Here’s 15 Top Activities For Tourists to Enjoy Hawaii At Little Or No Cost
In the heart of the highrises, high-end shopping and in the midst of $10 mai tais are things that are such a bargain – or even free – one might think they are in Harrisburg instead of Honolulu.
Except, of course, for the scenery of Hawaii. And the mai tais.
The Hawaiian Islands may have a reputation of being expensive. And, in some cases, they are, but not always. This article points out fun and free (or cheap) things to do in and around Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. This includes an a tour of President Barack Obama sites – for just $5! Currently, it focuses primarily on Waikiki – with a couple of exceptions – and will eventually expand to other parts of Honolulu and, eventually, all over the island of Oahu.
Each endeavor takes at least a half an hour and can last up two hours or more, depending on one’s time and interest in a particular point of interest. Approximate round-trip times are included for each activitiy.
Here are PubClub.com’s Top Fun and Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in Waikki Beach: For the Best Happy Hours in Waikiki Beach, click here.
1.) THE BEACH
Life’s a beach in Waikiki – and it should be that way.
It could go without saying because it seems so obvious, but then again, don’t overlook Waikiki’s main atraction – the beach. It costs nothing, other than the price of a towel, to lay down on the sand and go for a refreshing swim in the warm, calm waters. That large shadow approaching may not be a fellow tourist, but a sea turtle. The busiest part of the beach is in front of Duke’s; walking away from Diamond Head provides more privacy. Be careful, though, not to overdue it in the sun. Honolulu is just 19 degrees north of the equator and bodies burn fast here. Before hitting the sand, it is highly recommended to read our Suntanning Tips.
Location: Waikiki Beach.
Activity Time: 1 hour to all day.
2.) BEACH ACTIVITIES – SURFING AND OUTRIGGERS
Why just watch others have fun in the ocean? It’s for everybody. Surfing in Waikiki may seem difficult, but the long boards used here for the slow-rolling waves make it a breeze even for squids. And if you fall down, so what? It’s just $15 to rent a board for an hour. Lessons are additional. But there’s more. Jump in an outrigger canoe and paddle your way through the waves. It’s $8 for two trips (four people are required to launch the canoe). Now that’s Hawaii!
Location: Waikiki Beach, primarily in front of Duke’s.
Activity Time: 1 hour to half a day.
Cost: Surf board rentals: $15 the first hour and $5 for each additional hour. Lessons: Range from groups to private groups to individual. with prices at $40, $50 and $75. Outrigger canoe: $8 for two trips (4 people required).
3.) SNORKELING AT QUEEN’S BEACH
Sure, there’s Hanauma Bay. But it’s crowded, costs $6 and requires a bus or trolley to get there. Yet right in Waikiki, the snorkeling in front of the aquarium is quite sufficient, with plenty of fish to see and few people. This area is known as Queen’s Beach – one look around at the sunbathers here and it won’t take long to figure out why – with the entrance being the narrow “path” of sand in the water. Stay off the coral.
Location: 2777 Kalakaua Avenue at Queen’s Beach.
Activity Time: 30-60 minutes.
One – if not the – most spectacular aspects of Waikiki Beach occurs almost nightly. And that is the sunsets over the Pacific, viewable all up and down the sand. For photos with the most palm trees, the best place to be is Duke’s but this is by no means the only spot to see sensational sunsets. The important thing is to be there to witness it at each and every opportunity.
Location: Up and down the beach.
Activity Time: 30 minutes.
4.) BOOZE CRUISES/SAILBOAT TRIPS
Waikiki Beach is lined with several catamaran sailboats offering different adventures, from snorkeling trips to day trips to sunset booze cruises. Don’t be afraid to approach the proprietors on the beach. They don’t bite! The adventures they are offering are a bargain at $25-40. And the booze cruises include, you got it, free booze! Many even offer $5 discounts for repeat customers. The “yellow boat” in front of Duke’s tends to be more for the party people while the “white boat” by the Shorebird (Outrigger Reef hotel) is also popular.
Location: Waikiki Beach in front of Duke’s and the Shorebird.
Activity Time: 60-90 minutes.
5.) TOURING THE ART GALLERIES IN THE HOTEL LOBBIES
On the surface, this may not seem all that exciting. But it is, because Waikiki hotels are a lot like those in Las Vegas, for they have attractions and sometimes even entertainment. Minus the casinos, of course.
Take the Outrigger Reef, for example. It showcases the Hawaiian outrigger tradition with a 100-year-old large wooden canoe hanging above the entrance and a 22 1/2-foot paddle in the lobby.The canoe was actually found in a dumptser and was painfully restored to perfection. The Reef also has a reading room with books on Hawaiian culture and hosts lessons in hula dancing, ukulele playing and other Hawaiian customs. While participation is, rightfully, reserved for guests, anyone is welcome to watch (Fridays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.).
Other hotel lobbies to view include the magestic Royal Hawaiian (the “pink hotel”) and the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The former has archways and was home to American servicemen in the days after Pearl Harbor. The latter has a wild animal exhibit behind the pool area with flamingos and penguins. Yes, penguins in Hawaii.
Location: Outrigger Reef, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Royal Hawaiian and other Waikiki hotels.
Activity Time: 30 minutes per lobby.
6.) THE WAIKIKI TROLLEY
Sure, it borders on screaming “TOURIST!” But it’s a great way to get a $2 tour of Waikiki and it’s far less hokey than the Conch Train in Key West The Waikiki Trolley makes 10 stops and goes all they way to the Ala Moana Shopping Center. There are different lines going several places so check with the driver for the destination. Also be sure the side of the vehicle says Waikiki Trolley; there are several other trolleys that look the same but are chartered tours.
Location: Throughout Waikiki.
Activity Time: 1 1/2 hours (full loop).
Cost: $2 (each ride).
7.) THE US ARMY MUSEUM
The outstanding US Army Museum is at the beach and it’s free.
Somewhat of an unknown charm in Waikiki is the US Army Museum, next door to the Outrigger Reef. From the tanks in front of the building to the inside displays, it’s a look back at the Army’s entire history. As one might expect, the section on the Pearl Harbor attack and World War II is extensive. The museum is excellent and also traces the military history of Hawaii.
Location: Fort Derussey Park (next to the Outrigger Reef).
Activity Time: 1-2 hours.
Cost: Free (donations accepted).
8.) FREE MUSEUMS
There are several “museums” that are free in Waikiki. They are not huge, time-consuming monuments but brief looks at parts of Hawaiian history. The best of these is the Surf Museum in the Beachcomber Hotel. Part of Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber, it has old surfboards on display with plaques describing their significance. There are also displays of guitars and ukuleles. Plus it has a bar! For more music, learn a little about it with a wall display featuring the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.
Location: Beachcomber Hotel lobby, the wall between Embassy Suites valet and the Yard House on Lewers Street.
Activity Time: Surf Museum, 30-45 minutes, Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame, 15-30 minutes.
9.) FREE SHOWS
The Waikiki Shopping Plaza puts on free Hawaiian dance and music shows. It’s Polynesian shows are a “rhythmic journey thorugh the Pacific Islands.” They take place Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 7-9 p.m. (first floor), 8 p.m. (third floor). The mall also offers daily hula lessons (10-11 a.m, and noon-1 p.m., on the third floor) and other activities. Across the street, the Royal Hawaiian Center features live music, ukulele and lei-making lessons and other cultural activities, Monday-Friday from roughly 10 a.m.-7 p.m. A complete list of times and activities can be found here. The entire stretch of Kalakaua Avenue is full of street performers and artists who make a living entertaining tourists for donations. This is the Venice Beach of Waikiki. There are also occasional hula shows in the grassy area of the Waikiki Beach Walk on Lewers Street.
Location: Waikiki Shopping Plaza, Royal Hawaiian Center and along Kalakaua Avenue.
Activity Time: 30 minutes per activity.
10.) FREE EVENTS
First Friday is a fun, free block party held each month.
A downtown festival and movies on the beach are two things that Honolulu offers its residents and visitors. One is First Friday, a street event that attracts thousands. Held on the first Friday of each month, it’s a happening block party in the Chinatown area. More on First Friday here. A more family-friendly event is the movies at Queen’s Beach. Held Saturdays and Sundays at sunset, it starts with entertainment two hours before the movie.
Location: First Friday, Chinatown (downtown). Movies on the Beach, Queen’s Beach.
Activity Time: 2-4 hours.
11.) HAPPY HOURS
Live music like that of the dynamic Doraku, and $3 beers are here.
Sure, it’s $10 for a Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian’s Mai Tai bar. But there’s also beers for $1.50 and cocktails for as little as $3 in Waikiki. How about half-priced food and free pizza? If one knows where to look, these and other bargains abound in and around Waikiki. Bars and restaurants have Happy Hours and guess what – many are in effect seven days a week. Rather than list them all here, refer to this separate PubClub.com article:
• Best Happy Hours in Waikiki and Honolulu
12. PICNIC IN THE PARKS
A picnic by the beach (Fort Derussey) and playing in Kapi’olani Park.
Despite all the tall buildings jammed side-by-side, there are many open spaces to enjoy in Wakiki. Several parks are a casual walking distance from any hotel, from the huge Kapi’olani Park at the base of Diamond Head to the Fort Derussey Armed Forces Recreation Center of the Pacific, which is almost as big as its name. There are picnic areas, barbeque grills (along the beach, from the US Army Museum to the Hilton Hawaiian Village behind Fort Derussey) and even public tennis courts (Kapi’olani Park). Another spot is Queen’s Beach, across the street from Kapi’olani. While this is where many gays gather in Honolulu, it’s not their exclusive domain and there is a snack shop and restrooms.
Locations: Kapi’olani Park (far end of Waikiki toward Diamond Head), Queen’s Beach (by the aquarium), Fort Derussey Park and along the beach between the Outrigger Reef and Hilton Hawaiian Village,
Activity Time: 1-3 hours.
13.) HIKE DIAMOND HEAD
The reward for the hike to Diamond Head is this view of Honolulu.
What may look intimidating and even impossible is actually quite easy and is a very popular activity among locals and tourists – hiking Diamond Head. Much of the hike is little more than a stroll. However, getting to the top requires a fairly strenuous climp up steep and narrow steps. The reward? A view overlooking all of Honolulu from atop a WWII pillbox. The hike is 1 3/4 miles to the summit and it is highly recommended to take water (it’s sold on site).
Location: Diamond Head Road, approximately three miles from Waikiki Beach.
Activity Time: 3 hours.
Cost: Free. Parking is free, as well.
14.) RUNING TO DIAMOND HEAD & ALA MOANA PARK
For active people, Waikiki has great places for exercise on dry land. Running to Diamond Head or around Ala Moana Park is an energizing workout with invigorating views.
Along the Diamond Head route are scenic outlooks, views of the ocean framed by trees and the occasional local serenading his girl with a ukulele. The run is mostly flat until the approach to Diamond Head. There are some long hills, but the grade is barely taxing for regular runners. It’s approximately three miles to the Diamond Head entrance from the Duke Kahanamoku statue.
Another good run is Ala Moana Park across from the shopping center of the same name. It may take as long to get to it as run around it but once there, runners are rewarded with a path that leads straight out to the ocean, along it and then a parallel to a beautiful lagoon. The park run is about 3 miles and it’s about that same distance from the middle of Waikiki.
Locations: Diamond Head, along Kalakaua Avenue to the Diamond Head entrance. Ala Moana Park, down Kalakaua away from Diamond Head. Both are approximately three miles from the heart of Waikiki; runs can be anywhere from 4-7 miles R/T.
Activity Time: 1-2 hours.
15.) TOURING PEARL HARBOR
The USS Arizona Memorial is a touching tribute.
Pearl Harbor is an absolute must for any Honolulu visitor. It includes a new museum and movie about the attack, as well as a video filmed around and even inside the Arizona in 2009. But the real highlight is the memorial over the battleship USS Arizona. Note the bubbles of oil coming to the surface; some say it is the tears of the 1,177 men killed in the attack on Dec. 7, 1941. The last tour begins at 3 p.m. Phone: (808) 422-0561.
Location: Pearl Harbor Naval Base
Activity Time: 2-4 hours.
Cost: Free (dontations accepted. Tour groups extra).