Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, is a tropical paradise with a lush green landscape, pristine beaches, and a lovely community spirit called aloha. It’s the primary entry point to the state, with direct flights from Asia, North America, and various islands around the South Pacific. It’s a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, considered a second home by many people from across the globe.
A famous tourist destination, Hawaii’s largest city isn’t exactly cheap to visit. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the United States for a summer trip. But don't let that stop you! Honolulu does offer bargain shopping, lower priced eateries, and stellar beaches!
And thankfully, there are numerous free things to do in Honolulu that will allow you to save on your travel budget. Some of the capital’s top destinations, such as museums like the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, Aloha Tower, and the legendary beaches at Waikiki, don't require a fee.
If you got too excited on your Hawaiian trip and brought too many bags to take to your hotel, don’t stress! Leave the rest in a luggage locker in Honolulu to start your adventure without burden.
Join the Cultural Activities at the Royal Hawaiian Center
The Royal Hawaiian Center is Honolulu's premier dining, shopping, and entertainment destination. It is home to more than ninety renowned international and local retailers and boasts authentic Hawaiian flavors at its diverse restaurants and dining spots.
But if you don’t plan to spend, head to The Royal Grove for free live entertainment. It’s the gathering place in the Waikiki neighborhood, offering all sorts of cultural experiences and activities throughout the year. Whether you want to witness traditional Hawaiian performances or take hula lessons and cultural classes, you’ll find it here. Visitors and shoppers are welcome to enjoy its free events and celebration of music, dance, and Hawaiian culture and traditions from 10 AM to 10 PM every day.
Location: 2201 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815
Spend your day at Waikiki Beach
How can one visit Honolulu without stopping by one of its beaches? Of all the options, the most famous has to be Waikiki Beach, which many visitors and celebrities frequent. As it’s considered a public property, you can enjoy its clear waters, fine sand, and pretty view without paying for anything. You only have to bring your beach and swimming essentials and water sports equipment.
Besides the usual walking by the beach, sunbathing, and swimming, you can enjoy more free and low-cost activities at Waikiki Beach. For instance, you can watch performances by local musicians and sing and dance with the crowd. You can also stroll along the Waikiki beach walk and check out great attractions, like the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, Waikiki Historical Trail, Royal Hawaiian Center, and the many high-end boutiques nearby.
Location: Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu
Go Snorkeling in O’ahu
On the topic of Honolulu beaches, you can’t miss out on O’ahu’s free snorkeling. Hawaii is renowned for its 1,200 miles of coral reef, which is sure to provide a fantastic underwater view. You’ll also see many of its colorful marine creatures, like the bright yellow tang, rainbow runners, reef triggerfish, and even sea turtles and dolphins. However, this ultimately depends on which beach you go to specifically.
For a free experience, consider the public beaches in Honolulu, such as Makaha Beach, Sunset Beach on O'ahu's North Shore, Lanikai Beach, and Kailua Beach Park. You can bring your own snorkeling or scuba diving equipment or rent or buy from the many shops available.
If you’re willing to pay extra, you may want to consider guided snorkeling excursions. Besides the equipment, the tour usually provides transportation, certified diver guidance, digital photos, and snacks. As for the price, it will depend if you went for a half-day or whole-day trip, the excursion team, and the included services in the package.
Location: O'ahu Island, Honolulu County, Hawaii
Immerse yourself in Nature at Lyon Arboretum
While basking in the sun and doing aquatic activities might be your trip's highlight, there is more to Honolulu than the beach. About five miles from the bustling Waikiki, tucked in the back of Mānoa Valley, is the Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden. It’s part of the University of Hawai’i, offering seven miles of exciting hiking trails suitable for outdoor enthusiasts. It also features different tropical and sub-tropical plants on nearly 200 acres of property.
Lyon Arboretum is accessible to the public from Monday to Friday, between 9 AM and 3 PM. While admission to the Arboretum is free, visitors are encouraged to donate. Be sure to book in advance before your visit.
Location: 3860 Manoa Rd, Honolulu, HI 96822, United States
Take a Free Historic Walking Tour
Gain a deeper understanding of the Waikiki neighborhood, its rich history, culture, and past, long before it became one of the island’s top tourist spots. The Waikiki Historic Trail features 23 sites starting from Kapi’olani/Waikiki Beach through several notable attractions and beaches, including Kuhio Beach, the US Army Museum, Hawai’i Convention Center, Ala Moana Park, Kalia Road, Rainbow Tower & Hilton Lagoon, and more.
You can download the text and map or take a virtual tour of all sites, complete with descriptions. The historical trail was designed by Dr. George Kanahele, an author and historian, to help tell the untold stories of Waikiki. It traces the area’s cultural legacy and history, giving you a glimpse of Waikiki’s intriguing past. The tour is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 to 11 AM.
Location: 1244 N School St Honolulu, HI 96817
Tackle the Diamond Head Summit Trail
If you’re looking for an exciting outdoor adventure near Honolulu, try hiking the Diamond Head (Le'ahi) Summit Trail. The trail was established in 1908 as part of the coastal defense system of O’ahu. It’s a 1.6-mile round trip, generally considered a moderate route that can be completed in two hours, depending on your experience and stops.
A hike to the Diamond Head summit will also give you insight into the military and geological history of the volcanic crater. There’s a paved concrete path at the beginning for about a distance of 0.2 miles. But the trail becomes steep and uneven, so make sure you wear appropriate gear and practice caution. Take your time as you hike, and once you get to the summit, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city and the Waikiki beach at the top.
Reservations are required if you want to hike. It is open daily from 6 AM to 4 PM. While it’s free for locals and children three years old and under, non-residents must pay $5. You don’t have to have cash as it only allows credit cards.
Location: Diamond Head State Monument, Honolulu, HI 96815
Hike Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail
Another family-friendly activity for adventure seekers is the hike to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse. It is the second most popular hiking spot in Oahu, following the Diamond Hire Trail. Once you reach the top, you’ll enjoy the breathtaking views of Koko Head, Makapuu Beach, and the neighboring beaches and islands.
It’s considered an easy to medium hike that can be completed in one hour to an hour and a half. The gate opens at 7 AM, so be sure to arrive early as it quickly warms up without many shady trees.
Location: Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail, Waimanalo, HI 96795
Visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Oʻahu
Established in 1949, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was an empty expanse of a volcanic crater. It is located north of Downtown Honolulu, serving as a resting place for nearly 53,000 veterans and eligible family members. It’s included in the National Register of Historic Places, which honors the achievements and sacrifices of the American Armed Forces and the soldiers of the 20th-century wars.
Many notable Hawaiian heroes and recipients of the Medal of Honor are buried at the National Memorial Cemetery. It includes the country’s first astronaut Ellison Onizuka, World War II veteran Stanley Dunham, and the grandfather of President Barack Obama. Additionally, many are honored in the ten Courts of the Missing, including the heroes from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars who were lost or buried at sea or designated missing in action. Free walking tours are available for those who want to explore the memorial.
Location: 2177 Puowaina Dr, Honolulu, HI 96813
Go Up the Aloha Tower
The Aloha Tower is one of the most renowned historical landmarks in the city and is regarded as an iconic symbol. It was initially built in 1926 to serve as a lighthouse for seafarers traveling to O’ahu. Although it’s now decommissioned, it still serves its purpose of welcoming visitors to the island. It’s now also a marketplace, observation deck, and tourist spot.
Besides admiring the Aloha Tower from below, you can go up the 184 feet tall 10-story building free of charge. Above, you’ll have access to the grand view of the harbor and the cityscape. Aloha Tower's observation deck is only open to the public from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM but can change depending on the weather.
Location: 1 Aloha Tower Drive, Honolulu
Explore the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
If you want to learn about the history of Honolulu, visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. It’s dedicated to the people, places, stories, and artifacts significant to the Attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It’s considered one of the most pivotal moments in history, not only for Honolulu but the United States. The memorial also serves as an educational resource for both locals and visitors.
Besides the treasure of knowledge about the Pearl Harbor attack that you can get inside the National Memorial, the museum itself already makes it worth visiting. It’s built over a sunken ship from the Attack of Pearl Harbor, so you can see the structure up close.
Location: 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu
Stop by the Ala Moana Center
For the best shopping spree in Honolulu, it’s a given that you go to the Ala Moana Center. However, it's still a must-visit even if you don’t plan on spending. After all, it’s the largest open-air shopping center worldwide, making the vast array of shops worth seeing. In fact, it comprises more than 350 shops, from department stores to high-end restaurants, first-class boutiques, and more shopping options.
Besides the shops, there are other fun free things to enjoy at the Ala Moana Center. This includes live hula performances, cultural gatherings, and in-store demos and classes, among many others. You can also stop by the Art Walk and the Children’s Play Area, open daily from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM.
Location: 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu
Tour Hawaii State Art Museum
The list of the top free things to do in Honolulu won’t be complete without a museum, so be sure to spend a few hours touring Hawaii State Art Museum. It’s considered a ‘People’s Museum,’ hence, it belongs to everyone. It is accessible to all from Monday to Saturday, from 10 AM to 4 PM.
The State Art Museum displays artworks from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in Public Places Collection or student art competitions. It is housed inside the No.1 Capitol District building in downtown Honolulu, near the Cathedral of St. Andrew and Iolani Palace. After your art tour, you’ll find a sculpture garden on the ground floor. It was once a recreational area with bleachers and a large swimming pool but now serves as a lovely urban oasis.
Location: 250 South Hotel St Second Floor, 250 S Hotel St #5, Honolulu, HI 96813
Watch the sunset at Ala Moana Beach Park
Are you looking for a scenic sunset experience in Honolulu? Head to the family-friendly beach, Ala Moana Beach Park. Walk to the end of the manmade peninsula called Magic Island, find a comfortable spot on one of the benches, and watch the glorious sun disappear behind the horizon.
Everything at Ala Moana Beach Park is completely free, from the stunning views and parking to the tennis courts, picnic tables, and more. Thanks to its turquoise blue, shallow water, it continues to attract tourists and locals to stand-up paddle-board and snorkel. And compared to other Oahu beaches, Ala Moana offers acres of lovely shade trees and an expansive grassy area to play and have fun.
Location: 1201 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96814
Enjoy Free Activities and Entertainment in Honolulu!
Honolulu is a laid-back metropolis with a unique blend of cultures and traditions and a firmly rooted Hawaiian heritage. It’s a gateway to gorgeous Hawaiian islands, offering world-famous surfing spots, luxury dining options, and award-winning restaurants. Though not exactly a budget-friendly tropical area to visit, anyone can take advantage of the numerous free things to do in Honolulu for all styles and interests.