You’re heading to Oahu and you are weighing the pros and cons on getting a rental car. The island is often referred to as the Manhattan of the Pacific, so is a rental car really necessary? 

If you want to explore the island, the most efficient way to do that is with a rental car. But you don’t need to rent a car for your whole trip. Taxis, Uber, guided tours, and daily rental cars can help you see the island without a rental car for your entire trip. 

In this article, we’ll cover when you need a rental car and how to explore Oahu without booking one for your whole trip. 

Do you need a rental car on Oahu?

Out of all the Hawaiian islands, Oahu has the most connected public transportation system and many of the island’s main sights are easily accessible by bus or a short taxi ride. Because of that, you can have a good vacation without renting a car if you’re staying in Waikiki or Honolulu. If you want to explore more than Waikiki and Honolulu, booking a rental car or a guided tour will make your experience much better. 

But you don’t need to rent a car for your entire stay. If you’re staying in Waikiki it is easy to pick up a rental car for the day — national and local rental car companies have an office in Waikiki. You can pick your car up in the morning, use it for the day, and return it once you’re done exploring. 

Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt, Budget, and Avis are just some of the companies that have rental car locations in central Waikiki, easily walkable from hotels and vacation rentals. We almost always use Discount Hawaii Car Rental to book a car because they offer extremely competitive rates with the national rental companies and don’t require a credit card to book the reservation. You can search specifically using Waikiki as your pickup location. 

Another option is to book a car for the day using Drive Hui, a car-sharing company with cars in Waikiki. Depending on rental car rates, if you’re taking a car for the entire day, this is generally a little more expensive than booking a car through a normal rental car company. 

Related read: Heading to Oahu? Check out our Oahu Travel Guide for more about where to stay, what to see, and when to go. 

When should you rent a car on Oahu?

There are certain times when you should definitely rent a car on Oahu. Here are some situations where you will want to rent a car:

  1. If you are staying in Ko’Olina or on the North Shore: When you’re staying in Waikiki, getting around without a car is easier. You have options to catch a trolley, rent a bike, or grab an Uber. But when you’re in Ko’Olina or the North Shore, getting around isn’t quite as easy. You can ride The Bus, but if you don’t want to spend time waiting for public transportation every time you want to go somewhere, a rental car is definitely needed. 
  2. If you are planning on doing big sightseeing days: There is a lot to see on Oahu and while you can definitely do some of it without a car, if you want to see different parts of the island, a rental car is one of the easiest options to do that. (Another easy option is with a guided tour.)
  3. You just want ease and accessibility: If you don’t mind paying the hotel parking fees and you just want to be able to grab your car and go where you want to whenever you want to, renting a car is the right choice for your trip. We often fall in this third category and will book a car with Discount Hawaii Car Rental for our entire trip, just to  make sure we maximize our time. 

Headed to Ko’Olina? We have everything you need with our full Ko’Olina Guide

Should you get a rental car if you’re staying in Waikiki or Honolulu?

If you’re staying in Waikiki or greater Honolulu, you have a lot of different transportation options at your fingertips. You can take The Bus, the trolley, a taxi, or rent a bike to do a lot of sightseeing. Renting a car for your entire trip isn’t entirely necessary, especially if you don’t want to pay the expensive parking fees that many hotels charge. 

You can explore downtown Honolulu easily by hopping on The Bus. Explore the coast or the Museums by taking the hop on hop off trolley. And you can avoid the parking headache at Diamond Head by taking a cab. 

But if you’re heading further, for example checking out the beaches on the eastern (windward) side of the island, a rental car will make your trip much easier. 

Staying in Waikiki? Here is our free 7-Day Oahu Itinerary Without a Rental Car

How do you get around Oahu without a rental car?

If you decide to forgo a rental car, there are plenty of options to help you get around, especially if you’re staying in Waikiki. 

You can take trips on The Bus, spend a day sightseeing with the Waikiki Trolley, rent a bike, or grab a car for a few hours with Drive Hui. We cover all of these transportation options and more to help you get around Oahu, with or without a rental car

Do you need a rental car on North Shore Oahu?

If you’re staying in Waikiki, you can easily get around without a rental car. But anywhere else on the island, you’re going to want to rent a car if you want to explore. Yes, there is a bus service on the North Shore, but if you really want to explore the area, getting a rental car on the north shore is highly recommended. 

Related read: Free things to do on the North Shore of Oahu

See the sights on Oahu

If you are getting a rental car for a day or more, make the most of your trip with our Oahu Itinerary. This itinerary takes you on excursion days around the island, showing you the best things to do, where to go, and where to eat on a perfectly pre-planned route. 

“We bought the wayfinder itinerary from The Hawaii Vacation Guide. Highly recommend — super organized daily plans for every part of the island. Even includes google map directions to the best parking spots and what to pack for each day of fun!” (Laura M., Instagram review)

Grab your itinerary and let us help guide you on an amazing vacation. 

Hawaii Vacation guide itineraries Hawaiian Islands

Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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