Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Kailua, HI

  • Published 2023/03/13

Kailua, Hawaii, was once a quiet town on Oahu’s Windward Side; now, it is renowned for its stunning beaches.

The gorgeous dunes and clear blue seas of Kailua’s beaches draw thousands of tourists annually.

Kailua Bay is a census-designated place (CDP) in Honolulu County.

Beyond its expanses of sand, this beach town is attractive because of its location between the towering Koolau Mountains and the crescent-shaped Kailua Bay.

There are places of historical significance, routes for hiking, places to surf, and marketplaces for local produce.

Four of the state’s rare and endangered waterbirds live in the island’s biggest wetland.

Likewise, this region, long the hangout of Hawaiian royalty, now attracts the affluent and famous, including Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Jessica Simpson, Rihanna, and former US president Barack Obama.

However, just because A-listers visit this area doesn’t mean everything has to be expensive.

For the budget-conscious, here are the free things to do in Kailua, Hawaii:

Enjoy Watersports at Kailua Beach Park

People at Kailua Beach Park

Malachi Jacobs /

Located on the island’s eastern side, the stunning Kailua Beach Park spans 35 acres.

Take a trip to the beautiful coastline of Kailua Beach Park with your friends.

This beach is one of the best in the region, with crystal clear water that looks like a swimming pool and powdery white sand.

Windsurfing at Kailua Beach Park

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Try water sports like boogie boarding, kayaking, kite surfing, swimming, body surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and more to stay calm.

Among the numerous possible pursuits are sunbathing, beach volleyball, and picnics with succulent grills.

Go to the coast’s windward side to start your day with a breathtaking sunset view.

Body-surfing at Kailua Beach Park

Page Light Studios /

Ride through the Kawainui Marsh Bike Trail

Kawainui Marsh Bike Trail runs through the 830-acre protected wetlands, originally a flood control levee, towards the foot of the majestic Koolau Mountain Range named “Kawainui.”

Its name comes from the Hawaiian words for water and abundance, respectively.

As you cycle through the marsh, you can almost hear the birds singing, giving you the impression that you are in a mystical cathedral.

Starting from the Kawao Nui Marsh parking lot, you’ll follow a gravel road through a grove of native Hawaiian plants and out to the beach.

It’s long enough to get you where you need to go yet short enough for kids to play safely.

This paved path is also ideal for hiking or jogging.

The route concludes in a paved walkway that descends from Kailua road.

Work up a sweat at the Kawainui Marsh Bike Trail.

Walk along Lanikai Beach

People walking along Lanikai Beach

Malachi Jacobs /

Lanikai Beach is another picturesque beach on Oahu, coming in as a close second to Kailua Beach.

The gorgeous blue ocean and powdery white sand of this beach will make you feel like you’ve arrived in heaven.

Because of its stunning beauty, Lanikai has become one of the world’s most visited beaches.

A literal translation of its Hawaiian name would be “a heavenly ocean.”

The waters of Lanikai Beach

Phillip B. Espinasse /

No beach signs indicate the location of Lanikai Beach.

However, you’ll know you’ve arrived once you see the entry pillar with the word “Lanikai” carved into it.

The beach is a great place to take the kids and the dog, and you can do fun things in the water.

Tall trees at Lanikai Beach

7maru /

Learn to Surf at Kalama Beach

Kalama Beach, located next to Kailua Beach Park, is renowned for its beautiful white sand and calm surf.

Kalama Beach is great for swimming or taking kids because of the calm waves.

People getting started with surfing or bodyboarding will love this spot’s gentler waves.

As a bonus, Kalama Beach is far less crowded than other Oahu beaches, allowing you to enjoy some peaceful downtime.

While there are just a few dozen parking spots in the park, residents may find street parking on the surrounding roadsides.

Avoid disrupting the neighborhood by parking your vehicle on the road; always be kind to the locals.

Notably, this area has an abundance of unspoiled shorelines that stretch for what seems like forever.

Conquer the Lanikai Pillbox Hike

A person on top of Lanikai Pillbox

Benny Marty /

See the loveliest views of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands as you take the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, one of the accessible trails on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

The distance of this trek is around 1.8 miles, and its difficulty level is between moderate and challenging.

You should expect to spend between 60 and 90 minutes for the round-trip hike, depending on how far you go along the route.

Hiking trail of Lanikai Pillbox

salilbhatt /

Always look up the trail’s status before setting out on a trek.

Additionally, this region might be slick; therefore, wear hiking shoes and keep yourself hydrated and relaxed.

The route is dog-friendly; however, you should keep your canine companions on a leash.

Hikers at Lanikai Pillbox

Deborah Kolb /

Spot the Animals at Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

In 2005, Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary became a protected area due to its historical, cultural, and ecological value.

Hawaii’s biggest surviving marsh covers approximately 830 acres.

Many significant roads on Oahu border the marsh, including Kailua Road and Kapa’a Quarry Road.

Four species of Hawaiian waterfowl, all of which are peculiar to the islands and at risk of extinction, live in the Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

In addition to protecting the area from flooding and sedimentation, the refuge is a vital component of the Ko’olau Poko ecosystem.

The marsh may be inaccessible on foot, but you may view it from afar.

The Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site is the best place to see Kawainui Marsh from above.

The eastern boundary of the marsh is also accessible by a walking track that begins in Kaha Park.

Learn Local Heritage at Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site

The grounds of Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site

Steve Heap /

The Ulup Heiau State Historic Site is a religious site that has been rebuilt and used in the past as a haven for lawbreakers and a place of celebration for victories in battle and abundant harvests.

This historic site has a stone platform measuring 140 by 180 feet.

Its construction dates as far back as 400 AD.

It also features a 400-acre freshwater pond, an essential resource for island residents.

The abundance of water made it possible for the islanders to cultivate sugarcane, taro, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit.

Plants at Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site

Steve Heap /

At the foot of Heiau, you’ll find a refreshing water spring.

Locals believe the Menehune constructed Heiau in a single night.

Even now, residents of the area cultivate a bounty of herbs, fruits, and veggies there.

Travelers may learn about and participate in authentic Hawaiian practices without spending a fortune at the Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site.

Flora at Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site

Steve Heap /

Practice Your Tricks at Keolu Hills Skateboard Park

Kailua isn’t just beach and nature fun; it also caters to skaters.

Skateboarding enthusiasts in Kailua should visit Keolu Hills Skateboard Park.

There is a 15,000-square-foot skate park on Keolu Drive, just adjacent to Keolu Elementary.

The freestanding structure includes ramps, rails, seats, and ramps for the disabled, as well as bowls, quarterpipes, and other skateboarding features.

Chuck Mitsui is a skateboarder, consultant, 808 Skate owner, and President of the Association of Skateboarders Hawaii.

He was instrumental in the design process for the skatepark by Kodama Okamoto Architects, Inc.

The Keolu Hills Skateboard Park is the biggest skatepark in Oahu’s history, and the public may use it freely.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Besides Kailua, Oahu is brimming with budget-friendly activities.

Whether you’re more interested in exploring the area’s beaches, trails, or photo ops, you’ll find many exciting things to do near Kailua for free.

Here are free things to do near Kailua:

Bask in the Beauty of Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

Scenic views from Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

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One of the best places to see Oahu’s Windward Coast is the lookout point at Nu’uanu Pali Lookout in Kaneohe, 16 minutes from Kailua.

From this vantage point, you can see down to Kaneohe, to Kaneohe Bay, and up to Kailua.

This viewpoint is within a five-mile drive from downtown Honolulu, making it an ideal day trip destination.

Information board at Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

Phillip B. Espinasse /

You should be ready for gusty winds.

Wear a warm coat and keep your hat secure if the temperature drops.

The trade winds blowing across this area create a natural wind tunnel above Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.

People at Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

RaksyBH /

Enjoy the View at Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

Aerial view of Makapu'u Point Lighthouse

Lu Yang /

Measuring two miles and 500 feet in height, the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a flat and inviting natural hiking environment in Waimanalo, Hawaii, 21 minutes from Kailua.

If you’re searching for something exciting with your family in the great outdoors, you might want to try hiking the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.

The eponymous historic lighthouse will greet you at the end of a paved walk that leads to a breathtaking coastal vista.

Railings of Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

E.J.Johnson Photography /

Take out your camera and take many pictures of the whales in the distance, the stunning Hawaii scenery, and the clear blue ocean.

This walk can get quite hot, so carry plenty of water, wear a hat, put on sunscreen, and bring an umbrella.

People along Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

Steve Heap /

Admire Nature at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

The waters of Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden

Shane Myers Photography /

One of the most stunning sights in Hawaii is the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, located in Kaneohe, 23 minutes from Kailua.

A short trek from the entrance leads you to a peaceful lake.

The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the garden in 1982 with flood control in mind.

Now, it’s a haven for campers and anglers who come here to enjoy the area’s stunning natural beauty.

Why not bring a picnic and enjoy the shade of palm trees and lush vegetation at this peaceful spot?

Trail at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden

Teri L Wertman /

Its name translates to “to make a haven of peace and tranquility.”

This botanical garden is open to the public during the day at no cost.

However, it’s best if you come early.

It might be challenging to get a convenient parking place due to the high volume of visitors to this site.

A bird at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden

Schuchart /

Enjoy the Tranquility of Friendship Garden

Friendship Garden is a tranquil sanctuary in Kaneohe, Hawaii, spanning 10 acres and overlooking Kaneohe Bay.

It is a 13-minute trip from Kailua.

Created in 1927 as a Christian, multi-ethnic community to promote peace, the Kokokahi Tract includes the Friendship Garden.

Upper and lower loop pathways allow you to peacefully explore this place blanketed in mature forest.

Ironwood, Cook Island pine, monkey pod, mock orange, Christmas berry, octopus tree, Washington palms, and African tulip are just a few of the plants that thrive in the Friendship Gardens.

Stone stairs, wooden buildings and walls, and distant views of the bay, the quarry, and the adjacent islands are examples of its authentic Asian-style design components.

Admire Local Artwork at Hawaii State Art Museum

Exterior of Hawaii State Art Museum

Gimas /

You will find Hawaii State Art Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, 24 minutes from Kailua.

At least 130 artworks spanning all mediums and styles are on permanent display, depicting Hawaiian heritage and culture.

Plus, the ground level features a sculpture garden and ever-changing displays in addition to the three eye-catching galleries displaying the work of over a hundred artists.

Water fountain of Hawaii State Art Museum

Theodore Trimmer /

See various artworks, including paintings, pottery, prints, sculptures, printmakers, and wooden pieces.

You can cover everything within 30 minutes, including a lovely introduction to Hawaiian art.

See a Piece of Japan at Byodo-In Temple

Exterior of Byodo-In Temple

Shane Myers Photography /

Are you looking for one-of-a-kind free activities for a group in Oahu, Hawaii?

The Byodo-In Temple, built in 1968, is a Buddhist temple open to all faiths.

It stands in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kaneohe, 25 minutes from Kailua.

Bell of Byodo-In Temple

Leigh Anne Meeks /

To celebrate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Hawaii, they built a temple bearing a duplicate of a 950-year-old one in Kyoto, Japan.

The Byodo-In Temple has a sacred bell that stands five feet tall, a souvenir store, meditation nooks, and an 18-foot-tall Lotus Buddha statue.

Two traditional Japanese gardens, verdant foliage, koi ponds, footbridges, miniature waterfalls, and a variety of peafowl and sparrows make up the picturesque scenery.

Buddha statue at Byodo-In Temple

Eric Broder Van Dyke /

Admire the View of Honolulu at Aloha Tower

Exterior of the Aloha Tower

hartphotography /

One of the highlights of Honolulu’s downtown area is the Aloha Tower, 29 minutes from Kailua.

The Aloha Tower, located at Pier 9 in Honolulu Harbor in the city’s downtown, is a decommissioned lighthouse built in 1926.

In May 1976, it received a designation as a national historic landmark.

Its impressive Late Gothic Revival and Art Deco architecture spans 18 stories.

You may also catch the magnificent Koolau Mountain Range and Honolulu Harbor views from the building’s tenth-floor observation deck.

Clock of the Aloha Tower

Theodore Trimmer /

Final Thoughts

Explore Oahu’s Windward side and discover why Kailua Town is so famous.

It has a chill atmosphere, making it ideal for a holiday of relaxation.

Take advantage of this list of free things to do in Kailua, Hawaii, for a vacation in paradise that won’t break the bank.

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