Oahu is a fairly small but incredibly diverse island. Getting out and seeing the Island should be on anyone’s must-do list. So it’s not surprising many people ask “do I need a car on Oahu?” The simple answer is NO! However, that really depends on what type of experience you want. We have visited Oahu without a car but having a Hire Car is very beneficial if getting out and seeing the Island properly.
Do I Need A Car?
While we have already ascertained you don’t need a car, It’s also fair to say in some instances a hire car is an unnecessary hassle and expense. If you are planning to stay solely in Waikiki there is very little need for a car. The Waikiki area of Honolulu is very small and getting about no issue. A lot of trips and Excursions will offer to pick up from your hotel so you can still get out and about. Parking can also be an issue in Waikiki, some hotels will offer it some even for free, but it can be limited and expensive! check with your hotel first.
Likewise, if you are planning a Resort based stay you will not need a car as again trips can be organized through the resort as well as arranging transport to and from the airport.
That’s not to say a car isn’t useful, it certainly can be, We always hire a car now despite having traveled without one also. So a Better question should be, Do I WANT a car? Below we explain how to get around the island without having a hire car but we still strongly advise in most cases getting a car. Not only for ease and convenience but you will get to see far more of the island.
However, if you are wanting to explore the island of Oahu fully, then hiring a car is the way to go. With a car of your own, you have the freedom to fully explore the whole island such as jungle-like area of the North Shore, rather than the main areas surrounding Waikiki. If you wish to drive off into the Island for a few days, a car is a must. Check out our experience of traveling around Oahu on our last visit HERE
Discount Car Rental in Hawaii
The cheapest rental car company we have found in Oahu is DiscountHawaiiRentalCars.com. These are an Aggregators and pull together the best prices from all the big companies. We find them very competitive and boking through them always beats the direct quotes from the Hire companies.
Being from the UK we tend to use RentalCars.com however, this is mainly for insurance purposes as the quotes we get from them include insurance for peace of mind. They are still worth comparing against DiscountHawaiiRentalCars.com anyway as they off uninsured quotes to US customers as well.
Read our Guide to hiring a car in the USA
However is a car is simply not an option for you, or you don’t think you would really use it once to get to Waikiki or your resort then you can still get to most places on the island without a car. Here’s how.
While this may seem a little obvious it really is worth saying that most things within Waikiki are within easy walking distance. It really isn’t a big place and getting around on foot is useful for most locations within the district. Only some dinner reservations may require taxis’ when dressed up. Otherwise, everything is within striking distance. Only when leaving the district would you really be required to look at motorized methods.
“The Bus” is really the HUB of Oahu’s public transportation. With no rail network available on Oahu the only real public transport provision is “the Bus”. By the way, if you wonder why we keep saying “The Bus” and not just the bus? well it’s actually called “The Bus”
Luckily, as “The Bus” is Oahu’s only real provision for public transport, it is both cheap, comprehensive, and convenient. While it may lack the glamour you may associate with Island travel It’s will get you where you need to go in a timely manner for very little outlay.
Fares are pretty simple You either pay for a one-way fare or a one day pass. a one-way fare is good for one trip on any route if you need to transfer or are making a return trip, then you need to upgrade to a 1 day pass good for unlimited trips that day.
Adults(18+): One-Way – $3 One-Day Pass – $7.50
Youth (6-17): One-Way – $1.50 One-Day Pass – $5
Child (5 and under): Free
Senior (65+): One-Way – $1 One-Day Pass – $2
as of January 2023
Routes are extensive and cover most parts of the Island, even the more remote North Shore, Winward Shore, and the Waianae Shore. There are not really many places a tourist may wish to visit that are not covered by “The Bus” network. You can view a Full System Map Here.
Frequency depends hugely on the time of day and week, busy metro routes can be as often as every 5 mins during the week, but more remote routes at weekend can be up to 1:30 between buses. Full up-to-date schedules can be found here.
for locations close to Waikiki and Honolulu taxis provide cheap and easy transport, however when heading out of town things can get pretty expensive. it is a fair trek out to some of the further destinations and a taxi is really not the most cost-effective method. And when away from the city you may have trouble hailing one, although the concierge of a hotel or a reception desk at an attraction would certainly be able to help.
Uber / Lyft
Ride-Sharing Apps have landed in Hawaii, and like most places, they are a source of controversy. Love them or hate them they are available on the Islands. Like most destinations, we feel travelers should not “experiment” with new technology when away from home. If you are used to the Apps then feel free to use them while away but if not we are not sure it’s worth the stress.
Like taxis, Uber’s price and availability become more of a problem as you move away from the City Area. We haven’t actually used any other Ridesharing App’s on Oahu so we can’t really comment, another reason we are a little hesitant to advise using them, we have heard a few horror stories with Taxi driver Run-Ins!
A large number of companies offer tours and packages that include hotel pick-ups. Many people who visit Oahu stay in Waikiki and don’t have a car and as such most tourist attractions have tours running to them directly from most hotels. This is a simple way to get out and see more of the island than Waikiki alone can offer.
If you are not wanting to explore alone and simply want excursions to the main attractions look for tours that offer hotel Pickup. You can book most tours/excursions direct from your hotel but you will probably be paying a hefty markup compared to what you could find pre-booking. For Example, more tours on Viator.com will offer some type of Hotel Pickup!
HART Metro (coming soon…ish)
An exciting development for the Island is the Honolulu HART metro rail system currently under construction. this will link the airport with Honolulu downtown, Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, and Kapolei. But not before 2025. We will keep you updated on the developments.
Getting to and from the airport
There are multiple options for getting to and from Honolulu International Airport. Obviously “The Bus” has services to and from the airport which can get you to just about anywhere on the island. Taxi’s, Uber, and Lyft all operate from the Airport and there is a large selection of Shuttles and private cars.
You can read our full guide on getting to and from Honolulu Airport here.
Have Your Say
Let us know below if you have any comments, Maybe you have experience of getting around Oahu, or need advice getting to a specific location? Whatever your comment or question just fire away!
2 thoughts on “Do I Need A Car on Oahu? Our Guide to Getting Around Oahu Without A Car”
Where do you purchase a pass for ‘the bus’?
Do you purchase it as toy are boarding the bus, or does it need to be pre purchased ?
Yeah, it’s a pretty simple bus service and you just purchase your passes from the driver. Most stops are just a post with a sign on it and as such most purchases go through the Driver. There are a couple of location where you can pre-purchase a pass but there is no need as any bus Driver can issue you a ticket, or one of the day/month passes when on board.
More info here https://www.mauicounty.gov/609/Maui-Bus-Public-Transit-System