Do You Need A Rental Car In Oahu?

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Oahu is an incredibly small island at just under 600 square miles. This leaves many (at one point ourselves included) trying to understand whether a rental car is really a necessary expense.

You don’t need a rental car to explore Oahu. However, it does make exploring the island significantly easier, allowing you the freedom to travel at your own pace and see the sights that interest you the most.

If you’re happy staying in the Honolulu area then you can easily either walk, take an Uber or public transport to get around.

Getting an Uber outside of Honolulu is significantly more difficult. Instead, you’ll either want to hire a driver for the day or go on a guided group tour around the island.

How Much Does A Rental Car Cost In Oahu?

The cost of renting a car in Hawaii in general has increased significantly in recent years.

An economy car (basic 3 / 5 door) is currently around $80 per day with Hertz. However, this price can vary significantly depending on the;

  • The duration of hire
  • Insurance required
  • Drivers age
  • Pick-up location
  • Time of year

For that reason, during our most recent trip to Oahu, we opted to use Turo, a peer-to-peer car rental platform.

On Turo, we managed to rent a similar economy car for $35 a day and had significantly more flexibility.

There are a variety of cars available on the platform, and each car / rental person is given reviews – so be sure to go for someone with multiple five-star reviews if you’re looking for security and experience using the service.

However, the cost of renting a car in Oahu is more than just the car rental cost itself.

You’ll also want to think about;

  • Gas
  • Cleaning (especially if you’re heading to the beach)
  • Parking

While the price of gas in Oahu is more than in most mainland US cities, it’s the parking that often leaves many eyes-watering.

The majority of visitors in Oahu stay in Waikiki and use a car to explore the remainder of the island.

This leads to the demand for parking in the relatively small 3.4 sq mi neighbourhood being significantly higher than the spaces available.

đź“Ť Pro Tip: Roadside parking is available in Waikiki (which in select locations is free). 

However, it's rare to find an available space in the heart of the neighbourhood and instead, you may find yourself walking miles from your car back to your hotel or condo.

In most cases, general overnight parking in Waikiki starts at $35 per 24 hours with valet and premium parking starting at $50. This can lead to the cost of parking being more than the cost of the rental car itself.

However, some accommodation options (typically condos) have car parking included.

Namely, because the parking is included with their timeshare purchase or lease of the property and subsequently a worthwhile bonus when renting the property out.

This was the case for the property that went rented during our most recent one-week visit to Oahu.

As such it’s often worth considering where you’re staying when in Oahu or Waikiki more specifically in combination with your rental car decision.

How To Drive Around Oahu

Travelling around the island of Oahu is best done by travelling east out of Waikiki (avoiding the H2) and up along the coast to the North Shore.

There is no ring road, around the island of Oahu and instead, once you reach the North Shore you’ll have to take the H2 back down through the centre of the island to Waikiki.

As such if you want to travel to the likes of Kaʻena Point State Park or Maili then you’ll have to turn around and come back the way you came which significantly increases your travel time.

Sadly, this isn’t the only thing that can significantly increase your travel time when exploring Oahu as the island is subject to terrible traffic, especially on the H1 heading in and out of Waikiki.

Traffic is typically the worst between Monday and Friday and starts as early as 5am all the way through until lunch and then again from 3pm until roughly 7pm with people heading in and out of the surrounding areas for work.

To minimise potential delays we highly recommended planning your driving route in advance and allowing for extra time wherever possible.

Oahu Freeways

There are four freeways on the island of Oahu;

H1

This is the main east-west highway and is just over 27 miles long connecting Honolulu to the central part of the island.

This highway is a key thoroughfare for both locals and visitors, connecting major residential, commercial, and tourist areas and is often subject to the worst traffic on the island.

H2

This is a major north-south highway that runs for roughly 23 miles from Pearl City in the central part of the island to Waipahu, near the western coast.

This freeway provides access to some of Oahu’s top attractions such as the Pearl Harbor, the Dole Plantation, and the Waikele Premium Outlets shopping centre.

H3

This is a limited-access toll road that runs from the Halawa Interchange in Aiea to the Kaneohe Interchange in Kaneohe.

This provides a direct route for travellers heading from the central part of the island to the windward side.

H201

This is a short, limited-access toll road that runs from the H1 Freeway near the city of Pearl City to the H2 Freeway in the central part of the island.

This highway provides a convenient route for travellers heading from the central part of the island to the North Shore.

Alternatives To Car Hire For Exploring Oahu

Depending on your requirements there is a combination of alternatives that might work well as an alternative to a rental car when exploring Oahu.

Taxis & Ride-Share

Taxis and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are widely available in Oahu.

However, services are significantly more limited in more remote areas of the North Shore.

As such we personally only opted to use taxi services when travelling to / from the airport and across Waikiki and used a rental car to drive to / from Waikiki to the North Shore.

Public Transport

The city of Honolulu operates an efficient public transportation system that includes buses, trolleys, and shuttles.

This is a budget-friendly option for getting around Waikiki, however, much like the taxi services, public transport is limited when exploring the regions outside of this area.

As such we would not recommend public transport to those looking to explore; the North Shore, the Dole Plantation, the Polynesian Cultural Center etc.

Bus Tours

If you don’t have long in Oahu (three or four days), or don’t fancy taking multiple road trips around the island then a dedicated bus tour of the island, visiting the most popular sights may be the best option.

This highly-rated bus tour lasts seven hours and covers Oahu’s natural wonders, cultural sites, surfing spots, and shopping meccas.

How To Save Money When Renting A Car In Oahu

Aside from using discount codes, AAA memberships or Turo to hire a car when exploring Oahu another thing you can consider is the duration of your rental.

We recently visited Oahu for seven nights, however, during our trip, we only rented a car for four days.

During those four days, we then explored the island of Oahu to its fullest and maximised the use of the car. Then during the remaining three, we explored Waikiki on foot and took an Uber to / from the airport.

This idea may not be suitable for everyone, especially those only in Oahu for a couple of days or those who enjoy hiking and are looking to take on a trail every day during their trip.

However, it may be a compromise for those spending longer than the recommended five days in Oahu or who don’t plan to drive long distances on multiple occasions to visit the beaches and attractions of the North Shore.

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