The Most Budget-Friendly Hawaiian Island To Visit During The Holidays

Looking to trade in chilly temperatures for sun, surf, and sand this holiday season? Hawaii is the perfect beach destination to visit this winter. And while the islands aren't exactly cheap in December, one particular Hawaiian island boasting average high temperatures of 79 degrees Fahrenheit is considered the most budget-friendly during the festive season.

According to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, 871,870 people traveled to the Hawaiian Islands for the holidays in December 2022. More than half (486,748) of these visitors arrived in Oahu, the third largest Hawaiian Island and home to Hawaii's busy capital, Honolulu. And no wonder why — Oahu has the hustle and bustle of a big city and the charm of small beach towns. It's both modern and historic. The island offers a plethora of affordable accommodations, free holiday events, and family-friendly Hawaiian adventures to do in winter. The perfect place to marvel at Christmas lights on palm trees, enjoy a holiday picnic on a spectacular Hawaiian beach, and maybe even spot Santa surfing — Oahu offers a little holiday magic and a lot of tropical weather this winter.

Where to stay in Oahu during the holidays

Finding affordable accommodation in Oahu is easy. Looking for the bright lights of Honolulu? Stay at Hotel La Croix. This boutique hotel (starting at $135 per night) has an infinity pool, air-conditioning, a mini-fridge to store snacks and drinks, and it's about a 10-minute walk to the beach. Looking for something a little quieter, the Paradise Bay Resort (starting at $152 per night) in nearby Kaneohe offers views of Kaneohe Bay, has a pool, a hot tub, free kayak and snorkel gear, floating docks, barbeques, and a full kitchen or kitchenette so guests can save money by avoiding expensive restaurants.

On the opposite side of the island, approximately an hour's drive from Waikiki, visitors will find a chill vibe, affordable hidden culinary gems (like Tita's Grill & Catering), and beautiful beaches. The shorelines are stunning any time of year, but in winter, between November and February, the North Shore is the premier spot on the island for surfing. For budget-friendly surfers and water sports enthusiasts, the Backpackers Vacation Inn & Hostel is the perfect accommodation (a private room for two guests is $85 per night). They offer everything from dorm beds to private cabins on the beach and provide the possibility of a local's discount rate on many attractions, like snorkeling, golfing, horseback riding, and lots more. And, of course, Airbnb, Vrbo, and camping in the great tropical outdoors are other excellent options to spend a budget-friendly holiday season in Oahu.

What to do in Oahu for the holidays

With free sandy shores all around the island, spending the afternoon at the beach is the perfect budget-friendly activity. But in winter, there's also a ton of unique (and free!) holiday events, like Honolulu City Lights. Opening night is held on the first Saturday of December. The festivities begin on December 2, 2023 with a parade on King Street followed by the lighting of the city's 50-foot Christmas tree. There will be plenty of food and entertainment and little ones will love free photos with Santa. Visitors can enjoy the evening sparkles and holiday aloha spirit until December 29, 2023.

For those looking to do a little holiday shopping, the Royal Hawaiian Center, located on Kalākaua Avenue, is Waikiki's premier destination. While the center boasts a number of high-end shops, like Hermès and Valentino, there's also an ABC store, perfect for budget-friendly local treasures, like Hawaiian snacks, souvenirs, and clothing. In addition to free live entertainment, the Royal Hawaiian Center also honors authentic Hawaiian culture by offering several classes focused on the arts and history of the islands. These unique classes are offered year-round, free for all ages, and include one hour of lessons in lei making, ukulele, hula, and lauhala weaving. Also, the Mele Kalikimake Marketplace (December 16-17, 2023) at Neal Blaisdell Expo Hall is also worth a visit. It's a one-stop Christmas pop-up shop for all of your local Hawaiian holiday needs.