Do I need a rental car if I stay in Waikiki Beach?

rental-car If you’re staying in Waikiki on your Oahu vacation, then you’re probably wondering if you need a rental car or not.  Let me first say that a rental car is not a necessity.  You can get around Oahu with public transportation and packaged tours.  That being said, there is a certain degree of freedom and flexibility that a rental car offers that might enhance your visit to Oahu, which might make you consider renting a car.  In this article I’ll give you some good food for thought to help you determine if you want to rent a car or not.

Before I dive into the details, I want to make you aware of an option you may not have considered. If you are on the fence about renting a car, then consider renting a car for part of your stay.  You can find rental car desks right in Waikiki, there may even be one in your hotel.  For example, there’s a Hertz desk at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Enterprise brings rental cars to you.  You could potentially rent a car for a single day and return it at the end of the day. Then, the next day rent a car again, if desired/needed.

Now let’s look at the upsides and downsides of renting a car.

Rental Car Pros

  • Gives you freedom for getting around to see Oahu, particularly outside of the urban area of Honolulu.  Rather than taking a tour bus around the island, you can stop off as many places as your heart desires rather than sticking to a stringent tour schedule.  Anytime I’ve been on a tour bus, there are so many times I’d love to stop the bus to take a photo, but the bus continues on.
  • Gives you more privacy as compared to public transportation and tour buses.
  • If you are planning several tours, you might save money by renting a car.  For example, if you want to take a family of four on the Circle Island Tour, you may end up paying upwards of $200 where as a daily rental car may cost you only $45 or even less.
  • Gives you a sense of adventure. When I think back to some of my vacations around the world, I often remember the fun and satisfaction in navigating to a special scenic spot.  Sometimes the journey is just as good as the destination.

Rental Car Cons

  • Driving in Honolulu is like driving in any other city – there’s busy traffic, one-way streets, multiple lanes, etc.  You’ll definitely need a good map and/or a GPS navigation system, and do some route planning before you head out on the road.  Navigating can add a bit more stress as compared to just hoping on a tour bus.
  • Parking at your hotel may cost a small fortune.  Expect to pay an average price of about $25 per day.  This website lists the Waikiki hotel parking fees.  In general, parking in Honolulu can be a royal pain in the you know what and your wallet. So, be sure to check out this post on cheap Waikiki parking.
  • Bear in mind, that gas prices are a bit higher in Hawaii as compared to the US mainland.  Just from my experience, I’d estimate that gas costs about 10% higher in Hawaii.
  • Using public transport is better for the environment.

How might you get around Oahu to see the sights without a rental car?

  • Oahu offers clean, safe bus service with TheBus, which passes at or near many Oahu attractions.
  • To get to/from the airport, you can’t take TheBus unless you packed extremely light. See these rules regarding baggage limitations. Shuttle service and cabs are readily available to and from Honolulu (HNL) airport.
  • Many packaged tours, luaus and excursions provide transportation either as part of the total cost or for a nominal fee.


I hope this post has helped you make the decision that’s right for you.  If you are wondering what I would do, I’ll tell you.  I’d rent a car for at least a day.

Some other articles that you might find interesting are:

If you’ve been to Waikiki before, what did you do?  What tips and tricks did you learn?  Please share your comments.

  1. I’ve been to Oahu with and without a rental car. The rental car is a much better option. The schedules for those tour buses are too rigid and it’s crowded plus sometimes I’m not in the mood for singing songs, getting to know the person next to me and playing driving games. Sometimes I’d like to just look out the window or have a conversation with the person I’m traveling with. The convenience and freedom of the rental car are well worth the extra expense. Plus it’s pretty fun if you get the convertible.

  2. Hi Emma – Thanks for your insight. It’s particularly meaningful since you’ve gone with a car and without.
    So, I’m guessing you don’t enjoy singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall, then huh? 😉
    I tend to like the privacy, too.

  3. I have been to Hawaii many times and in Wakiki Beach you can get around on the city bus or tour companies to areas of interest. I actually learned how to use other bus as well. You could take a bus every day from your hotel to Hilo Hatties a must see candy factory tour and store of everything Hawaiian for those must have souveniors. Steps from this is the Pinapple Factory Tours which I heard have closed. The same bus back to town take to the zoo and they take city bus to Sea Life Park and Haniuma Bay for snorkeling. I have taken the city bus for an all island tour as just something different and can be a long day and suggest a tour company can be best. On company we went on had an itinary but ask each person what they most wanted to see and she incorperated it into the trip is was one of those small bus vans with huge windows I think there were 12 of us and what a great day my thing was the views and beachs and she made many stops for photo ops and everyone loved it. It was my favorite tour of the island and I had been on many. Don’t rule out this experience is is more personal than a huge city bus of people on a tour so go with small micro bus tours. They make it fun. The always go to 2 places for lunch on those tours and the driver asked us if we were game for a local hang out and we all went and it was amazing. I had been to the other two places and this was great. It is where the bus drivers go when they drop you off at the luxury lunch places. We had a show with a seafood feast and beach access for relaxing afterwards. They had everyone interact in the show and I mean everyone I never laughed so much. As a tour they get you to the front of lines when arriving at a event and that was huge.

    I think also cosidering a vacation rental when in Hawaii is a good option also.

  4. I am researching as this will be my fist time . Thank you for important informative tips.

    Wan travelling alone youthfully mature 50s—- what is safest part of hawaii for me? Honolulu- Oahu or Waikiki?

  5. Just found this site by happenstance and it is very informative and accurate. This will be my 4th trip to Hawaii. The first was booked in 2001 and I flew out in the harrowing weeks of October 2001, just after flights restarted. It was surreal. I then went to Kauai twice and the Big Island in the 2000s. Each time and on each island, a rental car was indispensable. As a photographer, I want to SEE the islands not just hang out on the beach–although I do enjoy that! Anyone who has traveled with a photographer knows get used to sudden and unexpected stops when something comes into view. I’m to travel to Oahu for the first time for a nine-day stint in late June and early July. My visit will overlap with my family coming up from New Zealand. That way I’ll have five days to myself, two to drive and three to walk and I don’t mind getting my steps in. I’ve used Google to plan places to stop on driving days and a lunar chart so see when the moon will be up for night photography, perhaps a chance to see the Southern Cross (Crux). One thing to point out for summers in Hawaii, for a mainlander like myself, is that in summer, the sun’s trek will be to the north of you sunrise to sunset which will seem odd, and is something to keep in mind for those contemplating a sunset over the ocean shot. You’ll need to find a north and east/west coast to see a sunrise/sunset, depending. From Honolulu or the beach proper neither will be visible. Since the four days rounding out my vacation will be spent with my NZ family on the beach, I won’t rent a car those days. Regarding travel, with the need to coordinate, I had to book as soon as the airline dates opened last August, 336 days before my return date. I called the airline direct and got a great CSR who gave me a rate in the mid $700s, got me my assigned seats (window of course) with as few connections as possible. My roundtrip from a regional airport 5 miles away to HNL was for this price. I wanted at least 2 hours layover for potential flight delays at each potential stop. I don’t mind waiting and the thought of scurrying through an expansive airport in a panic after a flight delay is not appealing. One key to the online booking sites, the CSR explained was that they buy ‘blocks’ of seats at a price tier and as each ‘block’ fills up, prices rise. In these days of full flights, you have a high risk of being bumped if you don’t actually go in and select a seat. You have purchased a ‘seat’ on a flight, he explained, but assigned comes first and it is possible your ‘seat’ will not be available if you wait to check-in, in which case, you have to move to a later flight. The lowest-bargain basement fares come with a higher risk for travel disruptions and less flexibility to remedy them which could cost you. I also locked in against any international unrest which might shock the fuel market and boost prices. I booked a hotel through an online travel site the same date and called the hotel to ask a question, where the desk agent offered to take $300 off the price and threw in complimentary shuttle service and all the amenities if I would re-book through them for the same reservation which I did. She took care of it all. I don’t mind a hotel which is a few blocks off the beach, because I vacation for the experience, not where I sleep. I ask for a reputable chain with great AC and good clean rooms and I research the reviews. I managed nine nights for about $1,100 including tax Jun 28-July 9. I can be at the beach in a five-minute walk, which I don’t mind. Look for a basic kitchenette and make your own meals if dining out every meal is out of budget. There is an ABC store a few blocks away and the hotel has a shuttle. If you have the time, get a TSA PreCheck it helps quite a bit and with laws changing, make sure your government-issued ID is “Real ID” compliant if you plan to use a U.S. state issued credential instead of a passport. I loathe checked bags so my “personal item” is a camera bag, so I have to make use of the carry on to the max. I’ll wear my jeans and shoes and pack the carry-on with basic clothes. Running shorts (several pair) are great beachware, and in basic tasteful black, serve as all-purpose walk-around for looking about. They don’t take up much space, breathable, quick drying and can be dry after an in-sink wash by the next morning. Basic clothes. Light-weight, wrinkle free and all-purpose, but I am not going anywhere formal. Otherwise, essentials, meds, minimal toiletries, I’ll buy most of what I need while there at the store. Bring environmentally-friendly high-power sunscreen, and if time, season and schedule permits, try to use this to get a little color with that sun screen in the weekends prior to your trip. Tropical sun sneaks up on you and you’ll not want to deal with a burn–which can happen (summer in Phoenix fast-10 minutes for fair skinned!) Re-apply often. The biggest advice I can offer is go as lightly and efficiently as possible and go have a great time! Planning is key and a little research can take most of the stress of travel away! Have fun!

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