From alternative housing to free sights, there are ways to save in paradise.
It’s easy to spend a fortune while you’re visiting Oahu, but there are ways you can keep the costs down.
1. See the Memorial free
Did you know that you can visit the USS Arizona memorial for free? Parking is free, too. This is the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which chronicles the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. You can get timed tickets for the basic tour for free. The National Park Service gives out 1,300 same-day tickets daily starting at 7 a.m., first-come, first-served. (They often run out in high season, so you may wish to reserve ahead of time and pay the $1.50 reservation fee at recreation.gov, which includes the boat ride to the memorial.)
Admission to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is also free, including a 23-minute documentary film. (If you want an audio tour, it costs $7.50.) This memorial was built in 1962 over the battleship Arizona, which sank in the attack that killed 1,177 of its sailors and Marines. Learn more here:
2. Rent a condo
It might cost a tiny bit more to rent a space with a kitchen than a basic hotel room, but you will more than make up the difference with the ability to cook your own meals. I like to rent timeshares, which come outfitted with every piece of equipment you need for cooking and making those tropical cocktails. Remember, it never hurts to call the resort and make sure the owners are who they say they are before you give them money.
3. Fly flexible
Because of the competitive nature of the airline industry, you can often find lower airfares to Oahu by flying from other cities than your central hub. In the Pacific Northwest, check flights from Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and even Bellingham, which recently started direct service to Honolulu again.
4. Go to the park
Hawaii has five state parks and even more historic sites on Oahu, most of which are ignored by tourists. None of them charges for admission. One includes the ruins of what was at one time the island’s greatest heiau, or temple, covering 2 acres and likely built in the 1600s.
The Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline includes a 2-mile round-trip hike including a new trail to the historic Makapuu lighthouse.
It’s also free to visit Royal Mausoleum State Monument, where Hawaiian royalty were buried, including members of the Kamehameha and Kalakuaua dynasties. It’s open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.
5. Go camping
There are four state campgrounds on Oahu, three offering shoreline camping (the other is in the mountains). All the state park campsites on Oahu are for tents only. It costs $18 per night for up to six campers, plus $3 per person after the first six. It might be worth figuring out whether you could buy a cheap tent and sleeping bag when you arrive, and still save money.
6. Get a Go Oahu card
This pass includes admission to 34 attractions, shuttles, a dolphin encounter, a luau, snorkeling gear, kayak rentals and lots of other fun stuff. Don’t buy it unless you’re the type of person who wants to sightsee relentlessly, because often you end up enjoying only a fraction of the offerings.
If you mostly want to go to the beach and go hiking, you don’t need it. The basic three-day card is offered at $188, but you can find deals. Groupon recently offered it for $166, and Costco sells it as well (see Costco section below).
7. Go to Costco
Costco has two stores in Honolulu, where you can look for local deals on attractions like luaus.
Be cautious about buying food, though — how much of that giant package can you really eat before you go home? The store at 525 Alakawa St. near the harbor and Chinatown has a gas station, too. Costco also sells a four-day Go Oahu card for a discounted $180 ($148 for kids up to age 12) that includes 34 attractions you can visit in four days. You can also buy this online before you go.