How Much Does A Trip to Hawaii Cost?

View of storm clouds on Oahu

Ultimate Guide for Oahu

A frequent question I get from family and friends is, “How much does a trip to Hawaii cost?”. The price varies tremendously depending on the cost of flights, your type of accommodation, transportation you use and the activities you do. 

Our month in Waikiki cost us $2995 or $49 a day per person. That is on the cheap side for a trip to Oahu. Most people will spend double or triple that. A lot of my friends pay $10,000 just for a month accommodation in Hawaii.

Hawaii has four major tourist islands. Each one is different in vegetation, geography, services and cost. This page deals with the cost of a trip to Oahu. We have been to Oahu six times and have stayed in most areas of the island. Our stays have been at various times and for various lengths of time. 

Let us show you how you can travel to Oahu, Hawaii for $49 a day including flights! We share our  budget tips to save you $1000s. Find out the top 31 things to do, most of them free. And the answers to the top 5 questions people ask about Oahu.

What it cost us for 30 days in Oahu

Top 5 Oahu Questions

Is Oahu worth visiting?

How can you have a cheap vacation in Oahu?

What is there to do in Oahu?

When is the best time to go to Oahu?

Is Oahu safe?

Hawaii Specialist Badge
View across Waikik Beach of Diamond Head

Is Oahu Worth Visting?

Yes. It is worth visiting. Ask one of the four million repeat visitors to Oahu each year. For most visitors, Waikiki is Hawaii. Over 75% of tourists to Oahu go to Waikiki. People love Hawaii and Waikiki in particular. It is an upscale compact urban beach community onto its own. You fly in, take transportation to your accommodations, and there is no need to leave Waikiki if you are on one of the popular 5-7 day trips.

We love the feel of Waikiki Beach area and have enjoyed each of the six times we have stayed in Waikiki. We generally spend a week in Waikiki at the beginning of our month long trip to Hawaii and then go and stay in other parts of Oahu, like Kailua, or to another island. A couple of years ago we thought we would like to spend the month of April in Hawaii.

We chose April because the timing worked with our other travel plans. April is the month when Canadian snowbirds fly home. Spring has arrived and it is tax time. Time to get home. So, we had lots of local people laughing that we were coming for a month when everyone was leaving.

In addition to things that you will see, you will experience the spirit of Aloha. It is the law. Hawaii has a law statute describing the Aloha Spirit. “Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. Each person must think and emote good feeling to others. Aloha is more than a greeting. Aloha means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth and caring with no obligation in return. Aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. Aloha is to hear what can not be heard and to see what can not be seen.”

Oahu is a wonderful experience. Hawai’i is unique in the world. Take time to learn the culture of Hawai’i. Visit their museums and go to local cultural events. Everyone should go at least once but you need many trips to fully explore all that Oahu has to offer.

Share the Aloha

How To Have A Cheap Vacation in Oahu

I find Oahu cheap. This trip we stayed in Waikiki for a month. Our number one activity was free. Most of our day revolves around the beach. For eating, there are a lot of  restaurants with happy hour pricing throughout the day. Not every day but a number of times a week. There are farmer markets for ingredients  to cook your own. Honolulu has decent priced supermarkets and there are several Costcos. Once you get there and have your accommodation you do not have to spend much money. I see good prices on flight and hotel packages all the time. So Oahu can be cheap if you work at it.

We like to do outdoor things. Generally we are at the beach from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Sometimes we will do morning things like climb Diamond Head or all day things like travel to the North Shore of Oahu. We make our daily decisions on what to do that day based on the local weather forecast. Oahu has variable weather, but it is localized and you can generally chase sunshine around the island. We have found that is a good way to experience all the various beaches around the island.

If you are on a tight budget you can take TheBus around the island for $5.50 or less depending on age. If you are a senior you can get a year pass for $35. We use TheBus all the time.

The cheapest long stay accommodation is going to be a private condo or a room up at the North Shore. There are other places around the island for rent as VRBO offerings grow. Make sure that they are licensed as Hawaii has strict regulations on short term rentals. You would not want to rent a place then find that they have been shut down because they did not have a short term rental license. We have rented houses and cabins in various parts of Oahu. We have liked them all and each one was a different experience.

View of Ka'a'awa Valley Oahu

Accommodations in Waikiki

How to Find a Private Condo

It is rather difficult to find a condo at a reasonable monthly rate in Waikiki. We were very fortunate to get the budget deal we got. When we decided about six months out to look for a place in April I searched all the vacation rental databases but there were no condos with a reasonable monthly rate available. I searched all the Craigslists and other listing websites but did not have any luck there either. I finally put a Condo Wanted ad in Kijjii and an owner responded within a couple of days. 

The gentleman lived in Vancouver. He was just starting to rent out his place that had been used only by his family and friends since he had bought it several years before. We would be his first renters. He offered his place at $1500 USD for the month. We gladly took his offer. He FedEx the keys to us. When I asked him about payment, he said, “FedEx me a cheque with the keys when you get home.” So we did. A very trusting fellow.

The View From Our Condo

Where to Stay

Our accommodation for the month was in Waikiki Beach. We rented a condo on the Ala Wai Canal about 3 blocks back from the beach. The Ala Wai Canal is the backside of Waikiki and is the one way main street out of Waikiki. Anywhere in the Waikiki area is going to be close to the beach, restaurants, and activiities. The one thing that stands out for me is that off the beach the traffic noise can be unbearable at times. Not so much cars but the vast number of large diesel engines being used by the waste trucks, delivery trucks, buses, and emergency vehicles. There really should be an enforceable noise bylaw.

Our building was a cement building and was built in the 1970s. The condo and building are well looked after with a full time building manager. The building had a pool that was totally uninspiring and little used. Our condo was central to all the things we did. Close to our two bus stops and close to the bridge across the canal into Honolulu where a few blocks away was a major supermarket with normal prices. We would ride our bikes there. It was just a ten minute ride on the bike lane.

We walked 15 minutes to our favourite section of the beach at Fort DeRussy. Under the palm trees on lush close cut grass. Sitting in the shade quietly reading or just appreciating the day. We walked everywhere in Waikiki. It is no more than 30 minutes to anywhere.

Derussy Beach in Waikiki Oahu
Fort DeRussy Beach on a busy day

Top 30 Things to Do on Oahu

The 5 distinct areas of Oahu are; Honolulu, Windward Coast, Central Oahu, Leeward Coast, and the North Shore.  Each has a different feel and each will give you a different Hawaiian experience. There is no shortage of things to do. There are the beaches of course, surfing, outrigger canoeing, stand up paddleboards, windsurfing, hiking trails, motorized adventure sports, golfing, swimming, museums, theatre, opera, concerts, gardens, shopping and much more. 

We enjoy going to local events and have been to many in Hawai’i over the years. I look for them online or in local magazines and posters. When we were in Waikiki for a month we went to the Annual Spam Festival, the opera, several concerts, baseball games, the annual flower festival in Kapi’olani Park, walks through the botanical gardens, talks and free classical music at the library, free ukelele lessons, and free hula lessons. A great way to save money on food is at the local senior market where fresh produce and fruit is less than a quarter of the price that is charged at one of the ubiquitous ABC convenience stores where 1 banana is $1.

I am always finding new things to see and do in Oahu. This trip I walked by the Hawaii Army Museum almost everyday for close to a month. One day when we were leaving Fort DeRussy beach right in front of the museum we decided to visit it.  It is free and I was surprised at how well done the museum exhibits are presented. It is a great spot to spend an hour going through the nice cool museum; especially in the heat of the afternoon. 

The museum is housed in the Randolph Battery that was constructed in 1911 as part of the “Ring of Steel” that encircled the entire island to protect it from battleship attacks. The battery was built to withstand a direct hit from a 2000 lb. artillery shell.  When the 14 foot gun mounted on the roof of the battery was test fired, the explosion broke windows and rocked the buildings around the gun. It was seldom fired after that incident and was cut up for scrap metal after World War II. 

What is there to do in Honolulu?

Honolulu is the capital of Hawai’i and is the largest city on the Hawaiian Islands with a population of 350,000. Honolulu is a modern metropolis city and has lots to offer visitors. Here you will find the Ioloni Palace, the only palace in the United States.

Honolulu Oahu city view

Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace in Honolulu Oahu

Built in 1882 and located at 364 S King Street, the Iolani Palace was the Royal residence of the rulers of the Hawaiian Kingdom. 

In 1893, a group of sugar plantation owners and businessmen backed by the US government and with the help of US military staged a coup d’état and forced  Queen Lilli’uokalani to abdicate.

The Palace offers a variety of tours that range in price from $20 to $70. There is a dress code for admission. Check the link for rules and to book tours.

On most Friday afternoons the Royal Hawaiian Band plays a free concert on the lawn from noon to 1 pm. Established in 1836 their mission is to promote music, preserve Hawaiian musical culture, inspire young musicians and enrich the lives of the people of Hawai’i. 

 

Hawaiian Luau

A Luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast with food, music and hula. There are many public luaus held throughout Oahu. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel has an awesome luau as does the Waikiki Aquarium.

Paradise Cove specializes in luaus and arranges transportation from your hotel. The Polynesian Center also has a luau at night and it is a great way to finish up a day at the Polynesian Center.

Luaus are not cheap. Prices vary from $75 to $200 per person. The higher the price the more drinks you get, a better selection of food, and a more expensive show production.  At all of them you will get Mia Tias, a Hawaiian buffet where you will get a chance to taste Poi and kalua roast pig. The buffets are vegetarian friendly so there are lots of dishes to choose from.

After the buffet there is wonderful entertainment with music, singing, hula and fire dancing. We have been to 3 luaus over the years. It is fun to experience one if you have never been before. Hopefully you will learn a bit about the Hawaiian culture.  Make sure you go with the mindset to enjoy every minute because the time goes fast and they are a lot of money.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor National Memorial on Oahu

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a memorial to the men and women killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The attack pushed the United States into World War II. 

The memorial is free and is open from 7 am to 5 pm daily but you will want to book on their website in advance. It is 13 miles from Waikiki. You can take TheBus and there are shuttle buses available. Both times I have gone, I found the USS Arizona Memorial (in the picture) to be a very somber experience. 

There were 38 sets of brothers serving on the USS Arizona. The Japanese bombs exploded in the hull of the USS Arizona engulfing it in a giant fireball. Twenty three sets of brothers perished.

You can also tour the USS Missouri where the Peace Treaty with the Japanese was signed. The Memorial is one of the most visited sites in Hawai’i averaging 4,000 visitors a day.

Honolulu Theatre

Front of Honolulu Theatre :BudgetSlowTravel.com

The Honolulu Theatre is a restored 1920s theatre that hosts a variety of live performances throughout the year. The theatre promotes Hawaiian talent. We saw Makana with the HPU Orchestra. The tickets were $15 each. 

We have been to several performances at the theatre. The interior is beautiful and ornate. I love the seats with the Hawaiian emblem weaved into the fabric on the seat back. It is worth the price of admission just to see the restored building. 

Neil S. Blaisdell Center

Neil Blasdell Center in Honolulu Oahu

The Concert Hall, seating 2,158 people, in the Neil S. Blaisdell Center is the premiere performing arts theatre of the Hawaiian Symphony and the Hawaiian Opera Theatre.

We have gone to a couple of symphonies and an opera here. All the performances were first rate costing us $25 a ticket. 

Ala Moana Center Shopping Mall

The Ala Moana Center is the largest open-air mall in the world. It has 350 stores and restaurants on four levels. With assets of $6 billion it is the most valuable mall in the United States. 

It is only two miles to Waikiki Beach and is across the street from Ala Moana Park. We have walked there a few times. Most days it is open from 11 am to 7 pm. 

There are live performances throughout the day. The Mai Tai Bar is outside on the top level of the mall. It is a great place to wait while your partner is shopping through the 350 stores.

Tantalus Lookout

View of Honolulu from lookout

Located in Puu Ualakaa State Park overlooking Honolulu. It is about 6 miles from Waikiki Beach. The view is spectacular. I love viewpoints like this. They give me an overview of the area and let you fix in your mind where certain landmarks are in relationship to other things.

The gates open at 7 am and close at 6:45 pm.The parking lot is small so it is better to go early in the morning by 10 am. It is a great place to go for breakfast. Pick up some take out along the way. There are picnic tables and a picnic pavilion for use when it is rainy. There are washrooms, drinking water and hiking trails.

What is there to do in Waikiki?

Waikiki, “Spouting Waters” in Hawaiian, is a neighbourhood of Honolulu where Hawaiian Royalty lived and played in the 19th century. It was here where surfing began. This was originally a wetland area that was drained in the 1920s with the building of the Ala Wai Canal that allowed for development of the area. 

Waikiki attracts 72,000 tourists on any given day. They stay in one of the 50 hotels of which only 9 are found on the beach or one of the 130 condo buildings in this densely populated area.

Waikiki Beaches

Waikiki Beach on Oahu

The beach in Waikiki is segmented into a series of smaller beaches each with their own name. I have spent a lot of time on all of them and each has something different to offer.The fun is discovering the one that you like the best. 

You can find Waikiki Beach easily by looking for the 9 foot statue of Duke Kahanamoku with his outstretched arms full of leis. This portion of the beach is the most popular and the busiest. Finding a spot can be difficult at times. It is definitely the best place to people watch.

There are surfboard rentals and lessons available here. It is where I learned to surf. Budget Tip: if you are renting equipment for a day or week, it is much cheaper at one of the rental shops on the side streets.  There are outrigger boats you can paddle with a group and ride a wave in. So much fun! One visit to Waikiki, I was in an outrigger riding a wave 45 minutes after we cleared customs.

On either side of Waikiki Beach are quieter beaches. In the direction of the park is Kūhiō Beach that has a breakwater making it like a swimming pool with shallow protected water. Fort DeRussy Beach, is the other way; about a 20 minute walk. 

Kapi'olani Park

Girl statue in Kapi'olina Park, Waikiki

This is the main park in Waikiki at the end of Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag . The Honolulu Zoo  sits on 49 acres of the park. It also houses the Waikiki Aquarium. The park is very green with trees and lawns.

There is a large bandstand and a bandshell with scheduled activities throughout the week. We have watched plays, a floral contest, beauty contest and live music.

There are a number of athletic facilities like tennis courts and an outdoor workout gym that I have used on a number of occasions. There is a small restaurant in the park and we have taken shelter there a few times during rain showers.

The park is a very popular for family picnics and birthdays. During the morning you may see groups of women performing hula. You can join the daily sunset yoga overlooking the ocean beside the aquarium. The park is a wonderful place to sit in the shade along the ocean and read a book.

Lē'ahi - Diamond Head

Aerial view of Diamond Head crater in Honolulu, Oahu

A National Natural Landmark, Hawaiians call it Lē’ahi which means “brow of tuna” because from Waikiki, the landmark looks like the brow of a tuna rising from the ocean. British sailors called it Diamond Head thinking that the calcite crystals on the beach were diamonds.

The walk from Waikiki Beach to Diamond Head is 2.5 miles , walkable in about 40 minutes. The Farmers Market at the College is a good place to stop for refreshments along the way. 

Admission into the crater is $1 for walk-in or $5 for a car. Parking is $10 for the car. TheBus #23 from Waikiki goes by the entrance.

The round trip hike up the 760 foot tuff volcano takes about 2 hours. Most of the hike is good pathway but there are a couple of places with unstable rocks. Make sure you have sturdy shoes and not flip flops and bring water.

There is a long low narrow tunnel that is an actual lava tube that you must go through to reach the top. I have seen numerous claustrophobic people being talked through it. There are about 300 steps altogether with about 150 at the top but the view from the top is worth it. It is an amazing view from the ridge of volcano.

Waikiki Happy Hours

Inside of Taorima restaurant in Waikiki

There are many restaurants in Waikiki that have great Happy Hours. The Happy Hours might be lunch specials while others are from 3 -6 pm and others are reverse happy hours starting at 10pm.

One of our favourite lunch places is Taorima Sicilian Cuisine on Lewers St. The lunch entree and wine is a third of the price of the dinner menu. Right beside it is P.F. Changs where they have a wonderful 3-6 pm Happy Hour menu. We also like the Top of Waikiki, a revolving restaurant and lounge, that has two Happy Hours a day. Their appetizers are outstanding. Some of the best I have ever had.

Budget Story: The month we were in Waikiki the Royal Hawaiian had 1960s prices on their Happy Hour drinks. We just happened to see a small ad in the local paper. It was a month long special – but they only advertised it with table tops the first week and after that you had to ask for one of the special drinks by name. All month long we had fancy beach drinks like Pina Coladas, Mai Tias,  French 75s and Old Fashions for $1.50 while the people sitting next to us were paying $16-18 for the same drinks. 

Personal Tours

Tours by Locals 

For those of you who prefer personal tours with your own guide, we highly recommend Tours by Locals. There are 16 personal guides offering 101 personal tours for Oahu. Click on the link to see the variety of tours and choose the one that best fits your needs.

Favourite Restaurants in Waikiki

With the millions of people going to Waikiki each year, there are a lot of restaurants to feed them. Restaurants come and go but there are some that have been there for years.  We have some favourite restaurants that we have been going to for years. 

We go to Dukes everytime we are in Waikiki. It is located in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.  They have a daily Happy Hour on the beach with a live steel band playing island music. They take dinner reservations. When you check-in they will give you a buzzer to notify you when your table is ready. 

You can wander around or head to the music. We like to get a table at the wall overlooking the beach and ocean. The restaurant has a Hawaiian tropical vibe to it and it puts you in the right frame of mind at the start of your holiday.

Our favourite lunch places are Taorima, P.F. Changs  and Gyu-Kaku Chinese BBQ all on Lewers Street and right next to each other. I like the street with all its green foliage. It has a tropical feel to it.  

More Places to See in Oahu

Things to do in Hawaii Kai - East Oahu

Hawaii Kai is the South East point of Oahu and is about a 20 minute drive from Waikiki. This area was developed in the 1960s by Edgar Kaiser who owned Kaiser Aluminum. He also owned the coal mines in the Elk Valley where I live. Hawaii Kai has become a large developed area complete with a Costco and a craft brewery.

We spent a week here in a fantastic house called “Blue Hawaii”. It was located right on the point next to China Wall. The view across the bay to Diamond Head was unbelievable.  The house was designed to be completely open to the weather. I could write an entire blog just on the house it was so awesome.

There a number of beaches, hikes and activities in the area. I have included five of them in the order that you would come to them if you were driving from Waikiki. You can also take TheBus #23 out to any of these places.

View from Blue Hawaii house on Oahu
The view from our bedroom at the Blue Hawaii house

China Wall

China Wall jumping on Oahu

Located in Koko Kai Beach Mini Park, China Wall is in a residential area. It was just a few houses from where we spent a week.

There are no amenities here.  Just rocky outcrops that you can jump off. Do not jump unless others are jumping and you are a good swimmer. You have to swim over to get out after jumping.

If no one is jumping there is a good reason. It is a great place to watch other jumpers and watch the sunset.

KoKo Crater Railroad Trail

Koko Crater Railway Trail on Oahu

Koko Crater Railroad Trail is a steep abandoned railway track that was used in World War II to haul supplies up to the lookouts on the ridge of Koko Crater.

This is not a trail for everyone. It is extremely steep with over 600 steps and is rated hard. Once when we spent a week in Hawaii Kai, my nephew who is an extreme runner, ran up and back everyday. One day he did the trail three times in a row.

I know people who thought they were fit and were laid up for a couple of days after recovering from the climb. It is tricky going up and more so coming back down because of the uneven distance between the wooden ties. Make sure you have a hat, sunscreen and water and go early in the day as the entire trail is exposed and it can get smoking hot.

Around the back and in the actual crater is the 60 acre Koko Crater Botanical Garden. The trail is 2 miles and rated easy. Admission is free.

Travel Gear You May Need For Your Trip To Oahu

When you buy things at tourist shops you pay double or triple what you would elsewhere. Small things like sunscreen, sun hats, water bottles, and phone cables. 

Click on any of these items and you will be taken to Amazon where you can browse and order the little important things that make your trip so much better. We may receive a small commission and you get great prices and free shipping. It is so convenient. Thank you for supporting our website.

Hanauma Bay

Hanamua Bay on Oahu

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is the best place on Oahu to go snorkelling. There is an abundance of colourful fish along the coral. We generally spend 2-3 hours snorkelling when we go.

The drive is about 20 minutes from Waikiki or catch TheBus #23 that goes right by here.  Along the way you will pass numerous small beach parks. Most of them are quiet spots with parking and washrooms. Stop and check one of them out.

Parking at Hanauama Bay  is $3. (Money is returned if you exit within 15 minutes for those dropping off people or if there is no parking available.) Always go early in the day as it get pretty busy in the afternoon.

Admission is $12. Everyone must watch an educational movie about the preserve before you are allowed to enter the area; even if you have seen it before. You sometimes hear people grumbling about that. 

There are shuttles to ride down and up the fairly steep paved trail and walkway. I find it faster to walk down. There is a food concession, showers, change rooms, lockers, and rentals on the beach. We like the beach at the far end as it is less crowded and has trees for shade. 

Halona Blow Hole

Hanola Bow Hole on Oahu

The Halona Blowhole is past Hanauma Bay and just before Sandy Beach. The pull-in parking lot is on the right.

There is a great view of the lava tube blow holes shooting up water. The most spectacular geysers are when the ocean is high and rough. 

You can climb down to a small sandy beach in the cove. It was the backdrop for movies like, “Here to Eternity” and “Fifty First Dates”. Be careful as the path can be slippery. 

Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach on Oahu

I love going to this beach. The waves can get massive and it so much fun watching the boogey boarders ride them in to the shore. There are always spectacular ride outs and wipeouts. 

It is a popular beach and there is generally a lot of young people here. It is sometimes hard to get a parking spot and you may have to drive around for a bit until someone leaves. You can also catch TheBus out to here.

There are lifeguards, washrooms, showers, grassy areas with picnic tables and food trucks. 

Things to do on the Windward Coast

Starting at spectacular Makapu’u, a volcanic ridge, the Windward Coast or East Oahu extends for 35 miles up to beautiful Kahana Bay. There is an abundance of beaches and State Parks along the coastal highway as you drive through quiet agricultural towns with the ocean on one side and 3000 foot mountains on the other side. It takes a number of days to really explore this side of Oahu. 

Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

Makapu'u lighthouse on Windward side of Oahu

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a 2-mile moderate climb paved trail a few miles past Sandy Beach.  The trail is exposed and it is usually sunny and hot. The top can be quite windy. Make sure you have a hat, sunscreen and water. 

The walk with view stops takes about 2 hours round trip. On a clear day you can see Molokai. It is a good place to spot migrating whales from May to November. Take your binoculars.

The trailhead parking lot gets very busy and fills up by late morning. Walking the trail is a popular activity. You will see many families walking this path. The best time to go is early morning or early evening.

The parking lot is about a 30 minute drive from Waikiki or you can take TheBus #23 which takes about an hour and 30 minutes. 

Makapu'u Tidal Pools

Kooila Range on Windward side of Oahu

This is a almost hidden small beach just past the lighthouse. It is a local favourite for the tidal pools. The pools are protected and great to place to play and discover for marine life.

We generally stop and spend an hour or so when we are over in this area. Across the highway is Sea Life Park where our daughter once spent the day enrolled in Dolphin University.

The beach has a lifeguard, showers, washrooms, BBQ and picnic areas. The currents outside of the pools are strong in the winter and it is not recommended for swimming. It is great place to see the tidal pools and small marine life.

The view across the bay and up along the Ko’olau Mountain Range  from the point is spectacular and one of my favourite views on Oahu. There is just something tropical and magical to it. 

Waimanalo Beach State Recreation Park

Waimalano Beach on Windward side of Oahu

This beautiful beach is one of the nicest on Oahu. The beach is at the small town of Waimanalo. There are two ways to get there from Waikiki and Honolulu.  You can take either Highway 61 or 72. They both take about about 30 minutes from Waikiki. 

I like to take Highway 72 out and the take Highway 61 over the mountains back to Waikiki. The beach turnoff is just 10 minutes past the Makapu’u Lighthouse. Look for the small sign on the right just past the Polo grounds.  

The beach is 4 miles of soft white sand and connects with Bellow Beach.  It is a great beach for body surfing. The waves are small shore breaks that are a lot of fun to play in.

The beach has been used as a location for Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Baywatch. It is pretty quiet during the week but can fill up on the weekends with local families spending the day and barbequing. 

 

Kailua and Lanikai Beaches

Kailua Beach on Windward side of Oahu

We love Kailua. We have done a number of home exchanges here. There is not much rental accommodation available here. Hotels and resorts are not allowed. There are a few condo rentals and there are a few people that rent their backyard cottages. Make sure your landlord has a license for short term rentals.

Kailua Beach used to be just used by locals but the last few times we were there, the tour buses from Honolulu started arriving about 10 am and the park and beach filled up by noon.

Just a few minutes south in a residential area, Lanikai Beach is rated #2 beach in Oahu. Just follow the road past the boat launch. There are beach access alleys between properties to get to the beach. It is beautiful and can be very quiet. Remember no one owns the beach in Hawai’i.

Kailua has a small town feel to it but has lots of shopping, they have a Macy’s and a mall. There are all kinds of recreation parks for baseball, soccer, tennis and a free outdoor swimming pool. We bike everywhere when we stay here.

This is where President Obama liked to spend his holidays when he first became President. Since then he has bought a number of houses in the area.

Byodo-in Temple

Byodo Temple on Windward Side of Oahu

Located just north of Kailua the Byodo-in Temple is a replica of the one in Uji, Japan. It was opened in 1968 to commemorate 100 years of Japanese in Hawaii.

The setting is stunning in the Valley of Temples. The Temple has been recognized for its architecture by National Geographic. The temple grounds are lush and beautiful and home to wild peacocks and hundreds of koi. There are a number of meditation alcoves. 

It is really a beautiful, peaceful place to spend a few hours. I would live there if I could. Maybe I could be a caretaker.

The Temple grounds are open from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is $5.

 

Kualoa Ranch

Secret Beach at Kualoa Ranch

Located just north of Byodo-in Temple, Kualoa Ranch is a private 4,000 acre nature reserve that has been owned by the Judd family for the past eight generations. Their mission is to enrich people’s lives by preserving the Kualoa lands.

There are 13 tours ranging from $50 – $150. The valley is breathtaking. So much so that many movies have been made here including the Jurassic Park franchise and Kong. 

In addition to the land tours there are tours over to Secret Beach which is gorgeous as you can see in the picture. 

Food Trucks

Windward Side Food Truck

Along this stretch of highway you will come across food trucks that have been here for many, many years before food trucks became trendy. Shrimp is popular and most sell Hawaiian food.

Lau Lau is a Hawaiian dish made out of fatty pork and salted butterfish (black cod) wrapped in lu’au leaves (inside taro leaves) and held in place by the Ti leaves that you don’t eat. The Lau Lau package is then steamed. It is served with rice and poi (Pounded steamed taro root with water).  

It is one of my favourites and I look forward to stopping at one of the food trucks along this stretch of highway every time I go to the Windward Coast of Oahu.

Things to do on the North Shore

Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Center Royal Barge BudgetSlowTravel.com

Twelve miles north of Kualoa and about an hour drive from Waikiki  is the Polynesian Culture Center . It is very popular and is the #1 paid attraction in Oahu.

We have been three times with our kids and with other guests. The 6 island villages are very interesting. All the young people (full time students at Brigham Young University) involved in the activities at each village are required to be from that island. The islands represented are; Hawaii, Fiji, Somoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tonga, and Tahiti.

At each village there is a show about the culture of that island and demonstrations of cultural activities. The grounds are beautiful and there are shows put on throughout the day. It is a great experience.

Admission ranges from $70 for general admission (that gives you a 3 day pass) to $170 for the full package of admission, evening show and luau. There is a discount if you book early online. They even offer a full day bus tour of the island with various stops. It leaves Waikiki at 8 am and returns at 9:30 pm.

Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort pool

The only resort on the North Shore, the Turtle Bay Resort is a 4 star resort with well manicured grounds and beautiful pools. The Point Sunset and Pool Bar is open to the public and they have live music beginning at 3:30 pm on weekends and 5:30 pm weekdays.

This is a good place to stop for an hour and have something to eat and drink, listen to live music and watch people surf on the break out front of the pool.  

Surfing Beaches

North Shore surfer

The North Shore is famous for its surfing beaches. It is nicknamed the Seven Mile Miracle for all the world class surf breaks in that seven mile stretch. This includes Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and Haleiwa Beach. 

It is here where you find Banzai Pipeline, Backdoor, Rocky Point and other breaks that surfers come from around the world to ride. This is where you are going to see the elite surfers.

From November through March the big waves come into the North Shore. I like to spend a whole afternoon on the beach just watching these remarkable athletes ride the big surf. They make it look so easy.

I like Waimea Bay Park for its beach. There is lots of activity in the water and on the beach. It is a great spot to watch surfers ride the big 30 foot waves that come in from the Northern Pacific winter storms.

You can take TheBus here or it is an hour drive from Waikiki.

Haleiwa

Eating Shaved Ice at Matsumoto Store: BudgetSlowTravel.com

A favourite thing to do while up at the North Shore is stopping at Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa for shaved ice. Matsumoto has operated as a family business since 1957. It expanded over the years from a grocery store to selling shaved ice and then tourist goods.

Around the store are a number of galleries and boutique shops that Loie likes to browse in while I eat my shaved ice in the shade of the trees in the parking lot.

I would advise against getting the shaved ice with the scoop of ice cream in the bottom. By the time I got to the ice cream through the shaved ice, it was all melted and was running out of the bottom of the paper cup. It was a mess.

Things to do in Central Oahu

A fertile valley in the middle of Oahu, it is located between the two volcanic mountain ranges that make up Oahu. The area is mostly plantations and residential areas so not many tourists go here. Highway 99 to the North Shore goes through Central Oahu.

Aloha Stadium Market

Pearl City in the south part of the valley is home to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace.  Operating since 1949 the Swap Meet and Marketplace runs Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

There are over 400 vendors and admission is $1. The vendors circle the stadium in the parking lot. The Aloha Stadium is about 20 minutes from Waikiki. If you like markets this is one that you don’t want to miss. 

Mililani is Oahu’s first planned community about 16 miles north of Waikiki. The first house was sold in 1968 and the plan is for 15,000 houses and 50,000 people. With its public parks, schools, mall and golf course it is a typical looking suburban USA town.  

Wahiawa is another residential community further up the valley adjoining the North Shore. It has the Dole Plantation and the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens that is a 27 acre high plateau tropical garden and worth seeing if you have an hour. Admission is free. 

Dole Plantation

Dole Plantation store

The Dole Plantation, in Wahiawa, is a good stop to admire the grounds and go to the Country Store. There are a number of tours including a train ride, a garden tour and a maze. We went in the maze once and it was fun.

I like the demonstrations in the store. One shows you how to cut a pineapple the right way. They sell you a special knife that I used once and then it got put away in the box of kitchen tools that don’t get used.

The store carries all the things that tourists like to buy. There are T-shirts, hats, and other clothing items, postcards, ornaments, packaged Hawaiian food like Macadamia nuts and a lunch bar. There is seating inside and outside where you can enjoy something to eat or try the pineapple ice cream.

Things to do in Waianae - the Leeward Coast

Ko'olina

Things to do in Oahu. Visit Koolina Beach

The south end of Waianae is Ko’olina. This was an undeveloped area adjacent to industrial areas until the 1980s when the four lagoons were built and the development infrastructure was put in place.

In 1998 construction of resort hotels began. The Four Seasons, Marriott and Disney each have a resort here. In 2013, five residential communities with 1500 short and long term rentals were developed.There is even a Costco. (Hawaii Costco has the cheapest booze in the USA) It is 17 miles from Waikiki and the Honolulu Airport.

There is daily public parking on a first come basis at the lagoons. The lagoons are beautiful with great sand, calm, shallow water. A great place for sunning and to take children. (There are a lot of restrictions for beach use. No umbrellas, sun shades, frisbees, throwing things, music, dogs, and so on.) Even though Ko’olina is private land, the beaches in Hawai’i are not private and must be available to the public.

Driving an hour further north, Hwy 93 follows the coast and goes through small rural towns like Nānākuli and ends north of Mākua Beach. A dirt road continues to the point that has hiking trails. We have driven up this side a few times. It is a enjoyable drive along the ocean.

There are lots of sandy beaches along the way although a number of beaches on this part of the island have a lot of homeless people. The ocean is rougher over here and many beaches are unsafe for swimming but there is good shore fishing and good snorkeling at Kahe Point. Some of the locals are not friendly to outsiders and for surfers trying to catch a wave, they can be downright nasty. Smile and be polite.

Makua Beach: BudgetSlowTravel.com
Mākua Beach at the north end of the Leeward Coast

Transportation on Oahu

TheBus

Transportation in Oahu on The Bus

When we are in Waikiki we walk or bike. If we are going outside of Waikiki into Honolulu or further, we take TheBus. Public Transit in Oahu is wonderful. It is convenient, frequent and on time. TheBus pass is $5.50 a day or you can get a 4-day unlimited pass for $35. You can ride around the entire island. Seniors, 65 or older with valid photo id, pay $2 a ride or $35 for a years pass, that is a deal.  

We have travelled all over Honolulu on TheBus. I really like their app that shows where the bus is on the route in real time. We would be at our condo and we know that it takes us 4 minutes to walk to our bus stop and would time it just right to walk onto the bus. The things that we do to amuse ourselves, haha. 

One day we were going to a University of Hawaii baseball game and took TheBus. We sat near the front to watch the road for the correct bus stop. As the bus emptied and there was only one other sleeping passenger we asked the driver which was the stop for the baseball stadium and how far was it to the stadium from the stop. He started explaining and then said, “Wake up that guy, this is his stop and I’ll take you right to the stadium.” and he did. That was so nice of him. 

Although we use TheBus a lot during the day, we do not use it at night. We did a couple of times but at night the frequency of buses decrease so there are long wait times and the night people come out and hang around the stops.  Their behaviours make us anxious and uncomfortable. So, we take TheBus to the activity we are going to then at night when we return home we take a taxi or Uber

Car Rental on Oahu

We rent a car when we stay outside of Honolulu. This time we rented a car for a week during our month in Waikiki. We had friends joining us for a week that had not been to Hawaii before so we wanted to tour them around. Plus we had free parking with our condo. Most condos and hotels charge up to $30 a day for parking. 

I rent cars from the airport instead of Waikiki. There are car rental agencies in Waikiki but they are always more expensive than renting a car at the airport. Sometimes double the per day rate. The airport is only 30 minutes by bus. Check out the link below for car rental prices.

When is the Best Time to Go to Oahu?

Anytime is the best time to go to Oahu. We have been there every month except June and December. The weather is pretty much the same year round. The temperature stays at about 72-80F every day. There is a dry season from April to October and a rainy season November to March. It rains everyday somewhere on the island. But there are times during the rainy season when grey skies cover the island for days on end.

We have been in Oahu in March when there was an unusual amount of rain. Luckily we were there for two weeks because the first week it poured hard every day and it was grey weather the whole week in Waikiki. I felt sorry for the people that had come for that week of rain. During that rainy week we were glad we had a car and chased the sun around the island. I remember driving through some very flooded roads in various areas of the island. 

The best time to go for prices is during the slight shoulder seasons April – May and September – October. You will find the cheapest accommodations and flights during these times. Hawaii is not like other tropical destinations in the world. There are still lots of people every month it is just not packed. The highest number of visitors in 2019 was 566,000 in July and the lowest was 450,000 in April. That is about 3,000 people a day less in April over July.

Things to do in Oahu is the view from Diamond Head: BudgetSlowTravel.com

Is Oahu Safe?

Oahu is a safe place. The incidents of violent crime are much lower than mainland USA. Property crime is high, especially theft from rental cars. Do not leave any valuables in your rental cars. Not even in the trunk. Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach even if you think you have hidden them. I only carry my drivers license, two credit cards and some cash when out. I have a waterproof container that I wear around my neck. I carry my phone in a dry bag. 

Many people get badly sunburned the first day they go to the beach. Do not stay out in the sun all day that first day. You will regret it. Many people have wrecked their fun vacation from being severely sunburned. Make sure you use reef safe sunscreen to protect the marine life. 

Do not honk your horn in Oahu, especially Honolulu. It is rude and local people will make sure you know it. Switch yourself to island time, take a deep breath and relax. You are not going to get there any faster.

Do not take sand or rocks home from Oahu. It is illegal and you could be fined. Also, they say it is bad luck. 

Do not approach a beached monk seal or a green sea turtle. They are both protected by law and local people will become very vocal and start yelling at you.

Look for jellyfish in the water. More that 6,500 people a year are stung by jellyfish in Oahu. The Portuguese Man-of-War is a blueish purple bubble with a tail. The Box Jellyfish is clear and hard to see in the water. If they are in the water, get out. Only 1 in 1000 need medical attention but the sting is very painful and will wreck your day. 

Do All Your Bookings Here

Find Cheap Flights to Honolulu

Scott’s Cheap Flights

Budget travellers are always looking for the deals. Scott’s Cheap Flights is always looking for those unbelievable prices for us that make travelling on a budget doable. If we had to pay full fare or even discounted fares, we would not have travelled to a tenth of the places that we have over the years. We use Scott’s Cheap Flights and other smaller speciality websites to find those lower than rock bottom prices. Click above on the blue heading.

Budget Tip: We were able to get two return tickets from Calgary to Honolulu for $610 total. 

Personal and Travel Insurance

World Nomad Insurance 

We never leave home without travel insurance. We want travel insurance from a company that is experienced with local and world travel and gives us the best rates possible. 

For budget travellers it is important to get the best rates possible and we have found World Nomad Insurance the best in the industry. Click on the blue heading. 

Accommodations on Oahu

Oahu is composed of 5 distinct areas. All of the 5 accommodation areas have their pros and cons. We have spent a week or more in all the different areas of Oahu. Most visitors go to Waikiki in Honolulu because it is set up for the 1-2 week vacationer. There are over 30,000 hotel rooms to book including hotels and condos in Waikiki. 

If you are planning on travelling to Oahu for a week or two, try Hotwire for your accommodations. We have used them for years and have saved thousands of dollars. You can also book flights and car rentals through Hotwire. If you can not find suitable accommodations through Hotwire then try Hotellook which searches all the online hotel booking sites for the best rates.

Vacation Rentals on Oahu

Personal Tours

Tours by Locals 

For those of you who prefer personal tours with your own guide, we highly recommend Tours by Locals. There are 16 personal guides offering 101 personal tours for Oahu. Click on the link to see the variety of tours and choose the one that best fits your needs.

Oahu Resources

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