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Renting and driving a car on Oahu

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If you plan to stick close to downtown Honolulu and Waikiki for its shopping and culture, I don’t recommend renting a car for your vacation. Finding a place to park is quite difficult and can be costly in the downtown area, while public transportation is an easy way to see some of Oahu’s most popular shopping and cultural spots. However, if you plan to explore outside of the metro area, a rental car might be in order, at least for a portion of your trip.


In order to rent a car, you must provide both a Chinese driver’s license and a credit card. Your credit card information will be kept on file in case of any damage to the rental vehicle. An international driver’s license is not mandatory, but having one can expedite the process by eliminating the language barrier.


Rental cars are available at the Honolulu Airport as well as various locations in the Waikiki area. Reservations are recommended.


On the road:


Pay close attention to the posted speed limit signs. Legal speed limits tend to change frequently and are often lower than you’d expect.


Traffic is generally heavy on the H1 Freeway and Nimitz Highway during the early morning and evening rush hour. You might also encounter lots of slow traffic on the North Shore when surf’s up during the winter.


It’s illegal to use handheld mobile electronic devices like cell phones, iPods, or text messaging devices while operating a vehicle in Hawaii.


Buckle up. Wearing seatbelts is mandatory.


Honking horns is generally considered very rude in Hawaii.


Islanders will give directions that confound many visitors. Makai means toward the ocean and mauka means toward the mountain. Diamond Head means toward Diamond Head, and Ewa (prounounced “eva”) means moving away from Diamond Head.




Most rental car company agreements require you to drive only on paved roads. They should provide a map highlighting some of the routes to avoid.




Hotels often offer a parking option complete with a daily fee that can run $10-25 USD. Valet parking attendants should be tipped between $3-5 USD.


Some shopping centers offer discounts on parking – or even a free period of parking – when you have your ticket validated at a store or restaurant in the center. The Royal Hawaiian Center, for example, offers the first hour free with validation. Without validation you’ll pay $2 USD for 20 minutes.


The Hale Koa parking garage and Hale Koa Saratoga lot charge $4 USD for the first hour, $1.25 USD for each additional hour, and $36 USD for 24 hours. Metered street parking is available on Kapahulu Avenue near the Honolulu Zoo, at Kapiolani Park, and along Monsarrat Avenue near the Waikiki Shell. Prices for metered parking are generally less than $1 USD per hour.