These 35 Free Hidden Gems Will Make Hawaii Your Best Trip Ever

by Shelli

With increasing Hawaii tourism come August, it’s time to prepare for some Aloha. Why not take advantage of what’s free? It can be said that the best things in life are free, and in Hawaii that’s especially true. The ocean, sunsets, mountains, and beach time all make for a lovely, relaxing vacation. While it’s also true that getting to Hawaii, lodging, and meals all come with a price, there are plenty of free things to do in Hawaii. Here are the top choices to make your Hawaiian holiday your best trip ever.

Free Things To Do On Oahu

Ukulele lessons, (locations throughout the state)

Did you know the ukulele’s origins are actually Portuguese? In the 19th century a version of this stringed instrument was brought to Hawaii by immigrant workers coming to work on sugar plantations.

Here are some locations for free classes: on Oahu at the Ukulele Store at the Waikiki Beach Walk; at Maui’s Lahaina Cannery Mall, and during the weekly kanikapila (jam session) on Hawaii Island at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park’s visitor center (Mondays at 9am).

Fireworks

Who doesn’t enjoy watching fireworks? Couple Aloha Friday with fireworks and you have a great start to your weekend. The fireworks are a finale for the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel resort show but anyone can see them!

All beaches in Hawaii are free and open to the public so bring a towel, relax on the beach, and watch the spectacle for free. You can watch from the lagoon in front of the Hilton or really anywhere in Waikiki. After sunset, the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort launches their weekly fireworks at 7:45pm (Sept. to May) or 8pm (June-August).

Pro Tip: Walking along Waikiki beach at night is a fun free activity in Waikiki. The weather is cooler and the beach is way less crowded. Enjoying the evening ocean view along with the lit up city view makes for a very different Waikiki image.

Land-based whale watching, (locations throughout the state)

Hawaii Whale Watching

Whale watching doesn’t have to be done from a boat, especially when you’re in Hawaii. Each year between November and March, some 20,000 humpback whales arrive from cold Alaskan waters to mate and give birth.

Here are but a few of the many great vantage points from which you can watch the whale shows: atop the mile-long trail toward the 1909 Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse on Oahu; at Puʻu Olaʻi, a more than 350-foot-tall cinder cone in Makena State Park on Maui, and from Puʻukohola Heiau National Historic Site (a free-to-enter site run by the National Park Service) on Hawaii.

Enjoy free art throughout the state

Did you know that the global art event POW WOW! calls Honolulu home? It comes annually to Honolulu’s Kaka’ako neighborhood, and along with its many venues and offerings, there are always-free-to-see street art exhibits.

Hidden gem Spalding House, a haven for Contemporary Art, waives admission the third Sunday of each month, and the excellent Honolulu Museum of Art opens its doors free of charge with themed events and activities for the whole family on the third Sunday of each month.

Hawaii State Art Museum

The Hawaii State Art Museum is always free for everyone. The mission of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts is to promote, perpetuate, preserve and encourage culture and the arts as central to the quality of life of the people of Hawaii.

The museum itself is pretty small, requiring maybe a few hours to see it all. What’s particularly special, though, is that the Hawaii State Art Museum also has free events that are open to the public. These events include “First Friday,” a downtown gallery walk held on the first Friday of every month. Galleries and museums, including the Hawaii State Art Museum, are open for this free to the public event.

The Hawaii State Art Museum also hosts a number of Art Lunches, where you get to meet local artists. For a calendar of all of the museum’s events, click here.

The Honolulu Museum of Art also has two free days per month. Admission is free on the third Sunday of the month from 11am-5pm. Admission is also free on the first Wednesday of every month, all day long.

The Hawaii Army Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9-5. The Hawaii Army Museum is home to artifacts from ancient Hawaiian armies to more modern campaigns.

Kukaniloko Birthing Stones

Just south of the Dole pineapple plantation and in the middle of a huge field in central Oahu is a significant archeological site. It features 180 stones. For seven centuries Hawaiian royal women gave birth while laying on top of these stones! The name, Kukaniloko, translates as “to anchor the cry from within.”

From the stones, it’s possible to make out the form of a reclining pregnant woman in the profile of the western island Waianae Mountains. The stones are in the area of Wahiawa.

Coffee Farm Tour (locations throughout the state)

Did you know that there are only two states in the U.S. that grow coffee for commercial use? Hawaii is one of those two. Kona, on the west side of the Big Island, is the best-known growing region. More than 600 farms grow Kona coffee! Many offer free tours and coffee tastings.

Many of the growers create their own blends, so you won’t be disappointed in the coffee varieties you will sample. The Kau Coffee Mill, in a district just south of Kona, is the place to start. They have farm and factory tours and tastings.

On Oahu, the Old Waialua Coffee and Chocolate Mill grows small-batch crops behind the former sugar mill. Kauai Coffee Company has more than four million trees (comprising 60 percent of the state’s entire crop). Visits include free cups of coffee before their complimentary walking tours.

Here’s an article I wrote about where to find the best coffee in Hawaii!

Pay Your Respects at Pearl Harbor

Did you know that The USS Arizona Memorial hands out 1,300 free tickets every day? Your best chance of getting one is to come as soon as the park opens at 7:00 am. These tickets are given out on a first come, first serve basis.

Each ticket is assigned a time, and the program runs every 15 minutes. There are plenty of FREE things to do while you wait. Visit the Exhibit Galleries, view the Interpretive Wayside Exhibits around the park, and walk through the Remembrance Circle, which pays tribute to the men, women, and children, both military and civilian, who were killed on December 7, 1941.

If you get your free ticket and prefer to come back later in the day, you can also request the time you want. As long as it is still available, it’s yours. The tour program runs from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm, with the exception of 12:15 and 12:30.

Pro tip: In order to get into the park as quickly and as easily as possible, do not bring any bags or purses. You will not be allowed into the park with one and you will have to get a locker or, if you came by car, return your bags back to the car.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

If you enjoy botanical gardens, this is a spot for you. The Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe is one of Oahu’s best-kept secrets. From a small art gallery to fishing programs, this garden has it all.

The word Hoʻomaluhia means “to make a place of peace and tranquility,” and Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens truly is a place of peace and tranquility. When you arrive, first go to the visitor’s center to get a map, and talk to the volunteers about all of the different trails.

Hoomaluhia Gardens, Maui

Perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon in Hawaii!

Because the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is a bit off the beaten path, it’s usually quiet. The botanical garden has a variety of plants. There’s a lovely picnic area with mountains in the background, making for a peaceful afternoon.

Watch Hula Dancing

Hula dancing is not only great exercise, but fun to watch. There is a free hula show, weather permitting, at Waikiki’s Kuhio Beach every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights. To find the performance spot, look for the grassy mound near the Duke Kahanomoku statue and the large Banyan trees.

It’s an hour-long show. It includes authentic Hawaiian music and hula performances as well as a torch lighting ceremony. Show times alternate from 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm depending on the season and sunset.

Hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

There are hiking trails on Oahu where either parking or entering costs money, but there are still great free hiking choices. The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail is always free. This trail was recently renovated and is completely paved. You’ll also enjoy the numerous lookout points along the path.

Makapuu Lighthouse

The views are well worth the hike!

Go early in the morning to beat the crowds, the sun, and the parking frenzy. The trail is short and steep in parts. Come prepared because there is no shade on the trail, no bathrooms, and no water fountains. Make sure to carry water with you.

Enjoy the beautiful ocean and mountain views, and if you hike in the winter, watch for those migrating whales!

Visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Although not as popular at some other historic sights in Hawaii, this cemetery is well worth a visit. Who gets to be buried in a national cemetery? Burial is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Part of what makes this cemetery site so special is the location. It’s in Punchbowl Crater. Punchbowl Crater was created between 75,000 and 100,000 years ago when hot lava ejected through cracks in the coral reefs.

Its Hawaiian name, “Puowaina,” translates to “Hill of Sacrifice.” It took years to get the funding for the cemetery and it serves as an burial site in Hawaii. The cemetery opened to the public on July 19, 1949, with services for four servicemen and war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

The cemetery is open daily. Sept. 30 through March 1, it is open from 8:00 am until 5:30 pm March 2 through Sept. 29, it is open from 8:00 am until 6:30 pm. On Memorial Day, the cemetery is open from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm

Learn New Skills at the Royal Hawaiian Center

Over the years The Royal Hawaiian Center has gone through many redevelopment plans. However, it has always served as a spot for sharing the Hawaiian arts. At the Royal Hawaiian Center you’ll find complimentary classes and live entertainment. Expert kumu (teachers) will teach you lei making, lauhala weaving, hula, and ‘ukulele playing.

Click here for the schedule.

Kuhio Beach and Watching the Sunset

Life’s a beach! There’s never a charge for laying out your towel and enjoying a swim in the ocean. Don’t forget to watch the sunset. From the beaches in Waikiki, sunsets are pretty spectacular.

Flowers of Oahu

The beautiful flowers of Hawaii are free for all to enjoy!

Ala Moana Center Stage

The Ala Moana mall, much like the Royal Hawaiian Center, has over the years been renovated and redeveloped many times. The Ala Moana is Honolulu’s most prestigious shopping mall, and while shopping there will likely have you opening up your wallet, the Center Stage offers great entertainment. There’s plenty of seating with the entertainment, providing a nice time-out from shopping.

Aloha Tower

Located in Honolulu Harbor, it’s hard to miss the Aloha Tower. Built in 1926 as a beacon to welcome visitors to Hawaii (who came almost entirely by boat), the 10th floor observation deck offers great views of Honolulu and the water.

Royal Hawaiian Hotel Tour

Maybe I’m odd but I enjoy hotel tours. Especially tours of iconic hotels. This hotel, known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific” offers complimentary walking tours. The tours showcase the hotel’s history and are offered every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 pm. Tours meet in the Royal Hawaiian Bakery inside the hotel.

Here’s the best way to save money on your hotel stays.

Moana Surfrider Tour

Another iconic hotel worth touring is Waikiki’s first hotel, “the First Lady of Waikiki”. The hotel offers complimentary historical tours every Monday and Wednesday at 11 am in the Historical Room on the 2nd floor.

Here’s my favorite hotel in Waikiki. My pick just may surprise you!

Hike Diamond Head

Although it does cost $1/person to walk in, so it’s technically not free, I couldn’t leave this off the list. Hiking Diamond Head is not to be missed. It’s steep and narrow in parts, so take your time and enjoy the views.

Experience the Honolulu Fish Auction

The Honolulu Fish Auction is the only tuna auction in the United States and provides a really unique experience. It’s located in the Commercial Fishing Village on Pier 38. It’s the only fish auction between Tokyo and Maine. In fact, it’s the only fresh tuna auction of its kind in the United States.

Fishing boats tie up and unload their catch just a few feet from this modern, state-of-the-art facility. It’s free and open to the public. Show up and walk around. Make sure to arrive early to see the auction (6am-8pm is preferred). Bring a jacket, it’s cold around all that ice!

Hike Manoa Falls

This is a popular hike because it’s quick (1.6 miles round trip). Essentially you’re hiking to see a waterfall!

Hawaii State Capitol

Do you like capital buildings? If so, add this self-guided tour to your list. Located in downtown Honolulu, there are self-guided tours available 8:30 am-3:30 pm Monday through Friday. Guided tours are available for the public on Wednesdays at 1 pm.

Visit Tantalus Lookout

There’s no lack of amazing views on Oahu. For this one you’ll need to make the drive up to Puu Ualakaa State Park. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Honolulu, Waikiki, Diamond Head, and Pearl Harbor.

Royal Hawaiian Band Concerts

If you enjoy band music, don’t miss this concert. Weather permitting, the Royal Hawaiian Band performs every Friday from 12-1 on the lawn of the Iolani Palace. Chairs are set up and a huge banyan tree provides nice shade.

Kawaiaha’o Church

Thought to be the oldest church in Hawaii, the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific” holds services on Sundays in English and Hawaiian.

Visit Magic Island

This small manmade peninsula next to Ala Moana Beach Park has a nice protected lagoon for swimming. It’s also a great spot to watch the Friday night fireworks from. It’s a great people watching spot with all kinds of outdoor activities both on Magic Island and in Ala Moana Beach Park

Free Things To Do In Hawaii (Maui)

Pu’u Keka’a, Maui

Though Ka‘anapali’s 30-foot-high Pu’u Keka’a promontory was historically believed to be a ‘ka leina a ka ‘uhane’ or a place of transition from this world to the next, 18th-century Maui chief, Kahekili, proved it was also a great place to cliff jump. Today it’s mostly known as ‘Black Rock.’

Black Rock and excellent for swimming Kaanapali Beach

It fronts the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Each evening at sunset, the hotel hosts a ceremony where a runner scales the cliff to the sounds of an oli (chant), lights torches along his path, then gracefully dives into the sea.

Explore Hawaii’s marine areas, Maui/Hawaii Island

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary protects 13,700 square miles of primary breeding grounds for humpback whales around the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. The sanctuary’s Keihi visitor center, which sits in front of a 500-year-old Hawaiian fishpond, is free and open to the public.

There are interpretive exhibits about whales and Hawaii’s inshore waters (Mon-Fri 10am-3pm, and last Saturday of each month 10am-3pm).

Few can visit Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the largest marine-protected area on the planet, spanning nearly 140,000 square miles of ocean around the uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But you can visit them in spirit at their Mokupapa Discover Center in downtown Hilo (Tues-Sat 9am-4pm). Housed in an old two-story bank, you can watch videos, learn about plastic pollution, explore a small library and see fish, including a new species discovered in 2016.

Free Things To Do In Hawaii (Big Island)

Pohoiki Black Sand Beach

When Kilauea Volcano’s Fissure 8 opened in May 2018 and started pouring lava into neighborhoods, it was Hawaii’s most destructive volcanic event in recent history. However, the eruption created Pohoiki Black Sand Beach. This black sand beach was created alongside Isaac Hale Beach Park when molten lava hit the ocean and shattered instantly into sand.

It’s the world’s newest natural beach. You’ll see for yourself that its amazingly beautiful.

Free Things To Do In Hawaii

The Pohoiki oceanfront park now has a new black sand beach, lagoon and sandbar/ Photo courtesy: USGS

Stargazing and Silverswords

Did you know that Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to stargaze? There’s no better place than just below the 13 international observatories around Mauna Kea’s 9,200-foot-high visitor information station. Before sunset, take the short loop hike to see the spiky and endangered Mauna Kea silversword plants.

You might just catch some star enthusiasts from the community setting up powerful telescopes on the cement pad in front of the visitor center. The building closes daily at 3:30pm, but the bathrooms stay open.

Free presentations that explore the cultural significance of the sacred mountain to the Hawaiian people take place on the fourth Saturday of the month at 2pm.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

In this park you’ll walk along a one-mile path through a 600-year-old fishing village. It’s in ruins but you will see residential foundations, recreations of old canoe houses, fishing shrines, salt vats and seaside stumps where you can still play kōnane, a two-player game some call Hawaiian checkers. There are brochures at the trailhead explaining the sites.

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center

Do you like Macadamia nuts? I do! Hawaii Island grows 90 percent of the state’s crop of nuts. There are so many macadamia nut sellers that a ‘Great Hawaiian Mac Nut Trail’ tour has been created. Take a free self-guided tour of one of the largest, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp., just outside Hilo.

You’ll see acres of orchards, learn how to shell the tough-to-crack nuts, and tour their onsite chocolate factory before getting your fill of free samples. The store opens daily 8:30am-5pm; factory closed weekends and holidays.

Petroglyphs

These ki’i pohaku (petroglyphs) depicting people, animals, ships and even muskets are found along the boardwalk within the former traditional village and free-to-enter Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park.

Further north, in Waikoloa, there’s an even more massive array of carvings. Free tours to Waikoloa Petroglyph Park run most Thursdays and Fridays at 9:30am from the King’s Shops. The Puako Petroglyph Preserve has another 3,000 carvings.

Lava Tree State Monument

Lots of natural beauty on the Big Island of Hawaii! Lava swept through a native ohia forest in 1790, pooling at the base of trees before igniting them, leaving behind stony stumps. Take the easy, 0.6-mile path through the forest to see lush jungle growing over the older tree mold casts. Hwy 132 Mile 2.5, Pahoa

Free Things To Do In Hawaii (Kauai)

Hike with a shelter dog, Kauai/Hawaii Island

Not only is this free, but it’s a wonderful way to give a pooch some TLC. New programs from the Kauai and Hawaii Island Humane Societies pair visitors with shelter dogs for day-long field trips. It’s a win-win for both canine and human. The dogs get out of the doghouse and you get a buddy for the day to take on hikes and island adventures.

Need More Miles To Visit Hawaii?

Enjoying all the free things to do in Hawaii is one way to save money. Using miles and points for award flights to Hawaii is another way to save.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase points are some of the best transferable currency to get you to Hawaii. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to multiple airlines for a flight to Hawaii. Here are some of the best offers to accumulate Ultimate Rewards quickly.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is also offering 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening.

Southwest Airlines is another option for using points for flights to Hawaii. Their Rapid Rewards program could be your best bet for getting into the Aloha spirit. If you need to top up your Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards account, here are some offers to consider.

Final Thoughts

For decades, Hawaii has long been a vibrant, exciting, beautiful place to visit. Whether you go once or make it a yearly vacation, you’ll never lack for free things to do in Hawaii. The islands are an affordable, family-friendly tropical destination.  Aloha!

Related Posts:

Where To Drink The Best Coffee in Hawaii

My Favorite Hotel In Waikiki Will Surprise You

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Matti November 23, 2019 - 11:07 pm

Shelli, It is my understanding that Mt Mauna Kea on the big island is closed to visitors due to native Hawaiians refusal to permit the construction of the TMT – thirty meter telescope.

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Shelli November 23, 2019 - 11:28 pm

Great catch, Matti. Thank you. Here’s a link so readers can learn more about what’s happening: https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/content/mauna-kea-what-visitors-should-know

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