The Ultimate Vacation Guide: How to Get Around Hawaii

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Many travelers to Hawaii want to visit more than one island during their trip.

Planning your trip to take the most advantage of every day is essential, so you are not spending your vacation time waiting in airports, or having to sign out of your accommodations on one island, but not having a flight out until later in the day and driving around with your car full of luggage, not knowing where to stop while keeping your luggage safe.

Hawaii Geography 101

Hawaii is spread out over many different islands, of which 6 of them are available for tourists to visit. The flight times can vary depending on how close you are to the next island you may wish to visit. The distance between Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii for example, is approximately 150 nautical miles one way.

The big question is always “How many Islands can I visit in my two week vacation? My recommendation is to visit only two islands, maximum, for every week of your stay. As I’ve mentioned, island-hopping can be very time-intensive, as flying from one island to another usually takes 30-50 minutes of air time, but getting through airport security and then waiting for your flight to arrive, unload and reload will take you at least an hour.

I usually plan my trips so that I am traveling to the airport around check out time in the morning, with my goal to arrive earlier than my check in time. This allows time on arrival to rent a car, locate the area I will be staying, and pick up any supplies I might need, such as food, refreshments, etc. before check in time.

Once I check in, I am ready to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening getting to know my new location.

How to Get Around Hawaii

How do you get around in Hawaii? This is a question often asked by first time visitors. The best way to travel in Hawaii is by Rental Car – most of the time. There are a few locations, especially on Oahu, where a rental car is not always needed, but may be desirable for certain days.

Rental Car

I lock in my Hawaii rental car as soon as I have booked my airline tickets to Hawaii, as well as inter-island flights. Virtually every island will require a rental car to get from the airport to your accommodations as well as touring the island. The earlier you get your car rental booked, the better opportunity you will have to watch rates. I tend to check the rates weekly, and if I see a better rate show up, I book it, and cancel the reservation I already have. Car rental companies in Hawaii have prices that fluctuate depending on demand, dates, and competition. I often find lower rates closer to my departure date, however, there have been times when that original rate, booked way in advance, turns out to be the best rate, as I watch rates increase closer to my date.

Public transportation options on most of the islands are not great for tourists, leaving car rentals as the least expensive option most of the time. Taxis and Ubers can add up fast if you want to travel around the island, and visit the tourist attractions, and various beaches. Oahu is the main exception. If you are staying in Waikiki, you may not want to rent a car for the entire time, in which case you can rent a car right in Waikiki for a day or two if you wish to travel around Oahu.

Flights Between Islands

How to travel between Hawaii Islands is one of the first things you will want to consider when planning your trip. There are local airlines that service the inter-island flights, with some planes being fairly small with little room for carry-on luggage, which may need to be checked. Often these flights are loaded right from the tarmac, instead of through gates, because of the size of the plane.

There are options on times of flights, so you can choose a time that suits your own schedule, allowing you to take advantage of the day, and fly at the most convenient time for check out, and check in on the next island.

Public Transportation

Public transportation is adequate on Oahu for getting around Waikiki if you wish to stay in that area. There are some buses that will take you to the north shore, but you are tied to their routes and their schedules, not allowing you to explore at your own pace. They also may not take you near enough to some of the attractions you wish to visit, as they are set up to cater to the transportation needs of the residents of the island. How to get around Hawaii’s other islands without bus service can be more challenging without a rental car.


The ferry to Lanai offers a scenic and convenient way to reach this serene island from Maui. The ferry journey takes about an hour as it crosses the Auʻau Channel, known for its whale-watching opportunities in winter. The island of Lanai, once the world's largest pineapple plantation, now beckons with its rugged landscapes and secluded beaches. Whether you're visiting for a day trip or an extended stay, the ferry provides easy access to Lanai's unspoiled beauty, making it an ideal excursion for those seeking tranquility and exploration in Hawaii.
This is a passenger only option, no cars are allowed on the Ferry. Be prepared to rent a car at the destination.

Getting Around Hawaii Islands: Island-Specific Guides


Oahu invites exploration by car, offering diverse landscapes and cultural experiences within a compact island setting. From lush mountains to pristine beaches, here are some must-see routes to discover:

  • North Shore Adventure: The North Shore and the Circle Tour drive are very popular as well, and well worth renting a car for the day to experience. Embark on a scenic drive along Kamehameha Highway to Oahu’s famed North Shore. This route winds through quaint towns like Haleiwa, known for its surf culture and local art scene. Stop for a shave ice treat and explore Waimea Valley, home to botanical gardens and a stunning waterfall. In winter, watch world-class surfers tackle monstrous waves at Banzai Pipeline.
  • Diamond Head and East Oahu: Start your day with a drive to Diamond Head, an iconic volcanic crater offering panoramic views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean. Continue along Kalanianaole Highway, passing through upscale neighborhoods and scenic lookouts like Hanauma Bay and Makapu'u Point. Visit the historic town of Kailua for its picturesque beach and boutique shops.
  • Central Oahu Exploration: Discover the heart of Oahu by driving through Central Oahu's fertile plains and historic sites. Visit the Dole Plantation for a pineapple treat and learn about Hawaii’s agricultural history. Drive up to the serene Byodo-In Temple nestled at the base of the Ko'olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park.
  • West Oahu Coastline: Take a leisurely drive along Farrington Highway to explore the lesser-known gems of West Oahu. Discover local culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center and relax on the secluded beaches of Ko Olina. Stop by the Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site for panoramic views of the North Shore and explore the agricultural heritage of Waialua at local farms.
  • Windward Coast Beauty: Experience the Windward Coast’s natural beauty and laid-back atmosphere by driving along Kamehameha Highway. Discover lush valleys, cascading waterfalls, and hidden beaches like the stunning Lanikai Beach. Hike to the Makapu'u Lighthouse for breathtaking views of the coastline and spot humpback whales during the winter months.
  • Waikiki: is the most popular and visited area of Oahu, with most people staying here when visiting Oahu. There are various beaches, lots of shopping and restaurants, as well as numerous attractions all within walking distance, or a short commute. Waikiki parking is something to consider when renting a car in Waikiki as there are not a lot of free parking areas, and of those, some have restrictions as to what times of the day you are allowed to park there.

Driving around Oahu offers a unique perspective of the island's diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture. Whether you're exploring its famous surf spots, lush valleys, or scenic coastlines, each route promises memorable experiences and breathtaking vistas.


As Hawaii’s second largest island, with its perpetual sunshine, stunning beaches and lush rainforests Maui boasts numerous waterfalls waiting to be explored. Maui encompasses rugged mountains, deep valleys, and expansive plains. Renting a car here offers unparalleled freedom to explore its extraordinary locales. Discover these essential driving routes on Maui and embark on your adventure!

  • Road to Hāna: Maui's famed Road to Hāna spans 65 miles, winding with 620 curves and 59 bridges. It offers stunning coastal views and wild jungle scenery. Take it slow, stop for waterfall hikes and local treats like Aunty Sandy's banana bread. Consider staying overnight in Hāna to fully enjoy the serenity.
  • Haleakalā: Mount Haleakalā, Maui's highest peak at 10,023 feet, offers a surreal landscape of lava fields and rare silversword plants. The drive to the summit via Haleakalā Highway rewards with breathtaking sunrises and sunsets (reservation required for sunrise). Dress warmly as temperatures can be cold, even snowy.
  • Kahului to West Maui: Starting in Kahului, head west on Honoapiʻilani Highway towards Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach. Stop at Maui Ocean Center or relax at Kaanapali Beach for snorkeling and end the day with a sunset at The Point at Merriman’s Kapalua.
  • Upcountry Maui: Escape to Upcountry Maui, known for farms, ranches, and stunning views of the island. Explore at your own pace, tasting local delights like Maui-grown coffee, goat cheese, and lavender-infused scones.


Driving Around Kauai – Exploring the Garden Isle

Kauai's allure lies in its manageable size, offering diverse landscapes that can be comfortably explored in a day. Driving around the island isn't just convenient; it treats you to breathtaking vistas of white-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, and lush tropical valleys.

Kauai is circular, with the primary highway, HI-56, skirting three-quarters of its perimeter from Hanalei in the north to Lihue in the south. Another key route, HI-50, runs east from Lihue to Waimea on the south shore. The rugged Na Pali Coast cliffs render the northwestern quarter inaccessible.

  • Time to Circle the Island: From Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa, it takes approximately 40 minutes to reach both Princeville/Hanalei on the north shore and Poipu on the south shore. Lihue Airport is about a 20-minute drive from resorts on the eastern shore, slightly longer during peak traffic. The longest drive on main roads, from Princeville to Waimea, spans around 1.5 hours, showcasing the majestic "Grand Canyon of Kauai."
  • <>Drive north: along Kuhio Highway (HI-56) to Ke’e Beach, nestled amidst towering cliffs and lush greenery.
  • Southward along the eastern coast: pass through Anahola and Kapa’a, stopping at Kealia Beach and charming Kapa’a town.
  • Take a detour: via Tree Tunnel Road (Maluhia Road) near Lihue, flanked by century-old eucalyptus trees en route to Koloa.
  • Discover Waimea Canyon: northwest of Poipu, renowned for its striking landscapes.

While a full loop around Kauai isn’t feasible due to natural barriers, numerous coastal drives offer access to the island's best spots. Book your Lihue car rental today and immerse yourself in Kauai’s natural beauty!

Big Island

One of the joys of visiting the Big Island is its size – large enough for diverse adventures yet manageable for a day-long drive. Exploring by car unveils stunning landscapes from black-sand beaches to volcanic peaks and lush rainforests.

The Big Island boasts a comprehensive road network. Highway 19 (Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway) encircles much of the west and north coasts, offering access to notable sites like Kona and Kohala. Highway 11 traverses the island from Kailua-Kona in the west to Hilo in the east, passing through scenic landscapes and volcanic terrain. The southern portion is accessible via Highway 11, leading to Puna and Volcano Village.

From Kona, it takes about an hour to reach Waimea and slightly longer to get to Hawi or Hilo. Exploring the southern regions, such as Puna and Volcano, adds additional driving time, providing diverse experiences from lava fields to lush botanical gardens.

Here are some ideas on how to get around Hawaii:

  • Drive north: along Highway 19 to Waikoloa and Hawi, experiencing picturesque coastal views and historic towns.
  • Venture south: on Highway 11 to explore the Puna district, featuring unique lava formations and scenic coastal drives.<.li>
  • Visit Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: via Highway 11, marveling at volcanic craters and active lava flows.
  • While circumnavigating the entire island isn't feasible due to rugged terrain, each road offers unique insights into the island's beauty. Rent a car today and start exploring the Big Island’s diverse landscapes! Find the perfect rental car for your Big Island adventure, from Kona to Hilo and beyond. Book online to secure your vehicle and start your journey through this enchanting Hawaiian paradise.


Discover Lanai's charm with a car rental, offering access to its scenic landscapes and cultural treasures. Explore the island's secluded beaches, rugged terrain, and historic sites at your own pace. Don't miss the Garden of the Gods, Shipwreck Beach, and the quaint town of Lanai City. Renting a car on Lanai ensures you experience the island's authentic beauty and hidden gems effortlessly.

Don't Miss These Lānaʻi Highlights

  • Garden of the Gods: Located at the island's northern end, the Garden of the Gods (Keahiakawelo) is a surreal landscape of rock formations shaped by centuries of wind erosion. The area's barren terrain, dotted with unique red and orange boulders, offers a stark contrast to Lānaʻi's lush greenery elsewhere.
  • Shipwreck Beach: On the northwestern coast lies Shipwreck Beach (Kaiolohia), named for the remains of an old shipwreck that washed ashore decades ago. The beach is renowned for its long stretch of white sand and the ghostly presence of the shipwreck's hull, making it a captivating spot for both history enthusiasts and beach lovers.
  • Lanai City: Nestled in the island's central highlands, Lanai City is a charming town frozen in time. With its plantation-era architecture, quaint shops, and local eateries, it offers a glimpse into Lānaʻi's rich history and community spirit. Stroll through Dole Park, the town's central square, and explore the unique boutiques and galleries that reflect the island's culture.

Visiting these iconic sites on Lānaʻi promises an unforgettable experience, blending natural wonders with cultural heritage and a sense of remote tranquility.


Discovering Molokai by rental car offers a unique opportunity to explore this tranquil island's hidden gems and cultural richness. Here's what you shouldn't miss:

  • Halawa Valley: Begin your journey with a scenic drive to Halawa Valley on the eastern end of Molokai. This lush valley is steeped in Hawaiian history and boasts picturesque waterfalls, including the iconic Moa'ula Falls. A guided tour can provide deeper insights into the valley's significance and natural beauty.
  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park: Drive along the stunning north shore to reach Kalaupapa, a place of profound historical significance. This remote peninsula served as a leprosy settlement from 1866 to 1969. Accessible only by guided mule ride, hiking tour, or scenic flights, it offers a poignant glimpse into Molokai's history and breathtaking coastal views.
  • Papohaku Beach: Head west to Papohaku Beach, one of Hawaii's largest white sand beaches. Its expansive shoreline and turquoise waters are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing. Enjoy stunning sunsets over the Pacific Ocean from this serene and secluded spot.
  • Kaunakakai Town: Explore the laid-back charm of Molokai's main town, Kaunakakai. Wander through local shops, boutiques, and eateries that offer a taste of island life. Don't miss the Saturday morning farmers' market for fresh produce, crafts, and homemade treats.
  • Molokai Forest Reserve: For nature enthusiasts, a drive through the Molokai Forest Reserve is a must. This verdant area in the island's interior is home to diverse flora and fauna, including native Hawaiian plants and endangered species. Scenic stops along the way offer opportunities for hiking and birdwatching.

Renting a car on Molokai allows you to experience its raw beauty and cultural heritage at your own pace. Whether you're captivated by stunning landscapes, historical sites, or local traditions, Molokai promises a memorable journey off the beaten path.

What is the Best Type of Rental Car for Getting Around Hawaii?

If you’re gearing up for an adventurous trip, renting a Jeep Wrangler, whether it’s the 2-door or 4-door variant, is highly recommended. These vehicles are equipped to handle any type of road condition you might encounter.

If you’re planning a more leisurely sightseeing vacation, you can opt for vehicles in categories such as Compact, Luxury, or Convertible cars, depending on your budget and personal preferences. A Convertible is especially enjoyable in Hawaii’s sunny climate, allowing you to soak up the sun and feel the breeze along the scenic coastlines.

Hawaii is also a favorite destination for families looking to relax on the beach and have fun. For a family of up to four, our Standard or Full Size cars provide ample space. Larger families can choose our Minivan rental option, or a larger SUV accommodating up to seven passengers and four bags comfortably.

When booking your car, make sure you actually book the proper size of car for your party. Upgrading at the counter can be a costly option, as the car companies will use their own daily rate for an upgrade, and this can be much more expensive than booking that same car in advance on our website.

Plan Your Hawaiian Adventure Today

When visiting any of Hawaii’s popular islands—Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii (the Big Island), Molokai or Lanai, a rental car booked with Discount Hawaii Car Rental is essential for exploring beyond the tourist hubs.

Each island boasts scenic coastal drives and inland roads winding through volcanic fields, rainforests, and mountains. Given the high demand, especially during peak months like June and December, booking your rental car early is crucial to secure a good price.

Opt for a vehicle suited to your needs, whether a compact for sightseeing or a Jeep Wrangler for fun adventures, ensuring flexibility and convenience as you navigate Hawaii’s diverse landscapes.