Oahu Transportation Tips: Do you really need a rental car?
by Suzanne G.
Many first-time visitors to Oahu book rental cars for their vacations, only to be surprised by how much of a hassle having a car here is and how little they will use it.
Aside from rental fees, heavy traffic, and expensive gas, parking on Oahu is hard to find and expensive anywhere worth visiting. Parking lots are full even in the off-season, parking spaces are tiny, and parallel parking on Oahu’s busy streets is nerve-wracking. Also, overnight parking is restricted in public lots and Waikiki resorts charge up to $40 per day to park.
Alternatively, there are a lot of great ways to get around the island besides renting a car from a traditional car rental agency. These alternative forms of transportation can save you money, and they are often easier, stress-free, and more sustainable too. So before you book a rental car for your Hawaiian vacation know what your options are.
Oahu Transportation Tips: Rental Car Alternatives
- Walking: Waikiki is a fairly small neighborhood, it is only three to four miles long from end to end. It is very pedestrian-friendly, easy to navigate, and safe to walk around (even at night). To get from one end to the other you can take the Beach Walk or just follow the sidewalks. All the beaches, resorts, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs are located within this small walkable area. Several luaus are located within walking distance of most Waikiki resorts too. The Diamond Head Luau at the Waikiki Aquarium, the Waikiki Starlight Luau at the Hawaiian Hilton Village, and the Rock-a-Hula Dinner Show are some great options. There’s even a walkable snorkeling tour that leaves from the dock at the Hawaiian Hilton Village. You could easily spend your whole vacation in Waikiki without running out of exciting things to do.
- Biking: Biki Bikes is Honolulu’s bike-sharing service, with over 100 kiosks located in the area. This is a quick affordable way to go short distances. It might be a great option depending on where you want to go and how confident a biker you are. Just remember that Waikiki has a lot of traffic, narrow roads, and few bike lanes. Biking on the sidewalk is strictly forbidden as well. But for anyone who is accustomed to biking in busy urban environments, it’s a breeze. You can also rent e-bikes, vespas, and scooters in the area, but will have to deal with the same challenges.
- Public Transportation: At $3 per fare the bus is a cheap and efficient way to travel. It may not always take you where you need to go quickly, but for some purposes, it is the perfect fit. For example, if you would like to hike to Manoa Falls, the bus is the best way to get to the trailhead. There is also regular bus service to/from the Honolulu airport.
- Waikiki Trolley: The trolley offers several hop-on-hop-off style tours in the area. In addition to being fully narrated, they are a great way to get around. Especially the Pink Line, which runs from one end of Waikiki to the other. It is perfect for those days when you’re tired of walking. Or when it is too hot or raining, and it is only $5/day. Additionally, the Red Line travels from Waikiki to the main attractions in downtown Honolulu. Stops include the Iolani Palace, King Kamehameha statue, Chinatown, Punchbowl Crater Cemetery, and the Aloha Tower.
- Rideshares: Lyft and Uber are plentiful and reasonably priced in Waikiki and Honolulu. They are a great way to get around the city. Just be aware that if you take one to a more remote location outside of the city center you may have a hard time finding a ride back. For example, if take an Uber to Aloha Kai Luau in Waimanalo Beach (15 miles west), it will be difficult to find a ride back at the end of the night.
- Taxis: Good old-fashioned taxis are alive and well on Oahu, and ready to take you wherever you need to go. They are reliable, though not the most budget-friendly way to get around. Limos and private cars are available too if you’re fancy.
- Hui Carshare: Hui cars are located throughout Waikiki and Honolulu. You can rent them for the hour or the day. And you can park them in their “home” stations without having to pay for parking. Rentals also include insurance, gas, and cleaning. This is an app-based service, but they also have a kiosk in Waikiki if you want to set up your rental in person. Great for last-minute trips and unexpected errands.
- Turo Carshare: Turo, the Airbnb of car rentals, thrives on Oahu. While you will still pay by the day like a regular car rental agency, you’ll find cheaper rates and a wider variety of vehicles to choose from. Plus, you’re supporting the locals. Some rentals also include free overnight parking at the car’s pick-up location. Turo cars are also great for last-minute or short-term rentals. So if you decide to go cage diving with sharks on a whim you could still make it happen.
- Tours! Many tours on Oahu include a hotel pick-up for no charge or a nominal charge. The two most popular types of tours on the island include free pick-ups and drop-offs. These are the Oahu Circle tours, full-day tours that travel up to the North Shore and back, and Pearl Harbor tours. These two tours cover a considerable amount of the island and include all the can’t-miss places outside Waikiki, so it just makes sense to go on one or both during your vacation. You could try to recreate these tours on your own, but either one would be exhausting to coordinate and probably wouldn’t be worth it. Likewise, almost every luau on the island offers a shuttle add-on option because who wants to drive home after a luau at 9 p.m. in the dark? No one.
Of course, you may still need a rental car for part of your vacation, depending on what you would like to see and do while on Oahu. However, for many island itineraries, they are completely unnecessary. A better alternative would be to first identify where you want to go and what you’d like to do during your vacation. Then decide if you need a rental car or if an alternative would fit your needs better, and save you the headaches and extra expenses of a rental. Odds are you’ll only need a rental car for a day or an afternoon. And why pay for a seven-day rental and contribute to traffic congestion and pollution when there are better options available?