Oahu On A Budget
The Ultimate Backpackers Guide
It only took a few days of exploring Oahu to confirm that Hawaii took first place on the list for one of our favorite places in the world.
Oahu is one of the few destinations in the world that is pretty much suited for absolutely anyone.
Oahu offers hiking for the adventurous, resorts for the glamorous, gigantic waves for the surfers, and gorgeous landscapes for the photographers. Oahu literally has something for everyone.
If you love adventuring new places as much as we do, Oahu has some of the best hikes in the world, such as the (illegal) Stairway to Heaven, the extremely dangerous Pali Notches, and for the beginners, some safer hikes such as Lanikai Pillbox Hike and Manoa Falls.
One of the downsides of Hawaii is the cost of living, but trust us, it is worth every penny and more.
The good thing is that most of the activities, hikes, beaches and other sights are at absolutely no cost for you to visit, so traveling Oahu on a budget is super easy.
Oahu is one hell of an adventure, and there won’t be a single moment of boredom during your stay. Keep reading on for our ultimate guide on exploring Oahu on a budget.
By the way, if you are a professional (or rookie) photographer, you’re going to go crazy taking photos of this Wonderland.
Need inspiration? Check out: The Most Instagrammable Places In Oahu To Inspire Your Wanderlust.
Minimum Stay: 7 nights
Best to Visit: June – August
Getting Around: Car
Where To Stay: Waikiki Beach
Wild & Away Factor
If you’re traveling Oahu on a budget, you’ll be happy to know that almost everything worth doing in Oahu (which is A LOT) is completely free of charge.
Stairway To Heaven (Haiku Stairs)
The most exciting hike in Hawaii and usually on the bucket list of most backpackers.The Stairway To Heaven is indeed illegal and will cost you around $1000 if you get caught.
Pfft.. Like that’s going to stop anyone.
Get past the guards and make your way up those 3,922 hefty, steep stairs that lead to what seriously feels like heaven.
It takes 2-3 hours to get up depending on how often you stop for a break, and around 1-2 hours to get back down.
Once you literally have your head in the clouds, you’ll understand why backpackers simply can’t resist this illegal hike.
Seriously, you can’t go to Oahu and not hike the Haiku Stairs. Read our Stairway To Heaven blog to find out everything there is to know, hacks, tips, and other tricks about this bucket list hike to the heavens.
Want to hike Stairway To Heaven? You must read: The Haiku Stairs | How To Conquer The Most Illegal Hike In Hawaii.
Moanalua Middle Ridge
The ‘legal’ Stairway To Heaven Hike! It takes almost double the time to hike this, and is actually more life risking than the Haiku Stairs. Once you get to the top, you’re at the top of the Stairway To Heaven.
We recommend going down via Middle Ridge instead of going back down the actual stairs to avoid a hefty fine if you get caught.
You can also read about this in The Haiku Stairs | How To Conquer The Most Illegal Hike In Hawaii
Olomana Three Peaks
Olomana is a hike that consists of three different peaks you can hike up, the first one being the least dangerous (yet the longest and steepest), the second peak being slightly more dangerous, and the third peak being extremely dangerous.
The views are better from the first and second peaks!
It takes around 2-3 hours to hike up, depending on whether you do the second and third peaks too so you definitely want to stay up there for a minute to eat a snack and take in the gorgeous views before making your way back down.
For more info, read: Three Peaks Hike | The Most Underrated Trail In Oahu
Crouching Lion is one of our favourite hikes with some of the absolute best views of Oahu.
Although it only takes 30-40 minutes to hike up Crouching Lion, it is quite difficult and steep so make sure you are prepared!
Do this hike for sunrise!
This hike is much less strenuous than all the other hikes we’ve mentioned here!
It’s a short 20-minute stroll through a stunning forest, that takes you to a quaint little waterfall that breeds nothing but serenity.
I personally believe the walk to the waterfall is the best part, with stunning greenery and unique trees that make for some really pretty photographs.
Beware, this trail is a lot more touristy than other hikes due to its accessibility allowing just about anyone to be able to complete this hike.
This hike is not for the faint of heart! It’s definitely the most dangerous hike in Oahu, as one gust of wind could blow you to your death. Literally.
If you are brave enough to attempt the Pali Notches hike, make sure you are an experienced hiker with a good pair of hiking shoes.
Although exceptionally dangerous, Pali Notches offers breathtaking views and an extreme sense of achievement once you reach the top.
There are two man-made notches that were created sometime in the 1700’s to house cannons during their defence from attacks from Nu’uanu Valley This hike will take around 2 hours round trip.
Tom Tom Trail
Yet another illegal hike in Oahu that has views worth breaking all laws for!
Depending on how far up you go, this hike can take you about 1-1.5 hours and it’s not really dangerous at all, although the winds can be pretty hefty so don’t go too close to the edge!
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a good little hike especially at sunrise! Needless to say, the views are outstanding and you can take superb photos from the top.
You can get to the very top in around 40 minutes, and it isn’t too difficult of a hike either.
The most popular and visually pleasing beaches in Oahu. In the summer time the waves are enhanced, and Waikiki Beach becomes a popular surf destination.
The sunrise at Waikiki Beach is all shades of pink, purple, orange and everything in between.
Make Beach is known for its perfect appearance and abundance of marine life that populates this part of the sea.
It’s located about an hour away from Waikiki so you’ll need your own car for this one!
This is the perfect place if you like to snorkel and see marine life.
Hanauma Bay is always full of tourists, so it is best to visit during the week and as early in the morning as possible to avoid crowds and experience an unmissable sunrise.
Just a heads up, this is the only beach in Oahu where you have to pay an entrance fee of $7.50. Parking also costs $1 for the day and you are required to watch a 9 minute video prior to entering the beach which teaches you about protecting the marine life of Hanauma Bay. If you’re traveling Oahu on a budget, you may want to skip Hanauma Bay.
Hands down one of the prettiest beaches in Oahu due to its white sand and glowing waters.
The sea is generally one of the more calmer beaches so it is not good for surfing, yet perfect for those who like a nice, relaxing day at the beach.
Located right next to Lanikai and it looks very similar as well. You can do no wrong by spending a day at Kailua Beach!
Electric Beach is known for its marine life and snorkelling.
It is loaded with many glorious fish and other marine life due to the water being at a slightly warmer temperature than the other beaches in Oahu.
The water is warmer as the beach is located right next to an electricity plantation (hence the name also).
Malasada’s at Leonard’s Bakery
You just have to!!! To put it simply, Malasada’s are a little ball of heaven sent from the God’s and that’s all you need to know.
Don’t think about this one… Just do it and you’ll understand why later.
If you visit Oahu, you HAVE to eat some garlic shrimp from the North Shore at either Giovanni’s Food Truck or Romy’s Kahaku Prawns & Shrimp.
Acai Bowls are extremely popular in Hawaii and if you’ve ever tried one, you’ll know why! A delicious bowl filled with superfoods, fruit, and granola, and other healthy goodies that will keep your insides happy.
Seriously a MUST when visiting Hawaii. This huge plate of rice, beef patty, gravy, 2 eggs cooked to your preference, and macaroni salad will completely fulfil your cravings and satisfy you for days!
Grab Loco Moco at any traditional Drive Inn Restaurant. Our favourites in Honolulu are Rainbow Drive Inn and Highway Inn.
A great way to cool yourself down in Hawaii’s heat. A popular place is Analuhu’s Shaved Ice in the North Shore. Make sure you take a photo in front of the wings right out front!
A poke bowl is a delicious bowl of rice and raw fish. Poke Bowls can be found at most places which you can find when walking along the street.
Jack In The Box
We’re just going to throw this one in there… If you live somewhere there’s no Jack In The Box, try it when you come to Oahu.
It’s the most scrumptious fast food you’ll ever taste. Apart from In N’ Out of course!
Other Things To Do!
Paddle Boarding or Surfing
If you aren’t into the adventurous stuff and prefer something a little less strenuous, go paddle boarding in the North Shore! You may even spot a turtle or two while you’re at it. If you’re traveling on a budget, just know it’s one of the only activities you need to spend money on (to rent a paddle board or surf board), however it is quite cheap.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
I know you’ve all seen that one photo of some Instagrammer standing in the middle of a gorgeous road that leads to you to the heart of the Hawaiian jungle… Well that place is Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens!
Apart from taking incredible photography, you can do other activities like fishing or camping here too.
Still not convinced? Read Why You Need To Visit The Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens Oahu
The North Shore
Take a break from the busy, touristy Honolulu and take a day trip to the North Shore!
You can go beach hopping, go surfing or simply witness a surfing competition while eating the best garlic shrimp in the Northern Hemisphere.
You’ll fall in love with the contagious positive vibes the North Shore constantly radiates.
Read about The North Shore here: North Shore Oahu: A Guide To Hanging Loose
I dare you to try and think of a better place in the world to go skydiving except Hawaii! Not the wisest choice if you’re traveling Oahu on a budget, however it’s some of the cheapest skydiving we’ve come across!
If you’re not into skydiving but still want to see Oahu from above, take an open door helicopter ride! Also not the cheapest thing if you’re traveling Oahu on a budget, but if you’re going to splurge on something, splurge on a helicopter ride.
- – Conveniently located one block away from Waikiki Beach
- – Hotel staff are chill
- – All rooms have air-conditioning
- – This is the cheapest room in Waikiki, making it easier to travel Oahu on a budget
- – $10 parking per night
- – Private rooms are very expensive for a very basic room with a shared bathroom.
Day drinking isn’t really a thing in Oahu, the only day drinking event we found was on a sunset booze cruise.
Kolokai Sunset Booze Cruise
Get a head start on your night out and grab a spot on the sunset booze cruise with unlimited alcohol and an awesome view of the sunset for only $55.
Moose’s is our favourite bar in Waikiki. It was super busy, even on Tuesday’s for $1 drinks. Yes you read correctly, $1 drinks on Tuesdays. Take note if you’re traveling Oahu on a budget. Be prepared for a $10 cover charge on Tuesdays and Weekends.
If you like Irish pubs or live music, head to Kelly O’Neils for a rockin’ night out. It’s right across the road from Moose’s so it’s very convenient if you want to check out another bar too.
This is a gay bar located one block away from Waikiki Beach. It’s a fun place to start the night off before you galavant to other bars in Waikiki. Cover charge is usually $5 on weekends.
Transportation To And From Ios
The only way to get to Oahu is by plane at Honolulu International Airport.
Transportation Within Oahu
The best way to get around Oahu is to rent your own car. If you really want to experience every adventure in Hawaii, we definitely recommend renting a car instead of Ubering or taking a bus.
There’s also a bus that runs throughout Oahu, however this can be quite inconvenient for most. This might be a good option if you just want to stay around Honolulu and don’t want to venture out too much.
Of course Uber is always an option, however Oahu is quite big so if you’re relying on an Uber for the duration of your stay you’ll end up paying much more than if you were to rent a car.
It’s really easy to travel Oahu on a budget. Most of the activities are completely free, so the hikes and beaches will cost you nothing.
- Buy food at Walmart instead of going out for dinner every night!
- Go to Moose’s on Tuesday’s for $1 drinks
- Rent a car instead of Ubering everywhere
Avoid Hanauma Beach if you don’t want to spend money! It is not a free beach. Although inexpensive, it costs $7.50 to enter, $1 for parking, and you have to watch a 9 minute video prior to entering the beach. AND It’s crowded with tourists.
WILD & AWAY CHECKLIST
- Climb the Stairway To Heaven without getting caught!
- Hike Olomana Three Peaks if you dare!
- Take a photo with the wings at Analuhu’s Shaved Ice in the North Shore!
- Catch a wave… Obviously
- Or lay on the beach
- Spot a Humpback Whale at Halona Blowhole!
- Try Loco Moco at a local Drive Inn Restaurant
- Swim with a turtle at Hanauma Bay
- Eat Garlic Shrimp from Giovanni’s Food Truck in the North Shore!
- Get that glory photo at Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens
- Watch a sunset at Waikiki Beach
Are We Missing Something?
Did we miss anything in this article? Comment below to share your tips and tricks for Oahu On A Budget | The Ultimate Backpackers Guide.
Don’t forget to check out some of our favorite Hawaii blogs!