Budget Travel

The very best things you can do free of charge in Hawaii

As one of the most isolated inhabited archipelagos on the planet – mainland landfalls tend to be more than 2000 miles in either direction – it's rarely cheap to get to Hawaii, let alone to check off must-do bucket-list items over the state. Yet here in the land of aloha, free attractions, activities and events abound – that's, knowing where to look.

You've determined which Hawaiian island is right for you so when to visit; now, here are our top tips to save money on fabulous sights and experiences during your trip. Continue reading for the best free things to complete within the state.

Sunbathe at Pohoiki, the world's newest natural beach

When Kilauea Volcano's Fissure 8 opened in May 2022 and began pouring lava into neighborhoods around the Big Island, it was the state's most destructive volcanic event in the recent past. However with destruction comes creation, and also the eruption's silver lining was undoubtedly the black-sand Pohoiki Beach, which accurately burst to the scene at Isaac Hale Beach Park when molten lava hit the ocean and shattered instantly into sand. It is the world's newest natural beach, and it is glistening, palm-fringed black curve is stunning.

Take a totally free ukulele lesson

Though the ukulele's origins are actually Portuguese – its precursor was through immigrant workers to Hawaii's sugar plantations within the 19th century – there's no denying the instrument's importance around the island.

Beginners may take free classes on O'ahu, at the Ukulele Store in the Waikiki Beach Walk; on Maui, at Lahaina Cannery Mall; and through the weekly kanikapila (jam session) around the Big island of hawaii of Hawai'i, at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park's visitor center.

Go whale watching without leaving dry land

Each year between November and March, some 20,000 humpback whales arrive from cold Alaskan waters to mate and give birth. Great free vantages for normal whale shows include atop the mile-long trail toward the 1909 Makapu'u Point Lighthouse on O'ahu; at Pu'u Ola'i – a more than 350ft-tall cinder cone in Makena State Park on Maui and from the free-to-enter Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site on Hawai'i.

See a cliff-diving ceremony at Pu'u Keka'a

Though Ka'anapali's 30ft-high Pu'u Keka'a promontory was historically thought to be a ka leina a ka 'uhane, or a place of transition from this world to another, 18th-century Maui chief Kahekili proved it had been also a good way to cliff jump.

Today the site – primarily referred to as Black Rock – fronts the Sheraton Maui, and every evening at sunset, the hotel hosts a ceremony in which a runner scales the cliff to the sounds of the oli (chant), lights torches along the path, then gracefully dives into the sea.

Go stargazing – and find out silverswords too – at Maunakea

Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to stargaze, and perhaps no spot is better than Maunakea's summit, the place to find a collective of 12 international observatories. However, you don't need those ultra-strong telescopes to determine spectacular night skies – the views from the 9200ft-high visitor information station are plenty impressive.

(And locals think about the summit sacred, so you're best staying with lower latitudes anyway.) We recommend sticking with among the tour companies approved by the visitor information station itself, particularly if planning for a nighttime ascent.

Keep an eye out for occasional after-hours events, when astronomy enthusiasts from the community setup powerful telescopes on the cement pad while watching visitor center. There are also free presentations going through the cultural significance from the sacred mountain to the Hawaiian people, along with a short loop hike you can take to begin to see the spiky, endemic and endangered Maunakea silversword plants.

Explore marine areas on Maui and the Big Island

Few can click on Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the biggest marine-protected area on earth, spanning nearly 140,000 sq miles of ocean round the uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But you can visit it in spirit at its Mokupapapa Discover Center, housed within an old two-story bank in downtown Hilo. Watch videos, learn about plastic pollution, explore a little library and see fish – including a new species discovered in 2022 – within the 3500-gallon aquarium.

Travel back in time at Lapakahi State Historical Park

Wander along a 1-mile path through the rubble of the 600-year-old fishing village. 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. Don't forget to grab a brochure in the trailhead explaining the websites.

Tour a macadamia-nut factory on the Big Island

Hawaii Island grows 90% from the state's crop there are so many macadamia nut purveyors, a tourism brochure touts stops on the Great Hawaiian Mac Nut Trail. Have a free self-guided tour of one of the largest, Mauna Loa, just outside Hilo. There you can see sprawling orchards, learn to shell the tough-to-crack nuts and tour the onsite chocolate factory before getting your fill of free product samples.

Take a shelter dog out for any good time

A feel-good freebie (sorta): the Kaua'i and Hawaii Island Humane Societies have programs that pair visitors with shelter dogs for day-long field trips. It's a win-win – they get free from the doghouse, and you get a furry buddy to take on hikes and island adventures. Both the Kaua'i and Hawaii Island Humane Societies request a donation ($40 and $25, respectively) during the time of pickup, so the experience is technically not free. But the funds counterbalance the price of running the program and visit a good cause.

Go hunting for petroglyphs on Hawai'i

Spot enigmatic ki'i pohaku (petroglyphs) depicting people, animals, ships and even muskets across the boardwalk inside the free-to-enter Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, an old traditional village. Further north, in Waikoloa, an even more massive array of carvings are available – Waikoloa Petroglyph Park is easy to access, and Puako Petroglyph Preserve has another 3000 carvings.

See art across the archipelago

Popular global art event POW! WOW! peppers Honolulu's Kaka'ako neighborhood with an annually changing array of always-free-to-see street art. The excellent Honolulu Museum of Art and hidden gem Spalding House, a haven for contemporary art, have been recognized to open their doors free of charge once a month, often with themed events and activities for the entire family.

Take a stroll through the lava trees

Lava swept through a native ohia forest in 1790, pooling at the base of trees before igniting them, abandoning stony stumps. At Lava Tree State Monument, you are able to take an easy .6-mile path through the forests' modern iteration to see lush jungle growing within the older tree mold casts.

Visit the Kukaniloko birthing stones in O'ahu

Just south from the sprawling Dole pineapple plantation, in the heart of an unassuming dusty red field in central O'ahu, there's a substantial archeological site featuring 180 lava-rock stones, atop which Hawaiian royal women gave birth for seven centuries. Their name, Kukaniloko, means “to anchor the cry from inside,” and from their store, it's possible to make out the form of a reclining pregnant woman in the profile of the westerly Waianae Mountains.

Learn about coffee inside a less-expected location

Hawaii is one of just two US states to commercially grow coffee (California to be the other), and Kona, around the west side from the Big island of hawaii, is undoubtedly its best-known growing region. More than 600 farms grow Kona coffee, and dozens offer free tours and tastings.

More interesting, perhaps, would be the growers elsewhere within the state, trying to make unique blends with their own terroir. The Ka'u Coffee Mill, in a district just south of Kona, has excellent farm and factory tours in addition to tastings. On O'ahu, Waialua Estate focuses on small-batch crops of coffee and chocolate; it's a working farm and doesn't allow visits, however, you can sample the wares at Island X Hawaii, right through the former sugar mill. (Ask owners for any quick tour to listen to by pointing out milling process.)

And huge Kauai Coffee Company has a lot more than four million trees – comprising 60 percent of the state's entire crop – and complimentary walking tours of its grounds. Before or after your stroll, visit the visitors center, where you can taste each and every variety the estate provides.

You may also like