Even if you only have a limited number of days on any island in Hawaii, there are plenty of things to cross off your bucket list before you leave. Nearly all of these suggestions are either free, or cost next to nothing, so if you’re on a tight budget, these will be perfect for you! Some people find the thought of living on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean very daunting… But those are the people who have never set foot in Hawaii. In Hawaii, the islands offer beautiful landscapes that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. And that’s why Oahu, known as “the gathering place”, attracts nearly 8 million tourists every year. I was lucky enough to live in Hawaii, and I can honestly say it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited, let alone spend most of my 20’s there. I am extremely grateful for all the amazing adventures I’ve had in Hawaii, and I’d love to help others make the most out of their trip too! So, if you’re lucky enough to visit paradise (even for a short amount of time), here are 20+ things you have to do when visiting Hawaii on a budget!
1. Kayak with dolphins @ Captain Cook. So I’ve put this one first because kayaking this day was without a doubt the best day of my life. I spent the day driving to Captain Cook with a friend because I’d heard that it was one of the most amazing places to snorkel on Big Island. But when we got there, we were told that we would have to hike for over 2 hours just to get to the snorkelling spot, and since we were limited for time, this wasn’t an option. I clearly didn’t realise how amazingly resourceful the local Hawaiian’s were, since a lovely guy who lived down the road offered to let us borrow his kayak for a $20 for the day. Kayaking is one of my favourite things to do, and on our way to the snorkel spot, we had the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, which was beyond incredible. When we finally reached the snorkelling spot, it wasn’t as good as we had hoped, but the adventure to get there made it worth while. It’s amazing how some of the best adventures of your life were not planned.
2. Camp out on an active volcano on Big Island. This was an amazing experience, and it’s not expensive. We drove there, and because you’re so high the altitude changes which is pretty cool, but it also means that camping was absolutely freezing! We met a lovely couple who took a helicopter ride over the volcano and saw no lava, but we managed to see some at the end of the night when it looked its brightest!
3. Snorkel with millions of fish @ Hanauma Bay, some fish which are found nowhere else in the world. If you are trying to save money like most of us, I would definitely recommend you buy your own snorkel before heading down to Hanauma Bay. The rental prices for one snorkel are pretty steep, and I’ve had the same snorkel for over a year now and it’s lasted me through all my underwater adventures with no problem. If Hanauma Bay wasn’t such a tourist hot spot it would be one of my favourite places to snorkel. I always feel relaxed here and there’s plenty to see.
4. Find tantalus. I went here on my first week in Hawaii and I can’t express to you the feeling you get when you feel like you are standing at the top of the world. I wanted to show both pictures in the light and dark because I think they are both equally as beautiful. I only got to visit tantalus a couple of times while living in Hawaii (it’s quite an annoying winding long road) but I made the most out of it each time.
5. Go to Floatilla! Around once every month everyone grabs a floatie, a beer and swims out into the ocean to hang out. You will be amazed at how many people show up to this. I’ve been to a lot of them, they’re always fun and there’s always cool people to meet. Check out @FloatillaHawaii for updates on when the next floatilla is, it’s definitely worth it! (And don’t forget to clean up after yourself, sometimes there are hundreds of floaties and beer cans left on the beach after the event which is obviously littering and bad for the environment and ocean).
6. Head to Rumfire, grab a cocktail, listen to the live music and watch the sunset. Seriously. The food is amazing, they make cocktails the size of my head and there’s always a hot singer in the evenings… Basically my favourite restaurant. I seem to end up here whenever I’m about to leave the island so I know my heart loves it here.
7. Visit the honu’s @ Kahaluu Beach Park. There are hundreds of turtles on this beach, but be respectful of the honu’s and don’t touch or stand too near to them. It’s one of the best beaches to see honu’s without a crowd of tourists around each one.
8. Take a boat trip. I did this when my family came to visit me in the summer and it was SO MUCH FUN! Free drinks, really friendly people on board and obviously an amazing view which ever way you’re facing.
9. Visit the Byodo temple. There’s not much to do here, but it’s beautiful, its cultured and I got a pretty cool Buddha book from the souvenir shop.
10. Spend the day at magic island beach. If you’re looking for a quiet and chilled out day, this is the best beach to go to because not many people go here. There are rocks you can swim out too, and it’s a really cool spot for pictures!
11. Manoa Falls is a must! Very easy and fun to get to and absolutely beautiful when you get to the waterfall. The water is freezing but then didn’t stop me from jumping in!
12. Walk the plank at Dead mans catwalk. This is my favourite hike. Can you blame me? Look at that view!!! This year the actual ‘catwalk’ got taken away to prevent people from doing the hike (if you’re wondering why then check out this link), but I’ve seen pictures of friends who have done the hike again and the views are still just as beautiful, just without the iconic catwalk! (sad face)
13. Hike the Pillbox trail in Lanikai! This is a really short hike but can be quite difficult as some parts you have to find your way down the steep hills. You can easily spend a day in Lanikai doing this hike and relaxing at the beach. I took my best friend here and he loved it!
14. Attend the Floating Lantern Festival was actually more popular than I expected. It costs nothing to go, and you can buy your own lantern to write on for the festival. It was really beautiful to see thousands of lanterns floating away, representing the souls that we have lost. And don’t worry, there were boats far out to reclaim the lanterns so that they didn’t damage the ocean.
15. Hike Diamond Head. It’s the most popular hike in Waikiki, but you can see why. The hike is pretty easy and the view is incredible. It costs $1 and it’s accessible through public transport which is always handy for when you’re tired after a successful hike!
16. Pearl Harbour. If I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t on my bucket list of things to do when I moved to Hawaii. I didn’t really understand why people would want to pay to visit such a sad place, but after visiting Pearl Harbour with my family, it gave me a new perspective and I’m grateful I got the chance to see it with my own eyes and educate myself. Visiting the memorial isn’t free, but well worth the visit.
17. Watch a sunset. Okay so this one is the easiest. They only last for a short amount of time, but Hawaiian sunsets are the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen. And if you’ve had a bad day and you’re looking for something to cheer you up, watching any of these sunsets will make a beautiful ending to any day.
18. Go surfing! Even if you’ve never tried it before, give it a go and you will be so happy you did. I never thought I’d be able to surf until my friend pushed me to try it one day and I loved it ever since. And don’t worry, you wont be the only newbie out on the water, and even if you are, who cares, it’s all about having fun! If you can’t borrow a friends board, there are loads of cheap surfboard rental places at Waikiki beach, and you can normally hire a board for $5 an hour.
19. Have a Hawaiian beer. Whether it’s at the beach or on your lanai, grab a cold Hawaii beer and remind yourself how lucky you are to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
20. Try some local food at the farmers market. This market is on every Tuesday and Thursday evening in Waikiki. All the food is yummy and a lot cheaper than the food in the shops. I would always get my fruit, veggies and bread from here because it is without a doubt the best and about 1/4 of the price than in the supermarkets. A box of chopped fruit is $3 including mango, dragon fruit and melon!
21. Visit North Shore. There are an endless amount of things to do at North Shore. Cliff jumping? Camping? Surfing? Whatever you’re interest in, North Shore has something for everyone.
22. Waikiki beach. I have always lived a 5 minute walk from Waikiki beach because, well, why wouldn’t you want too!? It is the beach with the most tourists, but that never stopped me. It’s close to all the good bars and restaurants, you can even get a shave ice down the road and in the summer it’s one of the best places to watch the sunset. And if that’s not good enough, it is the perfect backdrop for a hair flick in the water!!
23. Take a scenic drive and find all the cool photo opportunities. There are soooooo many photo opportunities in Hawaii no matter what island you’re on. Take a drive and explore!
24. See the fireworks on Friday night @ Army Beach. The Hilton Hawaiian Village organise a huge fireworks display every Friday evening around 7.45/8pm for tourists and locals to enjoy. These are without a doubt my favourite thing about living in Waikiki, they are so amazing and beautiful. I filmed the fireworks with my GoPro HERO4 SILVER and this was the result!
26. Get lost! When I was living in my car for a week (by choice – I know, I am crazy), sometimes it was a struggle for us to find a place to park up and sleep. After a very long and venturous day, it was really dark and with quite heavy rain we decided it would be safer to park up wherever we could. Since we’d travelled half way around the island that day, we immediately fell asleep not knowing where we were, and when we woke up for the sunrise, we were so shocked to realise we had parked up on one of the most beautiful spots on the island. I will never forget how overwhelmed I was with gratitude and happiness that morning. I remember watching the waves crash against the rocks and appreciating how blessed I am for the amazing life I’ve been given. If I could have stayed there forever, I would have.
27. Visit the Polynesian Culture Centre. This is definitely not free, but I wanted to mention it anyway because it’s one of the best ways to learn about the Hawaiian culture. Your ticket includes entertainment, food and talks and classes giving you the chance to explore Hawaiian culture.
28. You wouldn’t go to Italy and not try the pasta would you? That would just be crazy! But not as crazy as if you visited Hawaii and didn’t try Shave ice. It’s yummy, it’s cheap and eugh just get in my belly already!
29. Chill out at the pool with a Mai Tai at the Sheraton. I can’t tell you how relaxing this was! Plus, Mai Tai’s are the best cocktails on the island. If you aren’t lucky enough to be staying in the Sheraton (I wish!), you can always just put your shades on, grab a sunbed and pretend like you’re staying there, it worked for me!
30. And lastly, make lots of friends who last a lifetime! I moved to Hawaii when I was 20 years old, and 3 years later some of my best friends are the ones I met on my first week on the island.
If you haven’t visited Hawaii yet but you’re thinking about it, just book the ticket!!! I don’t know who I would be today if i hadn’t have seen Hawaii; It’s one of those experiences that you can’t buy. I was a student during my time in Hawaii and considering how expensive food and accommodation can be, I still managed to experience some of the most amazing things with a small budget!