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Free Things to do in Oahu Hawaii

Sunrise on Oahu Island - The Best Free Things to do in Oahu Hawaii
 Hawaii has been on my bucketlist as long as I can remember.  When Marcie from Hawaii Travel with Kids offered to write about the best free things to do in Oahu Hawaii I couldn’t wait to see what she recommended.  It seems you can visit Hawaii on a budget, check out her top tips for visiting Oahu for free!

Oahu is one of the most popular Hawaiian islands to visit. Since this island has the most hotels, attractions, and activities, it’s also one of the cheapest options. Many people think a trip to Oahu has to be expensive. That’s just not true! In fact, you can totally visit Hawaii on a budget if you take advantage of all the free things to do on Oahu.

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10 of the Best Free Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii

People Watch at Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach might be the most famous beach in the world. It’s usually what people instantly think of when they dream of a Hawaiian vacation. And Waikiki totally lives up the hype. Bring a beach towel and you’ll have hours of entertainment people watching. You’ll see tourists from all over the world, professional (and not-so-professional) surfers, and lots of different tour groups.

Pro tip: The West side of the beach is more crowded and best for people watching. The East side is nice when you need a break from the crowds.

Waikiki Beach on Oahu - Turquoise water with a few people in the sea and on the beach with high rise buildings and palm trees behind
People Watch at Waikiki Beach on Oahu

Visit Pearl Harbor for Free

Did I just shock you by saying you can visit Pearl Harbor for free? There are so many pricey Pearl Harbor tours out there that a lot of people don’t realize that it’s completely free to visit the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. Oh and parking is even free!

The rest of the attractions (like the Battleship Missouri and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum) do still have a fee. In order to get the free Pearl Harbor tickets, you need to either reserve online or show up before it opens to snag one of the limited free tickets.

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Take a Photo with the Duke Kahanamoku Statue

One of the most iconic Waikiki attractions is the Duke Kahanamoku statue. Duke Kahanamoku was a famous Hawaiian surfer (often considered the father of international surfing) and he also broke world records and won Olympic gold medals for swimming. Today, people come from all over the world to drape leis at his statue. It’s one of the top photo spots in Hawaii.

Pro tip: If you receive or make a Hawaiian lei during your trip, stop by here on your last day to lay at the base of the statue. Avoid hanging it on the statue as it erodes the bronze.

Duke Kahanamoku brass statue at night - arms outstretched covered in flower garlands
Duke Kahanamoku statue at night

Relax at Lanikai Beach

One of the best things about Hawaii is that they have some of the nicest beaches in the world. Lanikai Beach has been ranked the #1 beach in the United States for several years. It’s up in the Kailua area, but it’s totally worth the drive from Waikiki. It’s kind of tucked away in a residential area, so it can sometimes be tricky to find the parking and the path to get to the beach.

Here, the sand is incredibly soft and there’s a great view of the Mokulua islands. Pack up a cooler with drinks and lunch items and plan on spending a full day here. It’s also right next to Kailua Beach, which is also known as one of the best beaches in the world.

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Explore North Shore Oahu for Free

Get away from Waikiki and check out a small town in Hawaii. North Shore Oahu actually consists of many small towns, the most famous being Haleiwa. If you are interested in surfing, the North Shore is the most famous surfing spot in the world. There are tons of things to do in North Shore Oahu like see turtles at Laniakea Beach, visit art galleries, check out waterfalls, and more. And you’ll want to snap a selfie with the popular Haleiwa sign.

Surfer on the Waves on North Shore of Oahu - Free Things to do in Oahu
Surf the Waves on North Shore of Oahu – Or Just Watch!

Watch a Free Fireworks Show

Every Friday night, the Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts a free firework show that’s pretty spectacular. You can see it from many spots on Waikiki Beach or you can head to the hotel and walk around the premises. It’s nice to bring a blanket and do an evening picnic on the beach. Or, you can walk around Waikiki at night and see street artists and performers and then just run over to the beach when the fireworks start.

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Walk Around the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

If you love looking at Hawaii photos on Instagram, you probably have seen photos of people standing on an empty road with gorgeous mountains in the background. These photos are taken at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden and it’s completely free to visit. Not only can you DIY an epic Hawaii photo shoot, but you can also participate in on-site art classes, go fishing, or birdwatching.

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden - Free Things to do on Oahu Island Hawaii - Girl walking away from camera in the middle of a tree-lined road with a green mountain in the background
ical Garden – Free Things to do on Oahu Island Hawaii

Visit an Art Museum

While you might not normally think about visiting an art museum in Hawaii, the Hawaii State Art Museum is completely free and a great place to learn about contemporary Hawaiian culture. You can join a free guided tour or explore on your own. There’s also a sculpture garden outside of the museum that’s a nice place to sit and relax.

The Honolulu Museum of Art offers a monthly ARTafterDARK program where you can check out the artwork for free in a party environment.

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Go Hiking on Oahu

One of the best free things to do on Oahu is go hiking. There are easy hikes (that are more like walking trails) as well as crazy dangerous hikes that are illegal (like the Stairway to Heaven.) Some of the most popular hikes on Oahu include the Lanikai Pillboxes, Manoa Falls, Koko Head Crater, and Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail. Always do your research and weigh the risks before going hiking anywhere on Oahu.

While there are tons of free hikes on Oahu, a lot of people have Diamond Head on their bucket list. If you aren’t a Hawaii resident, there’s a $5 fee per person to enter the park.

The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail - a Narrow trail on a mountainside leading to a white lighthouse next to the ocean
Hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

See a Hula Show

While one of the top things to do on Oahu is see a luau, it’s not always in the budget. Thankfully, there are plenty of places where you can experience a free hula show. One of the most popular places is Ala Moana Center. This is an indoor show so it’s a great way to beat the heat. There’s also the Royal Hawaiian Center, which features dancers from the Polynesian Cultural Center. You can also watch a free hula show at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound near the Duke Kahanamoku statue.

I hope this post about the free things to do in Oahu Hawaii has helpd you to see that you can visit Hawaii on a budget and still have a fabulous time.  Have you done any of these activities in Oahu?  Do you have any other budget tips for a Oahu vacation?  Please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it!

About the Author

Marcie runs a top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids. She’s visited Hawaii more than 35 times in the past 25 years and has been a professional hula dancer since she was a child. Through her blog and social media, she helps families plan their ultimate Hawaiian vacation. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.

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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!  I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.

Last updated: February 2, 2021

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