Does the thought of visiting the dreamy Hawaiian island of Oahu make your eyes sparkle, but sticker shock makes you cringe? We’ve got you covered! Vacationing to Oahu on a budget is possible, and we have all the tips on how to save money on food, car rentals, hotels, activities and more!
Oahu Budget Travel Guide
Is Oahu Cheap To Visit?
Short answer: No. But while it’s important to note that none of the Hawaiian islands are particularly “cheap,” there are plenty of opportunities to save and make a trip to Oahu as affordable as a Mexican resort!
As the most populous island, there’s plenty of budget options like car rentals, accommodations, food, etc. that might be more limited on other islands.
Cheapest Time To Visit Oahu
It should be no surprise that Oahu attracts a massive spike in tourism — with tourist price-gouging to follow — in the summer months of June through August. My advice? Visit in the shoulder months of April/May and September/October, when temperatures are still balmy but room rates have lowered.
I’d also recommend booking your hotel as far in advance as possible, as one or two weeks can make a difference of up to $100 per night! The same room you see for $345/night one week can — and very frequently does — cost $230/night the next week. For this reason, it also helps to be flexible with your travel dates.
Read more: Budget-Friendly Winter Vacations in the USA
How Much Money Do I Need Per Day in Oahu?
The average meal at a restaurant will run significantly more expensive than what you’re likely accustomed to; for example, an average $14 sushi roll will cost $25+ in Hawaii. Take this into account, and you should have an accurate budget set!
Budget Car Rentals In Oahu
Public transportation is essentially nonexistent on the island and Ubers are hit-and-miss, so I strongly recommend renting a car for ease of venturing around.
First, rent a compact car; parking is very limited, regardless of whether you’re in the hustle and bustle of Honolulu or the quiet streets of North Shore. When you do find parking, odds are parking will be tight — which is why compact cars are so popular in Oahu. The daily savings compared to a full-size car are just a bonus!
Second, look at all your options. Traditional car rentals at the airport can be found for as low as $30/day (this is one of my favorite sites for finding deals on rental cars), but if you want a budget option for “cooler” car experiences like Jeeps then Turo is also a great alternative.
I’d also recommend looking at car rental companies’ direct sites (e.g. Budget.com) vs. third-party sites for better rates on Jeeps — I found direct sites offering Jeeps as low as $80/day after taxes and fees, which is a bargain compared to the $150+ rates that are typically standard for third-party sites.
Lastly, carry quarters for meters in Honolulu! If you’ll be going for outings like Waikiki Beach and shopping on the strip, you’ll find the $0.50/hour street parking much more attractive than $12/hour parking garage prices. Note that the meters are coin-only, so come prepared!
Where To Stay In Oahu On A Budget
By a long shot, the cheapest place to stay in Oahu is a hotel or Airbnb condo in the city of Honolulu. Large hotels elsewhere on the island are scarce to none, and though I should note that my preferred location to stay is Kailua — a smaller town located on the opposite side of the island — Airbnbs will run $200+/night minimum.
Thankfully, everything you’ll want to see and do will be under an hour’s driving distance, so location is not critical! Booking.com is my go-to site for finding the best price on hotels.
Budget Things To Do On Oahu
Snorkel Hanauma Bay
This costs $25 and a timely reservation made two days in advance, so preparation is critical — but beyond worth it! This nature reserve has some of the most beautiful turquoise waters you’ll ever see, not to mention the best snorkeling and ocean life on the island.
Be sure to snag your reservation right when they are released (7am Hawaii time) as they often sell out within 10 minutes, and get the earliest time slot available!
If you want to avoid the hassle of driving and finding parking, (and you don’t have your own snorkel gear) you can book a tour for about $50.
Drive up to North Shore, a smaller, quieter side of the island with quaint shops, great surfing, authentic Hawaiian shaved ice and near-private beaches! There are technically no exclusively private beaches (it’s the state law!), so you can pull over and snag a spot on an open beach anywhere — no need to hunt for parking in crowded areas, and you can swim and snorkel with sea turtles on your own for free!
See Local Musicians Live
Music is not just limited to Honolulu, where you can get your music fix from karaoke to live jazz — even Kailua on the opposite side of the island has small-venue concerts hosting popular local musicians weekly!
Attend A Surf Event At Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach famously hosts Red Bull surf events, which is free entertainment for all spectators!
Sunrise Yoga On The Beach
You may find free or low-cost yoga on Eventbrite, or take it upon yourself to rise with the sun and wake up to a gorgeous, scenic setting on the beach first thing in the morning. Set up a yoga instruction video on YouTube to guide you!
Sail On A Catamaran
Chartering a private yacht might be out of the question, but sailing doesn’t have to be — for as low as $60/person, you can have 1+ hour out on the ocean on a catamaran!
Hike The Pillbox Trail
In Kailua town you’ll find the unsuspecting trail head of Lanikai Pillbox facing an awesome golf course, and though steep, the hike will take you to multiple jaw-dropping viewpoints of the town and ocean — ultimately leading you to a mountaintop “pillbox”-shaped fort.
Where To Eat On A Budget In Oahu
Eating in Hawaii is never “cheap” as nearly all food is shipped in from the mainland, but food trucks/stands are an easy, convenient way to get GREAT meals on a budget! Local markets with 20+ vendors happen nearly every day of the week, depending on the town and area you’re in. Support local small business and stop by for great fresh juices and savory local dishes!
Considering you will likely have a rental car at your disposal, grocery shopping for breakfasts, packed lunches and beverages will be an absolute must. A few simple staples like eggs, cheese, meat, bread, snacks and water will get you through every breakfast and many lunches on the island — saving your “splurges” for dinners!
Packing Essentials For Oahu
Snorkel Gear: Snorkel gear is available for rent or purchase at various places around the island, although you’ll pay the marked-up price for the convenience. Put that second free checked bag on Southwest to use, purchase your snorkel gear at home and bring it along! The investment of under $40 for a set will be well worth it if you decide to snorkel any more than once on the island.
Compact Beach Tent: Umbrella rentals cost $15/hour on Waikiki Beach, which may seem like a luxury but will shortly become an essential after lots of sun exposure. Rather than pay a small fortune for a little shade, bring along your own beach tent — they cost less than the daily price of an umbrella rental, and you can bring it around the island on various excursions throughout your trip!
Reef-Safe Sunscreen: One of the beauties of Oahu is the live coral you’ll witness swimming and snorkeling, so it’s important to be mindful of the ocean life and stay reef-safe with your sunscreen. Be sure to bring along a large bottle (or two smaller-sized ones), as you’ll go through more sunscreen than you anticipate!
Water Shoes: Even the most popular swimming spots can have lots of rocks underneath the water’s surface, so when locals suggest wearing water shoes when possible, it’s for a good reason! Prevent cuts and/or sore feet by wearing secure, water-friendly shoes like my favorite Vibram Five Fingers or a budget version equivalent.
Sand-Repelling Beach Towels: Bringing along beach towels should be a given, but the compact, microfiber towels are really the most ideal in keeping your luggage, hotel room and rental car sand-free.
Rash Guard: I can’t recommend wearing a high-coverage rash guard enough, especially on the beaches of Hawaii where UV rays are ultra-high. A common mistake for snorkelers is forgetting to freshen up their sunscreen while out in the water, resulting in serious burns to their shoulders, back and bum. Prevent burns altogether with an extra layer!
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