Details: This medium-budget trip was undertaken by 2 people of mostly sedentary fitness level in their mid-20's.
Everyone knows Hawaii is not a cheap destination for those of us who live in another state or country. There aren't many among us who can just pack up and have a spur of the moment island getaway, splurging on all the best of the best when it come to food, resorts, travel, and entertainment.
But, many people, with enough luck, determination, credit card points, and connections can manage a flight and a hotel or timeshare stay! The rest, well, that's where this budget itinerary comes in.
For us, this help came in the form of a family member with a longstanding timeshare and no ability to use it that year. Graciously, she allowed us to take over the 1-week room as a wedding gift.
This may not be the MOST budget-friendly trip, or even the cleverest (we did a lot of unecessary looping around the island and we ate out a lot), but we had a great time and I'm excited to share it with anyone else who wants to shave a few dollars off their visit and avoid some of the highly trafficked spots.
DAY 1 - Unwind, rental car, and cruise
The phrase "rental car" might seem out of place on a budget itinerary, especially when The Bus is a cheaper option that takes you to most of the tourist destinations, but that's exactly the kicker: If you want to get out of the expensive hustle and bustle of Honolulu, a rental car is a perfect fit! And hey, not too expensive in the long run. We were able to get a simple 4-door sedan for around $100 for the week, and our timeshare location seems to offer a year-round promotional deal of $100 for one week's parking (despite the per-night cost being higher). After asking if this was normal to offer in the area, they confirmed that many of the local places have similar deals! As for gas, we only had to fill it up to return it. Didn't even burn through a full tank!
After securing our new ride just outside the airport, my husband took us straight to Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. I let him plan the entire Hawaii trip and didn't do any research myself (we take turns), so obviously, I was a little confused that my husband excitedly took me to what appeared to be... a cemetary? A lot of cemetaries? To see dead people, on the first day of our honeymoon?
But as it turned out, our true destination was the beautiful and serene Byodo-In Temple. This Hawaii State Landmark costs just $5 to enter the grounds of, and from there, you get to disappear into a a recreation of a famous Buddhist temple (The Hawaii Byodo-In's inspiration and partner temple is in Uji, Japan).
Strolling around is wonderful enough just for the beauty of the building and gardens, but we also took a lot of joy in feeding the temple's fish and birds! The many, many large koi will follow you gleefully and almost obsessively to get little pellets of food sold cheaply at the temple, and wild birds will hop right into your hands like you're some kind of Disney princess to get at the same pellets. For kids, or kids at heart, this is INCREDIBLY fun. It was also a great way to relax and stretch after a long flight.
After the temple, we headed to our timeshare near Waikiki to check in.
From there, we headed to Ala Moana Shopping Center to run a few errands. It felt like a typical indoor-outdoor shopping mall experience, until we stepped into the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk and were blown away by how fun it was! This little strip is stuffed full of amazing-smelling Japanese eateries and dessert shops! Maybe there were other things too, but food was our top priority for sure. We snagged big bowls of delicious curry udon (at a mega cheap price) and got to watch a live performer play guitar, and see a candy shaper give an example of her high-heat, high-fructose artistry. For the cost of a bowl of noodles and some incredible slices of cake, we had entertainment for all of the early evening!
After that, we returned to our timeshare for the obligatory walk through Waikiki and all the luxury shopping. We didn't actually buy anything, but the window shopping and people watching served as great entertainment. We walked over and dipped our toes in the warm ocean waves, then went back to the timeshare for hot tubbing and sleep.
DAY 2 - Food prep, Waimea Valley, Laie Point
After sleeping in a bit, because we are incapable of handling mornings, we got up and headed out to Waimea Valley, a massive botanical garden and accessible hiking area that takes you to Waimea Falls! When we went, they were running a special and it was only $16 per person, but I believe it's normally $20. Either way, a great price for what can easily become 4-5 hours of solid entertainment and adventure. Not only can you see rare plants and amazing bugs and geckos, but you also get to see some museum-style installation artwork that tells stories about the landscape and culture of the valley. It's a lot of fun, and really informative!
We went to Foodland, a not-too-pricey grocery store nearby, to stock up on things we could snack on and prepare in our timeshare, to save costs. We fully intended to eat out and enjoy the local food, but 3 meals a day didn't sound very economical, so we picked up some tasty local sourdough bread, butter, flats of bottled water, and Hawaiian Sun jam for easy breakfasts! This jam is awesome and usually on the higher end back home, but in Hawaii it's actually affordable! Score!
After this, we headed into the town of Haleiwa and had an awesome lunch at Fatboy's, where the food was both delicious and affordable! ~$25 total is better than we can do at home for a restaurant meal!
One thing we kept passing and would love to have done (but ran out of time for) was to check out the Dole Plantation for some pineapple-themed fun. I still haven't been, but I hear it's loads of fun!
After a bit more poking around Haleiwa, we drove out to Laie Point, a small strip of land that juts out into the ocean and overlooks a famous islet out in the waves. It's tucked behind a quiet residential neighborhood, and most might not think to check it out, but my husband was lucky enough to spend a few summers in Laie as a kid at a family home, so knew he had to bring me here for my first time on the island.
As it turns out, we might have been smarter to save this for another day, as we ended up looping back to the Laie area later in the trip. But hey, impulse trips are half the fun!
To finish off this day, we found the nearest beach, which was, thankfully, nearly empty, and watched a pretty awesome sunset.
But, because we're night owls, we made sure to hit the Waikiki strip again for Pokemon Go, and a cheap dinner and dessert at Zippy's, a fast-casual local chain that fed us both without breaking the bank.
DAY 3 - Flea market, Manoa falls, and WORK, UGH.
Feeling energized by our first hike of the week, we woke up feeling peppy and ready to take on the world. But first... shopping! Since the souvenir shops in Waikiki were, of course, wayyyy out of our budget, my husband, who is, incidentally, the best, took me to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet! I'm a flea market and thrift shop junkie at home, so this was pretty much perfect. We managed to snag all the kitschy, touristy favorites people at home expect you to bring back (t-shirts, flower printed everything, keychains) at 1/3rd the price they were going for back in town. There were also local artisans selling handcrafted goodies, and I even snagged some totally cute, non-cheesy clothes for daily wear at $2-3/garment thanks to an overstock sale. Plus, the food stands were cheap and tasty! We managed a cheap brunch here for around $12 total and had a great time wandering around.
While still riding that, "I guess we are healthy people now" wave of having seen sunlight and nature for the first time in a year (we work in tech...) we decided to look up the closest, cheapest place to see some more incredible views like the ones we got at Waimea, and ended up at the breathaking Manoa Falls trail. There are more trails on the grounds for more adventurous travelers, but we're squishy nerds so we picked the easiest one. :) And at a parking fee of $5 and free admission, we were thrilled!
Manoa Falls ended up being our favorite hike and favorite views of the whole trip, but we did have one issue: another hiker on the trail decided to be rowdy and said some pretty concerning things about politics and my body. After checking on a local chat forum, a few other travelers mentioned running into this creep as well, so my only tip about it is that if some weird old dude with swollen legs and wild hair stops you and offers to take your picture, say NO!
But jumping back, Manoa Falls is BREATHTAKING and I would return in a heartbeat. Where Waimea Valley was very clean and crisp and welcoming, Manoa Falls felt wild and lush and natural. It was still safe and easy to walk, and there were clear trail markers and lots of helpful steps and stones, but it was super immersive and gorgeous!
After this, we had plans to go check out the famed Pearl Harbor National Memorial and its associated musem and tours, but unfortunately, my employer at the time didn't actually give me vacation time, just flexible-ish work from home time (on my honeymoon, no less!) and we had to rush back to the timeshare so I could hit a deadline. On the way home, we stopped at Rainbow Drive-In, a local favorite (so we're told) that had some of the hands-down best food we ate all trip.
Once my work was through, it was a little late to be out on the town, so we enjoyed a relaxing recovery evening swimming and hot tubbing back at the time share.
DAY 4 - Late start, shopping, Kaniakapupu Ruins, and return to Haleiwa!
My husband and I actually worked for the same company at the time, but in different teams, and now it was his turn to work through the morning.
While he was stuck behind his laptop screen at the timeshare, I snuck over to Don Quijote. If you're a bargain hunter, this Japanese chain of discount everything-markets makes for a super-fun stop! In Donki, as it's lovingly nicknamed, you can buy hot prepared food, cold lunch boxes, groceries, electronics, clothes, candy, toys, self-care and beauty products, costumes, and about a million other things! And the best part is that it's all extremely affordable. I was able to get a HUGE pack of the beloved macadamia nut chocolates everyone loves getting as post-trip gifts for a great price, along with a bunch of other goodies and souvenirs!
Once I made it back to the time-share, we were itching to see something cool. On a whim, we ended up at the Kaniakapupu Ruins which weren't far from Honolulu at all. After a quick walk through a grove of bamboo, we got to step back into history and see the crumbling structure of King Kamehaha III's grand summer home. This pit stop can be done in under an hour and makes for a nice warm-up to more fun!
After we were done at the ruins, we realized we still had the whole day, and hardly anything planned. I pushed for another hike, but my husband told me it was time for some good food and relaxation, so we headed back to our new favorite town of Haleiwa to try one of his childhood favorite treats: Matsumoto Shave Ice! It was about a 45 minute drive (but a gorgeous one) from the ruins to the shave ice shop, so by the time we were here, my husband had me HYPED for some shave ice.
It turned out to be.... pretty great! Admittedly, the place had become a little more commercial than my husband's childhood memories had it, and the line was out the door, but it was authentic, tasty, and cheap! Afterwards, we hit up the nearest burger place with only 1 "$" label on yelp (Teddy's Bigger Burgers), and had a fantastic lunch in an uncrowded eatery for a price that wasn't inflated a bit. Success!
After this on the agenda was some beach time, so we went to a nearby surf shop and rented a bodyboard (just 1 to share). It was rentable by the hour for a cheap fee, but we were happy to pay the reasonable day fee ($20) so we could lose track of time and zone out on the beach. Beach parking in most places is free (or at least it was in the uncrowded areas we found) which was a happy surprise.
After a long and fun (and cheap!) day of sun, sand, and surf, we returned the gear right at sundown and headed back to Rainbow Drive In (again!) for another cheap, delicious dinner. We played more Pokemon Go around the Waikiki area to wind down and then headed back to the timeshare.
DAY 5 - Testing the waters in Waikiki, Diamond Head, Hand-made Udon!
After a day of light activity, we were ready for something more daring. So we started our day by doing the one thing we swore we wouldn't do: we tried one of the tourist-trap cafes right along the Waikiki beach. I couldn't help myself. I just needed to know if we were missing something by having all our activities and meals miles away from this world-famous place to do activities and eat things. So we went to the closest cafe, which happened to feature my two favorite things on this earth: Boba tea and French Macaron cookies. I got one of each, well overpaying for the both, and.... it was awful! Stale, dry macarons with thin, overly sweet filling and chalky, watery boba tea with soggy, old pearls. The worst! Omg!
Lesson learned, we returned to the timeshare for our now-traditional light toast and jam breakfast and then drove out to Diamond Head State Park. The drive into this volcanic-crater-turned-military-installment-turned-state-park is pretty interesting. All around you is the empty caldera of a long-dead volcano, along with thick military structures and gorgeous, well-maintained plant life all in one. Plus, you can buy some really tasty smoothies. So, bonus!
There is an entry fee of a bank-breaking whole $5, and after that, you can dive deep into your pockets for the demanding sum of $4 for the self-guided audio tour kit. :)
With that, you get a ~2.5 to 3.5 hour experience that is unique, informative, beautiful and (admittedly) exhausting. Again, we are squishy nerds, so the walk up the inside edge of the volcano-slash-military base (awesome) was tiresome and challenging, but in a fun way! There are steps, tunnels, long switchbacks and stretches of angled runways, old weapons and defensive installations to explore, plaques to read, and some million-dollar views to stop and behold. If you opt for the audio tour, which I highly recommend, it also points out the unique plant and animal life, and bids you to stop along the way as it gives you the history of Diamond Head.
Once you reach the top, you're treated to an incredible view of Oahu and the rest of the Diamond Head caldera. You can even spot Waikiki and maybe your own hotel, and perhaps your bed calling your name, because you are now exhausted and want to sleep for one million years. But it's worth it!
We walked our way back down and enjoyed the nice field of grass around the visitor center for a while, continuing to take in the view and cool off, then headed back into town for Marukame Udon, a famous udon noodle shop where the noodles are made fresh right before your eyes before they go into tasty broth. Not only is it fresh and delicious, but it is absurdly cheap. The two of us had an absolute feast for just over $20 total!
DAY 6 - Our big splurge: the Polynesian Cultural Center!
For our honeymoon trip, we agreed on 2 "splurge" tickets or events, 1 for each of us. For me, I picked a very inconvenient yet exciting travel route on another leg of our trip (covered in another itinerary.) For my husband, it was tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This place (which, fun fact, is run by the Mormon / LDS church) is a sort of edutainment theme park that features "villages" where polynesian people of many identities come together to share stories about their culture and perform shows using dances, music, weapons, and art skills passed down through generations.
Supporting the PCC is a good cause, as the employees there are for the most part BYU students working their way through college. It's also just really awesomely fun! There are individual shows performed in each village section, along with themed gift shops and activity areas, and also large park-wide shows that happen at certain points each day. There's a gigant and delicious luau buffet you're invited to stuff your face at (which we very much did) while you catch a dinner dance show, and at the end of it all, you're invited to the Ha Breath of Life event, a massive firedance and lightshow experience held within their big auditorium. It's an all-day experience if done right, and to get your money's worth! So we made sure to hit every area and enjoy every event to the fullest.
As the night started to creep on and the PCC started shuttering its gift shops, we headed back to Laie for a great sunset and then turned in for the night. (I had some work to catch up on)
DAY 7 - Our final full day: ALL THE FOOD and lots of driving!
By this day, we were beat. We slept in pretty late, then ended up driving just to the edge of Honolulu for some awesome cheap breakfast, and from there... we kept driving! We didn't really have a destination, but wanted to cruise and relax, so we stayed on the highway and just kept going, taking in the mountainsides and rain and stopping anywhere we thought had a pretty view or a nice, empty beach. Not the most marketable or glamorous activity to share (apologies) but we had a ton of fun people-watching and rich-neighborhood-snooping.
As we started itching for something new, we headed to Leonard's Bakery for what local reviewers assured us was the best malasada place on the island. They're a sort of Portuguese donut, and are warm and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. We picked up a whole bag to eat on the beach and it was pretty much heaven.
We did some swimming and some hiking (not on specific trails, but just wandering along mostly-empty beaches) and pouted about having to leave soon. The good news is we didn't spent anything on entertainment this day! Lol.
If I remember right, we went to Fatboy's for dinner and ate ourselves sick on awesome Loco Moco for a reasonable price.
We headed back to the timeshare, happy and tired, and took full advantage of their washing machines, swimming pool, and hot tub to prepare for the next leg of our honeymoon trip. Aaand, of course, snuck out to grab some delicious dessert from Island Vintage Shave Ice when the nighttime cravings hit.
We flew out the next morning for Osaka, Japan!
A few things we could have done to save even more money were:
*skip restaurant meals in favor of things like granola bars, things we could cook in our timeshare, and easy foods like homemade sandwiches
*skipped the PCC and done another hike or beach day instead
* used The Bus to get around.
If your budget is very tight, definitely try those things! We found we were happy with our time-saving and effort-saving choices, but it definitely added a bit of expense, though reasonable.
A few things we wish we did more of:
* waking up early (but we can't! we're just not built for it.)
* EATING. We ate a lot but STILL.
#hawaii #oahu #honolulu #haleiwa #budget-friendly #shaveice #locomoco #hiking #beach
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As someone who also works in tech - with the world maybe going remote, Hawaii would be one place I think I would thrive. I am very much a very early morning person and so starting my day at 4a would suit me just fine so long as I could finish up at 12 or 1p and enjoy nature, beaches, and hikes. Ah the dream!!
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