You’ve booked your flight, picked your hotel, and mapped out several days worth of itineraries. Now, only one question remains: How are you going to get around?
Obviously, the answer depends on how you plan on spending your time. If you envision multiple days at the hotel at the beach in Waikīkī or a schedule full of organized tours, for example, then your needs will be very different than if you plan on self-exploring the island.
Typically, most visitors strike a balance between the two – a few days of relaxing, and a few days of exploring. You may want to rent a car for your entire trip for the inherent convenience; or you may find that you can save money by renting a car only for the days you need it, and relying on the bus, bikes, ride share, and shuttles otherwise.
Table of Contents
Below, we give you the rundown of all the transportation options on O‘ahu for you to consider.
Renting a Car
Most visitors to O‘ahu end up renting a car in some capacity; it’s just a matter of for how long.
People staying in Waikīkī have walking access to the beach and restaurants, as well as to any number of bus routes, shuttles, and ride share services (see below), which lessens their need for a car on a daily basis.
Evaluating Your Need For a Car
Be honest about your travel plans. If flexibility, efficiency, and convenience are of absolute importance, renting a car for the duration of your stay is the best option. You can pick up the car at the airport upon arrival, and return it when you depart, and although you might encounter parking fees, it’s there whenever you want to use it, and you are free to roam. Those who see themselves coming and going throughout their trip will find a car to greatly enhance their efficiency and range of exploration.
Although public transportation and ride share services exist, they do have their drawbacks (see below). Those staying in Airbnbs outside of Waikīkī will no doubt find themselves with a daily need for a car.
The other side of the coin can also be true, though. If you see yourself relaxing on Waikīkī Beach, walking to its many restaurants, and sticking to the major attractions – such as Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and nightly luaus, which offer transportation as part of their tours – you might find your need for a car is less so. In this case, you can play it by ear, and rent a car from a non-airport location if and when you decide you need it. Many hotels have rental car services located on site.
In the end, only you can decide which path is better for you based on your plans. Depending on the time of year renting a car can be expensive in Hawai‘i, so being honest about your ambitions can help make the best financial decision. Obviously, there’s no need to rent a car for a week if you only plan to use it a day or two.
Car rental tips
- When renting a car, always check prices online. Never call the store directly and ask about rates without scoping them out online first – many companies will up-sell over the phone to unknowing customers.
- Search third-party sites. Often times, prices will be cheaper on third-party sites like Discount Hawai‘i Car Rental, than on the car rental center’s own website.
- Take advantage of flexible cancellation policies. These days, free cancellation right up to the day of pickup is a common offering via third-parties (see point #2 above), and that’s always a good thing to have in your back pocket should your plans or ambitions change. Many companies, like Enterprise, offer free cancellation directly as well.
- Factor parking costs into your rate. Hotels charge for parking, and the cost isn’t insignificant, often $25 per day or more. Don’t forget to factor this cost into your daily rate and budget when renting a car.
The Bus (Public transport)
O‘ahu has an extensive bus network that can get you just about anywhere on the island, and it’s an extremely affordable way to get around. There are a few drawbacks, however. Here’s what you need to know:
- The Bus is an economical way to get around. The price for an unlimited day pass is $5.50. Otherwise, it’s $2.75 per ride.
- It’s best to ask a local. You can check out the bus’s schedule on the website and app, but neither are super easy to navigate if you don’t already know which route you want to take. Ask the hotel staff or concierge for the best route(s) to your destination. Then use the website or app to see when and where it departs. Google maps can also be used to see the best bus route between destinations.
- The bus is slow. There’s no way around it – taking the bus is the slowest form of transportation on the island. Though reasonably on-time, O‘ahu’s traffic combined with frequent stops make the bus slow going, sometime more than double the time it would take in a private car.
- The bus is a decent option from the airport to Wakiki. If you don’t plan on renting a car right away and want to save some cash on a taxi, shuttle, or ride share, you can take the bus from the airport to Waikīkī, typically to within just a block or two of your hotel. Though it will take nearly double the time as one of the previous options, you can’t beat paying only $2.75. Note: Luggage is typically allowed on the bus, but only if it’s a modest amount. The driver and fellow passengers – including many who are local and commuting from work – may not be pleased if you take up multiple seats with your bags. Use proper judgement there.
- The bus is best for trips along the south shore. Be realistic about the bus. It’s attractive price-wise, but it is impractical for longer journeys. Sure, you could take the bus from Waikīkī to Waimea Bay, but you’re going to eat up a lot of time in transit (2-3 hours). We recommend looking at the bus as a way to explore the different parts of Waikīkī and Honolulu, where it’s more of a city atmosphere and destinations/neighborhoods are not so far apart – like the Iolani Palace, Chinatown, Kakaako, etc.
You can get a feeling for what it’ll be like to ride The Bus from the following video, made by local tour guide “The Real Hawai‘i“.
Taxi /Uber / Lyft
Taxis and rideshare apps service most of O‘ahu with regularity. The latter is more commonly found on the south shore, in Waikīkī and Honolulu, and apps like Uber and Lyft cover just about the entire island.
Generally, taxis are more expensive. At this point, this is true all over the world. Unless you are in a hurry and come upon one empty and waiting, we can’t think of a reason to choose a taxi.
Uber and Lyft are your best bet. No surprise, these two apps have an abundance of drivers. Wait times are minimal in Waikīkī and Honolulu. The area surrounding Kailua is also well serviced. Wait times may be longer for more remote areas of the island.
An alternative way to get around the city is by The Waikīkī Trolley. It has a fleet of vehicles and routes that range from legitimate busing service to themed hop-on, hop-off adventures covering most major visitor attractions. For example, the Purple Line costs $25 for a ticket and services Pearl Harbor, the Bishop Museum, and Pier 38 Fishing Village. The Yellow Line, nicknamed the Honolulu Dining Express, costs $2 and goes between popular eateries in Waikīkī.
Bike (bike sharing)
If you’re looking for a non-motorized way to get around Waikīkī and Honolulu, consider the Biki Bike Program. It has stations in just about every neighborhood, and 300 minutes of ride time will cost you only $25 (time starts when you take a bike and stops when you return it to another station). The city has improved bike lanes in recent years, but getting around this way requires some tolerance of traffic. Wearing a helmet is also strongly recommended, as many routes take place on busy roads.
Scooter rentals (Waikīkī)
Scooters and mopeds are also a possibility in Waikīkī, available in half and full day rentals. They are fun to drive, and very convenient when it comes to parking. Prices start high – typically $50-$100 for 24 hour rentals – but rates get cheaper on a per day basis if you book for longer (for example, at Cruzin Hawai‘i, 24 hours costs $50 and three days costs $110).
There are many scooter rental places in Waikīkī – call around for the best deal.
Airport shuttles (to and from Honolulu airport)
We’ve discussed many options already that are relevant when going to / coming from the airport, including a rental car, the bus, taxi, or ride-share. But there’s also a number of airport shuttles that can get you to your hotel. The following two companies are popular choices for airport transport:
- Robert’s Hawai‘i charges $34 per person for a roundtrip ticket between the airport and Waikīkī (they also provide service to Kahala, Ko olina, and Turtle Bay).
- Speedi Shuttle offers a similar deal from the airport to your hotel ($16 one way). The bus will be full of people going to different hotels, so a number of stops will be made, but the shuttles are definitely faster and more efficient than the bus.