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Hawaii is expensive, wait, hold on, …Hawaii CAN be expensive. If you are chasing expensive activities you may be missing out on some of the best things Oahu and Hawaii have to offer.
Hawaii isn’t cheap but as one of the best destinations to visit in the world, we need to make the effort to figure it out, on any budget. Oahu has an abundance of hotels, activities, tours, and attractions, making it the most affordable Hawaiian island for visitors.
I put together an Oahu 7 Day budget itinerary for those of you looking to explore all of Oahu, without breaking the bank.
If you want to splurge on a few luxury items then check out the luxury 7 day itinerary.
If you don’t want to rent a car and just want a nice and relaxing beach vacation, the Waikiki area is hard to beat. But I recommend you rent a car for at least a couple of days and spend some time exploring the island on your own.
Recommended Budget Accommodations On Oahu
There is a myriad of hotel choices in Waikiki and it can be quite daunting for a first-time visitor. Here are 3 that won’t break the bank and consistently deliver a high level of service based on independent reviews, and my first-hand knowledge. There are “cheaper” options available, but I don’t recommend cheap to anyone.
HYATT PLACE WAIKIKI BEACH
This hotel is conveniently located on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki, near the zoo, Kapiolani Park, International Marketplace, and a short walk to Waikiki beach. The Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach is well placed in Waikiki to walk to multiple restaurants, Waikiki Beach, and other attractions.
Make sure you sign up for the free Hyatt reward program before booking your stay and if you are already a member review your benefits prior to arrival. They have a wonderful breakfast option that rotates daily, a great way to start early before heading out.
KAIMANA BEACH HOTEL
The Kaimana Beach Hotel is uniquely located just outside the western edge of Waikiki but still connected via a sandy beach. The beach fronting this hotel is small but popular with locals and sunbathing monk seals.
The Hau Tree Lanai is a well-known restaurant on the hotel grounds that sits oceanfront and is the perfect spot for sunset viewing. Kaimana Beach Hotel is the perfect place to kick back and think of nothing other than your next cocktail. This is one of the best boutique hotels on Oahu, perfectly suited to the barefoot beach lifestyle.
SHERATON PRINCESS KAIULANI
Sheraton Princess Kaiulani invites you to experience the Aloha spirit in the heart of Honolulu, Hawaii. This inviting hotel is situated one block from the famous Waikiki Beach and within walking distance of some of the area’s best shopping, dining, and entertainment. Hotel guests have proximity to attractions like Diamond Head, the International Marketplace, and the Honolulu Zoo. One of the best values from a hotel that is a part of the Marriott Bonvoy program.
WHITE SANDS HOTEL
The White Sands Hotel is centrally located in Waikiki near multiple dining spots, shopping, and Kuhio Avenue. The HeyDay restaurant puts out a limited but unique menu and I have had one of the best Mai Tais here. This hotel is not ideal for the family but if you are looking for a younger crowd with a tiki bar feel check them out.
Day 1 – Beach Walk, Trolley, Fireworks
Start your visit the way every visit to Oahu should start, walking around and taking in the sites. Hope on the inexpensive trolley and take in the nearby areas before diving into an activity. Finish with fireworks or if it is not a Friday then take in the evening lights along Waikiki and listen to the surf.
– Activity 1: WAIKIKI BEACH WALK
This is a roundtrip walk, do both or pick the one that best suits you. Either way, you need to walk the beach and I recommend you go from the Hilton Hawaiian Village all the way down to Kaimana Beach Hotel. It’s a long walk in the sand and over some sea walls (with pathways) so if you want to chop it up a bit feel free.
On your way back hop onto the sidewalk of Kalakaua and take in the sites. See the Duke Kahanamoku statue, world-famous hotels, and some of the best shopping in the world. There are lots of places to swing in for a coffee or shave ice treat, take your time and enjoy Waikiki. It’s busy and some love it while others prefer something quieter but they have all experienced it.
– Activity 2: WAIKIKI TROLLEY
Waikiki Trolley is Oahu’s only Hop On Hop Off system and a great way to quickly get to some of the most iconic sites without worrying about parking and rental car fees. Discover Honolulu’s historic sites, with the 6 lines and 50+ hop-on hop-off stops. The trolley is open air so a good viewing spot is never an issue, the double-decker ones are even better.
Cost: $5 and up
– Activity 3: FRIDAY NIGHT FIREWORKS
The Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts a free, weekly Friday night fireworks show, viewable from multiple locations along Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana Beach Park, and several oceanfront restaurants. The show is held at around 8 pm, and runs about 10 minutes, a perfect start for Friday night.
If it’s not Friday don’t worry because walking along Waikiki beach in the early evening is a great time to see the lights of the Moana Hotel Banyan tree, the pink facade of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and live music drifting out from the Halekulani – House Without A Key.
– Restaurant Recommendation (Lunch) – Barefoot Beach Cafe
Not in a hotel and not along Kalakaua avenue. Take a short stroll towards Lē’ahi (Diamond Head) and you will see Barefoot Beach Cafe along the edge of the water. If you are staying at the Kaimana Beach Hotel you will pass this location in and out of Waikiki. A classic outdoor cafe with Hawaiian plates & standard American food, instagrammable plus live music, and a fun atmosphere.
Day 2 – Diamond Head, Zoo, Hula
– Activity 1: DIAMOND HEAD CRATER HIKE
Lē’ahi (Diamond Head), is considered the most iconic volcanic formation in Hawaii. The hike is well-paved with stairs and a tunnel section that will add to the adventure. Plan on about an hour to get to the top and spend some time looking around, the photo above is taken from one of the viewing spots.
You now need to make a reservation before doing this hike so plan accordingly, it is very popular.
Cost: $5 Entry, $10 Parking per vehicle (Non-resident pricing)
– Activity 2: HONOLULU ZOO
A wide variety of mammals, reptiles, and bird species can be found at the Honolulu Zoo.
Literally, right across the street from Waikiki beach and right next door to Kapiolani park it’s a wonderful spot to enjoy your day will still being close to hotels and restaurants. No car is needed, walk from your hotel and enjoy the stroll.
If you get there late in the day or early evening enjoy one of their twilight tours and see how some of the animals are much more active.
Cost: $19 (Adults 13+) – $11 (Children 3-12)
– Activity 3: KUHIO BEACH HULA SHOW
Enjoy truly authentic (and free!) Hawaiian music and hula by some of Hawaii’s Halau Hula and Hawaiian dancers. Opens with the traditional blowing of a conch shell and is located along the beach under the shade of a glorious banyan tree. Here is a great video in 4k of the completely free show.
Saturdays, weather permitting 6:30-7:30 pm (6:00-7:00 Nov-Dec-Jan) at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound in Waikiki.
– Restaurant Recommendation (Dinner) – Duke’s Waikiki
While this may not be the most budget-friendly dinner restaurant in Waikiki it is one of the most popular for beachfront dining. If you are looking for a breakfast buffet in Waikiki then this is probably the most competitively priced. I have personally had the breakfast buffet here and for $24 it hit the spot.
Make your reservation for Duke’s Waikiki (located in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort)early, weeks if not months in advance, especially if you have a large party. Otherwise, arrive early and put your name down, wait times range from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Enjoy the Hula Pie!
Day 3 – Pearl Harbor, Museums, and Swap Meet
– Activity 1: PEARL HARBOR
A trip to Oahu would not be complete without visiting the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Although the tour is free, you may have to wait in line for a spot on the boat to take you out to the memorial during busier times. However, booking your tickets through their website ahead of time will only cost $1 per ticket and guarantee your preferred tour time.
Tickets may run out, but if you arrive early and get in line, walk-ins are usually allowed on a first-come, first-serve basis. I haven’t heard of anyone being turned away this way.
– Activity 2: PEARL HARBOR AVIATION MUSEUM
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is an extraordinary place people visit worldwide to learn more about its famous history. The museum sits on Ford Island with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.
Home to two hangars that survived the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, this museum boasts an impressive collection of over 50 unique historic aircraft and various aviation artifacts. The family-friendly space also features a store, café, movie theater, and combat flight simulator.
Cost: ($25.99 adults, $15.99 children ages 4-12)
– Activity 3: ALOHA STADIUM SWAP MEET AND MARKETPLACE
For the past 47 years, Aloha Stadium has been Hawaii’s primary outdoor shopping arena in Central Oahu. It’s also where the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team used to play its home games.
If you’re looking for a souvenir from your trip to Hawaii at reasonable prices, check out Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace. Local businesses sell imported and hand-made items there and products that are distinctive of Hawaiian culture. You can also find snacks from local fare here; in addition to other made-in-Hawaii, The marketplace operation days are Wednesdays and Saturdays.
I recommend you bring some cash on your visit as not all vendors are set up for credit cards.
Cost: $2 (12+ Non-resident)
– Restaurant Recommendation: RESTAURANT 604
RESTAURANT 604 should be your go-to spot when you’re looking for a waterfront restaurant in Pearl Harbor. They have an excellent diverse menu along with lovely service. It’s perfect for military families or locals, and you’ll enjoy a quality meal here even if you’re passing through. Best of all it’s right next door to the Day 3 activities.
Day 4 – Pineapples, Sharks, and Beach
– Activity 1: DOLE PLANTATION
Dole Plantation started as a modest fruit stand in 1950 but has since grown into Hawaii’s “Pineapple Experience,” which opened to the public in 1989. The plantation offers many fun activities, such as the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Plantation Garden Tour, and the Pineapple Garden Maze. In addition to these attractions, informational displays, presentations, and local gifts are available at the plantation country store.
Cost: Free to enter, tours start at $7.75 per person
– Activity 2: SNORKEL THE SHARKS COVE
Sharks Cove is one of the world’s best scuba diving spots, according to Scuba Diving Magazine, and it’s easy to see why. The beautiful turquoise waters are home to a wide variety of sea life, making it a popular destination for locals and tourists. However, because of its popularity, finding parking can be difficult. Be sure to arrive early (by 9 or 10 am), so you can get a spot in the tiny lot overlooking the beach.
– Activity 3: WAIMEA BAY BEACH PARK
Waimea Bay is a beautiful and iconic summer destination, offering visitors white sand beaches and blue-green waters to swim in. However, during winter, it becomes one of the world’s most historical surf spots.
If you are unsure of where to watch or swim safely always check in with the lifeguards and ask, they will gladly direct you.
– Food Choice: HALEIWA SEAFOOD TRUCK
Haleiwa Seafood is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for fresh seafood! Their fish and shrimp tacos are fan favorites and come with delicious toppings and crisp vegetables. If you’re feeling hungry, make sure to order several! They’re open from 11 am to 8 pm every day.
Day 5 – Northern Tip Hiking and the West Side
– Activity 1: KAENA POINT HIKE
Kaena Point is one of Oahu’s most beautiful and well-preserved parks. With hiking, fishing, and picnicking opportunities, it’s the perfect spot to spend a day outdoors. The 2.7-mile Kaena Point Trail takes you along the rocky coastline with stunning views of the west side and Waianae Mountains.
– Activity 2: KEAWAULA BEACH (YOKOHAMA BEACH)
While the island’s West Side is gorgeous and home to some of the best beaches, most people don’t go because it’s a little out of the way. Yokohama Bay, nicknamed “Yokes” by locals, is one beach that’s worth checking out. The turquoise water and big rocks make for perfect snorkeling conditions when it’s calm.
– Activity 3: MAKAHA BEACH PARK
Makaha is a great place to experience west side surf culture. The world-renown break attracts many visitors, but it’s not recommended for all swimmers because of the strong undertow. Those who don’t want to swim can still enjoy the view from shore.
– Food Choice: Coquito’s Latin Cuisine Restaurant
Yes, Latin food does exist in Hawai’i and this hidden gem is well-reviewed on multiple platforms. Open Tuesday thru Saturday for lunch and dinner, nearby all the Day 5 activities. Coquito’s Latin Cuisine Restaurant
Day 6 – #1 Beach in the World and Amazing Gardens
– Activity 1: LANIKAI BEACH
Lanikai Beach is a breathtaking location that offers more than just sunbathing. Its picturesque setting has led to it being described as the “most beautiful” of all Oahu beaches, also one of the best in the world. The smooth waters make kayaking or other paddle sports enjoyable while providing an excellent opportunity for snorkeling around the coral reef in the bay.
Parking can be a challenge on any day of the weekend and especially hard on holiday weekends. In fact on many holidays parking in this neighborhood is completely blocked off. Consider catching the bus or using ride-share options, otherwise arrive early and park legally in the area.
Respect the people who live in the area by keeping your noise levels low in the early morning hours and do not use private hoses for cleaning up.
– Activity 2: HOOMALUHIA BOTANICAL GARDEN
When you visit the 400-acre Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden in Kāneohe, Hawaii, it’s easy to see why it was named “a peaceful refuge.” This garden is a beautiful oasis with plantings from various tropical regions worldwide. It was designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1982 to provide flood protection for Kāneohe.
The entrance to the garden is quite famous and has been photographed thousands of times. Please note that parking along this section is prohibited. If you want the shot you will have to walk in from a legal parking spot
– Food Choice: Uahi Island Grill
For over 15 years this restaurant has been serving up amazing fresh local food dishes in the heart of Kailua. Great happy hours, brunch, and fresh seafood dishes. Well reviewed and a local favorite. Uahi Island Grill
Day 7 – World Famous Hollywood Movie Ranch, Hiking, and Snorkeling
This is a full day and you may need to start very early to get everything in, don’t hesitate to break this one up into two days or add on to another day if you finish early.
– Activity 1: KUALOA RANCH: ALOHA AINA TOUR
If you are going to budget for one activity then this is the one I recommend, Kualoa Ranch. An amazing location that is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. Several major Hollywood blockbuster movies have been filmed here and you can see the very spots from some famous scenes.
The Aloha Aina Tour provides an intimate look at one of Oahu’s most undisturbed ancient Hawaiian fishponds, Moli’i. It is believed to date back 800-1000 years ago.
At this 153-acre fishpond, you can learn about early Hawaiian aquaculture practices and how they farmed fish. Fortunately, this fishpond is still active today, and much of the original stonewall infrastructure is still in place.
The United States Department of the Interior has listed it on the National Register of Historic Places so that you can explore Moli’i for generations. Take a ride on Moli’i’s trolley to check out its fruit and flower gardens on “Secret Island.”
Cost: $52 per person
– Activity 2: HANAUMA BAY
This activity requires a reservation, you can read about the details here and link through to the reservation system.
Hanauma Bay is home to some of the best coral and sea life in Oahu and is well known for being calm and shallow. You must reserve your tickets before going because you must watch a mandatory 9-minute orientation video. The reservation can be made for up to ten people: five adults or five kids.
And if you’re feeling energetic, once you’re done with the tour of Hanauma Bay, you can drive an extra 15 minutes to hike the Koko Head trail. The Koko Head Crater hike isn’t for the faint of heart-it opens up with 1,048 steps to climb. But if you can reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Aina Haina, Sandys Beach, and much of the south shore. This is one of Oahu’s best spots for catching a beautiful sunrise or sunset!
Cost: Park Entry Fee – $25.00
– Activity 3: MAKAPUU LIGHTHOUSE TRAIL
This is an easy, beginner-level trail with a steady incline. The path is paved all the way to the top with multiple rest stops and information placards. If you are visiting during humpback whale season this is a great spot to see them in the distance, bring binoculars if you have them.
Situated on Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, the Makapuu Point trail will amaze you with its views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline, including Koko Head and Koko Crater. From the endpoint at Makapuu Head, panoramas of the windward coast and islets are located offshore.
– Food Choice: Kalapawai Cafe & Deli (Waimanalo)
Read my recent breakfast review of this restaurant here.
With multiple locations around the island, there is one nearby for Day 7 activities in Waimanalo. Great coffee and unique, locally inspired food choices. Kalapawai Cafe & Deli
Well, were you able to do them all? Did you have some suggestions or corrections for the itinerary? Let me know in the comments below and I can adjust as things on Oahu change.