Travel Q&A: Cheap Eats and Adventures on Oahu

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Q. My boyfriend and I are traveling to Oahu. The flight and hotel are both free courtesy of travel mile points. We are hoping to enjoy some inexpensive fun while we are there, including restaurants. Do you have any recommendations?

Suzanne Budd, Ashburn

A. Now that's the way to do Oahu. Contrary to what you might think, it's easy to find cheap and even free things to do on this heavily developed, highly touristed island, the third largest in the Hawaiian chain.

First of all, you won't need to rent a car. The highly efficient public bus system, known as TheBus, runs all over the island, stopping at beaches, museums, shopping areas, scenic locations and more, for $2.25 each way (exact change required). There's also a four-day pass for $25. Details: 808-848-4500,

For cheap eats, two words: plate lunch. That's the local term for a plastic plate heaped with rice, macaroni salad and a fish or meat dish, such as Korean barbecue, mahi-mahi or kalua pork, all for under $10. They're available at mom-and-pop eateries and local chains such as Zippy's and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue well as from the ubiquitous lunch wagons you'll see around town.

As for activities, don't cheap out completely. I strongly recommend splurging on at least one grand adventure, such as a snorkeling cruise, horseback ride, kayak trip or surfing class. But here are a few less-costly options:

-- Hike up Diamond Head. Waikiki's iconic crater has a moderately challenging trail and a stunning view at the top. Take water! Admission for walk-ins: $1. Details:

-- Visit Pearl Harbor. Remember the more than 1,100 crew members who died aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. But get there early to avoid waiting. Admission is free. Details:

-- Take a free tour of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a.k.a. the Pink Palace of the Pacific, recently restored to its 1927 splendor (2259 Kalakaua Ave., 808-923-7311, Tours are available daily at 2 p.m. (no reservations required).

-- Check out the local art scene in Honolulu's Chinatown during the monthly First Friday art walk, with free exhibits, entertainment and refreshments. For more art, visit the free Hawaii State Art Museum (250 S. Hotel St., 808-586-0300,

More info: Oahu Visitors Bureau,

My family would like to visit a hotel within driving distance that has a water park or water play area appropriate for small children. If we don't want to splurge on Great Wolf Lodge, what are our other options?

Eliana Tapia, Alexandria

"Water resorts" -- hotels with humongous indoor water parks attached -- are popping up more and more in the mid-Atlantic. Besides Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg (800-551-9653,, there's the Key West-themed CoCo Key Water Resort at the Mount Laurel Marriott in southern New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia (866-754-6964,

At 55,000 square feet, CoCo Key is smaller than the 67,000-square-foot Great Lodge, but there are still lots of ways to get wet: slides, an adventure river, an interactive play island and a shallow pool with movies and cartoons. A Halloween special offered from Oct. 16 to Nov. 1 starts at $179 a night and includes accommodations for four, water park access and a goodie bag.

For lower-key options, consider the family-friendly Hershey Lodge (717-533-3311, or the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay (410-901-1234,, both with indoor pools.

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