Oahu on a Budget Visitors Guide to Hawaii

Oahu on a Budget: Things to do for $5 or less

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If you’ve ever wanted to travel to Hawaii, chances are you might just be headed to “The Gathering Place,” which is what O’ahu means in Hawaiian. It is the third largest of all the Hawaiian Islands, but the most populated. Oahu is home to Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, and Waimea Bay. It is also home to me! I’ve lived here for over 3 years.

Oahu is a hub of hustling and bustling tourism. It’s an awesome place to visit and to live where there is always something going on. Culture, art, food around every corner, shrub, and palm. However, Hawaii is still a very pricey destination for visitors and locals alike.

If you look below the surface of the expensive boat tours and tourist traps you can find many hidden gems that cost no more than your cup of Kona Coffee.

Visit the Byodo-On Temple in Kaneohe

This picturesque Japanese inspired temple with exquisite grounds and koi pond will wash away all the hustle and bustle of Oahu and replace it with calming zen. Light an incense in the temple to manifest some great energy or in honor of a loved one. Just make sure you remove your shoes before you enter! Feeding the Koi Fish costs $2 but the photos and fun are with the extra splurge.

Grab the Cheapest Pint on Oahu

Shirokiya Japanese Beer Garden is located inside the Ala Moana shopping center in downtown Honolulu. This gorgeous beer garden is home to the least expensive pints and pitchers of beer on Oahu. Choose from several different brands from Bud Light to my favorite Japanese beer, Kirin Ichiban.

The beer is under $3 a pint and pairs great with some gyoza from one of the 20+ food vendors located in the beer garden. This is my favorite inexpensive way to start a night out downtown. You can also sample several different types of sake at Shirokiya Japanese Beer Garden.

Visit the Botanical Gardens in the shadow of Koko Head Crater-

This little-known gem is hidden near the base of Koko Head. Explore a giant collection of plumeria flowers, cacti, and other exotic plants. Parking is limited but this rarely visited gem will be a quiet respite before or after the infamous Koko Head Crater Hike. Entry is free, and you can grab a map from the little mailbox near the entrance.

Hike the Lanikai Pill Box-

Visiting Lanikai should be a must on your list of Oahu destinations. Located in Kailua on Oahu’s North Shore, Lanikai is one of the most recognized coastlines with a view of the Mokuleia Islands. Lovingly referred to as the Mokes by the locals.

Get a birdseye view of the aquamarine reef, ancient islands, shore break and more as you adventure up the Lanikai Pill Box Hike. Explore the World War II-era bunkers while getting the best view on Oahu. Take a ton of pictures and make sure to drink a lot of water and wear sunblock on this 1-2 hours hike, as shade is nearly non-existant.

Attend a Hula Lesson at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center-

Learn the traditional Polynesian art of Hula dancing at the Royal Hawaiian Center. Hula is a dance that incorporates the full body and is used to convey stories and tales. It’s almost a language of its own. Watching or learning the hula is a must while on Oahu.

While at the Royal Hawaiian Center you can also learn to….

Play the Ukulele

Learn to play the Ukulele, a favorite instrument of Hawaii since its introduction from Portugal in the 1870s. Learn basic chords and strumming patterns in no time! Make sure to get there early, this is one of the most popular culture classes and only 25 spots are available!

Click here to view the Royal Hawaiian Center’s schedule!

Shop the Great Aloha Stadium Swap Meet

For just a $1 entry fee you can walk around the Aloha Stadium (featured in Hawaii 5-0 and many other TV shows.) Shop for the best souvenirs on Oahu. Prices are great and the lively atmosphere will have you pumped up for lunch after a morning of shopping.

Make sure to visit Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks and see the famous Pineapple guy, let him talk you into fresh cut pineapple with li hung mui powder. The plum powder with a sweet and salty combination will introduce you to a local favorite flavor while cooling you off from the early morning sun.

Visit Pearl Harbor-

Pearl Harbor is a must see. Although, it is a somber experience visiting Pearl Harbor and paying your respects to the events of World War II is a very important part of visiting Oahu for many. You can tour the grounds, view the submarines and USS Arizona Memorial in the harbor, pay your respects, and watch a special video dedicated to the events of Pearl Harbor.

Visiting the grounds and USS Arizona memorial is free but, make sure to get your tickets online beforehand. Or plan to stop by early in the am and possibly have to return at a separate time later in the day for your tour. Please note due to some shifting and repair work you can’t currently visit the USS Arizona by boat. There is still a lot to view from the shore at Pearl Harbor.

Try a Local Delicacy

Sample a Musubi at the local ABC Store. This Hawaiian snack is hearty and perfect after a day of catching waves. Spam on top of rice wrapped in seaweed and flavored with furikake, might not be something you’ve ever tasted before, but you’ll be sure not to forget it soon.

Watch the Fireworks On Waikiki Beach every Friday Night!

Grab your beach blanket and head down to the shores of Waikiki for their weekly firework show put on by the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Friday Nights. It’s usually around 7:45/8pm depending on the time of year. My favorite spot is right on the beach in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Want more Breathtaking views?

Drive up Mt. Tantalus at sunset for a panoramic view of Oahu; from Diamond Head all the Way to the West Side in Kapolei. Bring a bottle of cheap wine or a few musubi snacks to the top of Mt. Tantalus lookout for a great photo op and gorgeous views of the city of Honolulu.

Stay until sundown for the full transformation. Be careful on the way down the road is winding and full of switchbacks

Get some baked goods in China Town

Go score some delicious dumplings or moon pies from one of many bakeries in China Town. The architecture in this area is detailed and reminiscent of another time, which adds to the magic of enjoying China Town.

Visit the Bird Sanctuary at Kaena Point

This 4 hour round trip hike will take you out to Oahu’s westernmost point. This albatross bird sanctuary is a beautiful place to watch these birds nest and fly. If you’re lucky you may see some Hawaiian Monk Seals along the gorgeous oceanside hike. Albatross and Hawaiian Monk Seals are protected by law so please keep a safe distance.

Make sure to bring a lot of water on this long hike as there is little to no shade. I like to approach this hike from Dillingham on Oahu’s the North Shore and park at the trailhead there.

Snorkel Electric Beach

Head over to Oahu’s westside and visit Electric beach for a snorkel filled with fish, coral, and the occasional sea turtle or ray. This local spot can be a little difficult to enter on a wavey day so make sure that you check the ocean report. Swim out to the end of the underwater pipeline for the best views.

Beat the Heat with Shave Ice at Matsumoto’s

Located in historic Haleiwa town on Oahu’s epic North Shore is Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. These rainbow desserts, starting at just $3, will look as awesome on your Instagram as they are to eat. A traditional Hawaiian snack made to beat the heat, the combinations of flavors and toppings are endless. Try condensed milk on top to sample a local favorite! My personal favorite combination at Matsumoto’s is coconut and lilikoi (passion fruit) with vanilla ice cream and topped with condensed milk. It’s the perfect combo of island flavors.

Wave Watch on the Oahu’s North Shore

During the winter months in Oahu, our North Shore is often transformed into a surfer’s paradise. Drive along the coast and stop at several beaches along the way to watch the monster waves come in. You might even score some great pictures of local surfers out on the water.

Walk the Path to Makapu’u Light House

Enjoy a beautifully scenic coastal walk up to the Makapu’u lighthouse. The fully paved path is easy to climb and the ocean breeze will help cool you off along the way. From December-May, this trail is a favorite for spotting Humpback Whales along the shore.

Tour the Green World Coffee farm in Wailua-

Visit this inviting little coffee shop for a delicious treat, sample locally grown coffee, learn about the roasting process and tour the small coffee farm out back. This adorable attraction has a great big gift shop too, so you can share your delicious coffee finds with the whole family back home.

See Baby Pineapples at the Dole Plantation

On your way to Oahu’s North Shore, you may drive past the Dole Plantation. Stop by to explore their garden of tiny pineapples, shop their gift store full of pineapple memorabilia and great souvenirs, and don’t forget to sample Dole Whip. It’s a delicious dairy-free frozen pineapple treat that is perfect for beating the Hawaiian heat.

Hawaii is a fun place to visit. I love Oahu, but don’t forget to visit the other islands to get a more complete experience. Each Island has its own unique flavor. And, flying from island to island is pretty inexpensive too! Check out my guide to Maui if you plan to visit more than one island while in Hawaii.

Click here for more Splurge Worthy Hawaii Adventures

Comment and let us know what activity you think you’d enjoy the most on a trip to Oahu!