One of the most common questions we get, should you get a rental car if you're staying in Waikiki?
General: DIY / How-To
Should I rent a car if I'm staying Waikiki? It's such a common question with both new and returning visitors to Oahu. The answer isn't always easy so I'll guide you through the pros and cons of getting a rental car if you're staying on Oahu and in the Waikiki / Honolulu area. If you're stating anywhere else in Hawaii be sure to read, Do I Need A Rental Car In Hawaii? If you are staying in Waikiki be sure to also read our Waikiki Guide.
Waikiki Rental Car Pros & Cons
Let's start out with a simple list of why you would or would not want a go for a car rental in the Waikiki area and then we'll see if it makes sense for you to get one or not.
The pros to renting a car include:
- Freedom! You're free to go where you want, when you want. Being able to just hop in a car and go sightseeing is the biggest benefit there is by far. Tour buses, public transportation (like TheBus), and even cabs or an Uber can add in a lot of extra time and complication to your travels.
- Cost. Rental cars can often save money. Sure, it's hard to beat public transportation like TheBus when it comes to saving money, but cabs and tour buses can certainly add up.
- The peace and quiet of not traveling with the unwashed masses is a big pro for me. Especially after a long day, it's often nice to just be able to have a quiet ride home without sharing a bus with dozens of others.
- You'll be able to more easily explore areas the tour buses don't go and see more of the real Hawaii instead of just all the tourist hot spots.
The cons to renting a car include:
- It can be expensive! Renting a car during peak times (holidays for example) can sometimes be very expensive because of the high demand. On top of that, parking a car in a Waikiki hotel is likely to cost you $25 to $35 per night (see Hotel & Resort Fees & Taxes)! If the hotel only offers valet then you'll pay the same fees plus spend more on tips each time you have your car pulled up for you, see Tipping. Fueling up can add up too since Hawaii gas prices are often $0.50 to $1.00 per gallon more than the mainland.
- Traffic. Oahu traffic, especially in Honolulu, Waikiki, and most parts of the H1 highway can often be really bad, especially during rush hour times. While I would say that Hawaii drivers are infinitely more considerate than mainland drivers, traffic is still maddening no matter where you are in the world. If you use other transportation options you won't have the stress and frustration that comes with traffic.
- Parking. In most parts of the island parking your rental car isn't a big deal, but get in or near Waikiki and it can be an exercise in extreme frustration. Learn more about Free & Cheap Waikiki Parking along with a list of best places to park your car.
- Getting lost. For somebody new in Hawaii, getting around Waikiki and Honolulu area can be a challenge. You might feel like every street uses the same 3 letters in its name or end up going around a block again because of that one way street that messed you up. Or maybe your GPS can't even pronounce the names close enough for you to understand what it means. Your best bet is to have a co-pilot who can operate the GPS (or, gasp, paper map) and plan your route a bit before you get moving.
- City dwellers don't know what dark is. Many parts of Oahu get dark at night. I mean really dark. Sure, we have street lights on all highways and major streets and most residential streets as well. Still, the darkness can be a shock to some at first, especially on those first few nights of driving. As you get into a place like Waikiki it's going to be lit up very well, but if you're out in the country it's going to be really dark which isn't a good situation for some drivers.
So, Should You Rent A Car In Waikiki?
In most cases I would always say YES! For the average tourist who is coming to Oahu for several days it's usually a good idea. Waikiki is fun (see our Waikiki Guide) but you should really get out and explore as much of the island as you can and that often requires a rental car. The freedom and convenience it brings you is almost certainly worth the added cost unless you're on an extremely tight budget.
If you are on a budget, or have a shorter trip planned then consider renting a car just for a day or two as needed. Many hotels have car rental desks in them so it's often very easy to go get a car for a day (or few days).
The only time I don't recommend getting a car is if you're not a comfortable driver. For example, if you're an older driver then maybe you won't feel comfortable on roads you're not familiar with. Or, if you're coming from another country and won't feel comfortable driving on the "wrong" side of the road. If this sounds like your situation then let somebody else drive you around, maybe even a service like Uber (much like taking a cab) which is now in Honolulu as well or using Oahu's excellent TheBus service combined with an island tour instead.
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