Whoever said nothing in life comes free has obviously never experienced the numerous (and thrifty) thrills that the island of Oʻahu offers. From paradisaical public parks and dazzling firework displays to an open-air cinema under the stars, enjoying your time on Oʻahu doesn’t have to break your budget, and in these Hawaiian havens, you really don’t have to pay to play.
Cost-efficient community yoga
Break a sweat – not your budget – under the sun at Courtyard Yoga. Hosted by Honolulu’s Ward Village, taking advantage of this free community yoga class will give you the chance to reset your mind, restore your spirit, and most importantly, retain the green that’s in your wallet. Think of it as economical enlightenment for the cost-effective inclined.
Budget-friendly beacons of light
Next up, take a hike, literally. The Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail epitomizes the perfect marriage of great views and fresh air, but without all the mud, dirt, and 4-wheel driving that comes with most Hawaii hikes. Located just a hop, skip and a jump from Honolulu, the trail is a roughly 2-mile, smoothly paved nature path accessible for all, including parents with stroller-cruising kiddos. And the best part? Waiting at the top of the steady ascent is Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse, one of Hawaii’s most familiar landmarks, along with a million-dollar view that doesn’t cost a dime.
Windward botanical gardens
Oʻahu’s east side boasts one of the most beautiful tropical oases in the entire Aloha State, Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneʻohe. Here, amid 400 acres of lush verdant land, native Hawaiian plants flourish, and the glimmering waters of a 32-acre lake sets a stunning scene. With no entry fee, numerous nature trails, camping on the weekends and an educational visitor center, this public property is a proverbial Hawaiian playground. Set aside a day and bring the whole family, and if you and the keiki (children) love fishing, come on a weekend, when the Gardens hosts a catch-and-release program, providing bamboo poles with barbless hooks – all you have to do is bring the bait.
Stunning sacred temples
Equally magical is Oʻahu’s Byōdō-In Temple and the lush grounds surrounding it. Tucked away in Kahaluʻu’s Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, which is itself nestled at the foot of the captivating Koʻolau Mountain Range, the cherished sacred landmark is a newer, and smaller-scale, replica of the ancient one that exists in Uji, Japan. Built in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to the islands, the temple is open to the public and welcomes people of all faiths to come and embrace the peaceful and special spirit that resides here. While visiting, enjoy a picnic on the property, filled with a large reflecting pond, quiet meditation enclaves and mini waterfall features. There is no cost for roaming the park gardens, and should you wish to tour inside the temple itself, the nominal entry fee of $3 won’t be too painful, even for the staunchest penny-pinchers.
Friday night fun
If you like good food, great art and hobnobbing with a diverse group of locals, visitors and a healthy handful of hipsters, First Fridays is right up your alley. Held every first Friday of the month, this street festival takes over the happening enclave of Honolulu’s Chinatown, as galleries and other art venues swing wide their doors for an evening filled with artist receptions, live music and entertainment, and of course, ono grinds (Hawaiian for delicious eats). The free festivities kick off around 5pm and stretch well into the night, with the official event ending at 9 p.m., but the revelry and fun lasts as long as your eyelids will allow – because last call at the local restaurants and bars lining the block isn't until the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Dazzling firework displays
An explosion of rainbow colors and light – not of expense – the Friday night Waikiki Beach fireworks show, hosted weekly by Hilton Hawaiian Village, delivers a dazzling display for all those visiting the islands to enjoy. And while taking in the iridescent array of pops, sizzles and bangs is absolutely free of charge for beachside spectators, the resort does also offer a pre-fireworks ticketed event, The Rockin’ Hawaiian Rainbow Revue. A fun theatrical show featuring music, torch lighting, hula dancing and more, it is decidedly not free, but a nice option should you want to up the ante a bit.
A cinema under the stars
Blessed with good weather and cool evenings, Oʻahu is the perfect place to catch an alfresco cinematic experience. Entertainment is offered under the stars at Ward Village’s Courtyard Film Series, where each month, Ward Village hosts a full-on, family-friendly outdoor theatrical event, for free! Imagine those super-fun drive-in movies of past generations, but instead of cars, picture chaise lounges, complimentary popcorn, and Hawaii International Film Festival-curated flicks. Past movie picks have included everything from fascinating surf documentaries and foreign independent films to cult classics and even mainstream favorites.