Free Things To Do in Honolulu - Oahu
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Nineteenth-century Hawaiian royalty used to come to the Honolulu neighborhood of Waikiki to relax and surf, just as scores of tourists do today. That's because this area's famous beach (which is a string of several beaches dotting the island's southwest coastline) is the go-to spot for its soft, honey-colored sand and the high waves that lap the shores during the winter months. But you don't have to be a surfer to appreciate Waikiki Beach; just lie back on a beach towel, relax and gaze up at the majestic Diamond Head State Monument in the distance.
When you need a break from the beach itself, there are scores of shops and restaurants lining the adjacent Kalakaua Avenue. The street is home to some of the world's most exclusive (read: expensive) designer boutiques, including Cartier, Coach, Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Many of the best Oahu hotels also overlook Waikiki Beach.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Honolulu - OahuFree, Tours, Monuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Tours, Monuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Located northwest of downtown Honolulu in the Central Oahu region of the island, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is home to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is the final resting place of 1,177 sailors killed during the Pearl Harbor attack. The sunken battleship is still visible from the memorial floating above it.
You can expect a long wait time and plenty of people at this attraction, but visitors almost unanimously agree that the experience is more than worth it. For fewer headaches when visiting, travelers recommend arriving before 7 a.m. if you plan on getting a walk-up ticket (only 1,300 are distributed per day on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 7 a.m.). You can also reserve one up to 60 days in advance on the monument's ticket portal. Note: Both kinds of timed passes are free, but a $1 service fee applies for tickets acquired online.
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Travel about 15 miles northeast of downtown Honolulu to the Windward Coast and you'll discover two of the island's most popular beaches – Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach. Of the two, Lanikai is more tranquil, offering relatively calm waters and a mile of white sands. This family-friendly beach is also within view of the Mokulua Islands, a haven for kayaking and surfing.
Beachgoers praise Lanikai Beach's "gorgeous" setting, adding that its location in a mostly residential part of Kailua makes it less crowded and more relaxing than Waikiki Beach. But the beach's Kailua address is also its biggest drawback: Several visitors warn that parking in the area is limited. Some also report seeing jellyfish while visiting, so keep an eye out while swimming and snorkeling.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Honolulu - OahuFree, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Hawaiian Islands boast 1,200 miles of coral reef, so it's hardly surprising that two of Oahu's most popular activities are snorkeling and scuba diving. Dive into the island's surrounding turquoise water and you'll likely find an array of colorful fish (think: bright yellow tang, rainbow runners and reef triggerfish), plus bigger marine creatures like dolphins and sea turtles.
Past travelers loved snorkeling for free at public beaches like Sans Souci Beach Park (by Waikiki Beach) and Makaha Beach Park (on the Leeward Coast), citing the ample marine life and clear water as reasons to return. But keep in mind that loaner equipment fees vary by shop and rental period. Popular options include Snorkel Bob's, Aqua Zone Scuba Diving & Snorkeling and Hawaii Beach Time. Other regions, such as Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, are best explored during a snorkeling excursion via tour operators like Snorkelfest Snorkel Hanauma Bay and Hanauma Bay Tours. These half-day trips – which include round-trip transfers and the use of a mask, fins and a snorkel – generally cost $25 to $30 per adult (or about $20 for each child 12 and younger), plus taxes and an additional $7.50 preserve entrance fee for adults.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Honolulu - OahuFree, HikingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, HikingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Stretched across nearly 2 miles of Koko Crater in the Windward Coast region of Oahu, this hiking trail features more than 1,000 steps made from abandoned railroad ties. At the trail's summit, visitors will find panoramic vistas of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Diamond Head State Monument.
Recent hikers cautioned that the Koko Crater Trail is steep and difficult to traverse, so travelers who are not in the best of shape may want to hike elsewhere. Many also stressed the importance of coming prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen and hiking shoes. What's more, some suggested visiting on a dry day since some parts of the trail are slippery, especially when they're wet. Others recommended arriving early to avoid crowds and peak temperatures. Those who don't mind the challenges that come with hiking this trail will be rewarded with "spectacular" views at the top, according to reviewers.
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If you like to kite surf or windsurf (or watch others participate in the sports), head to Kailua on the Windward Coast and find a perch at Kailua Beach. This 3-mile stretch of white, shaded sand and warm, turquoise-hued water appeals to both families and adrenaline junkies thanks to its gentle waves and ample facilities, including picnic tables, restrooms and free parking.
Some former visitors reported having a hard time finding parking here, but overall, many praised the beach's calm water and beautiful sand. Others appreciated the beach's less crowded atmosphere (on weekdays) and its breathtaking sunrises.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Honolulu - OahuFree, HikingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, HikingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Less than 6 miles northeast of the Koko Crater Trail lies the 2-mile-long Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail. Easier to trek than the one at Koko Crater, this free trail overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is a prime spot for spotting seabirds and whale watching between November and May. The path also leads to the red-roofed Makapu'u Lighthouse, which was built in 1909.
Visitors love that the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail is paved and features ample benches, making it easy for travelers of all ages to explore. Many also rave about the trail's "amazing" views, adding that bringing a camera is a must. But remember, this path is mostly exposed to the sun and wind, so dress appropriately, wear sunscreen and pack plenty of water. Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources recommends allotting at least two hours to complete this hike.
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In ancient Hawaiian times, the Punchbowl Crater was used for human sacrifices. Now, it's the final resting place for men and women who served in the U.S. military. The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific stretches across much of the crater and contains several moving tributes, including the Honolulu Memorial, which is dedicated to armed forces who fought in the Pacific during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Notable veterans buried here include Ernie Pyle (the famous World War II correspondent) and Stanley Dunham (the maternal grandfather of former President Barack Obama).
Previous visitors raved about the cemetery's beautiful and peaceful setting, adding that its memorial markers are very informative. However, some cautioned that the property can be a bit tricky to find, so consider using a GPS when driving. You can also take the No. 15 bus to the cemetery.
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This approximately 100-foot-tall waterfall, which sits 5 miles northeast of downtown Honolulu, is easily accessible. All you need is proper footwear, insect repellant, drinking water and the stamina to hike about 1½ miles on a well-worn path. The rainforest scenery is otherworldly, with enormous prehistoric ferns and the snaking roots of banyan trees. It's no wonder why Steven Spielberg filmed scenes from "Jurassic Park" here. You probably won't see any dinosaurs, but be prepared: The path to the falls can be quite slippery with mud, so wear sturdy hiking shoes that you don't mind getting dirty.
If you're new to hiking, past visitors said this is the trail for you. It'll get your blood pumping, but you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the falls. To enjoy the beauty of the falls without rubbing elbows with hordes of tourists, previous travelers suggested arriving before 10 a.m.
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There are many places in Honolulu to put down some cash and pick up some souvenirs, but none are as extensive as Ala Moana Center. Located northwest of Waikiki Beach and roughly 2 miles southeast of the city center, this behemoth open-air shopping center boasts a collection of high-end stores like Chanel and Versace, department store staples like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, and tourist-kitsch shops like 'Auana Quilts and Island Magnets. Its 350-plus shops and restaurants can take as little as an hour or as much as a whole day to explore.
Although some visitors warn that items sold at Ala Moana Center can be quite pricey, many enjoy shopping here. Others rave about the dining options available on-site, especially the Japanese Village food court on the first floor, and say the afternoon hula show cannot be missed.
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