A visit to Waikiki doesn’t have to break the bank; there are many fun activities that are a frugal traveler’s dream come true. After 38 visits to the islands, I came up with a short list of must-do activities that are budget friendly.
The first bargain is the public bus. Seniors and disabled visitors can get a yearly pass for only $30. For shorter stays, the senior ID card costs $10, and a monthly pass sticker costs only $5. The regular fare costs only $2.50, which is steal when used for a sightseeing trip around Oahu on route 52 Wahiawa Circle Isle, Route 55 Kaneohe Circle Isle, or 88A North Shore Express.
Hawaii locals have a fast-food concept called “plate lunch” which includes a meat, scoops of rice, and macaroni salad. Our favorite food stand for plate lunch is Rainbow Drive-in, known for excellent BBQ, mahi mahi, chili dogs, and more. It is easy to reach, located at the Diamond Head end of the Ala Wai Golf Course. Further up the road is Leonard’s Bakery, a great place to buy “malasadas” (a sort of fluffy donut with yummy fillings). Although loaded with sugar, these pastries really should be included in your Waikiki visit.
If you like to play the credit card signup bonus games, getting a Wyndham Rewards visa will net you 45,000 Wyndham points; when redeemed for “cash plus points” at Ramada Plaza Waikiki, you will get low nightly rates that haven’t been seen in Waikiki for over 30 years. The Ramada Plaza is the perfect hotel for people who love value. There is no resort fee, the bus stops right in front of the hotel, and the Hilton Hawaiian Village is right across the street, where you will see free fireworks every Friday night. The Ramada is handicap-friendly, with fast elevators and king rooms that accommodate a mobility scooter. Mini-fridges, microwaves, and laptop-size safes are standard in every room. Around the corner from the hotel is an IHOP; the concierge has 10% discount cards for IHOP, and the free tourist coupon books have a 15% coupon for the restaurant. If you purchase an electronic gift card for IHOP from Raise, you will save another 25% or so. I love the staff at the Ramada; they are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The Sales Director, Wendy Barros, told us new surprises are in store for future guests as they transition to their new Ramada brand. Previously, the hotel was branded as a Holiday Inn, and the buses still refer to the property that way. Barros is creating new romance packages for young visitors seeking value and a memorable stay.
Two blocks away from the Ramada is an ocean-front lounge called The Charthouse. On Friday nights they offer wonderfully-priced happy hour appetizers and drinks. The escargot, fried shrimp, and calamari are particularly great bargains during happy hour. You will find other Waikiki happy hour bargains at HappyHourPal.com, such as beer for $1 and $2 tacos.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday there are free hula shows on the beach across from the Hyatt Regency. These are excellent shows, lasting an hour each. At the Waikiki Beach Walk near Trump Tower, there are free hula shows on Tuesdays, and concerts on Sundays. There are over 800 free performances held yearly on center stage at Ala Moana Center, including a daily hula show at 1 pm. The center also has a food court where you can buy meals at reasonable prices and take them across the street to Ala Moana Park for a memorable picnic.
Consider getting a Discover, Citi Dividends, for Chase Freedom credit card; these cards offer a 5% rebate on targeted purchases. The categories change each quarter, and include expenditures such as dining, hotel, gas, rental cars, etc. My computer died while on my most recent trip, so I used my Chase Freedom card at Sam’s Club to buy a new one, and got the 5% rebate on the purchase.
If you are seeking a fun souvenir, visit the area grocery store, Don Quijote, and buy some pineapples to take back home. When on sale, you should be able to get a pineapple for a dollar or so. The great news is you can take a box of pineapples as part of your check-in luggage on flights back to the mainland absolutely free on Alaska, Delta, United, and American Airlines. You do not have to buy pre-packaged pineapples or use any special kind of box; just pack them well and before you give the box to the airline, run it through the scanner at the agriculture inspection booth.
For other souvenir purchases, take a bus out to the Aloha Stadium on the weekend, where you will find crazy bargains on suitcases, t-shirts, and millions of trinkets. Called a “swap meet,” this colorful flea market costs $1 per person to enter, however, there are coupons in the free coupon books found throughout Waikiki for buy one get one free admission.
A couple of bus stops away from Aloha Stadium is Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial; the official name is World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Oahu. There were 6 military bases bombed; Wheeler Airfield was the first, followed with attacks on installations at Kaneohe, Hickam, Pearl Harbor, Ewa, and Bellows. Pearl Harbor is the most well-known site of the attack. The national monument at Pearl Harbor is totally free to visit, and includes multiple exhibits, a film about the invasion, and a boat trip over to the USS Arizona.
Monday through Saturday, the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center hosts a variety of free entertainment, including mini shows from Legends in Concert, Polynesian Cultural Center, lei making and ukulele lessons, and Hawaiian storytelling. Behind the center is the iconic Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a favorite of Shirley Temple, where the eponymous mocktail was created. It is worth exploring for its sheer beauty; free history tours are held Tuesday and Thursday at 1 pm. After enjoying the pink palace, plan to visit the elegant Moana Surfrider Hotel and take one of its free guided tours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 am, meeting in the Historical Room on the 2nd floor of the Banyan Wing.
The Honolulu Museum of Art is considered one of the best small museums in the country. It houses a collection that includes Hokusai, van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso, and Warhol, as well as traditional Asian and Hawaiian art. Admission is free on the first Wednesday of every month.
Do not rent a car for more than one day at a time, because parking is limited in Waikiki and extremely expensive. If you rent from Hertz, you can drop off your car as late at 9 pm at the Hyatt Regency so you do not incur an overnight parking fee. Ask for their free Oahu Drive Guide, given out with each rental. The magazine has many coupons, such as free admission to the Polynesian Cultural Center and Sea Life Park.
A vacation in Waikiki can be extremely expensive, but if you play your cards right, a smart visitor can make their visit pleasantly reasonable. Plan your trip several months ahead so you have plenty of time to research how you will spend your stay in paradise. Best of luck, and aloha.
All photos within article © Linda Hohnholz