Car Rental Honolulu
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Why rent a car in Honolulu?
Honolulu is the capital and most visited city of Hawaii. It is located on the southwest part of the island of Oahu.
Hawaii is a major resort destination for both Americans and international visitors. Most enter the state through Honolulu and spend some time on the island of Oahu before exploring the other islands.
Though most travelers stay in Waikiki, the famous beach part of Honolulu, they almost invariably make trips to other parts of the island. Though theBus system can get travelers to most places on the island, most won’t want to spend their time waiting and miss seeing things the otherwise would with a rental car. Given the cost of reaching the islands, it would be a shame for any but the most budget conscious to skimp on the costs of a rental car.
Top ways to enter Honolulu
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is the main air gateway to Honolulu, Oahu, and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. The airport hosts flights to and from many cities in the mainland U.S. along with Canada and the Pacific Region. Some may transfer directly to flights to other islands. For those planning to stay on Oahu, rental cars can be picked up at the airport, with the largest suppliers having desks near the baggage claim area.
Most cruise ships arrive and set sail from Pier 2 Cruise Terminal which is located in the harbor roughly midway between the airport and Waikiki. Some instead use Pier 11 which is right by Aloha Tower. Cruises arrive from the mainland of the U.S., though the majority of them are round-trip. Round-trip cruises of the islands also begin here with Norwegian Cruise Lines. If arriving and wanting to pick up a rental car, it is possible to do so in Waikiki.
Useful city facts
Honolulu and the rest of the state are located in the tropics. It is, therefore, no surprise that the temperatures are high year-round. The average highs in the city are 80 to 90°F (27-32°C) and the average lows 65-76°F (18-24°C), though higher and lower temperatures are possible, though rare.
Most of the city’s rain falls during what would be normally called winter in the Northern Hemisphere, though the number of days with rain is somewhat equal year-round. Light rain showers can be experienced in the summer and heavier downpours in the winter. Other locations in the state experience more rainfall, particularly the northeastern part of the island of Kauai. Honolulu lies in a rain shadow, though.
The city is relatively safe when it comes to natural disasters. Though located in the tropics, hurricanes do not pose as much of a threat as would be thought. The last hurricane that the city experienced was almost thirty years ago. Other forms of storms are also rare. Though the islands have a large number of earthquakes due to volcanic activity, most of them are so small to not even be noticed. Larger earthquakes are more likely on the Big Islands than near Honolulu.
First settled by Polynesian migrants in the 11th century, the location of what is now Honolulu was first discovered by westerners when the British Captain William Brown sailed into its harbor in 1794. After conquering Oahu, Kamehameha I moved the royal court from the Big Island to Waikiki and then Downtown Honolulu, though the capital would be moved back to Hawaii a few years later. Kamehameha III moved it permanently to Honolulu in 1845. During the middle of the 19th century, the city was transformed into the center of commerce of the islands as missionaries and their children started a business in the city and the port became busier and busier.
The coup d’etat that started the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 would lead to the islands being annexed by the United States in 1898. Tourism would then pick up. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 thrust Honolulu into the national spotlight and brought the United States into World War II. After the war, the city would continue to grow before the boom of tourists hit when long distance flights became economical. Today, Honolulu is a modern city that serves as the banking, economic, and tourist center of the state.
Top destinations and activities
- Waikiki - The tourist center of Honolulu and the state as a whole, Waikiki is a famous beach south of Downtown Honolulu. The 1.5-mile long beach is full of high-rise hotels is extremely popular with travelers. The beach is perfect and swimming is usually great, though do note lifeguards' warnings about riptides. A typical resort destination, a plethora of bars and restaurants are in the area and travelers will require a lengthy stat to get bored. Most tourists use Waikiki as a base and make many day trips across the island of Oahu from it.
- Pearl Harbor - This harbor was permanently etched into the memory of the American nation when on December 7, 1941 the Japenese Empire launched a surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet of the U.S. Navy stationed in it bringing America into the second world war. The harbor is now a National Memorial with a visitor center, multiple memorials, and an aviation museum.
The centerpiece of the National Memorial is the USS Arizona Memorial which sits on top of (but not touching) the sunken USS Arizona. The battleship was bombed on that fateful day and exploded killing 1,177 sailors and Marines, the overwhelming majority of which remain onboard the ship. The memorial honors the memory of these sailors along with the other service members that died that day, 2,341 members of the military and 49 civilians in total. The memorial can be visited by boat from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center after watching a 23-minute film about the events of that day. As seating on the boats is limited, it is best to reserve a free ticket (with a nominal booking fee) in advance. Note: The Memorial is closed until the fall of 2019 and tours of the harbor are offered in place of visitation of the Memorial.
As a compliment to the USS Arizona, the USS Missouri is permanently docked in the harbor with its bow facing and overlooking the USS Arizona. The battleship is famous for having been the location of the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender ending the war (though it was in Tokyo at the time). Tours are available with a bus carrying visitors from the Visitor Center to the ship's location on Ford Island.
- Bishop Museum - Located in the Kalihi district of Honolulu, the Bishop Museum is the most extensive museum in the state. The museum is home to the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world. It is also a museum of natural history. Its Science Adventure Center and Planetarium also provide a great opportunity for families with children to have a fun, educational experience. If there’s one museum you visit in Hawaii, this should be the one. Parking is available at the museum and costs $5.
- Whale Watching - Parts of Hawaii are spectacular for whale watching. Though the best places to see whales are on other islands like Maui, particularly the straights between Maui and Lanai and Molokai, whales can be seen on Oahu. To have the best luck, you need to leave the city of Honolulu, though. The southeastern shore of the island is where you’re most likely to spot a whale, particularly along the trail to Makapuu Lighthouse and at the lookout point for the Halona Blowhole. You may even spot one from Waikiki or Diamond Head, if you’re very lucky, though. The prime season for whale migration is January to early March, through December and April also offer the possibility (though not the certainty).
- Honolulu Zoo - Though not very large, the Honolulu Zoo makes a great destination for those traveling with kids. A lot of animals one expects to find at a zoo can be found within it. The zoo also has many species of animals that are native to Hawaii. The nearby Waikiki Aquarium is also on the smaller side but certainly worth a visit. It contains many Hawaiian and tropical marine animals and various exhibits.
- Diamond Head - A State Monument, Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone that can be seen from anywhere in Waikiki. The views offered from the summit of the cone over the Pacific Ocean and city of Honolulu are quite simply stunning. Entrance to the park can either be made on foot or by car. From the parking lot, a steep climb with many stairs is required to reach the top where an old bunker sits. Though challenging, the climb is certainly worth it. Note that the gates to the park closes at 6:00 pm and all visitors must leave the park before then.
- Shopping - As the economic, population, and tourist center of Hawaii, Honolulu is a major destination for shoppers. Waikiki is the center of shopping in the city, The International Market Place is the main upscale shopping destination. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is the main mall. DFS Galleria is where to go for duty-free shopping if you are an international visitor.
- National Cemetery - Just east of Downtown and roughly halfway between the airport and Waikiki, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is worth the detour from the Interstate. The cemetery is the final resting place of over 34, 000 soldiers. Among the first to be buried in the cemetery were 776 of those killed in action during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The cemetery sits in what is known as the Punchbowl, the crater of an extinct volcano. This makes it the most scenic of the national cemeteries. Entrance is free of charge and possible between 8 am to 6 pm daily. Parking can be found next to the Information Center.
Traffic and parking tips
Though one might expect less traffic congestion in Hawaii, it’s not the case. Honolulu sees heavy traffic conditions during rush hour, as is the case in most mainland cities. Traffic is particularly heavy heading towards Downtown from the western suburbs in the morning and away from it in the late afternoon to early evening. If at all possible, plan your trips to avoid this rush hour traffic.
The island of Oahu has some of the few Interstate highways that don’t transit between states (they are still called Interstates due to being funded by the federal Interstate Highway System). H1 runs from the western suburbs, beginning near Kapolei through Honolulu to Kahala in the east. H-2 travels from the Pearl City suburb north to Wahiawa. The H-3 travels from Pearl Harbor to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Though primarily built for the military, the highway can serve as a good way to reach the east coast of the island from the Pearl Harbor area. If travel from Downtown or Waikiki, though, Highway 61 is a better route.
Traffic rules are similar to those of the mainland U.S. One notable exception is that pedestrians have the right of way at all times. There are many of them in the city, too, so be careful if any approach to cross the street and give way to them. Also, be sure to allow the locals to pass when on the island’s more scenic roads. It’s ok to take your time to take in the scenery, just pull to the side of the road when safe to do so and let those behind you around.
Parking in Honolulu is similar to that of any large American city. Metered parking spots can be found in most areas of the city including Downtown and Waikiki. Some of the meters accept cards while you will need coins for others. Parking is free on Sundays in all areas except Waikiki.
Parking garages are widely available, some with in/out privileges. If staying at a hotel in the city, expect to pay a daily fee for parking, whether it be self-parking or valet. Some attempt to find cheaper parking in a garage further away or near the zoon.
While Honolulu is generally safe, tourists should take care when parking their vehicle, especially rental cars. As in many other locations with a lot of tourists, theft is a problem in and near Honolulu. Make sure to keep all your valuables either with you or at your hotel, not inside the car. Break-ins are frequent, particularly near trailheads.
The city’s street system is complicated due to the mountains, valleys, and shoreline. It is therefore not as simple as driving in a city with a normal street-grid. Often times it can be confusing to know what direction you are heading exactly. If you ask for directions, locals will probably respond by giving you directions based on landmarks, the most common of which are mauka and makai meaning toward the mountains and toward the sea, respectively. A good map or renting a GPS from your car rental provider is highly beneficial.
There are no toll roads in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, or any of the other islands of Hawaii. The closest things to tolls are the entrance fees that are required to enter the state and national parks.
Both Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island have entrance fees of $15 for passenger cars. Haleakala National Park on Maui has an entrance fee of $25 for private vehicles. A Tri-park Annual Pass is available for $50 and gives allows the holder access to the two national parks along with the Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park for a year.
Additionally, many state parks now charge all non-residents parking or entrance fees.
Ideas for a day-trip
- North Shore - The most famous part of Oahu after Waikiki and Pearl Harbor, the North Shore is renowned for its surf. The Banzai Pipeline is one of the most well-known surf breaks in the world. The average wave is 9 feet high but can be even higher. The pipeline is very dangerous and should only those with lots of experience should attempt it. Though watching surfers catch it is, of course, something many can’t miss. Particularly, the three competitions known as the Triple Crown of Surfing that take place in December. Winter season is when the surf is at its height. Other water-based activities are also popular including diving and snorkeling.
- Kaena Point State Park - Kaena Point is the westernmost tip of the island of Oahu. Though the Farrington Highway approaches from both sides of the point, it does not connect and travelers cannot reach the point by road. Instead, those wishing to make it to the Point must walk two to three miles one-way depending on which side they park on. Permits are available to drive from the northern side, though a four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary.
- Wet’ n’ Wild - The largest water park in Hawaii, Wet’ n’ Wild is certainly the place to come to cool off on hot days. The park has 25 rides and activities that are family friendly. It is located along Farrington Highway near the northern terminus of H-1.
- Dole Plantation - Though perhaps only worth a special trip if traveling with kids, visiting the Dole Plantation otherwise should only be done if passing by. The plantation used to be a fruit stand. Now it serves as a tourist draw based on the pineapple. A tour can be taken of the garden, but the Pineapple Express train ride and the garden maze are the highlights, particularly for children. The plantation has a large gift shop with yellow colored, pineapple-themed souvenirs. It also serves food and refreshments, the most famous of which is the Dole Whip ice cream which visitors rave about.
- Waimea Valley - Located near the North Shore and near Waimea Bay, Waimea Valley is a historic nature park. It was once a fertile place where Hawaiians formed one of the most productive farming communities. It was also important in their religion. Now the valley serves as a botanical garden, containing both Hawaiian and foreign species of plants. The highlight of the valley is the short hike to Waimea Falls, a stunningly beautiful waterfall with a pool below it where visitors can swim.
- Beaches - If you get tired of Waikiki and the crowds, you can venture to other parts of Oahu to find stunning beaches that are less crowded. Chief among them is Lanikai Beach on the eastern side of the island. An offshore reef provides for calm water making it the perfect place for family swimming. Sunset Beach is the most famous beach on the North Shore, though it isn’t good for swimming in the winter months due to large waves. The western side of the island also has many beaches, some of them like Makua Beach are the best beaches for those seeking isolation from others.
Most popular rental types and cars
The most popular class of rental car in Honolulu is the economy of which the Nissan Versa is a good example. Renters also often choose intermediate class cars, such as the Hyundai Elantra. Given the state of some of the roads, particularly on islands other than Oahu, many renters prefer to rent an SUV and the Toyota Rav4 is often their choice.
Note: As every location on Oahu can be reached as a day-trip, all of the further destinations in the state are other islands. The primary mode of transport for getting between the islands is air. Flights to all of the islands leave from Honolulu International Airport. The only ferries available between the islands leave from Maui and sail to Molokai and Lanai. The ferries do not carry vehicles, though. Therefore, if planning to explore multiple islands, a separate rental car must be booked for each.
- Maui - Maui is the second most-visited and second largest of the islands. The island has numerous resorts and hotels and some of the best beaches in the state. Though sometimes known as the island of the rich and famous, there are many opportunities for those with lower budgets too. It is also known for Haleakala National Park named after the volcanic crater contained within it. The road between the national park and the town of Hana is considered to be the most scenic drive in the state.
- The Big Island (Hawaii) - The largest island of the group is also the most southerly too. Given its size, there is, of course, much to explore. The Kailua-Kona serves as a great base with all of the amenities of a resort destination available. The real adventure, however, lies in the rural parts of the island. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hosts the island’s most famous landscape with the Crater Rim and Chain of Craters Roads. Visitors shouldn’t miss the Green Sand Beach even though a short hike is required to reach it. The most southerly point of any U.S. state is also nearby the beach and there is a spot where many dive off the cliffs there which is great for watching if you aren’t brave enough to take the risk.
- Kauai - The northwesternmost of the major islands is the fourth most-visited island of the state. It is known as the “Garden Island” as it is full of lush vegetation and tropical plants due to the large amount of rainfall the island receives. The island also has the longest sandy coastline of the islands. Lihue Airport is the main gateway to the island and rental cars can be picked up at the airport.
- Molokai - One of the least developed of the islands and therefore least-visited, Molokai is a great destination for the more adventurous that are looking to get away from the crowded resorts. The most popular attraction is the Kalaupapa National Historic Site, a former leper colony. The colony is not reachable by road, being cut off by mountains and steep cliff leading to the sea. Visitors can reach it via a flight from the island’s airport (and from other islands), private boat, or by a trail the head of which is located off of Highway 470. In addition to hiking on your own, mules are available for rent to make the journey along the steep trail. The island also has many more scenic places that can be visited without the crowds of the other islands.
- Lanai - This small island can be seen from the western part of Maui. It used to be completely owned by a food company and was used for growing pineapples. Now it serves as a place for very exclusive resorts. Part of the island has a landscape that reminds of that of the moon. Of course, travel in this Garden of the Gods requires a four-wheel drive SUV as does travel in general outside of the resorts and Lanai Town.
Top 5 Cities near Honolulu
Kahului Car Rentals from $48.15 per day161.7 km / 100.5 miles away
Kailua-Kona Car Rentals from $41.14 per day262.8 km / 163.3 miles away
Lihue Car Rentals from $60.74 per day163.6 km / 101.7 miles away
Hilo Car Rentals from $48.16 per day348.1 km / 216.3 miles away
Lahaina Car Rentals from $97.32 per day135.5 km / 84.2 miles away
Top 10 Locations near Honolulu
Honolulu Airport Car Rentals from $68.35 per day
Honolulu, Downtown Car Rentals from $71.45 per day
Honolulu Waikiki Beach Resort Car Rentals from $68.87 per day
Honolulu Ala Moana Downtown Car Rentals from $115.48 per day
Hoolehua, Molokai Airport Car Rentals from $117.91 per day87.6 km / 54.4 miles away
Lahaina, Kapalua Airport Car Rentals from $97.32 per day135.5 km / 84.2 miles away
Kahului Airport OGG Car Rentals from $48.15 per day161.7 km / 100.5 miles away
Lihue Airport Car Rentals from $60.74 per day163.6 km / 101.7 miles away
Kailua-Kona, Kona International Airport Car Rentals from $41.14 per day262.8 km / 163.3 miles away
Hilo Airport Car Rentals from $48.16 per day348.1 km / 216.3 miles away
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