10 Free Activities to Do in Honolulu in 2024

Rainbow over Honolulu, Hawaii.

10 Free Activities in Honolulu

by Suzanne G., Updated January 20, 2024

Waikiki’s picture-perfect scenery and sandy beaches may be what draw visitors to Oahu, but it is neighboring Honolulu that is the social and cultural hub of the island. In fact, many visitors are not even aware that the city is home to a rich cultural heritage and diverse culinary and art scenes. In Honolulu, you can explore vibrant neighborhoods, visit historic landmarks, and immerse yourself in the local customs and traditions in a way that is not possible in Waikiki. 

The best part about exploring Honolulu is that many of the things to see and do are completely free. Whether you are interested in exploring the outdoors or immersing yourself in the cultural history of Hawaii, there are many opportunities to explore Honolulu without spending a lot of money. 

The following list highlights the ten best free activities in Honolulu, so you can see and experience this historic and vibrant city without breaking the bank. 

  1. Visit Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor is one of the most historically significant places in Hawaii and the most visited. Although it is a somber place, a visit is a must for most travelers. The Pearl Harbor National Memorial museums and grounds are free. This includes a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is only accessible by boat. Reservations for the ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial are encouraged, with a $1 reservation fee, but you can also wait on standby for free. Note: While three museums inside the greater Pearl Harbor Complex charge admission fees, everything managed by the National Park Service is free. 
  1. Pay your respects at Punchbowl Cemetary. Officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Punchbowl is a memorial to all who have served in the United States Armed Forces, and those who have lost their lives while doing so. It is the final resting place for more than 30,000 soldiers. The cemetery is located inside Punchbowl Crater, a now dormant volcano that overlooks Honolulu. Not only are the memorial grounds themselves quite beautiful and peaceful but you’ll also find stunning views of Waikiki and Diamond Head Crater from this vantage point.  
  1. Explore Chinatown. Honolulu’s Chinatown is not one of the largest, but it is one of the oldest in the United States. The district features many historic buildings that are home to an assortment of jewelry shops, antique dealers, herbalists, lei-makers, restaurants, and temples. You can explore the vendor stalls at the Maunakea Marketplace or the Oahu Market. Be sure to try one of Chinatown’s many great restaurants and bakeries, including a few James Beard winners. Note: Although Chinatown is the epicenter of an emerging food and art scene, some areas are a bit shabby and there is a large homeless population in the area. While locals will often discourage tourists from visiting at night, most consider it perfectly safe during the daytime.   
  1. Check out the trendy Kaka’ako neighborhood. Known for street art, modern architecture, and unique shops and restaurants, Kaka’ako is the cool part of town. SALT is a vibrant shopping center located in Kaka’ako. Here you’ll find many boutiques and restaurants, including the Highway Inn, which is the local favorite for Hawaiian food. Kaka’ako also hosts a Saturday morning farmer’s market featuring many food stalls and artisan crafts.
  1. See the Queen Liliuokalani mural. One of Honolulu’s largest and most beautiful murals is of Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. It’s located in the Kapalama neighborhood in downtown Honolulu, near the Honolulu Community College. 
  1. Take a photo of the King Kamehameha statue. The 18-foot bronze statue of Hawaii’s great unifier and first monarch stands outside the Ali’iolani Hale, home of the Hawaii State Supreme Court. The statue is often adorned with wreaths or flower leis to commemorate special occasions. First and foremost of these is King Kamehameha I Day in June, where celebrations are held throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
  1. See the ‘Iolani Palace. The only palace found in the U.S. is located right across the street from the King Kamehameha statue. It was the former residence of Hawaii’s last two monarchs and is a national historic landmark. Though the style was heavily influenced by European architecture, the building itself was cutting-edge at the time. The palace boasted modern amenities like electric lights, flush toilets, and a house telephone long before this was a common practice. The White House did not even have these amenities until four years later! Note: You can walk around the grounds for free, but touring the interior costs $20.
  1. Visit Hawaii’s unique state capital building. Conveniently located right behind the palace. Although built in a modern ‘Hawaiian international architecture’ style, its unique design features and use of symbolism make it stand out. The building is surrounded by reflecting pools, symbolizing the Pacific Ocean. Although the reflecting pools are currently undergoing a renovation project, you can still walk through the open-air rotunda and peer through viewing windows into the legislative chambers.  
  1. See the Aloha Tower & Honolulu Harbor. The Aloha Tower is a retired lighthouse and local Honolulu landmark. It overlooks Honolulu Harbor and has greeted incoming ships for almost a decade. After snapping a few pictures of the Aloha Tower, you can also walk along the harborfront, enjoy the amazing view, and check out any cruise ships that might happen to be in port. The Aloha Tower is also a great place to end an afternoon tour of Honolulu and attend either the Ka Moana Luau or the Star of Honolulu Dinner Cruise, which are both located at the Aloha Tower.   
Ships line the pier at Honolulu Harbor.
Ships line the Honolulu harborfront next to the Aloha Tower.
  1. Street fairs, festivals, and parades. Fun, festive, and often free, special events are some of the best free activities in Honolulu to explore the city. Check the events calendar and see what’s happening while you’re in town.

Bonus: Nearly Free Activities in Honolulu

  1. Foster Botanical Garden. This 14-acre oasis in the middle of downtown Honolulu is home to over 4,000 species of tropical plants and features a butterfly garden, unique trees, and a small arboretum. It is the oldest of the five botanical gardens located on Oahu. Admission is just $5/person.
  2. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace. Hawaii’s largest open-air market is held in the Aloha Stadium parking lot three days a week (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday). With over 400 vendors you’ll find a bit of everything: food, souvenirs, jewelry, antiques, and more. Shop where the locals shop and enjoy some of the lowest prices around. Admission is $2/person.

Many of the activities above are stops on the Waikiki Trolley’s hop-on-hop-off tours. Click here for more information!

Aloha sign at the Local Motion surf shop in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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