Want to take your dream vacation but think you cannot afford it? Have you ever wanted to see the beautiful beaches in Hawaii in person? It is true, Oahu can be expensive, but we are here to show you how you can vacation in Oahu on a budget.
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Finding Cheap Flights to Oahu on a budget
The market to Hawaii just opened with Southwest offering great deals to the Islands providing much-needed competition. With Southwest entering the Hawaiian market the prices to Hawaii have dropped making it the perfect time for you to find affordable flights to Oahu. You can use Skyscanner, Southwest, and Google Flights to find the best deals to Oahu. With competition fierce look into Hawaiian Airlines for deals as well. (They offer inflight food and free wine, which as parents traveling with children is much appreciated and deserved)
Tip: Don’t forget if you use Southwest 2 free checked bags are included so if there is a small price difference why not take advance of the additional baggage allowance.
Finding Accommodations in Oahu on a Budget
The first tip is if at all avoidable DO NOT STAY IN WAIKIKI. Everything in Waikiki is more expensive and parking is impossible. If you want to truly enjoy the island it is best to be out of the tourist areas and live like a local.
Hawaiian hospitality is unbelievable, like no other place in the world. A neighbor in the Airbnb we stayed offered our baby food even though we could visibly see he didn’t have much food for himself. He was so kind and always greeted us and our baby with a smile.
We would normally recommend using Airbnb or VRBO but with the new laws, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find affordable accommodation. The new law aims to reduce the “illegal rentals” that are impacting the locals and keep all the tourist activity centralized to specific areas. This is bad news for budget travelers as hotels continue to increase costs and charge for every service that once was included in the price of the room. There are still “illegal” rentals available on Airbnb but please proceed with caution as you may be at risk for last-minute cancellations by the host.
Here are affordable legal accommodations:
Free Kid-friendly Things to do in Oahu on a budget
One of the great things about Oahu is there are a lot of free things to do on the island. You do not have to pay a lot of money to have fun and explore the amazing things that Oahu has to offer. There are so many free and cheap activities for families that you can spend a week in Oahu without spending a fortune. We filled our week in Oahu with fun free baby-friendly things and had a blast. You can arrange an amazing beach photoshoot to commemorate your time in paradise.
There are 5 state-operated botanical gardens in Oahu. 4 of the 5 botanical gardens are free and one even has a waterfall.
- Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden - Located 25 minutes from Waikiki on the east side of the island. You can drive through and view the beautiful flowers along the winding driveway leading to the visitor center. Please be advised there is no stopping for pictures along the drive as traffic must keep moving. Once you reach the visitor center you can walk through the garden to the lake full of fish.
- Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden – Located just 5 miles north of Waikiki this botanical garden has a picturesque waterfall that screams Instagram.
- Koko Crater Botanical Garden - Located 5 minutes from Sandy beach near Koko Crater this botanical garden is the peace you need after a long day. To see all the flowers and desert trees you will need to take a stroll along the 2-mile loop.
Tip: This garden is not stroller friendly, as the path is filled with rock, you will need to wear your little one to enjoy this stroll. We did not encounter mosquitos but be generous with the sunscreen.
- Wahiawa Botanical Garden – Heading to the North Shore stop at this botanical garden for a peaceful walk to explore the trees from around the world. This paved garden allows you to see trees from Southeast Asia and learn about the different spices and see them in their original form. You can also venture off the paved path to explore the “rainforest”, be careful because it can get muddy and slippery after rain.
No visit to Oahu can be truly complete without visiting Pearl Harbor. Many people believe that you must pay to be able to visit the memorial but that is not correct. The tickets to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial are free. Here is everything you need to know about visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Tickets to the Pearl Harbor National Museum and USS Arizona Memorial are free.
Admission to the Pearl Harbor National Museum incudes access to 2 museums and the exhibits along the harbor.
- Walk-in Tickets - If you would like tickets to arrive at the visitor center early. There are 1,300 tickets available daily for free starting at 7:00 am. Remember, these tickets are given on a first come first serve basis, plan to be there early with all the members of your party present.
Tip: Children do not need a ticket if they are young enough to sit on the lap of an adult during the film and while on the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. If the child needs their seat, they will need a ticket.
- Reserved Tickets – You can reserve tickets to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in advance. Although reservations are not required, they are highly recommended to guarantee entry. These tickets are not included in the 1,300 that are given daily, so you do not have to worry about that.
There are 2 ways to reserve tickets in advance for your visit available here.
- Manoa Falls
- Waimea Falls
- Waipuhia Falls
- Lulumahu Falls
- Jackass Ginger Poll Falls
What is more relaxing than spending time on the beach? There is nothing that says vacation more than sand between your toes and beautiful warm blue water. When traveling with kids it is important to always consider safety and enjoy kid-friendly beaches. Here are the beaches that we enjoyed and felt safe with swimming in with our 9-month-old baby boy. Remember, not all beaches are kid-friendly.
- Pupukea Tide Pool
- Kuilima Cove
- Lanikai Beach
- Ala Moana Beach
- Kaimana Beach
Waikiki is undoubtedly where all tourist action is. Everything in this part of Oahu is designed with you in mind. There are plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants on every block. Enjoy the fresh night air and explore Waikiki once the sun begins to set and take in the street entertainment along the way.
Hawaii State Art Museum (HiSAM)
The art museum located at Hawaii State in downtown Honolulu is always free. The museum is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and closed on Sundays and holidays. There are also activities for kids once a month. To see the dates of activities, check the calendar.
You could spend a week exploring the North Shore because it has so much to offer. One of the best things about the North Shore is the food. Here are a few things you can do:
- Get shave ice – Best is Matsumoto's
- Explore Art Museums
- Explore Haleiwa Town – Be sure to get a picture with the angel wings
- Polynesian Cultural Center (This is not free but worth the cost)
If you are looking for more things to do in North Shore we wrote a guest post for 2 Travel Dads with some amazing things to do and see.
No visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the Dole Plantation in the north shore. Entry into the plantation is free to walk around and explore. You cannot leave without having dole whip, I thought it was overrated and was wrong ($6.23 including tax). Our little one also gave his stamp of approval.
- Hike Koko Crater – Difficult because it does get steep
- Hike to the top of Mt. Leahi (Diamond Head)
- Hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse – Paved for stroller and moderately difficult but is uphill.
- Hike the Maunawili Trail
- Hike above the leeward side along the Aiea Heights Loop Trail overlooking Pearl Harbor.
Hilton in Waikiki has a firework show every Friday at 8:00 pm. It is free to watch the show and enjoy it with your little ones.
What to eat in Oahu on a Budget?
This is where the locals go to eat. The prices are reasonable, and they are located not too far from Waikiki. Learn from my lesson and get the Loco Moco smothered in gravy, I didn’t want to pay extra for the gravy and was disappointed in myself when I didn’t. It is so worth it if you want to burn a few extra calories from the extra gravy take a nice walk along Ala Wai Blvd. and enjoy the canal and scenic view backdrop.
Giovanni's Shrimp Truck
I must admit Giovanni’s is not budget-friendly ($14 per plate for 12 shrimp), but it is worth the splurge. The food truck is in North Shore and opens at 10:30, be sure to get there early to get a parking spot and beat the crowds. We were there at 10:45 and had to wait in line for almost an hour. Once you place your order the wait for your food is not long. The garlic shrimp is phenomenal, you deserve to eat something that good.
If you are in Oahu with a larger family, we recommend taking a trip to Costco. Buying snacks from Costco can save you money not only while you are in Oahu but on the trip home. You can buy snacks and fruit to eat between meals to reduce impulse purchases.
Tip: If you have a rental car take the trip to Costco for gas. The gas is over 60 cents cheaper than all the other gas stations on the island. (It was even cheaper than gas in San Diego)
If you have a kitchen available, Foodland is the best place to get groceries. Do not go to Food Pantry or the Foodland outside of Waikiki because they are the most expensive. The Foodland located on Dillingham Boulevard is reasonably priced and has ample parking. We only spent $80 eating out in Oahu for a week, because we purchased groceries and packed lunches.
Shopping in Oahu on a Budget
We are all human, we tend to forget something when packing. That is why there are convenient stores everywhere especially in Waikiki. It seems like there is an ABC on every block as you explore Waikiki. DO NOT shop at the ABC store, everything there is overpriced. Here are a few places you can shop in Oahu on a budget.
When you think of shopping, I am sure that Chinatown is not the first thing to come to mind. Explore the art galleries, local produce, restaurants, and authentic Asian shops. Take in the beauty of the colorful leis that have become the staple of Hawaii.
Enjoy the atmosphere and buy your souvenirs at the Aloha Stadium swap meet and marketplace. The hours are Sunday 6:30 am – 3:00 pm, Wednesday and Saturday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm. You will find everything here from leis to wakeboards to purchase. If you want to get a taste of the Hawaiian culture and to connect with locals this is the place to do it.
Tips for Aloha Swap Meet
- Bring water, sunhat, and sunglasses
- Pace yourself, you will not be able to see everything
- Take a picture of the parking spot to remember where you parked
Tip: Always ask about military discounts.
For your other needs, there is a Walmart on Ke’eaumoku Street.
For many people, Oahu is the ultimate vacation. Don’t let the fear of the cost scare you into not taking the vacation of your dreams.
Have more budget-friendly tips for vacationing in Oahu? Comment below.
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