20 Secret Bargains of Oahu for Under $10
Aloha, cheapskates! A former kama'aina gives us the lowdown on low deals in Honolulu and environs
Having lived in Hawaii, I know how painful the price of paradise can be. Even for kama'aina (long-term residents), who enjoy 10 to 50 percent off on many goods and services, the island of Oahu is not cheap to enjoy. A generic Waikiki luau is $49, tickets to The Polynesian Cultural Center can be a whopping $54 per person, and the once-free snorkeling spot of Hanauma Bay now charges $3! To save you some dough, I'll divulge these 20 bargain secrets (over half of them free), so your next vacation to the Aloha State is happily affordable.
1. Bond with the band
Over 160 years old (it's gone through a few musicians, mind you), the Royal Hawaiian Band (808/527-5666, royalhawaiianband.com) is one of the last links to Hawaii's royalty, commissioned by King Kamehameha III in 1836. Catch the band for absolutely no charge at the scenic 'Iolani Palace Bandstand (in front of the former royal residence) every Friday at noon, and at the Kapi'olani Bandstand in Kapi'olani Park every Sunday at 2 p.m. Stand up and hula along if you must.
2. Lyon in the tropics
Green thumbs will go gaga at the Lyon Arboretum (808/988-0456, hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum), a research center tucked back in the moist, verdant Manoa Valley, just ten minutes' drive from Waikiki. Hundreds of species of exotic tropical and Hawaii-specific plants are on display to the public for a suggested donation of $2.50, with guided tours included on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m. Be sure to check out the nearby hiking trail to the dream-like Manoa Falls while you're there.
3. Walking Waikiki's past
Learn about Waikiki's history with free guided walking tours offered by the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. The two-hour Queen's Tour takes you around Kapi'olani Park and Queen's Beach, while the Kalia Tour traces the origins of Waikiki, and the home of Olympian swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku. Each tour is at 9 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Info: 808/841-6442 or waikikihistorictrail.com.
4. Free Hollywood movies, Hawaiian-style
If you've never watched a movie outdoors in the warm tropical breeze with gentle waves lapping in the background, here's your chance: Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening "Sunset on the Beach" happens near the Kapahulu Pier in Waikiki. Food booths serve local island treats for under $10, musicians croon Hawaiian melodies, and then a 30-foot screen plays free Hollywood films, with Diamond Head looming in the background. Who could ask for more? Info: 808/523-2489.
5. A fishy auction
The Kewalo Basin, a harbor built in the 1920s between the Honolulu Airport and Waikiki, is the site of The Honolulu Fish Auction every day at 5 a.m. (don't worry, with the time change you'll be waking up early anyway!). Grab your cup o' java and head to the boats hauling out their fresh catch of local fish like mahimahi, ono, and opah. The colorful dickering, often in local pidgin English, is well worth the early-morning effort.
6. Towering Aloha
A Honolulu icon, the Aloha Tower has been greeting guests arriving on cruise ships since 1926. For some of the best views of the city, hop aboard its creaky elevator to the top of the 184-foot structure, all for free. It adjoins the pleasant Aloha Tower Marketplace mall and is open all year long from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
7. Pray in Hawaiian
The New England-style Kawaiahao Church is Honolulu's oldest. Built in the 1800s out of 14,000 hand-quarried coral slabs, it served as the church of the Hawaiian royalty (King Lunalilo has his own impressive mausoleum in the back). The church offers soul-stirring services in Hawaiian and English every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., with songs sung in Hawaiian by a renowned choir (957 Punchbowl St., 808/522-1333).
8. Learn to live life like a Hawaiian
Be sure never to pay for hula, ukulele, or lei-making lessons in Waikiki: The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center (2201 Kalakaua Ave., 808/922-0588) offers all for free! It's located right behind the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the heart of Waikiki. Hula lessons are Mondays and Fridays at 10 a.m. (Ilima Court, third floor); ukulele lessons are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. (Hibiscus Court, first floor); lei-making lessons are Mondays and Wednesdays at 11 a.m. (Orchid Court, third floor).
9. Lei it on, for a song
Honolulu's Chinatown is the real thing, with noodle shops, herbalists, and storefronts looking like they haven't had a makeover for a century or so. Amid all the color is Maunakea Street, which could be called Lei Lane with its rows of flower shops and elderly ladies stringing garlands in open doorways. What would be a $20 lei at the airport will only cost you a few bucks here. Call Cindy's Lei Shoppe (1034 Maunakea St., 808/536-6538), and they can even deliver leis costing as little as $4 right to your curbside car door (since parking is tight in Chinatown).