It might sound like a contradiction, being one of the most popular tourist spots for in the United States and vacation spot for high flyers all around the globe. But the main island of Hawaii should never be avoided for budget reasons.

Much of Oahu’s appeal is the lush green landscape and warm ocean so with a little forward thinking there’s no reason why Oahu on a budget couldn’t be available. We’ll show you how.

Oahu on a Budget: Getting Around

TheBus is a cheap bus service that travels to all major towns in Oahu, including Waikiki up to the North Shore. The timetable is regular and tickets are cheap at just $2/ride, $20 for the Oahu Discover Passport which gives you 4 days of unlimited rides. Children and less abled persons get their tickets half price. Other than Waikiki everything on Oahu is more than walking distance apart from one another so this is an ideal option.

Another option is to hire a bike. This is a good way to combine exercise with the great outdoors, especially because the Hawaiian sun is part of the islands appeal, but the problem with biking is that to reach more places you’ll need a lot of fitness. Bike hire is around $30/day or you can save dollars by using a Go Oahu Card.

Oahu on a budget: Go Oahu Pass

A Go Oahu Pass is designed to give discounts to the major tourist destinations on Oahu. Purchase a Go Ohau Pass for your choice of between 1 and 7 days, then download the pass onto your phone and show at attraction entrances to receive your discounted rate.

While the pass can look expensive to buy, Hawaii attractions are expensive so if you do intend to spend your trip doing most of the touristy sights then it is a smart choice. That said, Oahu on a budget is not doing the attractions but enjoying the sights, scenery, and outdoors. One or two attractions are worthwhile, but it isn’t necessary to make the most of a Hawaii experience.

Oahu on a Budget: Sleeping

Cheap accommodation is not something Oahu does a lot of. A cheap resort can cost as much as $150/night and that’s without the standard tax bill added onto the rack rate.

To sleep in Oahu on a budget means being a short walk away from the popular spots and et’s get realistic; cheap by Oahu’s standards is not cheap by South East Asia’s standards.

While budget sleeping options in Oahu are few and far between we have found one or two budget friendly places to have a good night sleep.

  • Polynesian Beach Club: A beachy hostel located 3 minutes from the beach and a stroll from Waikiki.
  • Hostelling International Honolulu: Located a short walk from Waikiki and everything you would expect from a cheap hostel.
  • Lemon Cello Cottage: A diamond in the rough. AirBnB offers this 4 bedroom house for $49/night.
  • Home-to-Go: another version of AirBnB and where the odd cheap cottage can be found.

Oahu on a budget: Eating

Restaurants in Waikiki are not where to spend meal time if Oahu on a budget is your preference. In Oahu (like the rest of the United States) tipping the waiters 10% of your bill is customary and theres a tax that is added on too. Essentially what that means is that your seemingly cheap restaurant meal price can hike up considerably.

To travel Oahu on a budget there are a few things to do:

  1. Go to a supermarket that is not on Waikiki and buy breakfast foods and fruit for snacks.
  2. Do picnic dinners enjoying the great outdoors.

Supermarkets generally have a large selection of packaged cold meats and breads that can make for tasty evening meals sitting on the beach watching the sun go down. For a budget meal that you don’t need to prepare yourself definitely move away from Waikiki.

Fresh Catch serves delicious fresh seafood takeaways at reasonable prices. Diamond Head Market and Grill is also a cheap and delicious takeaway option.

Oahu on a budget: Sights

Oahu has a lot of attractions and while there are some which are simply gorgeous, an equally satisfying trip to Oahu can be spent without the attractions.

Pearl Harbour Museum is certainly worth the entrance fee and when we talk about travelling Oahu on a budget it seems inappropriate to consider cutting cost to a place which is all about those who lost their lives in the war. If time and interest prevails, this sight is worthy of your budget.

As for other sights, they are typically an entrance fee to some of the best snorkelling and underwater sights around. This sounds appealing I understand, but make no mistake that these are attractions that see hundreds of visitors a day. Seeing beautiful attractions while bumping heads with noisy crowds can tamper the experience. There are alternatives.

Head into Honolulu and buy a snorkelling set. Then when you take the bus up to the North Shore to see Pipeline and other famous surf breaks, stop at Turtle Bay. This is a small, white sandy beach with an exclusive resort but there is public access to the beach. With your own snorkelling gear, a day at the beach here can be a highlight.

oahu on a budget

Hiking options in Oahu are a huge draw card and an excellent way to enjoy Oahu on a budget. The most popular hike is called the Stairway To Heaven due to it’s many wooden steps that reach the peak of a hill overlooking the island. The walk through lush bush is beautiful and the views well worth the intense hiking but unfortunately this hike has been closed to the public due to safety risk. That said, plenty of travellers still do the hike by evading the security guards through the night. If you like an adrenalin filled hike then this is an option.

There are plenty more hikes on Oahu though. Pali Noches starts from Pali lookout and offers views similar to Stairway to Heaven. Kaau Crate Hike entails 5 hours of walking among waterfalls, some rope climbing, and panoramic views. Tom Tom Trail is the perfect option for checking out a Hawaiian sunrise. These are just some of the many hikes on Oahu that can contribute to a superior holiday on a budget.

Oahu on a budget: Shopping

Ala Moana mall is the popular shopping mall for tourists with all the high end brands set in an open roof mall. But there is a mall close to Waikiki call Waikele where all the designer brands hold their outlet stores. This is where shopping Oahu on a budget should be done.

Buses leave from Waikiki main beach to the mall regularly and you will be sure to find any number of discounts from the hundreds of retailers.

Best Beaches in Oahu

While most Oahu visitors gravitate to the popular Waikiki Beach, there are plenty more beaches to spend an Oahu holiday. Here are our top three.

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is located on the famous North Shore of Oahu which is mostly known for big waves and famous surfers. At Sunset you’ll find fewer crowds than Waikiki and a slightly more relaxed vibe making a holiday that involves long days relaxing on the golden sand under the heat of the Hawaiian sun. Summer months see families building sandcastles, snorkelling and swimming but in winter months the big waves roll in and it’s best to stay sand side.

Kailua Beach Park

Named as Hawaii’s best beach in 1998 Kailua is an approximate 5 km stretch of sand with gentle waves. The ocean is the gorgeous turquoise shade you would expect of an Oahu holiday, with clarity for snorkelling through. Laze about on the soft sand or try your hand at windsurfing at Kailua.

Lanikai Beach

Located on a less favoured side of the Island due to typically catching the wind, Lanikai’s reef keeps the waters calm. This is an ideal spot for snorkelling and is positioned close to two islands that are perfect for wildlife spotting. This is definitely a beach to arrive to early; the mountains block the afternoon sun.

Don’t be lured into the high life on the main stretch of Waikiki where an attempt to enjoy Oahu is falsely guided by the size of your purse. The entire island offers so much more than glitzy restaurants and shopping and any visit to Oahu on a budget would be an incredible travel experience.