Free for All

An insider's guide to free Hawaii attractions


Hawaii State Art Museum

Kokee Natural History Museum

Mokupapapa Discovery Center

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens

USS Arizona Memorial

Waioli Mission House

Whalers Village Museum

Hawaii Fall Values

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Don’t be fooled by the word “free.” When chosen wisely, gratis attractions can add tremendous value to a client’s Hawaii vacation. Not only are the following attractions fascinating and fun, they belie the image of Hawaii as an expensive destination.


The 2009 NOAA Big Island’s Mokupapapa Discovery Center teaches kids about science and history. // ©

“Agents who create itineraries with a mix of paid and free activities give their clients the most complete Hawaii experience,” said Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau marketing vice president Jay Talwar. “Engaging with the host culture and exploring the history of the islands is something visitors don’t always need to pay for, yet it’s a priority on many ‘to do’ lists.”

On Oahu, the USS Arizona Memorial is a perfect example. Offering an educational and emotional tribute to the crew members who died on Dec. 7, 1941, the sleek, white structure straddles the sunken battleship. When clients arrive, they pick up a free, timed ticket for the boat trip to the memorial. Clients can learn more at the visitor center through its exhibits on the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Hawaii State Art Museum, another free Oahu attraction, holds forth in downtown Honolulu. Housed in a 1928 building that was once the Armed Forces YMCA, it features three galleries with rotating exhibits and collections as well as a permanent display featuring works by Hawaii artists who have drawn their inspiration from the many cultures that call Hawaii home.

Among Maui’s complimentary lures is Keanae Arboretum, located on the road to Hana. At this six-acre east-Maui tropical park, clients can stroll along one of the trails throughout the arboretum and marvel at 150 varieties of plants, including trees, flowers and foliage native to the island.

While on Maui, clients can also pay a visit to the Whalers Village Museum, a free attraction in Kaanapali. Recalling the early to mid-1800s when Lahaina was a bustling whaling town, its exhibits include antique ornaments and utensils made from whale ivory and bone, plus one of the world’s largest scale models of a whaling ship. The museum also features a prized collection of 19th-century scrimshaw.

On Hawaii’s Big Island, the no-cost, 4,000-square-foot Mokupapapa Discovery Center offers interactive displays, three-dimensional models and theater programs, all of which interpret the natural science, culture and history of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. A 2,500-gallon saltwater aquarium provides a habitat for fish from the surrounding marine environment.

In the Big Island town of Hilo, the 12-acre Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens lays claim to 80 animal species including the nene (Hawaii’s state bird) and a white Bengal tiger. Clients can picnic in the shade of palms or stroll with peacocks past an extensive collection of orchids, bamboos and rhododendrons. Families with children might want to stop by on a Saturday, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., when Panaewa opens its petting zoo.

Among Kauai’s free attractions is the Waioli Mission House in Hanalei. This 1836 home of Christian teachers Lucy and Abner Wilcox recalls the island’s missionary days. Inside, clients can see an 1866 wall clock that still keeps perfect time, a lava-rock chimney, koa-wood furniture and the bedroom where Lucy Wilcox gave birth to eight sons. Fronting the house is the Waioli Huiia Church, founded in 1834, with picturesque green shingles and stained-glass windows.

The Kokee Natural History Museum in west Kauai presents interpretive exhibits about Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park, all on the house. One room examines Hawaiian views of weather, including 1992’s Hurricane Iniki. Also of note: a display on forest trees and their traditional uses; a Victorian cupboard with a selection of land and sea shells; an immense whale vertebrae; and the shell of a large sea turtle. It’s one of many educational and entertaining ways to keep Hawaii costs to a minimum.