Planning a trip to Oahu can both be fun and overwhelming, with the huge variety of areas to explore and activities to enjoy here. But one of the not-so-fun factors to consider is how to actually get around the island during your adventures. I mean, do you really need a rental car in Oahu?
In the post below, we’re going to tackle exactly what kind of visitors should get a rental car in Oahu—and which ones should absolutely not.
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Alright, friends, if you want the TLDR of whether you need a rental car in Oahu, here goes.
If you’re only hanging out in or close to Honolulu or staying at your resort the entire time, you can get by just fine without a rental car, given the island’s solid public transit options and availability of rideshare drivers, taxis, and guided tours.
While you can theoretically get around the entire island with these transportation options, you are, however, likely going to want a rental car if you plan on exploring multiple parts of the island, like the famed North Shore or Kailua, given the size of Oahu and how spread out its attractions are.
The Benefits of Renting a Car in Oahu
So… why would travelers want to rent a car in Oahu?
You’ll have total flexibility and freedom to explore.
The number one benefit of renting a car in Oahu—and really, anywhere!—is that you’ll have total freedom and flexibility of exploring wherever you want, whenever you want.
Want to wake up to see the sunrise at Lanikai Beach, one of the best beaches on Oahu? Well, you’ll be able to get there at exactly what time you want. Staying in Honolulu but want to take a leisurely day trip to the North Shore? You can do that too.
On the other hand, if you’re wholly reliant on rideshare or taxis to get around, you generally are beholden to the drivers’ availability and schedule. So if you wake up at 4 AM to catch a sunrise on the beach but can’t get an Uber driver until half an hour later, well—you just missed that amazing sunrise (and woke up early for no reason!).
Same thing with public transit—while Oahu has, by far, the best public transit on all of the Hawaiian Islands, you’ll be restricted to following its schedule and routes—which is definitely not the most efficient way to spend your previous vacation time.
It might be more economical than taking rideshare or group tours.
If you’re planning on exploring outside of the immediate area that you’re staying in, you’re likely going to wind up spending quite a lot on rideshares or taxis, getting everywhere from grocery stores to restaurants and beaches.
And if you plan on exploring areas that are too far away to use rideshare as your roundtrip transportation, the next best option is tours, which generally are even more expensive.
In the aggregate, these methods of transportation are often going to be a LOT more than renting a car in the first place.
For example, let’s say you’re staying in Honolulu and want to see the iconic North Shore, over an hour away. If you can even find a rideshare driver that’s willing to take you out that way in the first place, most of the attractions on the North Shore are pretty spread out, so you’d likely need a series of rides to get around, making this option cumbersome, at best, and obscenely expense, at worst.
Alternatively, you could go on a North Shore tour from Honolulu, like this one, but for well over $100 per person, you very well may be able to rent a car for the entire length of your stay for less than the cost of your group attending that one single tour.
Oahu is probably bigger than you think.
While it’s a lot easier to get around Oahu than pretty much all of the other Hawaiian Islands, it’s still quite large, clocking in at 597 square miles and the third largest island in the archipelago. It would actually take about four to six hours to drive around the entire rim of the island.
While there’s a few options of where to stay in Oahu, the vast majority of travelers stay in or near Honolulu, which can be anywhere from a half hour to well over an hour drive to some of the most popular attractions on the island.
And if you’re staying in the North Shore, the points of interest are pretty spread out. You could definitely take a taxi or rideshare between each place you’re interested in exploring, but that wouldn’t be particularly time or cost efficient.
So, ultimately, if you’re planning on exploring multiple parts of the island, having a rental car will make it a lot easier—and faster—to explore.
Why Renting a Car in Oahu Might Not Be For You
Okay, so we’ve established that renting a car makes it a lot easier to explore multiple parts of the island—so what kind of traveler shouldn’t bother to rent a car in Oahu?
You plan on spending all of your time in Honolulu or the immediately surrounding areas.
If you’re just going to be on Oahu for a few days and plan on spending all of your time exploring Honolulu, you can get around just fine without a rental car, between the city’s affordable public transit, taking taxis or ride shares, using the hop-on, hop-off trolley, or renting a bike.
If you plan on zipping around the city and the surrounding area a bunch, you might want to do some rough math and figure out whether renting a car will be more cost effective and convenient than relying on other means of transport. However, with seriously pricey parking and valet fees at many of Honolulu’s hotels and restaurants, rental cars can definitely be more trouble than they’re worth.
You plan on spending your whole time at the resort.
Listen, if you’re landing in Honolulu, heading straight to the resort, and basically staying there the entire time (no shame in that, my friend!)? You almost certainly don’t need a rental car.
While Hawaii doesn’t offer all-inclusive resorts the way that some other tropical destinations, like Mexico or the Carribean do, there’s still plenty of bougie properties, like the Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina or the Turtle Bay Resort, where it would be effortless to spend a week or two here, just soaking up the sun during the day and enjoying their world-class restaurants and other amenities at night.
Plus, these kinds of resorts usually provide a shuttle to and from the airport, so you’ll literally never need transportation if you don’t plan on leaving the property.
Further, many of the swanky resorts on Oahu charge a pretty steep premium for parking on their property—-like the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki that charges an eye-watering $49 per day (plus tax!) to just self-park in their lot.
Staying at upscale resorts in Oahu definitely isn’t easy on the wallet—and there’s no need to blow even more of your hard-earned cash than is necessary.
You prefer to take tours.
If you mostly plan on hanging out at your resort and going on a few guided tours around the island, you likely won’t need too much additional transportation, given that most tours pick you up at your accommodations.
Tours are pricey but, in my opinion, they’re usually worth it. They’re an awesome way to learn more about the history and culture of the island from a local and let someone else take the driver’s seat—quite literally!—for the day.
For example, this tour will take you around the entire island, stopping at a variety of stops from the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, and Waimea Falls, a beautiful waterfall you can swim under.
This small group tour is another good option, which also makes its way around the island, stopping at places like a beach that offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu, especially if you love sea turtles, and the funky surf town of Haleiwa.
You are a budget traveler.
Oahu is probably the cheapest island to rent cars—in fact, you can find them for as little as $20 a day in the quieter seasons.
But if you’re traveling on a tight budget, you might struggle with the rental fees—or, more likely, the hidden costs of renting a vehicle, like the aforementioned parking and valet fees and fuel costs.
Instead, I’d suggest using public transit to get around the island. It’s definitely not the most efficient use of your time to explore the island, but you can get to almost every area on The Bus. And it’s VERY cost-efficient—just $30 for a week-long pass! Plus, using public transit ties up less of the island’s resources, like its limited parking, and is more eco-friendly. What’s not to love?
Do You Need a Rental Car in Oahu?
As mentioned above, you might fall into a certain bucket of travelers where it’s super obvious whether you should bother getting a rental car in Oahu.
For example, during our most recent trip to Oahu, my husband, Justin, and I stayed in both Honolulu and the North Shore and were constantly zipping around the island, waking up for sunrise and to explore more off-the-beaten path places, like the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail. We got a rental car for the entire duration of our visit to enjoy maximum flexibility of getting around and not spending our limited time trying to figure out other means of transportation.
But if it’s not clear whether it makes sense for you to rent a car in Oahu, I’d suggest trying to figure it out by:
- Pick where you’re going to stay on the island. Waikiki and other areas of Honolulu are some of the most popular places to stay in Oahu, but there’s definitely other areas to consider, including Kailua and the North Shore.
- Figure out your itinerary while you’re on the island (psssst… we have this handy dandy Oahu itinerary so you don’t have to do any of the work!) and, for each day, map out the places you want to visit in Google Maps.
- For each of these days, figure out whether you’d get from place to place by walking, rideshare, public transit, or taking a guided tour.
For any legs of your journey where you’ll be taking public transit or rideshare, figure out approximately how much it would cost to get from Point A to Point B. You can actually plug any starting or ending point into Uber or Lyft and get the approximate cost of the ride.
This might also be a good time to figure out if you’ll need (or want!) to take a tour to get anywhere. I love using Viator, which aggregates a ton of different tours making it super easy to check reviews of others and compare prices. Just make sure to check whether the tours include transportation to and from your hotel—and if they don’t, remember to account for that cost as well!
Add up the totals for each day to figure out how much it would cost to get around Oahu without a rental car.
- Check out how much a rental car would cost during your trip. I prefer to use aggregators like Rentalcars.com or Expedia, where you can see and compare all of your options in one stop.
You’ll also need to approximate how much money you’d spend on gas (remember that gas in Oahu is usually on the pricier end of the spectrum) and any parking fees your hotel might have.
- Compare the total costs of renting a car versus getting around via other means. Remember to account for the freedom and flexibility you’ll have with a rental and I’m confident you’ll find your answer!
Tips for Saving Money on Rental Cars in Oahu
If you think it’ll make sense for you to rent a car in Oahu, but you’re worried about the price point, there’s definitely a lot of strategies that you can use to keep your costs down.
Book far in advance.
You usually get the best rates when you book pretty far in advance (like, six months in advance) or sometimes, when you book at the last minute.
Accordingly, I’d recommend booking a refundable reservation as far in advance as possible and checking to see if you can snag a better deal closer to your actual trip.
As a real-life example, I booked a car for our recent trip to Maui almost 8 months in advance for around $60 a day, which, at the time, seemed absurdly expensive to me. I kept checking and rechecking to see if the prices had dropped at all, but, by the time our trip was nearing, the prices had literally more than doubled.
Just make sure you book a refundable reservation (almost all of the reservations on Rentalcars.com are!). I’ve also previously made the mistake of panic-reserving a non-cancellable rental reservation and then lost out on a much better deal when prices plummeted a few days before our trip.
I also like that most of these third-party aggregator sites have loyalty programs that you can sign up for, which have point systems that you can use to get discounts on things like hotels, rental cars, or flights.
Only rent a car for part of the time in Oahu.
If you’re spending part of your stay mostly hanging out around Honolulu and then part of your time exploring outside of the city, only book a rental car for the latter part of the trip.
Plus, renting a car from a location other than the airport tends to shave off quite a bit of the cost.
Find a hotel that doesn’t have parking fees.
Honestly, if you’re renting a car in Oahu during the non-busy season, you can probably snag a deal for $30 per day or less. What can really add to the expense, though, is hotel parking fees, which, as mentioned above, can easily exceed $40 a day.
So try to find accommodations that don’t charge for parking! For example, Ilima Hotel, located in Waikiki, has free, first-come first-serve parking for guests. Alternatively, the charming Manoa Valley Inn (right by one of the best hikes in Oahu, Manoa Falls) has an outdoor swimming pool and free private parking.
Visit during the off-season.
If you’re generally cost-conscious, you’ll find better prices on rental cars, as well as hotels and airfare, if you book during Oahu’s quieter seasons in April through May and September through mid-December.
If you’re visiting during Oahu’s busy seasons, like around Christmas and New Years, be prepared to pay a premium on everything, including rentals—the cheapest options can be $80 a day or more!
I hope you have a better idea of whether you need to rent a car during your time in this slice of paradise. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions about getting around Oahu or picking up a car here!