Unearthing Culture on a Shoestring: Visiting Museums in Hawaii on a Budget

Hawaii is the only state made up of islands, the only state with its own monarchy (the kings and queens of Hawaii were overthrown by the U.S. in 1893), and the only state where farmers grow coffee on a commercial scale. Those are just three of countless fascinating facts that you'll discover when you explore the islands' many museums and cultural hotspots. And lest you think that you need to throw your entire vacation budget at some of the best museums and cultural exhibits in the Aloha State — your wallet will be saying mahalo (thank you) with these cheap or free museum options.


Visiting Hawaiian Museums on a Budget: The Best Free and Cheap Museums and Exhibits on Each Island

Here's another fun fact for you: Hawaii is actually comprised of 137 islands stretching 2,000 miles across the Pacific. 

However, there are seven major islands: The Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau. The latter is only accessible if you're invited by the kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) on the island, but the rest are open to visitors and are home to amazing museums, galleries, and other exhibits that give you unique insights into the islands' diverse cultures and fascinating histories.


Museums and Exhibits on Oahu

Oahu has Hawaii's biggest cities and arguably some of its biggest urban attractions, so it's no wonder it also has numerous free galleries, museums, and exhibits:

  • Bishop MuseumIt's the state's premier museum and a must-see if you're curious about the history of the Native Hawaiians, and the many eras that shaped modern Hawaii. Admission starts at $28.95, but members get unlimited free visits (a great choice if you can't fit the whole museum into one visit). Admission is also free for those with an All/SNAP card, with significant discounts available to Hawaii residents and military personnel.
  • Hawaii State Art Museum: Sprawling galleries feature local and Hawaii-connected artists, and admission is always free every day. 
  • Pearl Harbor National Museum: It ranks as one of the state's top three most-visited tourist attractions, and visiting the park's visitor center, two museums, and a memorial to the WWII icon USS Arizona — including a boat ride — is free. However, reservations are recommended.


Museums and Tours on the Big Island

Aptly nicknamed the Big Island, the Island of Hawaii is the state's biggest island yet also has one of the state's least population-dense islands. Its rugged lava landscape beckons you to escape the heat and find cool solace in numerous free or budget-friendly museums:

  • The Jaggar Museum: Perched atop an active volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, peer right into the molten caldera and crater where the Hawaiian goddess Pele reigns supreme, then take in numerous exhibits that explain Hawaii's volcanoes and the unique wildlife you'll find here. Admission is free, but you'll need to buy a park pass to get into the national park.
  • Liliuokalani Park and Gardens: Hawaii has a large population of Japanese immigrants, and this free, 24-hour botanical garden — nestled in lush Hilo — boasts 24 acres of Japanese and Hawaiian plants that introduce you to the area's fertile soil. It claims to be the largest Japanese garden outside of Japan itself.
  • Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company: Few treats are as synonymous with a vacation to the Big Island as locally-grown macadamia nuts. Book a free tour that shows you the farm, why the trees thrive on the Big Island, and a guided introduction to the factory. It's all free, including fresh samples of the coffee also grown on-site.


Museums and Exhibits on Maui

Maui is one of the most visited islands in the Aloha State. And while it was recently decimated by tragic wildfires (the historic town of Lahaina, once the seat of the Hawaiian royal government and where most of the free museums were located, is off limits), there are many museums that attract budget-savvy kamaaina (locals) and tourists alike:

  • Hale Hoʻikeʻike at the Bailey House: Home to the island's biggest collection of Hawaiian antiquities, the home was once a royal residence. Today, you can see artifacts from the state's colorful history, from pre-Western contact Hawaiian relics to exhibits from the times of the royals and the plantations. Adults get in for just $10, while toddlers are free and kids and teens are just $4. If you're a senior or student, get a big discount with your ID.
  • Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum: The sugar industry forever changed Hawaii's trajectory on both an economic and cultural level, and this museum reveals it all. Admission is just $7, with the last admission at 1 p.m.


Museums and Exhibits on Kauai

The Garden Island is the oldest populated island in the state with unique exhibits to draw you into one of Hawaii's most untouched, undeveloped islands:

  • The Kauai MuseumCreated in 1960, the museum showcases Kauai's history from the time of the Hawaiians to today. Admission starts at just $15, but you can save on your ticket if you're a senior or a student. On Saturdays, admission is free for Kauai residents.
  • The Kokee Museum: Admission is always free, but they suggest a $3 donation per visitor. See exhibits of rare local fauna that live in the surrounding forests, explore galleries that showcase Kauai history, then head out on a breathtaking hike with numerous trails just outside of the museum.

These free and budget-friendly museums and cultural sites are just the start of your historical adventure in Hawaii. No matter what era of Hawaii you explore when visiting these exhibits and galleries, the Waikiki Resort Hotel is just minutes from some of the most important historical and cultural locations on the island of Oahu. Book your stay at the Waikiki Resort Hotel online or call us at 1-800-367-5116 to see why our location, friendly staff, convenience, and amenities give us top ratings among our guests, history buffs included.