Honolulu: Tips for cheap hotels, restaurants, and activities

Hawaii, with its miles of reef and beaches, cliffs, mountain tops, jungles and welcoming people, is a fantastic choice for an island getaway. Even more so is Honolulu, the city in the center of it all. Here you’ll find a beautiful, thriving town dripping in culture and graced with beautiful island weather year round. Unfortunately, what you may also find is a vacation overflowing with high prices.

But, with careful pre-trip planning, you can find some greats deals out there. Below, to help set you on the right track, we’ve complied a summary of Honolulu budget tips. These tips should help you to be able to enjoy every aspect of this amazing ocean side city while letting you leave with some money still in your wallet.

When to visit Honolulu

Though Honolulu, let alone Hawaii, experiences great weather throughout the year, there are slight variations from month to month. Hawaii itself has two seasons, summer and winter. During summer (May to October) you’ll find that temperatures rise a bit but often settle in the high 80s during the day and low 70s at night. This is the time of year to jump in the water and snorkel till your hearts content as the waves are calm and the currents less aggressive.

Winter changes things up a bit with temperatures dropping into the low 80s during the day and sometimes into the mid 60s at night. If you love to surf or bodyboard, then this is the best time to visit as the waves come rolling in. In fact, winter is Hawaii’s surfing season and coincidentally, Honolulu’s peak tourist season.

There are three hotel seasons on the island and due to Honolulu’s vast popularity, visitors will see a noticeable price (nightly rate) change during those seasons. If you don’t mind paying top dollar then visiting during the winter, Honolulu’s peak season, will give you privy to surfing competitions, festivals, expanded farmers markets, flea markets and more. For the budget seekers, May through August (low season), will be your best bet as you’ll have the opportunity to be afforded lower hotel rates at high star locations either right on the beach or a short walk away. Most people agree that the best time to visit the city however, is during shoulder season (September to November) when temperatures, hotel rates and airline prices mix together quite nicely.

Cheaper hotels or hostels in Honolulu

There are lots of different hotels to choose from, all ranging in price and style. Generally, during all times of the year, the most expensive ones will either be on the beach or very close to. The further you travel from the main beaches, the lower the nightly rate.

The main tourist hub of the city is none other than the famed Waikiki. Here you’ll find resort after resort all offering beach access and activities galore. If you truly want to stay in this area, it’s best to travel during the shoulder season or the low season as prices will be much more reasonable. Avoid winter at all costs as not only do the prices skyrocket, but the crowds as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is the use of hostels, or in this case, not using hostels. When most people think of budget travel, they picture lower end hotels and hostels. On Oahu, and especially in Honolulu, you won’t find many low end hotels but what you will find are a few hostels. Unfortunately, these hostels are not a good idea. Often cramped and unkept, Honolulu hostels are extremely basic at a high price. You’re better off reserving a room at a nice hotel nearby as you’ll find that the price difference isn’t much at all and you’ll feel safer with more personal space to relax.

Restaurants for cheap eats in Honolulu

Just like hotels, the closer to the beach, the more expensive the restaurant. Most of the time, over everything else, when dining near the beach you’re paying for the view. This is great to do one night of your vacation, but isn’t a good idea if you’re dining on a smaller budget.

Most of the time, you’ll find that many of the restaurants serve similar, if not the same dishes. The only time you’ll really notice a difference is during certain festival weekends or holidays when individual restaurants alter their menu accordingly.

If you love a good sized meal for breakfast or lunch, check out a restaurant offering a buffet ‘brunch’. These are pretty popular along the beaches, especially Waikiki, and generally run for about $15 to $20. Not only will you get to eat as much as you want, but you’ll get the chance to enjoy the Pacific trades winds and a beach setting- make sure to bring your camera.

Love dessert? Skip the dessert menu and instead opt for a shave ice. This treat will give you a sugar rush that will last for hours while keeping the bulk of your money in place. The key to shave ice is to avoid tourist stands on the beach next to big resorts and instead visit one of the many local shops available. This will save you a good $2 or so per ice. Another good option are the locally praised bubble teas. Usually these refreshing drinks are served at the same stand or restaurant as shave ice and are a good choice for those seeking a more ‘exotic’ treat. Bubble teas generally run in the $3 to $6 price range, depending on what stand you visit.

Activities in Honolulu

There are many different activities to be enjoyed on the island, but you don’t have to venture outside of Honolulu to experience all of them. In fact, if you’re not renting a car during your trip, or at least during your stay in Honolulu, you’ll be able to find many different cheap activities that are either in walking distance or near public bus stops.

For those who love window shopping, you’ll find hours and hours of that available on the main strips of Kalakaua and Kuhio Avenues. Just be cautious and avoid the nearby ABC stores for your water and soda fills as you’ll easily pay a dollar or more per drink compared to other stores.

If you’re traveling with little ones or are a big kid yourself, make sure to take a trip the the Honolulu Zoo. Here you’ll find animals of all kinds, some local while most from different countries. For those who love sea life, the Waikiki Aquarium is a great choice. Though the aquarium itself is rather small, there are lots of fish to view, making for a great hour or two spent with the little ones. Adult tickets are $13 a person while kids get in for $5 each.

If you’re looking for a bit of culture, make sure to visit the Bishop Museum where you’ll learn more about Hawaii and its people. Admission is $20 per adult. If you’re looking for more even culture, consider visiting the Hawaii Theater, the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives or the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Even though admission prices are low, a great way to save even more on both activities in and out of Honolulu is the Go Oahu Card, a discount pass specially formatted to save money on Oahu attractions.

And if all else fails, visit the beach! Beaches are free and can keep you busy for hours with tanning, snorkeling and swimming. There are numerous snorkel rentals shops as well if you don’t have your own gear. If you’re looking for something a little more extrmee there are tons of surfing lessons available as well as paddle boarding options. Sometimes you’ll even find a little live music, great for before or after dinner.

Budget recap

As you can see, Honolulu doesn’t have to cost an adsorbent amount. Of course you’ll be sad when you have to leave, but not because of an empty wallet. With some good planning and an open mind, you can skip the heavy prices and still enjoy everything that Honolulu has to offer. Just remember that hotels near the beach cost more per night, as do restaurants per meal. The time of year you visit WILL affect the price of your hotel and airplane ticket and that there are activities galore available right in the city. And in the end, there is always the beach. After all, isn’t that why you’re visiting?

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