20 Ways to Visit Honolulu on a Budget

If you ask people what their idea of a tropical paradise is, chances are that many of them will list Hawaii among their top destinations and follow up with how much they wish they could vacation there. Everyone assumes Hawaii is among one of the most expensive places you can travel, but that’s not necessarily true.

You can easily take a budget vacation to even the most popular destinations on the islands, including Honolulu. This mecca for sun-seeking travelers has great beaches, food, attractions, shopping and nightlife. Pretty much everything you could want in a vacation, right? So, how come you aren’t going there if it is on the top of your wish list? Here’s 20 reasons why you should plan to spend your next vacation in Hawaii and ways you can do them on a budget.

view of magic island beach park in hawaii

1. Hotel Rates Have Dropped Considerably

Sure, Honolulu can cost a fortune if you don’t plan your trip before you leave. Since the economy has been crummy, hotel rates have dropped considerably. In fact, you can stay for a whole week now when just a few years ago you may have only been able to spend a few days in that same hotel on the same budget. It’s more common to find room rates under $150 per night now than in the past. Your lodging is going to be one of the most expensive parts of your trip.

2. Rent a House or Condo

Spend a little more than a hotel and rent a house or condo. You’ll get more space to relax in and have many of the comforts of home, including a kitchen where you can make your own food. Even if you only cook and eat breakfast in your room, you will save a bundle. Groceries aren’t cheap in Hawaii, but you can buy food for a week of breakfasts for about the price of going out for two people once. Meals can really add up, so even if you just save the cost of those other six morning meals, it can be a significant savings.

3. Book Your Flight Smart

Next on your list to get you to Oahu’s favorite vacation spot is airfare. Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines consistently have fare sales to get you to the islands for less. Save much more if you’re willing to travel in the Fall or Winter. The kids are back in school and tourism is down, which means the beaches will be less crowded and you’ll score bigger discounts on many things. If you can travel on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, you can save even more, because they are the least popular days to fly.

4. Book a shuttle to/from the airport.

It’s cheaper than a taxi and faster than taking the bus. You even get a lei greeting that way.

young girl with suitcase and vintage car

5. Pack Light and Avoid Baggage Fees

You don’t need much. Pack a few tops and bottoms, throw your swimsuit and cover-up in the bag and off you go! Hawaii is the perfect location for carry-on travel.

6. Take TheBus to far away locations

Honolulu is super walkable, but sometimes you might want to go farther than you’re willing to trek on foot. TheBus is very reliable and inexpensive. You can get on board for just $2.50, which includes a transfer within 2 hours (or longer, depending on your driver), which means that most places you go, you can return for free. Walking was much easier than it seemed, so while public transportation was great, you don’t need to buy a 4-day pass. TheBus will take you all over the island, so it’s a fairly cheap way to tour different areas of Oahu.

7. Check Out the Beach

You’re in a tropical paradise and you’re probably there for the ocean. Spend some time chilling out and reading a book or splashing around in the surf. Kids will love making sandcastles, and it’s totally free! Just make sure to pack the sunblock, so you don’t look like a lobster after your time in the sun.

pineapple fruit on the ground

8. If You Like Pineapples, Visit the Dole Plantation

It’s a bit of kitsch tourism, but it’s a fun day trip from Honolulu. It can take you up to 2 hours to get there by bus, but you can get there fairly quickly if you rent a car. Take TheBus and see more of the island and also visit with locals. Browse the gift shop, purchase plumeria starts or fresh fruit at the Farmers’ Market, ride the train, get lost in the maze, eat at the Plantation Grille and learn about Hawaii’s native plants and flowers. You can see how pineapples are grown, ship some back home and eat lots of Dole Whip! Make sure to eat at the Plantation Grill. The platters come with a ton of food for little money, so if there is more than one of you, split a plate.

9. Shop the International Market Place

While it’s not all that “international,” you can find some cool stuff there. From plumeria barrettes and “Hawaiian” shirts that you can find everywhere to original artwork and things like caps with wooden bills, you can get lost in the market for hours on end. If you do plan to buy, practice your haggling skills and then head up to the second “floor” above the real shops and smoothie café to mail items home at the post office. There are live shows and music every day, too.

10. Enjoy the best view of Waikiki from the revolving restaurant, Top of Waikiki

While the entrees may be expensive, you can show up for happy hour and get a couple of apps (starting at $7). You don’t even have to order any alcohol if you don’t want to. In fact, happy hour is a great way to save money on dinners if you’re willing to eat a little early.

young woman is snorkeling in tropical lagoon

11. Go Snorkeling

If you are a snorkeler, don’t go with a guide or a group, purchase your own mask and snorkel for around $6 and then hit the beach. One of the best places is Hanauma Bay. While not free, it’s only $5 per person for a day pass. You can take TheBus or drive (park for $1) and then head down to the beach where they have changing rooms, food vendors and some of the best snorkeling on the island.

12. Trolleys

Use the free Hilo Hattie’s trolley to get to the mall or save bus fare if you are heading to that area.

13. Hike Diamond Head

Get a fantastic view of Honolulu and the beaches, strap on some good walking shoes, grab your water and hike to the top of Diamond Head. It’s free and a popular activity.

14. Beware the kitschy merchandise at the ABC Stores

The closer to the center of town you are, the more it seems to cost. You can find some things at ABC that you can’t find other places, but make sure you shop around before pulling out your wallet.

15. Book a Tour

If you want to be entertained for an entire day, book a tour. They can cost around $60 per person. If you decide to do a tour, one of the best companies to book with is VIP Transportation tours. Make sure to ask for Earl. You will not be disappointed.

16. Drive around the island

a breathtaking view of the sky at sunrise on the road


If a tour isn’t your cup of tea, then rent a car for the day and drive the circle island loop on your own, stopping at roadside fruit stands, all kinds of beaches and more.

17. Use daily deal sites to save 50% or more on dining, entertainment and attractions

You can find discounts often through sites like Groupon and Living Social. Sign up for free Honolulu daily emails a few months before you leave and you’ll find you can do much more on your budget.

18. Learn to shake your hips with free hula lessons

You can find them all over, including the main shopping center, Waikiki Business Plaza. It’s fun, great exercise and can be done by all ages.

19. Dine at Mac 24/7

For $15, you get the pancake challenge portion size, but you don’t have to take the challenge. Split the flapjacks between two or more.

20. Hit up Tiki’s Grill and Bar for Tiki Taco Tuesday.

Their fish tacos are amazingly good and just $2 each on Tuesday!

Now that you know how to save hundreds of dollars on your trip – and maybe more! – what are you waiting for? By incorporating inexpensive things to do when you visit, it will enable you to stay within your budget and even splurge on other things. There’s no better time to plan a tropical vacation to Honolulu.


About the author


A self-proclaimed budget travel enthusiast, Shereen spends her days looking for fantastic travel bargains, watching great (and sometimes really bad) movies with her husband, planning theme parties and preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

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