Help broke students enjoy Hawaii on a budget
November 9, 2010 9:24 PM   Subscribe

We're a couple in our mid-20s, both college students, who will be staying in Waikiki for a week with a budget. Ideas and tips needed.

Firstly, I have been combing through the previous posts on Waikiki, Honolulu, and Oahu, and have gleaned some interesting info, so thanks to previous posters! However, I'm still opening a new question, because our particular circumstance didn't get a lot of coverage, I think, so I'm going to toss this one out there...

My boyfriend and I are going to be in Waikiki for 8 days, 7 nights in early December. Our flight and hotel are being paid for by relatives who will also be on the trip, and while I'm sure there will be the obligatory family meal at least once, and quality time bonding on the beach, the rest of the time is up to the two of us to sort out for ourselves!

Trouble is, we're stereotypically poor college students. We've saved up to have a bit of a splurge while we're there, especially keeping in mind that it's more expensive than the mainland, but we need ideas/guidance on how to stretch it for the entire time we're there.


We're, er, pasty nonathletic types so things like hiking Diamond Head don't hold a lot of appeal, and honestly surfing is probably out too. Anywhere we can rent snorkeling or boogie-boarding equipment on the cheap? We don't really need lessons.

How can we eat cheaply in Hawaii (or a close approximation of cheap) for a week? Our hotel room has a refrigerator, but not a kitchen(ette).

What other activities do you recommend? We're thinking of the aquarium, Pearl Harbor, and maybe the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet so far. I really don't think it would be possible to travel to the other islands, much as I'd like to see Maui, Kauai, etc.

Any other tips? We've heard we can get 3 day bus passes from ABC stores. Relatives might be renting cars, but I'm not clear on how available to us they might be. I think the bus system can get us to some cool places outside of Waikiki walking distance, but where to go?

We're not opposed to touristy/cheesy, by the way!
posted by asciident to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (16 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I love the Contemporary Art Museum. It is easy to get to from Waikiki.
posted by fifilaru at 9:34 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I was in much the same position a few years ago. I found that I could get away with not renting a car (convenient, as I was not quite 25 at the time) because The Bus could take me just about anywhere on the island, and for pretty cheap - I think that it was $2 for the ride and one transfer. It will take you to Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Culture Center (best place to go for a luau). It will also take you to the Foster Botanical Garden (very fun) and to the Palace, which you can tour.

Hanauma Bay for snorkeling - I think you pay a few bucks to get in and equipment rental was very reasonable. Check to see if they have any night snorkeling while you're there - one of the coolest things I did on Oahu by far. I know you said you weren't into hiking, but the Diamond Head hike is pretty easy, and you'll get some nice views.

If you do end up with access to the rental cars, drive up to the North Shore for an afternoon and play on the beaches there.

There are plenty of reasonably-priced restaurants on/near Ala Moana. Have fun - I'm super-jealous!
posted by honeybee413 at 9:39 PM on November 9, 2010

posted by unknowncommand at 9:40 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Hanauma Bay is wonderful! I second that suggestion. I have vivid memories of snorkeling there and that was over 20 years ago. :) Hotel should be able to tell you what bus to take to get there.

Pearl Harbor is a must, though I say that as a history freak with a grandfather who was there and declared dead, only he wasn't. His mom even got a telegram but she didn't believe it, and she was right.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:02 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hanauma Bay is $7.50 per person, so if you go there plan on spending the whole day. It's closed on Tuesday, too, so keep that in mind. It is really amazing, but I don't swim so I didn't go snorkeling.

Depending on where you're staying in Waikiki, you might be able to find cheap eats easily. There's a Saint-Germain on Prince Kuhio where you can get breakfast or lunch pretty cheap. There's a Food Pantry down the block from it where you can get sushi or whatever cheaper than at the ABC stores nearby. That whole section over there has cheaper restaurants and hotels so if you're staying on the beach, head inland to find cheaper stuff.

There's a free hula show at Kuhio Beach Park, although I've never been. All the beaches in Waikiki are free too. If you don't have access to a car and want to go somewhere public transit doesn't go, you might be able to get a cheap tour going where you'd like to go. There's tons of people selling discount tours near the beach, although I can't say how good they are.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:19 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: Definitely go snorkeling in Hanauma. In the winter, the north shore snorkeling spots become, well, not snorkeling spots (large, large waves), but definitely head up there, it's quite pleasant, and mayhap there'll be some fun surfing to watch.

If you're set on eating cheaply/using the kitchenette, don't buy anything in Waikiki. Take the bus over to Ala Moana. There's a Wal-mart right near there, and you can get basic foodstuffs a lot cheaper than at the Food Pantry in Waikiki.

There's a lot of good hiking, like Diamondhead, and other places nearish to Waikiki. If you've got a decent balcony on your hotel, it can be quite nice to pick up some beer (I recommend Primo, a local beer) and do some people watching. My wife and I usually try to do this at least once or twice while we're there.

If you can rent a car, or use one your generous relatives have rented, driving around the island (from Waikiki, head towards Diamond Head, and drive up the Windward Coast, then along the North Shore, then take the highway down the center of the island. It's a pretty good way to see the island, and there are a lot of beachs and parks along the way that are great spots for a picnic. There's also the Japanese temple along the Windward Coast that's kind of neat.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:23 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: Off the top of my head:

Bishop Museum, $17.95/person.
'Iolani Palace, $12/person for self-guided tour.
Don't forget the Honolulu Zoo, $12/person.
Sea Life Park is more expensive than the Waikiki Aquarium at $29.99/person, but it is more extensive.
Walk through Chinatown (during the day, if first visit).
Visit the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and cruise through the campus, gardens, art galleries, and bookstore.

All those links should have bus route information.

If you're going to be in the area of Pearl Harbor and the Aloha Stadium swap meet, you can also drop by the Pearlridge Shopping center and visit Farrell's ice cream parlour. Maybe it wouldn't qualify as a cheap eat, but the experience is pretty neat. Otherwise there are a number of restaurants of varying cuisine, like at the Waimalu Shopping Center or thereabouts.

Basically the further out from Waikiki you are, the cheaper the food ought to be. There are exceptions, of course, so don't be surprised to pay $8 for a plate-lunch. Otherwise you can go as close as Kapahulu Avenue or as far as Kaimuki in the eastward direction for more opportunities.

If you're hopping into the rental car with the relatives, perhaps one day in your trip you'll drive around the island. The main road will take you through some old neighborhoods like the North Shore (account for traffic), and you can stop by places like Haleiwa to visit Matsumoto Shave Ice. It's shaved ice, not crushed (makes a difference).
posted by CancerMan at 10:43 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh yeah, if you go snorkeling, do be careful if there are box jellyfish or Portuguese Man o War sightings. Box jellyfish are more common and seem to show up after a full moon (or new moon, don't remember which). There will usually be warning signs, but with budget cuts often the lifeguards can't monitor all shores.

And if, during snorkeling, you happen to see a pretty shell that looks something like this, don't try to pick it up. It's probably the home of a rather venomous cone snail. If you find an empty shell, awesome!
posted by CancerMan at 10:58 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: My parents love to tell me stories about how they went to Hawaii as a young totally broke couple. How they managed to eat cheap: happy hour. Plentiful free snacks in bars!
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:40 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: CancerMan gave you some great suggestions above. Definitely check out the Swap Meet for affordable souvenirs. And if Sea Life Park is too pricey, rest assured that the Waikiki Aquarium ($6 w/ student ID), while definitely on the smaller, older side, still has its charms and is worth doing.

For cheap eats that also happen to be authentically local, what you need is a plate lunch. You can easily find these at local chains such as Zippy's, but there are also tons of other great places. My favorite of these near Waikiki is Rainbow Drive-In on Kapahulu Avenue.

Also, if you find yourself near the UH campus, head to Bubbies for a bajillion flavors of mochi ice cream.

ALSO also, if by chance you find yourself all the way over in Kailua, go to Boots and Kimo's for truly epic banana pancakes with macadamia nut sauce. Be prepared to wait. SO worth it.

Beautiful beaches, great shopping, sure, yeah, whatever. Hawaii is all about the FOOD.
posted by somanyamys at 5:43 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hooray! My boyfriend and I just went to Waikiki in June, on a similarly tight budget.

Keoni's has a $3.95 breakfast that consists of fluffy amazing pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Cheap, filling, and tasty! We went there every day except for the one time we treated ourself to the amazing breakfast buffet at Duke's. At $14, it's a little steep, but so so delicious. We liked to go to the ABC stores and get soba noodles and musubi for lunch. It ended up being really cheap and we saved our money for slightly nicer dinners out. And we still long for musubi...

We were staying around the corner from Adventure Rentals, which has super cheap deals for outings. They pick you up in a shuttle, drive you to your destination, and give you all the equipment you need, and give you a ride back to your hotel. We did Hanauma Bay for $12 for the ride there and all our snorkel gear. (Take the flippers! It's hard to snorkel without them and they will cost you $4 at the beach!) We also used them to go to Pearl Harbor for the day. Be warned though, per this yelp review, their vehicle rentals really suck.

Another of our favorite things to do was go to the fanciest hotel beach bars, get a beer, enjoy the absolutely gorgeous surroundings, complete with tiki torches and live music!

Have an amazing time!
posted by chatongriffes at 6:42 AM on November 10, 2010

Best answer: Get a cheap lunch at Puka Dog, it's quite different from a normal hotdog and they have a veggie dog option. They've been featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.

I also recommend a visit to the Honolulu Zoo, although I remember it being a bit expensive. The Wild African Dogs* are amazing to view as they readily interact with you.

*This video is actually from the Bronx Zoo.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:50 AM on November 10, 2010

Best answer: If you're a fan of LOST, the old or new Hawaii 5-0, or old Elvis movies, you might want to look up filming locations which can be quite fun to see.

The bus can take you up to the North Shore if you're not in a hurry and you come back via the east coast. That's an all day tour for the price of a bus ticket.

Cheapest eats at plate lunch food trucks, probably not downtown Waikiki but anywhere the surfers or city workers gather.

2nding Bubbies for mochi ice cream.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:01 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The bus passes are for 4 consecutive days, so you may want to plan how to get the best use of them. Many good suggestions here. Drop a memail if you would like to have a beverage with a couple of locals.
posted by scottymac at 8:44 AM on November 10, 2010

Best answer: Snorkel Bob is somewhat near the Rainbow Drive-In and Leonard's (oh nom nom nom) . I only rented from them for a day but their website has a $9/week budget crunch gear rental special.

I had a rental car, but if you can take TheBus to the Pali Highway on the way to Kailua, do it. It's lush, it's elevated, it's got a steep downhill with turns with a tunnel tossed in, so it's a view and an experience. If you're able to get to Pali Lookout, it's super windy but the view is awesome.

Right across from Diamond Head on Saturdays is the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market. It's free to get in, but might take a hit on your wallet because you will probably want something and eating free samples of honey is not going to cut it. It is ridiculous because it's got Japanese tourists out in full force, traffic and parking is difficult starting around 7:15 (and it opens at 7:30am!) but then you see the produce and the flowers and the people and it's a fun way to spend an early morning. Get some eats there before you head out to the Swap Meet because the food there is not-as-good.

(Yeah, somanyamys is right, enjoy the food. God, I miss poke. Getting sushi-grade fish and mixing it with stuff isn't the same.)
posted by zix at 8:57 AM on November 10, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are amazing! I'm going to leave this open for another day or two to see if anyone else would like to chime in, but I really, really appreciate all the great info in this!
posted by asciident at 7:13 PM on November 10, 2010

« Older How to go the distance   |   Quick & Easy MSA - Good Idea? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.