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How to Visit Oahu on a Budget: Hotels, Car Rental & Activities

How to Visit Oahu on a Budget: Hotels, Car Rental & Activities

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Are you planning a trip to Oahu and want to save some money? Check out these awesome Oahu travel hacks for visiting Oahu on a budget!

When I tell people that I take my kids to Hawaii about once a year, I always explain that my Mom lives on Kauai and we try to cut costs whenever possible.

The truth is, a trip to Hawaii (even with kids) doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. So, I’ve compiled my top Oahu travel hacks and tips for Oahu on a budget.

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Hawaii blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Oahu.

Popular Oahu Tours/Activities

Favorite Oahu Resorts/Hotels

Want to Rent a Car in Hawaii?
One of the best places to rent a car in Hawaii is Discount Hawaii Car Rental because they get the best rates from top national companies like Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, and Payless.

Want a Hawaii travel guide? I’ve got detailed guides and 7-day itineraries!

Flying to Oahu on a Budget

Depending on where you are flying from, flights to Honolulu can be really expensive. Southwest Airlines will be starting routes to Hawaii soon, so this may lower flight costs.

But in the meantime, here are my top tips for flying to Oahu on a budget:

Photo of Waikiki and Diamond Head from the Hawaii Convention Center on Oahu #waikiki #diamondhead #oahu #honolulu #hawaiiconventioncenter
We love looking out our window to see Oahu before we land! Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Dana Edmunds


If you have airline miles, USE THEM! We have Alaska Airlines credit cards where we earn miles and a companion fare each year (where we just pay the taxes on an airline ticket.)

We like to save our companion fares for trips to Hawaii, especially if we are traveling in high season.

You can save a LOT on travel by using airline miles and travel points.

There’s also a thing called “travel hacking.” We just started doing this so I’m not an expert, but basically, you sign up for credit cards that will earn you points. Then, you use these points to pay for airfare and hotel rooms.


Traveling to Hawaii during the low season or shoulder season can be tricky with school-aged kids but really appealing for families with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

The best discounts are in October and November. You can also find decent airfare for May and September.


Another way you can save money on a Hawaiian vacation is to pick one island. Island hopping can dramatically increase your expenses (with flights and baggage fees) and it eats up your precious vacation days. Find out the best Hawaiian island for kids.


Take advantage of traveling with small kids. You can add stuff like clothing, diapers, and wipes to your car seat bag or stroller bag, which fly for free. And consolidate your checked luggage whenever possible.

I use these packing cubes to fit all the clothing for myself and my two kids into one suitcase.


We usually leave Seattle at 8:30 am and we arrive in Honolulu just in time for lunch. I love it because we can usually drop off our bags, grab our swimsuits, and enjoy an afternoon at the pool or beach. It’s like getting a bonus travel day!

And for the same reasons, book your flight home for later in the day, if you can. Then, you can enjoy a leisurely morning in Hawaii, pick up any last-minute souvenirs, and buy yummy takeout food to eat on the airplane!

Cheap Hotels in Waikiki

For the most part, Waikiki is the most expensive place to stay on Oahu. But, it’s also one of the most convenient places, if you aren’t renting a car. And sometimes you can get good discounts.

Photo of Waikiki hotels and urban Honolulu on Oahu #oahu #waikiki #honolulu #waikikihotels
There are ways to get cheaper hotels in Waikiki, if you look hard enough. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

A few cheap places to stay on Oahu include the Waikiki Beachside Hostel, Holiday Inn Express Waikiki, the Equus, and Aqua Oasis.


If you happen to be traveling with someone who lives in Hawaii, look into Kamaaina discounts. Most hotels offer some sort of Kamaaina discount or benefits.

My Mom usually meets us on Oahu or Maui and she’s able to use her discount to save us money.


If you are a military family, you can stay at the beautiful Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach. I walked through the grounds earlier this year and it’s in a great location, especially for kids! And they have an on-site luau.

Discount Oahu Accommodations

But, if you really want to save money, look into some other Oahu accommodation options.


One of the easiest ways to save money is to stay somewhere outside of popular Waikiki. Kailua is a quiet, suburban area with great beaches and kid-friendly restaurants. And the North Shore is really relaxed and gorgeous.

But, if you want to stay close to attractions, you can find options in Honolulu.


One way to slash your housing costs in half is to split a rental with another family. You can rent a large house from Airbnb, Homeaway, or VRBO and share it with friends or family.

That also means you’ll have a decent kitchen to cook at home. Plus, many of them have cribs, high chairs, and other kid items!


And if you really want to save some money, you can always try couchsurfing. Basically, you are staying in someone’s home.

I’ve never done it, but might consider it when my kids are older and less likely to cry in the middle of the night. If you’re thinking about it, It’s a Drama has a really good blog post about Couchsurfing with Kids.

Cheap Car Rentals in Oahu

My first suggestion is to plan out your Hawaiian itinerary to see if you need a car for your entire trip. If you really only need it for a day or two, you can save a lot of money by doing that.

Plus, sometimes you can save money by picking up somewhere outside the Honolulu Airport.

For the days when you don’t need a car, you can take advantage of TheBus (Hawaii’s bus system) or the Waikiki Trolley.

We almost always rent a car on Oahu.

For the days you do want a rental car on Oahu, you can check Discount Hawaii Car RentalLittle Hawaii Rent A Car, or see the deals from Rental Car Momma.

Plus, Costco sometimes has great car rental deals. Reserve your car rental early (especially during high season) and check periodically to see if you can get a better deal. And fill up gas at Costco for the cheapest rates.

Oahu Dining Hacks

My family LOVES eating Hawaiian food and we get so excited to eat on Oahu. But, the food costs add up quickly. Here’s how we save money on food on Oahu:


I wish I was joking, but food in Hawaii is soooooo expensive! Even at the grocery store. My kids loved food pouches when they were little, so I used to stock up on discounted food pouches at Big Lots here in the Seattle area and pack them in my checked luggage.

I also pack boxes of granola bars (without chocolate that will melt) and other boxed snack items.


I can’t talk about Hawaiian food without mentioning shave ice! You absolutely HAVE to try it in Hawaii.

You can find shave ice stands almost anywhere, but the most popular are Matsumoto in Haleiwa and Waiola Shave Ice (where President Obama goes.)

Photo of shave ice on Oahu, a Hawaiian dessert similar to a snow cone but much better! #shaveice #oahu #oahueats #oahufood #hawaiianfood #hawaii #visitoahu
Shave ice is refreshing after a day at the beach! Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

Personally, I like to order my shave ice “snow capped” with condensed milk and li hing mui. But, you can also get a scoop of ice cream on the bottom. Get a big one and share it with your whole family, to cut costs!


Costco has the cheapest groceries on Oahu. There are several Costco stores on Oahu. We usually hit up the one closest to the airport after picking up our rental car.

We stock up on drinks and snacks here (especially the furikake Chex mix!) For lunches, we get sandwich makings. And we usually buy some fresh poke from their seafood area to eat for dinner.

If we are staying somewhere with a kitchen, we also buy steak, chicken, and veggies to grill. You can also buy wine, alcohol, and everything you need to make tropical drinks.

And if you want a treat, buy a box of ice cream bars or popsicles.


You can use your Safeway Club Card at the Safeway stores on Oahu. And, you can always sign up for the free loyalty cards at other grocery stores, like Foodland.

There are also several Target and Walmart stores all over the island, including Waikiki.


Even though it may be convenient to have breakfast at your hotel, it’s not budget-friendly (and the food isn’t usually stellar.) So instead, grab some fresh fruit at the Farmer’s Market or hit up a local bakery.


One way to save money while eating out is to get your food to go. That way, you can avoid paying for drinks (just remember to pack some!) And you can supplement with food you buy at the grocery store.

Photo of a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch with lau lau, kalua pork, poi and lomi lomi salmon #hawaiianfood #platelunch #oahueats #oahudining #hawaii
Here’s a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch featuring kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, lau lau and poi. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Mark Kushimi

Most plate lunches are quite large and can be easily shared, especially with kids. We like to order extra rice, which makes the meal stretch a bit further.

One of my favorite take-out restaurants on Oahu is Rainbow Drive-in.


So, Hawaii is known for its love of all things SPAM. One of the most popular Hawaiian snacks is Spam musubi. Basically, it’s Spam sushi. And you can find it at most ABC stores, grocery stores, and delis.

But, there are all kinds of musubi. Personally, I love getting mochiko chicken musubi from 7-11. And we recently discovered Musubi Cafe in Waikiki which has a wide assortment of musubi options. My family eats them for breakfast and for an easy lunch when we’re out and about.


As a mom with two little kids, I’m completely on the coffee bandwagon! But, I don’t like the taste of drip coffee.

Instead of ordering a $4 or $5 latte every morning, I buy canned coffee and cappuccino at the grocery store. I really like the Royal Mills brand straight from the can or poured over ice in the morning.


Do you know what goes great with iced coffee? Malasadas! These Portuguese donuts have become a Hawaii staple thanks to Leonard’s Bakery. They have several locations on Oahu.

Photo of Leonard's Bakery on Oahu, which is famous for their maladadas, a Portuguese donut popular in Hawaii #maladada #leonardsbakery #oahu #oahufood #oahueats #portuguesedonut #maladadas
Leonard’s Bakery is famous for their fresh malasadas. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

I like to buy a dozen and have them for breakfast for a few days. If you are staying somewhere with a microwave or toaster oven, they reheat nicely.

Cheap Luaus on Oahu

Most people want to experience a luau on their Hawaiian vacation. But, luau tickets can be pricey. So, if you are looking for a budget-friendly luau, here are the cheapest luaus on Oahu:


The cheapest luau on Oahu is Germaine’s Luau (this link includes round-trip shuttle service.) As of November 2022, the cheapest package they offer on their site was $135 for adults, $115 for kids ages 13-20, $95 for kids 4-12, and kids ages 3 and under are free.

Here, they do a kitschy luau show and give you a free cocktail, like what you’d see in any movie set in Hawaii. But, it’s not the luau I’d recommend.


Instead, I’d suggest you check out Toa Luau at Waimea Valley. It’s one of the newest luaus on Oahu and it’s run by people who used to perform for other luaus and wanted to create something that felt more authentic.

We’ve done the Toa Luau twice and it’s definitely something special. They do a lot of crafts and hands-on activities, plus they show you how to cook traditional Samoan food.

Samoan Princess dancing at Toa Luau at Waimea Valley on Oahu in Hawaii #toaluau #luau #oahuluau #waimeavalley #samoan
We all marveled at this dancer’s impressive headdress and graceful motions at Toa Luau on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They do serve alcohol and you can try Kava, an ancient numbing drink that warriors used to take before battle.


I’ve also been hearing good things about Chief’s Luau. They just moved to a new location. It’s run by Original World Fire Knife Dance Champion, Chief Sielu. How cool is that? He’s also a comedian and people say it’s one of the most entertaining luaus they have been to.

Aulani Resort Hack

While Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa is amazing, it isn’t exactly budget-friendly. So, instead of staying at Aulani Resort, just do the Aulani Character Breakfast.

After your bellies are full, head over to Lagoon #4 for beach fun! They have free parking, shady areas, and gentle water for little ones.

Polynesian Cultural Center Hack

If you don’t want to splurge for the whole Polynesian Cultural Center experience, you can just buy general admission tickets to explore the park.

You’ll be able to take part in hands-on activities, see demonstrations, enjoy Polynesian dancing, and more. Check the latest rates and availability.

The Samoan Village offers lots of family activities on oahu at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii

At the Samoan Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center, they prepared taro root and green bananas to share with guests later in the day. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Free Activities on Oahu

Just because you are on a Hawaiian vacation with kids, doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of cash every day. Organized tours, boat trips, snorkeling adventures, etc add up quickly.

There are quite a few free activities on Oahu that are perfect for families.

Photo of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, which is a free thing to do on Oahu #pearlharbor #oahu #ussarizonamemorial #hawaii

You can get FREE tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor if you get there early! Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson


Yes, you read that right. You can visit Pearl Harbor for FREE. However, there are a limited amount of free tickets available each day, so I’d suggest getting there early if you want to score some.


Most people want to see a hula show in Hawaii. The good news is that there are free hula shows on Oahu daily.

You can usually find them in shopping areas like Ala Moana Center, the International Marketplace, and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.


Kids will get a kick out of seeing wildlife specialists at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa feed penguins and flamingos in Waikiki.


The Hilton Hawaiian Village does a spectacular fireworks show every Friday. The show usually starts around 7:45 pm or 8 pm, depending on the sunset. The firework show is about 10 minutes long.

Photo of the Waikiki fireworks show by the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, which is a free event on Oahu #fireworks #waikiki #oahu #hiltonhawaiianvillage
The fireworks on Waikiki Beach are stunning! Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

The cool thing is that you don’t have to stay there to enjoy them! In fact, you can see them from almost anywhere on Waikiki beach. It’s a great evening activity!


If you’re in Waikiki on a Friday between 4:30 pm-6 pm, head over the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa to experience its weekly “Aloha Friday” Polynesian show. You can see hula dancers, lei making, fire knife dancers and Polynesian music.


Most beaches on Oahu are completely free! And that includes Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world! 

Some of our favorites include Waimanalo beach, Shark’s Cove, and Kailua beach, but all the beaches are pretty awesome.

There’s a small fee to visit Hanauma Bay and some beaches have paid parking.

(Almost) Free Things to do on Oahu


One of the most recognizable things on Oahu is Diamond Head. It’s a popular hike for families because it’s close to Waikiki and isn’t too strenuous.

The entrance fee is $5 and you’ll need to make reservations online.


One of the prettiest places on Oahu is the Byodo In Temple on the Windward Coast. It’s a replica Japanese temple with a pretty garden and a gong you can bang.

It’s only $5 for adults and you don’t need reservations.


For just the cost of a drink or a plate of pupus (Hawaiian appetizers,) you can listen to some of Hawaii’s top musicians at local restaurants around Oahu.

Photo of a woman dancing hula at a Waikiki restaurant, which is a cheap thing to do on Oahu #hula #waikiki #oahu #hawaii
We love seeing hula shows at Waikiki restaurants. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Almost every bar or restaurant in Waikiki offers some sort of Hawaiian entertainment. Kani Ka Pila Grille in Waikiki is a great spot to listen to big names in Hawaiian music and maybe even see some hula dancers!


If you are looking for cheap Hawaiian souvenirs, this is a good place to go. While it’s greatly shrunk in size over the years, the Aloha Swap Meet offers inexpensive Aloha Shirts, Hawaiian dresses, snacks, ukuleles, t-shirts, toys, pareos, and more.

The list of free activities on Oahu is almost endless and totally depends on what you’d like to get out of your Oahu vacation. Enjoy and Aloha!

Visiting Hawaii on a Budget FAQs

What are the cheapest months to go to Oahu?

I recommend visiting Oahu during the shoulder season, which runs from mid-April to June and September to mid-November.

What’s a reasonable budget for Hawaii?

The cost of a trip to Hawaii will vary depending on the time of year you travel, the activities you do, and your budget. However, you can expect to spend at least $2,000 per person for a week-long trip.

How much should I budget for food per day on Oahu?

The cost of food in Oahu can vary depending on where you eat and what you order. However, you can expect to spend around $20-$30 per person per day on food (on the cheap end). Getting fresh product at farmers markets or eating at food trucks can help.

Is Oahu more affordable than Maui?

Visiting Oahu is often cheaper than Maui simply because there are more cheap flights and affordable options for hotel rooms at all price points. Oahu also has decent public transportation, hiking trails, free historic sites, and cheap things to do.

Is Oahu an expensive vacation?

Whether or not Oahu is an expensive vacation depends on your budget and travel style. If you’re looking for a luxurious experience with all the bells and whistles, then Oahu can definitely be expensive. However, there are also plenty of ways to save money on your trip, even if you’re on a tight budget.

How to Visit Oahu on a Budget Wrap Up

Visiting Oahu on a budget is not only possible but can also be a highly enjoyable experience. With so many attractions within walking distance and an abundance of natural beauty to explore, you’ll find that the island offers a wealth of opportunities for affordable fun.

From spending your days soaking up the sun on Waikiki Beach to immersing yourself in the laid-back atmosphere of Oahu’s North Shore, there’s no shortage of activities and experiences to suit every traveler’s budget.

As you plan your visit to Oahu, remember to take advantage of all the free things the island has to offer, such as hiking trails, parks, and stunning viewpoints.

By prioritizing these budget-friendly activities and opting for affordable accommodation and dining options, you’ll be able to experience the magic of Oahu without breaking the bank.

Looking for more Hawaii travel resources? Learn how to plan a trip to Hawaii, do you need Hawaii travel insurance, how to book affordable family photos in Hawaii, how to plan a trip to Hawaii with toddlers, top things to do on Oahu with kids, Hawaii vs Mexico comparison, and top things to do on Maui with kids.

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    Thursday 16th of August 2018

    Oh man Hawaii looks amazeballs. Thanks for all the budget hacks :)


    Thursday 16th of August 2018

    It's such a fun place!

    Blair villanuevai

    Monday 6th of August 2018

    Thank you for sharing this veey detailed travel hacks. Travel is quite expensive with family but following these hacks will have travelers at ease. I want to visit Hawaii!


    Monday 6th of August 2018

    Hawaii is such a fun vacation spot!

    Becca Wilson

    Thursday 2nd of August 2018

    Oahu is seriously on my bucket list! I would love to be able to go one day and take my whole family on vacation.


    Thursday 2nd of August 2018

    It's such a great place for a family getaway!


    Thursday 2nd of August 2018

    Great tips for when I finally go to Hawaii


    Thursday 2nd of August 2018

    Hope you get there soon!

    Astrid Vinje

    Thursday 2nd of August 2018

    What an extensive list, and so helpful! Oahu is on my bucket list, but we probably won't get to go to Hawaii until we come back from our trip in three years.


    Thursday 2nd of August 2018

    You might need a Hawaiian vacation to recover from your huge trip!

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