The Frugal Guide to Hawaii

Hawaii Expedition and Adventure

The Frugal Guide to Hawaii

Believe it or not, just because you’re traveling to a tropical paradise doesn’t mean you have to drop bushels of bucks to have a good time here. Once you’ve identified the tours and activities you want to embark on—like a ziplining experience at Kualoa Ranch or a night swim with manta rays—you can actually enjoy your time in Hawaii on a budget without sacrificing the thrill of being in such a beautiful place.

Whether you’re traveling to Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island, there are more than enough activities to keep the enjoyment of your vacation flowing without breaking the bank – and you may be surprised how many of them can be all-day excursions.

Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which encompasses the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the USS Arizona Memorial, is an in-depth experience that takes you back to December 7th, 1941, when a Japanese fleet flew into Pearl Harbor and mounted a surprise assault on the naval base.

Within the Visitor Center, guests explore the “Road to War” and “Attack!” exhibits, which detail the events leading up to Japan’s decision to attack and the attack itself through artifacts, relics, and newspaper clippings from the time.

A visit to the Valor in the Pacific National Monument is a trip through time accented by one of America’s most poignant memorials, to the USS Arizona and the 1,177 men who died when she sank.


The Diamond Head Hike

View from the top of Diamond Head

Every trip to Oahu should include an excursion through the natural beauty of the island. One of its most striking features is the Diamond Head Crater, a 700’-tall towering natural wonder formed by explosive volcanic activity over 200,000 years ago.

Diamond Head is one of the island’s most sought-after hikes, a trail that scales the side of the mountainous formation and finishes at its summit. Panoramic views and a sense of accomplishment await at the very top, and thanks to a nominal fee for entry, can be conquered at a very reasonable cost.



Botanical Beauty

Guided Botanical Garden Walking Tour
Botanical Garden trail

Home to some of the world’s most stunning plant life, it’s no wonder there’s a multitude of botanical gardens spread across the four main islands. Oahu alone has five incredible natural displays that are either free or have a very low cost of admission. Beyond Oahu, Maui has the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, the Big Island is home to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, and Kauai presents guests with Smith’s Tropical Paradise.

All of these are affordable options that open up the wondrous natural beauty of our islands. If you’re looking to explore the deepest reaches of the islands, there’s no better place to start than at one of these gardens.





Explore Kauai’s Royal Coconut Coast

Explore Kauai’s Royal Coconut Coast

There’s something about this Kauai location that just makes it sound like an incredible vacation spot. Exotic name aside, it really is one of the most recommended tourist destinations, whether you decide to stay in the area or just explore its sunny coastline at some point during your stay on Kauai.

The Royal Coconut Coast is the complete Hawaiian package, providing a list of fun activities, great food, and if you’re feeling in the mood for a story or two, some fascinating history. Take a day out of your Kauai vacation and head over to the Coconut Coast, located on the eastern edge of the island, facing a beautiful stretch of nothing but crystal blue water.

So much awaits you along the Royal Coconut Coast that we’ll just dive right into the best of it! You decide which parts you have time for and which you don’t.

Sleeping Giant

Royal Coconut Coast
Sleeping Giant, Kauai

If you’re looking for a hike in a lush environment of dense greenery, then Sleeping Giant should be on your schedule. This mountainous formation is home to one of the island’s greatest trails, Nounou Mountain Trail. A favorite among locals and tourists alike, the trail will take you deep into the island’s wilderness up to the summit of Sleeping Giant for a spectacular view.




Ke Ala Hele Makalae

Ke Ala Hele Makalae Hike/Bike Trail, Kauai

Travelers looking for a casual experience will love Ke Ala Hele Makalae. This walking/bike path takes you up and down the Royal Coconut Coast for a self-guided tour of the natural beauty all around. Cruise or stroll past sandy beaches as you ride the length of the path. Simply enjoy the scenery and the beautiful weather or stop off on the coast for a quick refreshing dip in the refreshing blue water.




Enjoy the Thrills

Like many locations on Kauai, the Royal Coconut Coast is full of exciting and adventurous activities to keep you busy. You can hop on the back of a majestic steed and ride up the coast, or take to the water with kayaking or SCUBA diving. If you want to test your skills on the waves coming in, rent a stand-up paddleboard and test your balance above a wondrous world of blue.

Oahu: The Gathering Place

Oahu: The Gathering Place

The world knows the Hawaiian island chain’s third-largest island as Oahu, but throughout its history, the popular tourist destination has been known by another moniker – The Gathering Place. Maybe a peculiar name when you first hear it, but take a look back through the island’s lengthy history and diverse culture and it all comes together.

If you’ve been to the Polynesian Cultural Center, which happens to be on Oahu’s northeastern shore, you know that the customs and traditions of the islands have been influenced by cultures all across the Pacific. Though Hawaii seems to be all by itself in the middle of the Pacific, that didn’t stop people from navigating across the cobalt blue waters.

The Gathering Place
Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu

Responsible for giving the islands their rich culture are people indigenous to Fiji, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Samoa, incredible lands of the Pacific that are rich with their own unforgettable traditions. When you think of the number of people from the many different lands who have settled in Oahu, it’s no wonder it earned itself the name of “The Gathering Place.”

In fact, that’s precisely where the nickname came from: the diverse population of people who came to Oahu to settle in and call the island home. As “The Gathering Place,” Oahu is not only a place rich in culture, it’s a place that abounds with activities that allow people to come together and keep the nickname alive.

Where to Gather for a Good Time

Want to see the diversity of Oahu in action?

The Polynesian Cultural Center hosts a Hawaiian luau that is considered one of the best across all the islands. From the moment you arrive to the very last performance in the Polynesian-style entertainment line-up, the Ali’i Luau is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Traditional Luau Food

This impressive display of Hawaiian culture features a spread of food to make your mouth water, a table filled with local flavors pulled straight from Hawaii’s land, fished from the deep Pacific, and picked from the towering foliage. Robust and flavorful dishes like lomilomi salmon, poke, and as the main course, tender, slow cooked pork prepared in the old Polynesian way.

The imu ceremony, a traditional unearthing of the pork, which is steamed in an underground oven known as an imu, is one of those traditions that brings people together. It may not be a large, boisterous celebration, but the ceremony draws people in, who gather around and watch the uncovering.

The fun continues with Polynesian entertainment, which brings diverse people together to experience the various musical and dance traditions of the islands. Just as Oahu’s nickname promises, the island truly is The Gathering Place, drawing in travelers of all backgrounds with its authentic offerings, such as the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Ali’i Luau.

The US National Park Service in Hawaii

Beautiful Kauai Coastline

The US National Park Service in Hawaii

When the first foreign explorers had the extraordinary opportunity to witness Hawaii’s snow-capped mountains, fiery volcanoes, colorful reefs, and dramatic shorelines, they knew they had found a rare ecological treasure. Hardly any other place welcomes its visitors with such extravagant sights as the lush green jungle, deep ocean, gentle slopes, fertile valleys, and magnificent peaks together in such a small area. Hawaii owes its unusual ecological aspects to its isolated location and its geographical features. Far away from any other land, the islands developed their own eco-system, unlike any other on the planet. Active volcanoes and mineral rich seas contributed to the creation of this beautiful land.

No wonder it didn’t take long for the National Park Service to discover this tropical gem and give it the special protection to preserve it for future visitors to enjoy. Even before Hawaii became a state of the USA, the active volcano Kilauea and the area surrounding it were already managed under the wings of the newly-established National Park Service in 1916.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Deluxe Volcano Experience
Kilauea Caldera

Lorrin Thurston, the publisher of the Honolulu Pacific Commercial Advertiser, was one of the first westerners to thoroughly explore the Big Island volcanoes. Together with Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, he tried to establish the volcanic landscapes as a national park for many years. Even though Kilauea had long become a famous tourist attraction, they met strong opposition from the Big Island ranchers. With the help of naturalist John Muir and former President Theodore Roosevelt, they finally succeeded and founded the National Park on August 1st, 1916. Dr. Jaggar established and became the first director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

What is now the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was the 11th national park in the United States and the first one established in a territory. Back in 1916 there was only one park in Hawaii, called “Hawaii National Park,” including the peak of Mauna Loa and long-extinguished volcano Haleakala on the island of Maui. After Hawaii became a state in 1959, Haleakala became its own National Park and until today is one of the most visited destination in the islands.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

National Park Service
Kalaupapa National Historical Park

The barren volcanic landscapes, unique ecosystems and dynamic coastlines are a real treat for any visitor to Hawaii, but the islands have much more to offer than just their natural wonders. Underlying some of today’s most popular tourist destinations is a rich history and an ancient culture that’s very different from the other states. One relic from the time when Hawaii was still a Polynesian kingdom is Kalaupapa National Historical Park. This isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai was inhabited for centuries before it was first visited by European explorers. Once a rich community of farmers, many of the inhabitants fell victim to new diseases brought by the sailors from the old world. By 1865, Kalaupapa was only sparsely populated and the administration of King Kamehameha V decided to establish a leper colony on the peninsula. For decades the Kalaupapa area was inhabited by up to 1100 Hansen’s Disease sufferers, along with a few missionaries and administrators. Most of the unfortunate residents had to leave their families behind on the other islands and came here with the prospect of living the rest of their lives away from home. This tragic arrangement was felt deeply by local families that were broken because of the royal edict brought about by the terrible disease.

In the 1940s, scientists found a treatment for leprosy and the disease was slowly eradicated. In 1980 the Kalaupapa peninsula was designated as a National Historical Park. Today, visitors can see the old settlements and mission buildings while learning about the history of this remote, beautiful part of Hawaii.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument – Oahu

Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

Last—but far from least—in our look at some of the National Park Service’s sites in Hawaii is the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This Monument, established under the Bush administration in December 2008, includes nine sites around the Pacific. The Hawaii sites are all situated around Pearl Harbor on Oahu, where in December 1941 a sudden attack from Japan stunned the residents and killed 2403 people, causing the active involvement of the United States in World War II. Visiting this Historical Park is a must for anyone who comes to Hawaii. Offering free admission, the Monument gives you the opportunity to learn about world history, and pay your respects to the fallen military who were lost on that tragic morning. The central feature is the USS Arizona Memorial, located right above the fallen battleship where she sank in the middle of the harbor, becoming a grave for most of her men.

While both Pearl Harbor and Kalaupapa have sad backstories, they are important reminders of Hawaiian and US history. Dedicate some of your island time to experience the unique history, culture, and natural wonders geology of the Hawaiian Islands.