You can get around Honolulu without a car, thanks to Oahu’s awesome bus system. However, you’ll be limited to the timetables and routes of public transit—and there’s so much more to see than what’s on the main route.
On the one hand, Oahu has the best transit system of all the Hawaiian islands. If you’re young and fancy-free, you could probably get around alright using just the bus system. But if you have kids (or more than one bag), you might find yourself grateful for the stability and independence granted to you by having a rental car. Plus, some of Oahu’s best destinations are unreachable by bus.
If you do choose to rent a car, make sure it’s the right model. It should be durable and practical with good fuel economy. Here’s a complete guide to renting a car on Oahu if you’re flying into Honolulu. Your tour guide is
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Where to get a rental car in Honolulu
If you’re planning a trip to Oahu and you plan to travel outside of the downtown
Honoluluarea, you can do and see a lot more if you have a rental car.
But before we tell you where to get a rental car in Honolulu, please allow us to give you two tips.
First, remember to book your rental vehicle way ahead of time—especially if you are visiting during peak season in June or December. Ten million people visit Hawaii every year, so competition for rental cars can be fierce if you don’t plan ahead! In fact, if you really want to save money, you should book your visit during the off-season when prices for car rentals are lower.
Second, know that parking in Waikiki can be a total nightmare. Most hotels charge an additional fee to park your rental car overnight. Talk with your hotel ahead of time and see if parking is included, or if they can offer you some kind of deal—or plan to pick up a car for a single day of sightseeing and return it before the day is done.
There are paid lots, paid garages, and metered street parking throughout Honolulu, but even paid spots can be hard to find in peak season. For free parking near downtown, try the Ala Moana Center shopping mall or the Ala Moana Beach Park. The Waikiki Shell parking lot is another good choice for 24-hour free parking.
You may also want to look up the rates at
Discount Hawaii Car Rental. Their prices tend to be lower than the national companies, and this company doesn’t require a credit card to book a reservation.
Finally, you might be interested in
DriveHui. This is a car-share service in Hawaii where you can rent a car by the hour or by the day using the app.
What kind of car should you rent in Hawaii?
It depends on where you need to go.
Small cars usually cost less to rent, but you should make sure to choose a vehicle that can handle the bumpy roads—and all of your beach supplies. If you plan to do any off-roading, you’ll need a 4x4.
Look for a car with good fuel economy, as gas is much more expensive in Hawaii than on the mainland.
Fast cars may seem appealing for happy-go-lucky vacationers, but most roads have a 50 mph speed limit in Hawaii.
Oh, and don’t forget to choose a car with air conditioning!
Do you need rental car insurance?
This question trips everybody up. You’re at the rental desk, fresh off the plane, and you have just a few brain cells left to figure out whether you’re obligated to take the insurance offered to you.
Here’s the simple answer: yes, you need rental car insurance, but you don’t necessarily need theirs.
Some credit companies offer rental car insurance, which you can access by turning down the rental company’s offer.
Regardless, you need to have insurance while driving in Hawaii—even if you have to buy it from the rental company for a daily charge.
From dirt parking lots to potholes and narrow roads beside volcanoes, driving in Hawaii can be treacherous. You and your vehicle are at much higher risk here than your typical commute at home and your policy will cover you in case of damage.
Before you leave the lot, inspect your rental car with the representative. Take pictures of any damage and document existing scratches so you don’t get charged for them later.
Do you need a car in Honolulu?
If you don’t plan to leave the downtown area (perhaps you’re visiting a resort), then a rental car could actually be more of an inconvenience than a help.
There is an excellent public transit system on Oahu called TheBus. With more than a dozen routes in and out of Honolulu, it’s ranked one of the best systems in the entire United States! Just grab a HOLO Card or a four-day pass at an ABC convenience store, and you’re good go. You can even refill it online. To plan your trips, use the
DaBus2 Oahu Bus App.
While you can definitely get around Honolulu without a car, there’s a lot more to Oahu than Waikiki and the resorts.
Many of the best natural attractions on Oahu are free. But you have to be able to get there to enjoy them—that’s when it’s handy to have a car. You can reach the North Shore and some other parts of the island by bus, but your explorations will be severely limited. Plus, do you really want to cut short your farm tour or snorkeling adventure because you have to catch a bus?
In summary, there is public transit on Oahu. However, if you’re carrying snorkel gear or diaper bags, if you don’t want to get sunburned and dehydrated, or if you want to explore beyond Waikiki, then you might want to steer clear of the buses.
Where public transportation can take you
The #60 line and the #76 line on TheBus can take you along the coast around the North Shore. It’s a beautiful view but the ride takes over two hours.
Take the #40 or the Country Express to get to Waikiki from the outskirts. Try Local #401 or #402 to reach farms for tours.
From Waikiki to Diamond Head or Hanauma Bay, you can hop on the #23.
To get to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki, take the #20 or #42 and hop off at the Visitors Center. Remember that the naval base has restrictions on bags for visitors.
It is possible to take TheBus to and from the airport. Don’t try this if you have young kids or lots of luggage.
Leaving the airport, head outside baggage claim and catch the #19 or #20 to head to Waikiki.
If you’re going to the airport from the North Shore or Waianae Coast, you can take the #40, #42, #50, #51, #52, A, C, and E which will stop at the entrance of the airport. From Waikiki or Honolulu, take Major #19 or #20, or Local #31 to get to the airport.
Check out the full
system mapto plan your route via public transit
Where public transportation can’t take you
While you can access a lot of Oahu’s best attractions via bus, there are some destinations that are a lot easier to reach by car:
- Sherwood Beach
- Kawela Bay
- Mermaid Caves
- Goat Island
- Ko Olina Lagoons
- Electric Beach
- Manulele Distillers
Everyone knows that some of the best adventures happen when you follow your nose. Unless you can convince a bus driver to veer off the beaten path, you’ll have to rent a car to uncover Oahu’s best hidden gems.
How to save on car insurance
Whether you’re visiting temporarily or you’ve made a permanent home in paradise, car expenses can take a serious bite out of your budget. To lower your costs, try the free
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