For Rainy Days
General: Kid Friendly
|Guide Series: Free Things Hawaii
There's nothing cheap about a vacation to Oahu, Hawaii. Everything from plane tickets to hotel rooms to eating will cost you dearly. There's no way around that, but you can control your expenses when it comes to the things you choose to do.
Maybe you've already read other so called "free things to do in Hawaii lists" only to find that they often actually do cost money. Well, our completely free list of things to do on Oahu only lists 100% free things and will keep your vacation budget in check. Note that these aren't in any particular order, they're all good and free so it just depends on your interests as to which you'll enjoy.
While not everything at Pearl Harbor is free, the main bits of it are. That includes the USS Arizona Memorial, the short film on the attacks, and the visitor center area that history buffs will love. If you've never been here before then it's really one of those "must see" attractions. More at: Pearl Harbor & USS Arizona Memorial
It's commonly called Punchbowl and it is a national memorial cemetery that honors those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. It's located in Punchbowl Crater, just a bit northwest of Waikiki, and is a pretty interesting place to visit. Keep in mind that it is still a cemetery so it's not necessarily for everyone. If you do go, be sure to follow the path to the lookout point for some amazing views of Honolulu, Waikiki, and the ocean. More at: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl)
Big Waves On The North Shore
Okay, this one requires that the ocean is at least somewhat angry, which often means winter months when the waves are big. Assuming you're visiting when things are "going off" on the north shore, you'll want to take some time to experience big waves. If the waves are really big, like 30-40 feet or more, then you're really in for a spectacular show at places like Banzai Pipeline / 'Ehukai Beach Park and Waimea Bay Beach Park. Watching the pro surfers do their thing is amazing but the sound and feel of waves crashing on the shore like thunder is a show all on its own.
Take A Hike
Oh sure, you already know that hiking in Hawaii is a free activity but did you know that Oahu has some incredible hikes with amazing payoffs that are relatively easy? So, ready for some suggestions? We love Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail and Lanikai Pillbox Hike / Kaiwa Ridge Trail for amazing panoramic ocean views. If you seek waterfalls, you'll love Lulumahu Falls Hike.
Ready for some culture shock in the good old USA? Then check out Chinatown for a taste of Chinese culture close to Waikiki. It's full of restaurants, markets, quirky shops, and is just a fun place to walk around and explore. Want to learn more about the historical aspects, then read up on Chinatown History before you go. More at: Chinatown
Enjoy a performance from the only band in the USA with a royal legacy. The Royal Hawaiian Band was founded way back in 1836 by King Kamehameha III and their mission is to promote and foster music, to preserve the Hawaiian musical culture, inspire young musicians, and enrich the lives of the people of Hawaii. They do various shows around the island but the most common are the weekly shows at Iolani Palace which happen every Friday at noon. More at: The Royal Hawaiian Band
Get up close and personal with the Hawaiian flora and become one with nature at one of Oahu's free botanical gardens. We like Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens and Wahiawa Botanical Garden.
Oahu isn't known for great roads or fun and thrilling drives but Tantalus and Round Top Hill Drive is one of the exceptions. It's a fun drive through a shady, tree lined road. It's full of twists and turns (so go really slow) and it takes you up pretty high. Near the top you'll find the awesome Pu'u Ualaka'a State Wayside Park. Be sure to stop because you're in for some amazing vistas up here. More at: Tantalus and Round Top Hill Drive
Now bear with me here. Yes, I know, it's a mall so how could that possibly be fun for anyone but your teenage daughter? Simple, because this is a mall like no other. It's absolutely massive for starters. In fact, it's the largest mall in Hawaii, the seventh largest in the entire USA, and the largest open-air shopping center in the entire world. And it's basically right next to Waikiki. Shop, walk around, people watch, or enjoy their free hula show (Monday through Saturday at 1:00 PM). Find it at: Ala Moana Center
Friday Night Fireworks
If you're in the Waikiki area on a Friday night then you'll want to check out the fireworks display. The fireworks are launched from the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort starting at 7:45 PM every Friday. It's a short show that lasts around 10 minutes but worth checking out and it can easily be seen from many locations all around the Hilton and Waikiki.
Want something free and truly unique? Check out the Kukaniloko Birthstones State Historic Site in Wahiawa (central Oahu). These are actual birthing stones used by ancient Hawaiian royalty. They would come here to give birth on the stones which would ensure their child had a high ranking status. It's not for everybody but those more in tune with their spiritual side are likely to get more out of this experience. If you like this then you may also enjoy seeing a Heiau (sacred site) like Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site which is also free.
This is a protected bird sanctuary for the Laysan Albatross and wedge-tailed Shearwater. They get their own little piece of paradise but we're allowed to visit. This one requires a 2.5 mile hike each way but it's a pretty flat and easy hike. Just do it early because it gets hot here and there is no shade. You can hike the Ka'ena Point Trail - North Shore or the Ka'ena Point Trail - West Shore to get there. Once at the point (the northwest tip of Oahu) you'll have amazing views all around. If it's whale watching season you'll often see whales spouting off in the distance. You may also spot a Hawaiian Monk Seal or two around here. More at: Ka'ena Point Bird Sanctuary
See The Sea Turtles
There's something special about seeing sea turtles (called honu in Hawaiian) up close, either on the beach or in the water. They're amazing creatures and you can see them all over the islands. One of the best places is Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach), notice how it's even called Turtle Beach! This beach is right off the road on the north shore and chances are good there will be a turtle napping on the beach. Bring a camera, keep your distance, and don't mess with the turtles. Find it at: Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach)
If ever there was a quintessential Hawaiian celebrity it was Duke Kahanamoku. He was an actor and five time Olympic medalist in swimming. Of course, Duke Kahanamoku - The Original Beach Boy is most famously known for surfing and widely credited with popularizing the sport. His legacy lives on in many forms in places like Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon and Duke's Waikiki but it's the classic and iconic Duke Kahanamoku Statue that screams Waikiki and Hawaii. It's located right on Waikiki Beach (Main / Center) so go grab a selfie with Duke.
See Some Fish
You can't come to Hawaii without seeing some fish. While you could visit the Waikiki Aquarium, that costs money and this is a freebie article. So other options include snorkeling which is really the best way. But what if you don't want to snorkel? Then check out The Oceanarium which is located inside the Alohilani Resort At Waikiki Beach in Waikiki. It's right in the lobby so anyone can walk in and take a look. Or, try the amazing outdoor tank at Aulani A Disney Resort And Spa which is filled with colorful fish. You can swim in this one (for a price) but they have viewing windows that don't cost a thing.
Seeing a blowhole do its thing is a great way to watch the power of the ocean in action. On anything but a calm ocean day, the Halona Blowhole is likely to be shooting tons of water high in the air. You'll watch from an elevated and safe distance so bring a camera to capture some memories. The views from this lookout are worth a stop even on a calm ocean day. Find it at: Eternity Beach
We won't sugar coat this one, this is the final resting place of Hawaiian Royalty, including members of the Kamehameha Dynasty and the Kalakaua Dynasty. It's not for everyone but many, especially history buffs, will find this interesting. Not really a place I'd suggest bringing kids unless they're really well-mannered and into history. Find it at: Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii / Mauna 'Ala
Honolulu Walking Tour
Take a stroll around Honolulu and explore the buildings and history that's all around. The city is full of statues, memorials, and just plain old history. Some examples of things to see on a walk might include Iolani Palace, Saint Father Damien of Molokai Sculpture, King Kamehameha Statue, Kahi Hali'a Aloha Memorial, War Memorial Natatorium, Princess Kaiulani Statue, King David Kalakaua Statue, and the The Eternal Flame.
Image Credit: The Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts
The Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts invites everyone to visit the Hawaii State Art Museum free of charge. They're located on the second floor of the No. 1 Capitol District Building and offers guests art exhibits through four galleries.
I know what you're thinking. What's with this guy suggesting I go to malls without spending money? But this one is special because it offers quite a few free things to do. Every day of the week, except Sundays, the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center hosts a variety of free entertainment, lessons, and classes. These include everything from lei making and ukulele lessons to Hawaiian storytelling and live Hawaiian music shows. Check their calendar here for more info on the various events offered throughout the week.
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