Should You Rent a car in Honolulu? Pros & Cons to Help you decide!!

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After saving and planning for weeks, months, or maybe even years, you’re finally ready to book a long overdue trip to Hawai’i. You’ve researched all of the islands, weighed your options, and settled on Honolulu.

You can already see yourself holding a surfboard and posing for a selfie next to the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Waikiki Beach is calling your name.

Let’s see…Flight plans, check.

Hotel reservations, check.

Bucket list of your must-see places, check.

Rental car…hmm. “Do I need one?”, you ask yourself. The answer to that depends on your itinerary and your budget.

To help you make an educated decision, let’s start with a little background on one of the most beautiful vacation spots on the planet.

Should You Rent a car in Honolulu? Pros & Cons to Help you decide!!

Oahu

Honolulu car rental

The Island of O’ahu is the third largest island of the Hawai’ian archipelago and was formed, along with its neighbors, from volcanic eruptions coming up from a hot spot on the ocean floor between 40 and 70 million years ago.

The first inhabitants were migrants from Polynesia, with evidence of them there as long ago as the third century AD.

Today, O’ahu, meaning “The Gathering Place”, is home to Hawaii’s most diverse population, fusing the east and west. This fusion is seated in the values and traditions of the native peoples, and the contrast between the ancient and modern is what makes it truly special.

Honolulu

Honolulu, meaning “sheltered harbor”, is located on the southern coast of the island of O’ahu, and is the primary destination of tourists and visitors to Hawai’i.

Though unincorporated, as nothing below county level in Hawai’i is incorporated, it is the capital city of the state, as well as the most populated, with the urban metropolitan area having over one million residents as of the 2020 census.

Waikiki

Waikiki is a neighborhood in Honolulu and is the premier Hawai’ian destination for visitors from all over the world. The name means “spouting fresh water”, and is named for the springs and streams that once fed the wetlands that separated Waikiki from the inland.

It was the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and as such, was called a “playground for the royals”. That atmosphere of luxury continues today, visible in the shopping, beaches, and resorts.

Not all amenities are luxury-priced, though, and Waikiki is also where the most budget-friendly accommodations are found.

So, Should You Rent a Car in Honolulu?

is car necessary in Honolulu for tourists

The activities you decide to do during your stay in Honolulu will dictate whether or not you should rent a car. If the things you want to do are in the Waikiki area, a rental car is not needed.

If, however, your plans include an early morning snorkeling trip before the busses start running, or surfing the North Shore, a rental car would be worth considering.

Keep in mind, most of the hotels and resorts do offer a shuttle service to and from the airport, and there are also independent companies that offer that service as well.

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Pros of Renting a Car in Honolulu

benefits of renting a car in honolulu

Freedom and Flexibility

The most obvious benefit of renting a car in Honolulu is the freedom and flexibility it offers. You can choose any activity in any region of the island, at any time of the day.

Maybe you want to summit Diamond Head at sunrise? Not a problem. Maybe you want to surf the North Shore at sunset? Also, not a problem. And it can all be done comfortably, without having to plan your day around someone else’s schedule.

Privacy with family and friends

Renting a car is a better option if you are traveling with your family or friends. In this way, you will get privacy with your friends or family and can plan your vacation as you want.

A Great Option for Sightseeing

Tour buses offer cheap options to explore Honolulu, however, they won’t take you to all the tourist places in the city.

So, If you love sightseeing and want to explore the various activities Honolulu has to offer then definitely renting a car is a better option. In this way, you can easily and quickly explore every touristy place in Honolulu.

Save a lot of time

Renting a car will save you a lot of time and you won’t have to plan your day on someone else’s schedule. On the other hand, if you rely on public buses to explore the city, you will have to waste a lot of time waiting for or on public buses.

Peaceful and Relaxing vacation

Finally, renting a car will offer you a peaceful way to explore the city, unlike public buses where you will have to travel in a crowded and busier atmosphere.

Cons of Renting a Car in Honolulu

disadvantages of renting a car in honolulu

Can be Expensive

Renting a car in Honolulu can be quite expensive. This is especially true if you rent a car during peak season.

Aside from that, your hotel will charge a small parking fee. Also, don’t forget that gas prices in Honolulu are higher as compared to mainland USA which will further increase your expenses.

Traffic

Just like any other city in the USA, you will have to face traffic problems in Honolulu, too. Especially if you are staying in highly commercialized areas like Waikiki, this problem is bigger.

Parking

One of the biggest problems you will face after renting a car in Honolulu is parking. It is hard to find free or cheap parking places in Honolulu (especially in Waikiki). So, before renting a car do some research to find cheap parking in Waikiki.

Is it safe to drive in Honolulu?

Is it safe to drive in Honolulu?

If you are someone who is used to big city traffic, you’ll feel right at home driving in Honolulu. And in all honesty, with the level of traffic, there can be at times, driving in Honolulu might even be safer than driving in other congested cities–it’s hard to get into an accident when you’re hardly moving!

One thing to keep in mind when navigating Honolulu by car is that in the mornings, everyone is going to work, and all the traffic is headed into town.

The opposite is true in the afternoons, with employees now headed home, and out of town. Remember to travel in the opposite direction of the traffic when possible, and any trips you may take will be much less of a headache.

Something else to keep in mind: the going-home rush hour on Fridays will tend to be much earlier than on Mondays through Thursdays.

This is because of Aloha Fridays. Businesses that observe Aloha Fridays will often close by 1:00 or 2:00 PM, in order for employees to get a jump start on their weekends. If only businesses everywhere adopted this practice!

One other obstacle to driving in Hawai’i is the street names. The Hawai’ian language only has 13 letters, making street names sound very similar to one another to a newcomer. For example, you’ll see Kapiolani Blvd., Kalakaua Ave., and Keoniana St. all within a couple of blocks.

Additionally, sometimes the path to get onto the highway can be a little elusive. You can hear it but just can’t seem to find the on-ramp.

And even though Siri is telling you which way to go, those street names can be tricky. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the route on a map before heading out.

Cost of Renting a Car in Honolulu

A basic economy vehicle will run anywhere from $110 to $300 per day, and sometimes even higher, depending on how far in advance you make your reservation.

Larger vehicles and sports cars will be significantly higher. Planning ahead and reserving your rental car as far in advance as possible could save you hundreds of dollars, and could ultimately end up being the deciding factor when finalizing your itinerary.

Additional Transportation Options

Transportation options in Honolulu for tourists

If renting a car is not what you had in mind, rest assured, there are other options. The most economical, of course, is to simply choose destinations within walking distance.

The Honolulu Zoo, for example, is just a short 10-minute walk from Waikiki Beach, with Waikiki Aquarium only a hop, skip, and jump past that. And all of the district’s six beaches are within a twenty-minute walk.

Another fantastic option is TheBus, Honolulu’s public transportation system. The rates are $2.75/ride with a daily price cap of $5.50, meaning after the second ride of the day, you do not have to pay again for the rest of the day.

Reloadable pass cards can be purchased at various locations, or online at www.Holocard.net. Monthly rates are also available.

Lastly, there are tour companies. These companies offer a wide variety of tours and activities-transportation included.

The options vary from a two-hour luau or cocktail cruise at sunset to all-day tours focused on sightseeing, surfing, visiting historical monuments, water park fun, customized packages from the Cultural Center, and many more.

The Take-Away

Planning ahead is key when deciding whether to rent a car during your stay in Honolulu.

As early in your planning as possible, decide which sights and activities are your “must-haves”, and if that means you’ll need a car, get that baby reserved ASAP. Move that To-Do List item closer to the top of your list if you would like to keep the cost to a minimum.

But, regardless of which route you choose, one thing is guaranteed: the time spent planning your vacation will be well worth it. Hawai’i is like a little piece of heaven on earth, and the opportunity to visit is truly something to cherish. Enjoy, and Aloha!

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About the author
Chetan Patil
Hello there, wanderlust. I've been traveling around the world with my friend Aditya for the last three years since finally quitting my job, and life has been a thrilling roller coaster ride so far. Traveling is a spiritual experience for me, not just something I do for fun. Traveling has taught me that "the only certain thing about life is uncertainty." So, embrace uncertainty and make the most out of every moment.

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