Do You Need a Rental Car in Honolulu?

While U.S. rental car prices are down from the all-time highs recorded in July 2021, they’re still high. The average U.S. rental car price in December 2022 was 36% higher than prices in December 2019. And one of those places where rental car prices can feel especially high is Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Not only are Honolulu rentals expensive, but many resorts charge outrageous parking fees. NerdWallet collected data on more than 100 U.S. hotels for its 2023 Best-Of Awards in search of the best hotel rewards program.

Honolulu’s median hotel parking fee is the third-highest of all the cities NerdWallet analyzed at $46.06 per night, behind only New York ($50) and Chicago ($56).

And don’t forget gas. So far in 2023, Hawaii has had the highest average gas prices, regardless of fuel type, of any state, according to data from AAA.

Given the high costs of renting cars, gas and parking, you might consider ditching driving for your next Oahu vacation. But how realistic is it to navigate Oahu without a rental car?

For travelers who don’t mind extra walking, are willing to wait for a bus and aren’t opposed to occasionally hailing a taxi, skipping car rentals in Honolulu can be a huge money saver. Here’s how to get around Honolulu and other Oahu destinations without a car.

Public transportation

Redfin, an online residential real estate brokerage, lists Honolulu as the 11th-best major city for public transportation according to its 2019 Transit Score rankings, its latest set of data. 

Oahu’s public bus service is called TheBus, and cash fares are $3. About 117,000 people, roughly a third of Honolulu’s population, ride the bus on an average weekday, according to third-quarter 2022 data from the American Public Transportation Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the interests of the public transportation industry.

American tourists are less enthused.

In 2019, less than 9% of out-of-state American tourists used Oahu’s public buses. Meanwhile, about 60% of Americans used a rental car.

Buses can sometimes take about twice as long as driving given the number of stops. They occasionally run late and — during busy hours — they can be crowded. But sometimes the difference is negligible, and some routes, in particular, are well-suited to bus riding.

On the express bus, it can take about 25 minutes to get from the Hilton Waikiki Beach to Iolani Palace versus 16 or 17 minutes to drive. But you’ll have to pay $4 to park at Iolani Palace, where parking is limited, so you might spend extra time searching for a spot on top of the $45 you likely spent on Hilton parking.

Google Maps makes it easy to navigate bus routes, and it also displays up-to-date information accounting for delays.

Taxis or rideshares

For those seeking an alternative to the usual apps, there’s also a locally owned rideshare company in Hawaii called Holoholo that operates very similarly. Passengers can request a ride from the Holoholo smartphone app, and they’re assigned to a driver typically within a few minutes. Fares are displayed upfront as a fixed cost and can be paid through the app with a credit card.

According to Holoholo’s fare estimator, it usually costs about $45 to ride from Waikiki hotels to the airport.

Trolley tours

If your goal is to hit several popular tourist spots near Honolulu like Diamond Head, the Duke Kahanamoku statue, Chinatown and Punchbowl Crater, your best bet might be the Waikiki Trolley. A one-day, unlimited adult pass costs $55, while a seven-day adult pass costs $75. Depending on the route, trolleys run every 20 to 90 minutes.

Routes are curated toward tourist-friendly locations, so it’s unlikely you’ll end up lost.

The Waikiki Trolley’s newest route is structured around Hawaii’s food scene, with stops at local favorites such as Leonard’s Bakery, a cafe credited with popularizing the malasada, a donut-like staple in Hawaiian cuisine.

Lodging or activity providers

The Polynesian Culture Center offers shuttle services for an additional fee. (Photo courtesy of Polynesian Culture Center)

Some hotels and excursion operators work with shuttle companies to provide transportation to other major destinations, like the airport. Sometimes the shuttle cost is included in the overall price, as is the case with Coral Crater Adventure Park. Packages for activities such as ATV rides and zipline tours here include transportation to and from your Waikiki hotel.

?Nerdy Tip

Waikiki is a neighborhood within Honolulu.

Sometimes, lodging or activity providers will offer shuttle services as an add-on fee. For example, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, works with Hele Hele Transportation to shuttle guests rides between the resort and Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport for $25 per person each way. 

Another popular destination on Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center, offers activities including a luau, canoe tours, crafts, games and lessons in skills like spear-throwing and cooking.

The center offers a $26 per person round-trip shuttle ticket on top of the usual entrance price, saving you from making the roughly hourlong drive yourself. With it, travelers are picked up in Waikiki in the morning and returned about 12 hours later, leaving enough time for all the activities.

Walk or bike

Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki Beach.

Pack good walking shoes because many of the major hotels are in pedestrian-friendly areas. For instance, it’s a gorgeous, 45-minute beachfront walk from most of the Waikiki hotels to Diamond Head.

Many tourist attractions are close to each other. For example, the Hawaii State Capitol, Maunakea Marketplace, the Hawaii State Art Museum, the Hawaii Theatre, Iolani Palace and the Foster Botanical Garden are all within less than a mile of each other.

While traditional bike rental companies exist, a convenient way to rent a bike is through the local bike share service Biki. The company has about 1,300 bikes spread across about 130 self-service ‘Biki Stops’ throughout downtown Honolulu, which can be unlocked through the mobile app. A single, 30-minute ride costs $4.50, or you can purchase a bank of 300 minutes (that’s five hours) for $30.

What’s coming to Honolulu public transit next?

Concept art for the Hōlau station, which would serve Chinatown, Pali, Downtown, and outlying residential areas. (Image courtesy of Honolulu Rail Transit Project)

Hawaii public transit could get even better soon. While the Honolulu Rail Transit Project has been in development for years and trial test runs began in August 2022, it is slated to open sometime in 2023, though tracks around the airport and city center aren’t scheduled to open until 2031.

But in the future, it’s even less likely you’ll need to rent a car in Oahu — and you may not need one now, either.

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