Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Hawaii, Part 1: Oahu

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Steve Atlas
Written by Steve Atlas

Are you tired of cold weather, snow and ice? Would you enjoy a getaway to a warm beach? Then, it’s time to get ready for that trip to Hawaii that you’ve always dreamed about. Airfares from the west coast can be surprisingly affordable, depending on when you take your trip.

For most of us, Hawaii means the island of Oahu, with the major city of Honolulu that includes the popular Waikiki beach. But our 50th state consists of several islands. While visitors who don’t want to drive will probably find it easiest to vacation in Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai also offer opportunities to enjoy beaches, parks, and other attractions without needing to drive. You just need to plan a little more carefully than if you confine your trip to Oahu.

In this month’s column, we will focus on Oahu, including Honolulu and Waikiki. Next month, we will include a few suggestions to help you enjoy a vacation in either Big Island or Kauai.

I want to thank the Hawaii Tourism Authority and its website www.gohawaii.com for most of the information included in this column.

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All of these pictures are used with permission from Enoa Tours. From left to right and top to bottom, they are: Aloha Tower (Hawaii’s first landmark), Duke Kahanamoku Statue (godfather of surfing who introduced surfing to the world), Rabbit Island, Halona Blowhole, Diamond Head, Iolani Palace, statue of King KAMEHAMEHA (the king who united all of the Hawaiian Islands).

Welcome to Oahu
The Island of Oahu has two distinct sides: the beaches, and the city of Honolulu with its historic, landmarks and treasured monuments, vibrant arts and cultural scene, and a wide variety of shopping and restaurants.

While you are here, take time to ride the waves in Waikiki—where surfing was born, and catch a big-wave surf meet on the island’s famed North Shore.

Introduction to Honolulu
Largest city in the state of Hawaii, Honolulu is the capital of the state. Most of Oahu’s population lives in this sprawling city which spreads throughout the southeastern shores of Oahu: from Pearl Harbor to Makapuu Point, encompassing world famous Waikiki.

Honolulu is the home of some of Hawaii’s most historic places, ranging from Iolani Palace, the Kawaiahao Church, the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archive and the treasured artifacts of the Bishop Museum to iconic landmarks like the Aloha Tower, the King Kamehameha I Statue, the Duke Kahanamoku Statue and the historic Hawaii Theatre.

Honolulu is also Hawaii’s hot spot for arts, culture and entertainment. From the nightlife, live music and fine dining of Waikiki to the art galleries and underground bars of the Chinatown arts district.

Best of all, this is a great vacation choice for visitors who don’t want to drive

Getting Here
By Air
This is the most popular way for visitors to arrive. Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu is Hawaii’s major airport, serving as the entry point for most of Hawaii’s visitors. All major domestic carriers and many international carriers serve Oahu, so you can get here from just about anywhere.

By Cruise Ship
Several cruise lines stop here. For a list of several cruises that stop in Hawaii, go to http://www.cruisecritic.com/cruiseto/cruiseitineraries.cfm?port=131.

Travel to Several of the Hawaiian Islands While You Are Here
Consider an Inter-Island Cruise

Another great option for visitors interested in traveling without renting a car is an inter-island Hawaiian Cruise, which stops at multiple islands.

Inter-Island Flights
       Hawaiian Airlines has flights connecting several islands. Mokulele Airlines may be less expensive, but uses smaller planes. Island Air is another possibility.
For more information, go to

Flight times from Honolulu International Airport (HNL), Oahu to:

  • Lihue Airport (LIH), Kauai: 30 minutes
  • Kahului Airport (OGG), Maui: 30 minutes
  • Kapalua-West Maui Airport (JHM), Maui: 30 minutes
  • Molokai Airport (MKK), Molokai: 20 minutes
  • Lanai Airport (LNY), Lanai: 25 minutes
  • Hilo International Airport (ITO), Hawaii’s Big Island: 50 minutes
  • Kona International Airport (KOA), Hawaii’s Big Island: 45 minutes

Getting to Waikiki from the Airport or Cruise Terminal

  • The Bus: Routes 19 and 20 stop at Honolulu International Airport. The one-way fare is $2.50 ($1 for senior citizens with a Medicare card). For more details about fares and schedules, and contact information for The Bus, see the Getting Around section later in this column.
  • Taxis are a great way to travel when in a group and the cost can be shared. You can find taxi stands at most major shopping centers, in the business district and at the airport. Note that rather than hailing a cab, finding taxi stands at major shopping centers and businesses as well as calling for pick-ups via hotel concierge or phone is the norm in Hawaii. For a list of tours, rental cars and more, go to http://hawaii.gov/hnl%20/ground-transportation.
  • If you have 1-4 people in your group, consider the Waikiki Airport Shuttle. The Shuttle will take you and your group to any destination on Oahu for a flat $30 fare. For details, visit http://www.waikikishuttle.com/. For reservations, call 1-808-352-1818 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Hawaiian time, 1-3 days before your trip.
  • From Cruise terminals 2 and 11, it’s a short walk to catch either Route 19 or 20. Call The Bus (see Getting Around for the phone number) for directions. Another choice: consider taking a taxi to your hotel.

Where to Stay
On Oahu, the best area for visitors without rental cars to stay in is Waikiki. Countless shops, restaurants, beaches, and attractions are within walking distance. A list of accommodations on Oahu can be found here: http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/plan-a-trip/accommodations/.

Getting Around

  • The Bus: The public bus system is called The Bus. The one-way fare is $2.50 ($1 for senior citizens with a Medicare card). If you are staying in Waikiki, visit an ABC Store to buy a 4-day pass (with unlimited rides) for $35. The four days begins when you first start using the pass, and includes four consecutive days. Before you start visiting and seeing attractions, beaches, and other places, visit www.thebus.org and click on Visitors on the top tab. Click on Attractions, and you will find a list of popular destinations and attractions for visitors, and which bus route goes to each one. You can also call The Bus at (808) 848-5555 between 5:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day, Hawaiian Time.
  • Waikiki Trolley: If you’re looking for Waikiki transportation and an easy way to visit nearby attractions without walking, the trolley is an affordable option. The routes and destinations are not as extensive as The Bus but the trolley goes to most major visitor attractions and offer tickets for unlimited rides over a certain number of days. Unlimited rides on a single line for one day are $25, unlimited rides on all five lines are 1 day: $45, 4 days: $65, and 7 days: $70. (There may be a discount for booking online.)
    For more information visit http://www.waikikitrolley.com or call (808) 593-2822.

What to Do
The number one attraction is Pearl Harbor which recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941. For a list of other attractions, and ideas for seeing the most in whatever time you have, go to http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/plan-a-trip/activities/attractions/.
For information about Oahu beaches, go to http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/guidebook/topics/beaches-of-oahu/

Ideas for Making the Best Use of Your Time Here
With so much to do on Oahu, you’ll have to make some tough choices on your short stay. You can spend 24-hours just in Waikiki: taking surfing lessons, enjoying the beaches and seeing sights like the Duke Kahanamoku Statue. Here are two other ideas:

  • Take the Waikiki Trolley to Downtown Honolulu and learn about Hawaii’s history at the Iolani Palace and King Kamehameha Statue.
  • Then travel up to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout to visit a historic spot with amazing views of the lush Windward Coast and the towering Koolau Mountains.

For more detailed suggestions, including ideas for a few hours, 1-3 days, or even longer visits, go to http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/guidebook/itineraries/

How about a Guided Tour?
For many of us, a guided tour can provide a convenient way to introduce us to a city or area. Then, we can decide what we most would enjoy and spend more time visiting those places.

Two companies that offer guided tours are:
Hoku Hawaii Tours: http://www.hokuhawaiitours.com/

Enoa Tours: http://www.enoa.com.

Consider a Visit to Oahu’s North Shore
Take The Bus to the North Shore of Oahu and spend the day in Haleiwa, a laid back surf town filled with local style, numerous shops, restaurants, and charming art galleries. http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/regions-neighborhoods/north-shore/haleiwa/

Do you have a Special Interest?
You can find out what is available in Oahu by going to http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/experiences/

If you are a college sports enthusiast, visit the University of Hawaii Athletics Website for game schedules and tickets: http://www.hawaiiathletics.com/index.aspx.

Are you a Bicyclist?
Many busses offer bike access. You can even bus up to the North Shore before venturing out on your own Tour de Hawaii! To participate in a bike tour, go to https://bikehawaii.com. The Hawaii Bicycle League’s website is https://www.hbl.org. Here are some other resources that can help you:

Restaurants and Entertainment
There are many restaurants and choices for entertainment. To find out more about what is available, go to the Oahu Guidebook: http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/guidebook/

Tips from 2 Local Residents
Sati Benes Chock, Asian Art Dept. Manager and Editor at the Honolulu Museum of Art, offers these suggestions for visitors who don’t want to drive:

“The Bus has a search function and an app that will tell you what bus to take if you plug in where you want to go (and where you are coming from).

“In the city of Honolulu, I suggest that they visit the following (I bolded the top picks):

   The Honolulu Zoo http://www.honoluluzoo.org/default.htm  

   The Waikiki Aquarium (http://www.waikikiaquarium.org/)
“The Zoo and Aquarium are within walking distance of Waikiki Beach.

   Diamond Head ( http://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/hawaii/diamond-head-leahi-summit-trail has a gorgeous view and is a good place to hike.

   Kaimana Beach (at the far end of Waikiki beach, near the Aquarium)

   Ala Moana Beach Park (right across from Ala Moana Shopping Center, and walkable from Waikiki if you are fit and have no heavy bags, although there are also buses that go there). The sunsets here are lovely, and there is a point that sticks out called Magic Island with a walking/jogging path. Here, you will find stunning views!

    The University of Hawaii

   Honolulu Museum of Art (https://honolulumuseum.org/)

   Bishop Museum (http://www.bishopmuseum.org/

   Chinatown attractions worth visiting include Foster Botanical Garden and Chinese food

    Manoa Valley (there are also hikes in the back of this valley, they can catch buses over that way). It also has a botanical garden that is lovely.

“If I had to pick only a handful of things and only had 2 days I would do this:

        Day 1
Diamond Head hike in early morning
Honolulu Museum of Art in early-mid afternoon, lunch in its cafe (yummy food)
Ala Moana Beach Park in evening for sunset
Ala Moana Shopping Center, if one likes to shop

       Day 2
Bishop Museum in morning
Chinatown/lunch
Foster Botanical Garden OR return to Waikiki and do Aquarium or Zoo, then enjoy a walk around Kapiolani Park outside the zoo.
Enjoy sunset mai tai/drinks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (they often do a hula performance)
“FYI–outside the city, these require more effort, but possible if one had a full day to do it & was interested, I would recommend the following two places:

  • The Pali Lookout (one could take a bus to Kailua and stop there for breathtaking photos)
  • Kailua Beach park (for a gorgeous beach).”

Lawrence Kim is the Sales and Marketing Manager for E NOA Corporation and the Waikiki Trolley.
E NOA provides guided tours, and the Trolley takes visitors around Waikiki and downtown Honoluluon a variety of narrated tours, with unlimited on and off privileges. As a travel professional and local resident, Mr. Kim has an extensive knowledge of both local attractions and the needs and concerns of visitors who don’t want to drive. His comments are in bold.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for visitors who want to enjoy a vacation on Oahu without renting a car?

  • For first time visitors: Stay in Waikiki and take advantage of the beautiful beaches, Diamond Head Hike, & local restaurants on the outskirts of Waikiki (Kapahulu Ave.)
  • Learn how to use all public transportation options and don’t be afraid to explore, Oahu is a small island and it is easy to find your way back to Waikiki from anywhere!

For frequent visitors who wants to see something different, a few suggestions:

  • Check out some of the Koolina resorts (Disney Aulani, Four Seasons, Marriott, and new exciting chains on their way) A new shopping center is in development nearby (Ka Makana Alii) and the neighboring village has many shops for casual dining (Kapolei Commons) There is a Water Park (Wet & Wild) nearby and also a new Adventure Park that just opened (Coral Crater Adventure Park)
  • Another option is to stay on the North Shore at either Courtyard Marriott or Turtle Bay Resort. There is a lot to see and do on the North Shore of Oahu including Polynesian Cultural Center, Kualoa Ranch, Dole Plantation, Famous Surfing Beaches, and Haleiwa Town.

Where are the best neighborhoods or areas for visitors to stay, if they want to explore Waikiki, Honolulu (and other parts of Oahu if possible) using the Trolley, and walking?
        Waikiki is great because its location is surrounded by great shopping, beaches and food. Points of interest in Honolulu include: Waikiki, Diamond Head/Kahala, Downtown/Chinatown, & Manoa Valley. Let’s not forget Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl cemetery!

When should visitors use the Trolley? When would it be better to use The Bus?
        The trolley is good for information and getting to all of the destinations along the way. The Bus is good for freedom of time and being able to go where tour buses may not frequent, such as Manoa Valley.

If a visitor wants to use the Trolley, can you suggest one or two Trolley stops that might be the best choices to use as a base, and specific places to stay that are near one of these Trolley stops?
        The two main places to know are the DFS (T-Galleria) in the center of Waikiki and the trolley stop located on the beach side of Ala Moana Shopping Center. These are the two main stations, DFS being number 1. All our trolley stop at DFS.

One of the biggest problems that visitors may have is that there is so much to see and do, and it is hard to make a choice. Can you suggest a few possible itineraries to see Waikiki, Honolulu, and other areas served by the Trolley?

        For the person with not enough time, the trolley fits into that schedule perfectly. 1 or 4 day pass is perfect to explore all of our lines that cover the most popular places in Honolulu. Each route includes narration that helps visitors understand what they are seeing. I would try to use as many of our Trolley routes as possible. (Don’t forget that your Trolley pass allows you to use as many of our routes as you want.)

        I would start by taking our Blue Line early in the morning. It is our scenic route and makes scenic stops to allow our riders to take pictures.

        Next, I would take our Red Line to explore downtown Honolulu. We call this our Historic Tour.

        The Purple Line goes to Pearl Harbor: a must see for visitors from our other 49 states. If possible, go there on a Wednesday, Saturday, or Sunday when the “Swap Meet” (a spectacular flea market) is held.

        The Green Line is great for hikers who want to visit and climb Diamond Head. If you go early on a Saturday morning, you can enjoy the largest farmers market in Oahu, which is held at the foot of Diamond.

        The Pink Line is our circulator for shoppers. It travels around Waikiki, giving you a chance to stop to shop and enjoy good food along the way. As a matter of fact, if you stay in Waikiki, there is probably a Pink Line stop near your hotel. Take the Pink Line to DFS to connect with any of the other four trolley routes.

How safe is Waikiki? Is there enough to do that I wouldn’t run out of things to do?
        Hawaii is a safe place to travel. Waikiki has a little of everything to fit the needs of nearly all visitors. Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center has free activities daily that are popular with the visitors and local residents. There are Luaus, magic shows, fireworks, etc, all in Waikiki! My suggestion would be to explore each big hotel and see what they offer! (Hilton Hawaiian Village: Friday Fireworks, Moana Surfrider: Museum like feel, with lots of exhibits, Hyatt: lots of birds on display)

If a visitor wants to enjoy evening entertainment (concerts, theatre etc.) and a good meal out, where are the best areas to go? Which ones are served by the Trolley? What stop(s) are the closest ones to these restaurants and entertainment centers?
        My best suggestion for visitors is to explore Waikiki and especially the outskirts. Our trolley runs the entirety of Waikiki so it is all covered. There are new restaurants popping up everywhere. Keep an eye on International Marketplace, Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, & Yococho ( A new Japanese street Market) Of course our largest shopping center Ala Moana always has great things happening all of the time. Foodland market and Shirokiya Food Court are also popular.

Are there beaches or other attractions that are not served by the Trolley that you think visitors without cars could enjoy? Do you have any suggestions for how visitors could get to these places without needing to rent a car?
        Hanauma Bay and various hiking trails around Honolulu. (Manoa Falls, Koko Head, Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, etc.) are only accessible by The Bus or a taxi.

Where can visitors get more information about the Trolley and make reservations?http://www.Waikikitrolley.com. You can also call 808) 593-2822.

Next month, we will visit the islands of Kauai and Hawaii (also known as the Big Island).

For More Information
To learn about accommodations and attractions:

Useful Phone Numbers and Links:

  • The area code for the state of Hawaii is (808)
  • Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau: (808) 923-1811
  • Honolulu International Airport Visitor Information: (808) 836-6413

For information about local buses and what routes go to what attractions: visit www.thebus.org or call (808) 848-5555 from 5:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. every day, Hawaiian time.

For information about the Waikiki Trolley:

go to http://www.Waikikitrolley.com, or call 808) 593-2822.

Steve Atlas welcomes your comments, and suggestions for cities or vacation destinations to feature in future Car Free Journey columns. E-mail steveatlas45@yahoo.com. In the subject line, put “Car Free Journey.”

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve’s column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: “Car Free at the Beach”, and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at www.pubtrantravel.com.

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