Final Trip Of The Decade: A Budget-Friendly Few Days In Oahu
For my last trip of the 2010s, I wanted to do something easy and familiar. The past two years since I started blogging have been filled with new countries, new jobs, adventures, and more. Since I had just finished a nine-month stint teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I wanted to ease into my holiday break in the US the most chill way possible: with a five-day stopover in Hawaii before carrying on to Seattle to see friends and family for Christmas.
This was my third trip to The Aloha State. I first went with family back in 2014 to see Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, then returned to see Oahu and Honolulu for my spring break of 2017. For my most recent trip, I stayed on Oahu again, but hoped to venture outside the state capital to see a bit more of the island. I was partially successful, but didn’t do as much island trekking as I had originally planned.
However, I didn’t mind. Despite traveling constantly the past year, I would consider this trip the first real vacation I’ve had since spending a few leisurely weeks in Sa Pa, Vietnam in April. I spent a few days of my time just relaxing in Waikiki, and I don’t regret it. Hawaii is a destination I plan to return to throughout my life, so I’m in no rush to explore every unturned stone on any given trip.
For this visit, I aimed not to spend a fortune, and I’d say I did alright. As you might guess, Hawaii is unavoidably expensive in some regards, but there are also a number of ways to keep costs low-ish. I’ll share those with you in this post in addition to some of the attractions that can be found on the southeastern corner of the island, comprised of Honolulu, Waimanalo, and Kailua. Let’s dive right in!
By far, the easiest way to keep a day on Oahu low-budget is to go on a hike. The island has tons of options, and I managed to do two this trip.
Diamond Head State Monument
This hike is the easiest to access from Waikiki and is technically within walking distance, especially from the eastern side near the Honolulu Zoo.
You’ll have to pay $1 to get in to the park, but there’s no other costs associated with going up the volcano here. The hike isn’t too strenuous, although it is almost entirely uphill. At a moderate pace, it takes about 45 minutes to go up from the park entrance to the top of the peak.
Since the park is a massive volcanic crater, you won’t be able to see anything except mountains until you reach the summit. However, the famous view of Honolulu from the top is worth the climb.
You’ll have to take a bus (or Uber) to this trail, but it’s worth it. Like Diamond Head, it’s mostly uphill, but at less of an incline. It’s also paved the entire way.
While the peak offers a view of a lighthouse, the most stunning view is actually looking west towards Makapuʻu Beach. If you’d still like to admire this view but don’t have an interest in going uphill, you can alternatively visit Makapuʻu Lookout right on the side of the road.
One trail I missed this time that I would’ve liked to hike is the Lanikai Pillbox hike in Kailua. I heard from locals that it is a fairly easy trek that offers good views. If you’ve hiked it, let me know if you recommend it by leaving a comment below!
Cuisine: Multiple Budget-Friendly Options
Meals are another way to keep costs low as you explore Oahu. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a fortune to taste some great local flavors. With the exception of fast food, expect to budget at least $10 per meal.
They’re not as common as I thought they would be, but don’t pass up a food truck if you happen to find one! They had surprisingly large menus, and the dishes I tried seemed much more authentic than most of the restaurants in Waikiki.
Local (Non-touristy) Restaurants
Another budget option besides food trucks are local (some might say hole-in-the-wall) restaurants. It’s not that hard to tell when a restaurant is a favorite among locals. When I checked out the one pictured below in downtown Honolulu, it seemed as if most diners knew the owners and employees. The garlic shrimp with rice I got there was delicious.
Barefoot Beach Cafe
This casual, open-air restaurant in Sans Souci State Recreational Park was one of my favorite meals I found. Located just a short walk from the Waikiki Wall and Queen’s Beach, the grilled chicken combo plate I got was not only beautifully plated, but also delicious. If you’re looking for a low-key lunch or dinner with a waterfront view, consider Barefoot Beach Cafe.
Dining in Waikiki
Last but not least, it’s understandable if you want to splurge on a meal or two. There are countless options located in the shopping centers of Waikiki Beach, offering everything from dim sum and Mexican food to Italian and Korean BBQ. I decided to get pizza and wings from Flour & Barley at the International Market Place shopping mall, which admittedly was pretty good.
Restaurants in the shopping centers are an option for backpackers and budget travelers, but most probably cost a lot more and may not have authentic Hawaiian cuisine like the places mentioned above.
While the following three suggestions aren’t hikes, they are some additional free ways to enjoy the outdoors in eastern Oahu.
This beach on the edge of the town of Kailua is much more quiet and relaxing than Waikiki. Even the color of the water is a little different. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to explore the town of Kailua a bit more to check out some of its cafes and restaurants.
Magic Island and Ala Moana Regional Park
These two parks are located right outside of Waikiki on the western side. If you’re looking for wide open green spaces that you won’t have to share with other tourists, consider taking a short walk over to this area.
Sunsets from Waikiki
Waikiki Beach is positioned perfectly for an unobstructed view of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. I basically made a point to go over to the beach each day and watch from one of the piers, and each day the sunset was unique based on the weather and cloud cover. There’s no reason to miss it if you’re staying in the area!
Where to Stay
I chose to stay at The Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel, which exceeded my expectations as a hostel. Coming from a much more crowded hostel in Melbourne with a bit of a musty smell in the room, this place was pretty refreshing.
It seems like the going rate for low-budget hostels in Waikiki is about $40 per night. While it was basic, the room was clean, the other guests were friendly, the complimentary breakfast of waffles and coffee was delicious, and the location couldn’t have been better. If you need a highly-rated budget accommodation, I definitely recommend The Beach Waikiki. Click here to book via Hostelworld.
While there’s always the option to Uber or rent a car if you need to, the cheapest way to get around the island is by bus. Google Maps did a pretty good job of providing options and real-time info, so you won’t need to study the route maps in depth. A day pass cost $5.50 (as of December 2019), and a single pass costs $2.75 no matter how far you’re going.
While traveling by bus between Honolulu, Waimanalo, and Kailua is reasonable, transit times can be much longer (well over an hour) to get further out. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t make it to the North Shore this trip. Also note that the bus to the airport can be very crowded. If you have more than a few pieces of luggage, it might just be better to hire a Lyft or Uber.
A QUick End-of-Year Summary
Many travel bloggers write an end-of-year summary post, and while I was open to the idea, I ultimately decided that this post will serve as mine. This year I visited sixteen countries and territories across four continents. I moved from Mexico to Vietnam, and both countries are covered in detail on the blog. In January, I’ll be moving to Brazil to continue teaching abroad. I plan to spend most of my time in São Paulo, so my blog posts might focus more on different aspects of life in that fascinating city.
Hawaii was the perfect way to end my travels for 2019, and there’s a good chance I’ll be back within the next few years, especially if I decide to relocate back to Asia in the future. This year of living abroad has been filled with joy and challenges, and I’ve learned more about myself than ever before. If you’ve followed Caffeinated Excursions this past year, I want to thank you for your readership and support. If you’re curious about Brazil and further adventures in South America, be sure to follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest updates. Cheers and happy holidays, everybody!