Marco Garcia  /  AP
A sunbather lounges on Lanikai Beach in front of million dollar-view homes, in Lanikai, Hawaii.
updated 9/28/2006 4:04:40 PM ET 2006-09-28T20:04:40

Not a millionaire? Well, in Hawaii, for an afternoon you can pretend you're among the monied by soaking in the sun and sifting your fingers through the sugary sands outside celebrities' obscenely priced homes without having to pay the rent.

That's because Hawaii is one of those lovely places where the beaches, including the somewhat restrained luxury of Lanikai on Oahu, are by law the domain of the public. Not even the most highly placed movie star or menacing hotel worker can (legally at least) chase you off your strip of sand.

Though Hawaii is notoriously expensive, impecunious but crafty travelers can easily revel in much of what the state has to offer while holding tight to their pennies.

For that, sticking to the most populous island, Oahu, is a good idea for those on a tight budget because of two very valuable advantages: more low-fare, direct flights and cheap public transportation to just about anywhere on the island.

Once you're here, take in a show. A favorite among freeloaders - there's no shame here - are the free nightly Hawaiian music and hula shows beside Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. As a bonus they're followed by fireworks on Fridays. And on Saturdays and Sundays be sure to catch the free second-run films shown at Sunset on the Beach.

Should you feel the urge to get in on the act, check out the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, which offers free hula and ukulele lessons as well as instruction in Hawaiian quilting and lei making.

Otherwise, get your gear on and get outdoors.

If you've opted to take the full cheapy route and go car-less, the bus is $2 a trip, or buy your four-day tourist pass for $20 at a local convenience store. Better yet, get the $40 monthly pass used by the island's commuter crowd.

Slideshow: Polynesian paradise Print out maps for free from the bus system's Web site. And remember to have patience. The buses cover a lot of ground, including a scenic circle-island route, but are generally the slow boat to wherever you're going.

One tactic to extend your mobility is to rent a bike. Both the North Shore and Lanikai have pleasant bike paths paralleling their main drags. The bikes cost about $20 per day and you can put them on the racks of any city bus. The limit per rack is two bikes.

Aside for lounging on the bountiful beaches, hiking is one of the best ways to experience the island atmosphere. The state provides directions and free topographical maps of Hawaii's trails on the Internet. Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club and the local chapter of the Sierra Club both regularly run guided hikes for a requested donation of $2 to $5.

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On your own, the hike to the Manoa Valley Falls is a safe, old favorite. But on the other side of the island is the slightly less traveled Maunawili Falls. After a hot morning hike through the forest - keep your eyes peeled for egg-shaped passion fruits - a plunge in the pool below the falling water is priceless.

Some intrepid sightseers also clamber up and jump off the picturesque falls ... but that doesn't mean you should.

Another scary looking leap popular among 15-year-old daredevils lands jumpers in the ocean just below the late heiress Doris Duke's posh, Islamic-style mansion, Shangri-La.

To get there, walk down to the beach at Kulamanu Place in Duke's Black Point neighborhood, where you'll find a lagoon for swimming and beaches optimal for napping. A precipitous climb along the ledge to the left brings you to a rectangular sea water-filled tank from which local teens launch into the blue below. And above you'll catch a glimpse of Duke's 1930s splendor without having to pay the $25 for a tour.

If watching professional death-defiers is your pleasure and it's wintertime, then the North Shore is where you need to go.

If the waves are at all good, they will be crawling with surfers pulling jaw-dropping tricks. And if a surf contest is on, you'll be treated to a performance by the world's top surfers for nothing more than the cost of the sunscreen you'll need to shield you from the sizzling rays.

On the way up, you can stop at the massive swap meet at Aloha Stadium early on the weekends to buy bargain souvenirs and gifts for people back home. Ten T-shirts for $20 is not an uncommon find.

Among the more relaxed activities on Oahu - that also includes cheap eats - is the Saturday farmer's market at Kapiolani Community College near Diamond Head, featuring local honey, produce and tropical flowers.

"You can just wander around, smell and sit," said Helen Griffin of Honolulu, as she headed to a tai chi class at the campus's nearby chapel.

Beaches, hikes and Honolulu's smaller restaurants are also a good bet for budget-minded travelers, she said.

Going local and searching the Internet for free and cheap entertainment is another trick to enjoying the island and keeping things affordable, said Jon Zhou, of Philadelphia, as he recently left the market.

"Ask the locals where to go," he said.

To get a sense of the strong military history of the islands visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. With its majestic location in the crater of an extinct volcano, the cemetery also commands excellent views of the city below.

The USS Arizona Memorial is another must see for remembering the 2,390 lost in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Admission is free for a full guided tour, including a movie with footage of the attack and a ferry ride to the memorial.

The numerous Buddhist and Shinto temples around the island also provide an opportunity to see a variety of architecture and religious practices not as often seen in most of the mainland. The imposing but serene Mu-Ryang-Sa Buddhist Temple of Hawaii at the back of Palolo Valley also offers beautiful views of the city in the distance.

For a taste of pre-statehood Hawaii, take a stroll through the grounds of Iolani Palace where the Royal Hawaiian Band delivers a free performance starting at noon most Fridays.

A few blocks west you'll find a warren of shops offering inexpensive lunches to downtown office workers. This reporter's favorite is Ninja Sushi toward the mountains on Bishop Street. With quality California rolls at under $4, by Hawaii standards they're practically giving it away.

Artsy individuals will want to check out the admission-less Hawaii State Art Museum, in the same neighborhood. The museum also hosts music concerts of everything from taiko drums to Brazilian tunes as part of First Fridays, the monthly evening arts festival in Chinatown, Honolulu's nascent gallery district.

To top off a free Honolulu evening, some visitors take advantage of the free wine and snacks featured at some galleries. Of course, that doesn't mean you should.

If You Go:


GETTING THERE: Air fares are usually highest when kids are out of school. Booking your transportation as part of a package deal may save money. The Web site is a favorite among locals.

WHERE TO STAY: Booking accommodations a Web site offering vacation rentals can save some money, but not all of these rentals are legal. To double-check, call the Consumer Resource Center at 808-587-3222.

EVENTS: Lists of events and activities at

TIPS: Before heading up to the North Shore, check the surf report to see how high the waves are. A good source is Surf News Network at


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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