Oahu, home to Hawaii’s state capital, Honolulu, is one of the most popular destinations in the Aloha State. Hawaii’s DBEDT counted 491,052 visitors to Oahu in July 2023 alone, which accounts for almost half of the total visitors that came to the Hawaiian Islands that month. Where do all of these tourists go, and how do they travel on the island? There are four must-see spots in Oahu, and all of these are accessible via car. Keep reading for a closer look at these incredible sights, and how to drive to them.
Finding a rental car in Oahu
Rental cars are one of the most popular ways to explore the Hawaiian Islands thanks to their convenience and accessibility. Rental services can be found all over the state, and renting a car in Oahu can be done from the moment you land in Honolulu Airport. Visitors have a wide choice of vehicles ranging from SUVs and minivans, to economy cars. Once you get your rental, you can immediately start your trip up on the North Shore, or explore what’s beyond city life by taking the approximately 96-mile circle tour around the island, which allows you to drive around most of Oahu in one day. The requirements for finding a rental car in Oahu are relatively flexible. You’ll need a valid driver’s license if you are a U.S. citizen, along with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) if you are not. Visitors to the U.S. must secure an IDP prior to their arrival to avoid any complications. Otherwise, rental car payment is often done using a credit card and the rates tend to fluctuate between seasons.
No trip to Oahu is complete without stopping by Waikiki beach, which has been immortalized in films like The Endless Summer (1966). This is located along the Honolulu coast, and you can easily reach the area from the airport by driving along the Nimitz Highway to Ala Moana Blvd.
There are other ways to reach Waikiki Beach, such as the H1 Freeway. However, Nimitz Highway is known for its simplicity and scenic views. This allows you to drive close to the shore and past several attractions, including Sam Choy's restaurant and the old Dole Cannery.
Hanauma Bay is an approximately 30-minute trip from Waikiki. After the Oahu bus route 22 from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay was permanently discontinued in 2022, rental cars have become the most convenient means of transportation to this prime spot. Getting there means driving along the south shore of Oahu, which offers some of the most scenic views on the island.
There is no better place to learn about traditional Polynesian Culture than the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). Getting there requires an hour-long drive on the H-1 freeway from Waikiki that takes you through breathtaking scenery on #83 — including Kualoa and Kahana Bay. The PCC can be found on the mountainside of the highway once you enter Laie.
It is advisable to drive outside the 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. window on weekdays to avoid commuter traffic. This further ensures you a spot in the often-full free parking of the PCC.
Known as the island’s most iconic historic landmark, Pearl Harbor can be reached after a 45-minute drive from Waikiki. While the drive is generally fine, be careful not to take the Ford Island bridge. This is only accessible to military personnel and government employees, so you'll need to take a right onto Kamehameha Highway instead. The next right turn on Arizona Memorial Place will lead you to the visitor center where you can access different museums, ship tours, historical locations, and memorials.
With a car of your own, it's easy to access these four Oahu must-see spots and much more. For more on once-in-a-lifetime trips, check out our other resources at Tripcurated.