Our Favorite Free Things to Do On Oahu
Hawaii is paradise, but paradise can be expensive, especially once you take into account airfare, hotel stays, and delicious seafood dinners. But you can make the most of your island getaway with these free things to do on Oahu—yes, totally, 100% free. Read on to find out how to have an activity-filled vacation in paradise on a budget, whether you want to stay in the urban hub of Honolulu or make your way up north.
Have a Quiet Beach Day
Ala Moana Beach Park, 1201 Ala Moana Blvd.
Grab a float from one of the shops at Ala Moana Center across the street, and drift on the water, without worrying about being taken too far into sea. A reef on the outer edge guards against rough waters, making it more like a calm and peaceful lagoon.
Pro tip: Without as much tourist traffic as the nearby Waikiki Beach, it offers a much more chill beach experience.
Take in a Fireworks Show
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, 2005 Kalia Rd.
Every Friday night at 7:45 p.m., a 10-minute fireworks show lights up the sky. Though some like to avoid the Waikiki Beach crowds during the day, many say it's worth heading to the beach for this dazzling display.
Pro tip: For the best vantage point, find a spot between the Hilton and Outrigger Reef Resort.
Pay Your Respects at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial, 1 Arizona Memorial Pl.
Built in the middle of the water over the remains of the USS Arizona, the memorial to the military attack of December 7, 1941, commemorates the event with an engraved marble monument and extensive historical accounts. Visiting the memorial and walking the grounds of the visitor center are one of the more sobering things to do on Oahu, but well worth the trip.
Pro tip: Though admission is free, be sure to arrive early; starting at 7 a.m. each day, the staff makes 1,300 tickets available on a first-come first-serve basis, and once they're gone, they're gone.
Climb an Iconic Crater
Diamond Head Memorial Park, 529 18th Ave.
At the eastern edge of Waikiki Beach stands Diamond Head, where a short three-quarter-mile hike leads to the rim of the crater with spectacular views all the way up. Signs at the beginning of the path say the journey takes up to two hours round trip.
Pro tip: While many a visitor has made the trek up in flip flops, be prepared for unpaved pathways and lots of stairs. Closed-toe, comfortable shoes are probably best, even for this easy hike.
Catch a torch lighting ceremony and hula show
Kuhio Beach Park, 2453 Kalakaua Ave.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, starting at 6:30 p.m., a conch shell blares, summoning visitors to witness an elaborate torch-lighting ceremony. Afterwards, local troupes entertain the crowd with traditional music and hula dancing, a must-see of the many things to do in Honolulu.
Pro tip: The show begins a half-hour earlier during the months of November, December, and January.
Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture
Royal Hawaiian Center, 2201 Kalakaua Ave.
If you've ever wanted to learn how to make a lei or strum a ukulele, don't miss the free classes offered at the Royal Hawaiian Center Monday through Saturday. Some workshops are geared just for the little ones, while others are good for the whole family.
Pro tip: To secure your seat for more popular classes, such as ukulele or weaving, be sure to grab a numbered ticket from the guest services area, available starting at 10 a.m. on the day of class.
Watch daredevil surfers at Banzai Pipeline
Ehukai Beach Park, 59-337 Ke Nui Rd, Haleiwa
Local surfers avoid Waikiki Beach and make their way up to the North Shore to what's known as one of the most dangerous (and thrilling) surfing spots in the world, due to a sharp reef and enormous waves. Nevertheless, as the Pipeline comprises one third of the Triple Crown of Surfing, the ultimate test for pros, it consistently draws adventurous surfers.
Pro tip: The most impressive surfing tends to happen before 11 a.m.
Explore the other beaches on a drive around the island
Waikiki isn't the only beach on Oahu, and it certainly isn't the prettiest. If you've already got the rental car, take advantage of the island's 112 miles of coastline, where you don't even have to stop driving to be treated to stunning vistas. Along the way you can stop at the Halona Blowhole to explore a lava-formed cave or visit with native turtles at Laniakea Beach.
Pro tip: To avoid driving with rush hour traffic, leave in the morning, and make the drive around the island counter-clockwise
Walk through Haleiwa
Decidedly less urban than Honolulu and located just an hour north, Haleiwa town is the main hub of the North Shore. Even new construction must maintain strict historical architectural standards, giving the entire town an old-world feel.
Pro tip: Stop at Haleiwa Beach Park for a stellar sunset and another chance to spot the regal sea turtles.
Visit a very ancient historical site
In Wahiawa, just off Kamehameha Highway and Whitmore Avenue, stands a faction of strategically placed boulders known as the Kukaniloko Birth Stones. Hawaiian royalty birthed their children here, and so it plays an important part in the history of the Hawaiian people; some even suspect it might be a Hawaiian Stonehenge.
Pro tip: Also visit nearby Wahiawa Botanical Garden, where admission is also free.
Snorkel in Shark's Cove
Though outside the summer months, this Haleiwa cove can feel the effects of the huge swells coming from the surrounding North Shore beaches, when the water's calm, this is a beautiful place for snorkeling or wading through the tide pools.
Pro tip: The sea bed is rocky, so wear water shoes if you can.
This article was originally published in 2015, and has since been updated by our editors.