Is your daydream of breezy Polynesian afternoons sipping Mai Tai’s in nearly nude leisure 2,000+ miles away from home just that? 

Have you ever sat in your living room in sweats watching Hawaii 5-0 only to look out at brown and gray skeletons of wilderness outside and long to catch surf on the infamous North Shore? 

Rumors abound: Hawaii is expensive. Indeed, The Gathering Place comes with a hefty cost. But, there are a few sneaky ways to keep your costs down, Oahu on a budget is possible.

If Oahu is on your bucket list, here are some tips to cut down expenses, even on a proletariat budget. 

Oahu on a Budget
Oahu on a Budget

Oahu on a Budget

Here are a few tips and tricks to explore Oahu on a budget.

Don’t Come In The Summer

Oahu weather is pleasant year-round. With countless sunny days and average temperatures ranging 76-84 degrees F Jan-Dec, why wait till summer to visit? Sept-Feb roundtrip flights range $450-$800PP West Coast, US and $550-$930PP East Coast, US. Beginning March and continuing through the summer, rates double and triple rapidly.

Check out for aggregating travel search engines and a flexible search format that allows you to search up to an entire year for the best prices. Remember that rates will be higher in December for holiday travel and surfers hoping to catch the North Shore’s 25-30ft winter waves.

Consider Renting a Vacation Home/Condo 

Paradise leisure need not break the bank. Hotels vary $145-$750 per night from basic lodging to luxury fittings. However, many people rent out their condos, homes, and timeshares for more nominal fees. The result, come pleasant amenities like private patios, on site laundry, and well-working kitchens.

Many anticipate the bustle of designer shops, landmark dining, and roadside beaches in Waikiki. Kailua Beach, Hawaii Kai, and Haleiwa (North Shore) present local feels and world-famous sights for those looking to get away from saturated tourism. 

The Oahu map shows that locations east of Honolulu are more popular. One might also enjoy the Leeward (West) side of the island, but locations north of Ko Olina and west of Haleiwa are remote.

Related Read: Guide to Renting a Holiday Home

You can find some great apartments on Booking, search below:

Rent a Car or Moped and Do Your Own Thing

Depending on the time of the year, an economy or compact car rents for barely over $200 per week. It will also buy you sweet abandon. You then have the flexibility to move on your schedule, stay somewhere other than Waikiki, get groceries for your kitchen and dine where the locals do, go island adventure seeking, witness contrasting beaches on the island, and freedom from wallet-sucking establishments for susceptible (and mostly sunburned) tourists. However, always give yourself extra time and cash for parking, which is a commodity depending on where you go. 

Expedia is a great place to book your wheels. If you aren’t planning on going far from your place of stay and don’t mind rocking the unsexy Pokeman ball-head look, consider renting a moped.

It is also important to research the beaches in the area of where you wish to stay. Some beaches like Sandy Beach, Waimea, and Pipeline are unsafe for amateur or small swimmers, especially during winter.

Eat Like a Local!

There is a general rule of thumb regarding food in Hawaii: It’s only expensive when you try to eat like you are on the mainland where cows, chickens, and farms are readily available.

Come to Hawaii with an open mind for fusions of island and Asian cuisines. Most Hawaiian dishes consist of at least one meat, two scoops of rice (usually white), and a scoop of macaroni salad.

There are many types of fish and poke available for eating, some of the freshest tastes you will ever find! Fish, fried meats, and starches are plentiful and cheap eats. The North Shore furnishes scattered varieties of food trucks for cheap ingesting. All over the island, there are tiny ugly Hawaiian Barbecues, bento counters, and sushi houses with Ono island vittles awaiting your consumption and not the bottom of your wallet.

Try something new! Consult StreetGrindz for a list of local food events happening across the island for an opportunity that will make your inner foodie hula.

Must Eat On the Cheap in Oahu

Looking for cheap food in Oahu? Here’s where to go:

If you are still craving familiarities like milk, eggs, and potatoes, some mainland chains scatter throughout the island and average $2.30 – $4.80 more per meal.

Cheap Things To Do in Oahu on budget

When doing Oahu on a budget, you need to find cheap things to do. Here are a few options to keep you busy while sticking to your travel budget.

Ko Olina Lagoons

These manmade lagoons are the perfect place for families with young children seeking calm water by Disney’s Aulani Resort. Parking and access is free, but prepare to wait 15+ minutes for an available spot. Resort quality, bathhouse, grass, outdoor showers. No personal umbrellas or tents allowed.

Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

If you want to see what sets Hawaii apart from other tropical destinations, you will find it here. $3.00 and you witness one of the most breathtaking scenes on the island overlooking the entire windward side and the commanding Ko’olau mountain range crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and wild chickens in the parking lot.

Historic Chinatown

If you want stories and insight to an influential part of Oahu, checkout Chinatown. Adventure is the word of the day as you push, shove, and advert eye contact while wondering where the dim sum that dingy-fish-star anise-urine smell emits from. Herbal medicines, lei shops, and the best d*** produce markets on the island are here.

Interesting varieties, people watching, and seemingly endless supplies of bubble drinks. Walk by the old Wo Fat building of where the Hawaii 5-0 character is named. 

Buy the trendy and cheap, cheap, cheap clothing and hot knock-offs that question their endurance to stay on your body for more than one wear.

Stop by the Hawaii Heritage Center on Smith St. and for $1, hear about how the Asian families risked their lives and family relationships to work the plantations, the two fires that almost wiped out the area, and the bubonic plague that caused them. Peruse around the markets and buy dragon fruit and rambutan. Here you will experience the unfamiliar. Then, go back to your room and scrub your feet with bleach.

Honu Watching at Turtle Beach

Turtle Beach on the North Shore is a nice place to sit on some big onyx-colored pointy rocks and watch the turtles or “honu”. One of the best sunset locations on the island and in the summer, turtles will come on the sand to lay their eggs. Easy beach access with free parking.

Turtle Beach in Oahu
Watch the turtles or “honu” on Turtle Beach in Oahu

Souvenir Shopping at the International Marketplace and the Aloha Stadium Swap

Both exhibit the best in variety and cheap souvenirs. Easily stock up on souvenirs at either place for $30 or less if done right. Remember to negotiate prices slightly(too low is just insulting)and don’t let someone charge you $4.00+ for a sandwich bag of pineapple or sugar cane.

  • International Marketplace Pros: great finds, beautiful area in the heart of Waikiki, shaded, near shops

Cons: In the heart of Waikiki, parking is expensive and almost ridiculous

  • Aloha Stadium Swap Pros: great finds, expansive variety that goes on and on, flea market finds, very cheap prices, $1 entry includes parking, parking is straightforward to find

Cons: lack of shade, besides shaved ice – limited concessions, blazing sun rubbing your face

Byodo-In Temple

Halcyon temple placed in the foreground of the awe-inspiring Ko’olau mountainside. Admission is $3 per adult, $2 for seniors, and $1 per child. Featured on Hawaii 5-0, Magnum P.I., and the ABC Series, Lost.

Additional Tips for Experiencing Oahu on a budget

  • Pack sunscreen. Otherwise, you might find yourself paying up to $28 for a regular tube in Waikiki… or in some serious pain.
  • Bring or Buy Your Own Snorkel Gear
  • Pack Sunglasses
  • Carry cash. Many places outside of Waikiki do not accept credit cards.

See? Your Mai-Tai-coconut-bra-wearing-lau-dancing fantasies in Oahu can be your reality.

With earnest planning, even the biggest haoles can exploit an adventure of a lifetime. Get out your pencil and scratch paper, buy an ugly floral shirt, and pack a sun visor the size of a fishing trolley. Just think, you will be referring to every one as “Brah” and shaking your okole to the ukulele in no time.

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  • Travel Dudes

    I'm sure you've had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You're in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.

    View all posts I'm sure you've had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You're in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.