An Affordable One-Day Tour of Honolulu

Waikiki, HawaiiWaikiki, Hawaii
Courtesy Kristian Nielsen

This article was written by Kristian Nielsen, the owner of Honolulu HI 5, a Honolulu based real estate agency specializing in Oahu real estate. 

Traveling and sightseeing are wonderful ways to create memories, especially in a place like Hawaii. The problem is that it can be so expensive. With that in mind, we've created a full day for you that can be done on a very affordable budget. Best of all, you'll spend it immersed in the rich history and culture of Hawaii.

We assume this takes place on a Friday and you're using public transportation, however, most of this can be done on any weekday. One Tip: Make traveling easier by downloading the phone app for Hawaii's bus system, The Bus so you can find nearby bus stops, check routes, and have easy access to arrival times.

Get the Day Started

Friday morning! Hungry? Then head over to 2256 Kuhio Ave, the Seaside Bar & Grill, for the best breakfast special in Waikiki. You'll get two pancakes, two bacon strips and two eggs, all for $3.95. Now that you're filled up, let's see some sights!

First, we need to catch The Bus. Kuhio Ave has several stops, but we want one on the North, or Ala Wai, side of the street. Check your Bus app for the closest. Let's catch the #2/School Street, which picks you up at Kuhio and Seaside at 10:01 a.m. Bus fare is $2.50 for adults 18 and over while ages 6 to 17 ride for a mere $1.25. Kids ages five and under are free. Bring proof of age, just in case.

We're going to get off at South Beretania and Punchbowl Streets. If you're unsure, just tell the driver you're going to Iolani Palace. They'll watch out for you. Once there, we cross Beretania St. heading south (towards the Capitol Building) on Punchbowl St. We'll come back to the Capitol later, so keep going and turn right on King St.

Entering the Palace Gates, you can tell immediately that this is a special place. Since we're focused on saving money, we'll skip the interior tour (tickets are $21.75 for adults for a guided tour, $14.75 for adults for a self-guided audio tour, $6 for children ages 5-12; children under age four are not permitted). That's okay, because the outside alone is well worth the trip here. Walk around the grounds, take pictures of this historic and magnificent building, tand imagine Old Hawaii life. The Barracks, found on the west side, has bathrooms as well as a free video that gives you an introduction to the history of the Palace.

Once you've finished here, just walk across King St. to the grand figure presiding over the area. The iconic statue of King Kamehameha is an awe-inspiring sight that's one of the area's must-take photos. The Ali'iolani Hale building behind it is equally stunning, yet another link to Hawaii's royal past. Built in 1874, it currently houses the Hawaii Supreme Court, but you're here to take in the grand architecture inside and out. Those who want even more can visit the Judiciary History Center, also inside, which tells about the building's very significant role throughout the islands' history. The best part: it's all free for you to check out.

Lunch With Music

It's almost lunchtime, but where do we go? Easy. Just a few steps to some of Honolulu's famous food trucks, parked on Mililani St. right beside the building. You'll have two or three choices and they all provide tasty food for $10 or less per person. It's lunch to go, naturally, and that's exactly what we want because we're going back to the Palace grounds by noon.

The Royal Hawaiian Band gives an outdoor concert every Friday at lunchtime at the Palace gazebo. Spread out on the grass, savor your food, and enjoy the sweet, serenading sounds of the islands. Unfortunately, for the purposes of our one-day tour, you'll need to leave before it's over. At 12:35 p.m., we're on our way to the State Capitol, directly behind the Palace. Tours of the Capitol are free, but you must be there at least 10 minutes before the 1 p.m. start. Take the elevators, found in the corner areas, up to the 4th floor and go to room 415 to check in.

After all that walking and sightseeing, it's time for the beach! Our bus stop is at King and Punchbowl Streets, where we'll catch #2/Waikiki back to our home-away-from-home. Head to your hotel for a break or go straight out to the beach. Your choice.

Dinner Time & the Grand Finale

No matter how long you're by the ocean, it's not enough time, but dinner is calling. Waikiki dining can be pricey, but you can still get great food at a great price. One favorite? Marukame Udon at 2310 Kuhio Ave, popular with locals as well, so you know it's good. Get filling noodle dishes and tempura options for as little as $5. There's usually a line, but not to worry, it moves fast.

It's time to cap off this Friday in the greatest possible way. That means the 7:40 p.m. fireworks show put on by Hilton Hawaiian Village. Though you can see it from almost any beach in Waikiki, closer is better. Try the Fort DeRussy sands or even nearer to Hilton Hawaiian Village if possible. It's 10 minutes of world-class sparks and is a beloved weekly event. Don't miss it.

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