In June, my friend Cassie and I visited Honolulu, Hawaii for five nights. It was an awesome girls’ trip filled with delicious food, beautiful views and fun activities. We managed to make the most of our time in Honolulu without a car.
Most people recommend renting a car when visiting Honolulu or Oahu. But Cassie and I don’t drive. We’re also not the most athletic people. In fact, we had a strict rule about how steep of an incline we would tolerate on this trip (i.e. no crazy hikes!). So not only is this the perfect guide to exploring Honolulu without a car, it’s also the perfect lazy gal’s guide to Oahu – no hiking required!
You can absolutely have an awesome time in Honolulu without a car and without any athletic prowess. The beauty of Hawaii isn’t reserved for those with driver’s licences or gym memberships. Here’s the best spots to make it to – all that you can get to without a car or running shoes!
KCC Farmer’s Market
One of our first stops in Honolulu was the KCC Farmer’s Market. Cassie and I are both big foodies, and one of my favourite things to do in a new city is check out a local market. This one did not disappoint! There was a ton of fresh produce, food trucks and stands selling all sorts of local foods. I loved that it wasn’t just produce or just prepared food but a great mix of both. This is where I was introduced to lilikoi butter (aka passion fruit butter) and my life was changed forever.
The best part? It was so easy to get here! We took one bus from our hotel in Waikiki and it dropped us off right across the street from the market. This market is also next to Diamond Head, so if you did feel like hiking, you could. It’s open Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings.
Ala Moana Shopping Center
I know a shopping mall isn’t a great tourist destination but I really enjoyed our trip to the Ala Moana Shopping Center. To start with, the food court was amazing. We got poke bowls and Korean food to go and it was all delicious. The shopping center is partially outdoors, which is very cool. And every store we went into wanted to give us samples – not saying no to that! Plus, it’s next to a Target and Walmart which are the perfect places to pick up cheap souvenirs.
Again, this was a single bus from our hotel. You can totally get around Honolulu without a car!
Ala Moana Beach Park
Next to the shopping mall is the beach. This was my favourite beach in Honolulu. It was way quieter and less crowded than the beaches in Waikiki. The water was calm and there was no rock barrier put up so you could float out really deep. I love just floating in the water as gentle waves wash over you. It was perfect!
Just because you’re in Honolulu without a car doesn’t mean you can’t get on a boat, right? Cassie and I went on a catamaran tour which was a great way to see Honolulu from the water. We got to take in the views of the ocean, the shoreline of Waikiki and Diamond Head. It was also just a really fun atmosphere! The crew was very fun, chatty and too willing to pour us free drinks.
This was my favourite part of our trip to Hawaii. We headed over to Kualoa Ranch on the other side of the island. It’s a long trek by bus, so you can opt for a car transfer to pick you up instead. Kualoa Ranch is probably best known as a movie set – it’s where they filmed Jurassic World, Jumanji, Pirates of the Caribbean, Hunger Games and so much more. But it’s not just a movie set. It’s also a working cattle ranch and home to some of the best views in Oahu.
Visitors to Kualoa Ranch can ride ATVs, visit the farm, go horseback riding, play on the beach and/or take a jungle jeep through the grounds. We opted for the jungle jeep – even though we were in Honolulu without a car, we weren’t opposed to riding in a big jeep to see the sights! Our tour took us through the ranch to point out some of the awesome view points and filming locations. It was so gorgeous and so cool. At one point, our driver decided to race back down the trail and it felt like we were on a roller coaster.
There was even a mini hike you could do part way through. It was pretty steep, but also very short so not that bad. And the views at the top were worth it!
Polynesian Cultural Center
Another big highlight of our trip was our visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This is also over on the other side of the island by Kualoa Ranch. I’d suggest visiting both on the same day so you only have to head out there once.
The PCC is a HUGE outdoor network of mini villages, each one representing a country in Polynesia. Each village is decked out to look like their country and will put on a show and demonstration to share their culture. There’s dancing, costumes, singing, coconut chopping, audience participation and hilarious jokes. They also host luau dinners and a big show at the end of the night.
Here are my tips for a visit to the PCC:
- Map your route out before you start so you can catch the show at each village. They all perform at different times so try to see as many as you can.
- Take advantage of the free stuff! We got free temporary tattoos at one of the villages and free leis at dinner.
- Stay sun safe! Bring lots of water, re-apply sunscreen and seek out the shade. This is a tip for any hot destination but is especially important if you’re spending all day at the PCC.
- Give yourself lots of time. The shows are really fun and walking around the villages is super cool. There’s also an entire shopping area that is great to explore. Don’t rush your visit.
- Opt for a later dinner seating. We, unfortunately, had a 4:00 PM seating. This is awful because 1) who is hungry at 4:00 PM? and 2) You miss out on shows. The village shows all end at 6:00 PM but the big show isn’t until 7:30 PM. So we had 90 minutes to kill. But if you can get yourself tickets to the 6:00 PM dinner seating, you won’t miss any shows, you’ll get to eat dinner at a normal hour, and you’ll finish just in time for the big show to start!
Since we were in Honolulu without a car, Cassie and I opted to do a day tour around the island on one of our days. This was a great way to get to things that are far away and to get a little taste for different spots in Oahu. Hanauma Bay was one of those spots. It was absolutely beautiful to see from above! If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can take the bus here and pay to access the bay. There’s a charge but apparently it’s worth it for some of the best snorkelling.
Puli lookout was something I had researched before our trip and really wanted to see. But I figured we had to cross it off the list since we were exploring Honolulu without a car. I was so happy that our tour bus did a stop here so we could take in the views!
Our tour bus only did a quick stop at the Dole Plantation, which is all the way on the other side of the island. It was enough time for me to grab a cup of Dole Whip and learn what heaven tastes like. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend time at the plantation but it looks like it could be a good time.
Another stop on our bus trip was this huge Mormon church. I had no idea that there was such a strong Mormon culture in Hawaii. Apparently the Mormons were involved in founding parts of Hawaii and have quite a large population there. Who knew? Their church and estate are really beautiful and I’d be interested to learn more about their history in Hawaii.
Tips for exploring Honolulu without a car
- If you’re in Honolulu without a car but still want to see some of the more spread out spots, I’d definitely recommend jumping on a day tour. We did one that toured around the entire island and took us to some spots we wouldn’t have bothered going to by ourselves. It’s a great way to see a lot of things all in one day. Lots of tours pick up and drop off from Waikiki to make things super easy.
- If you want to do a lot and save a lot of money, I’d highly recommend the Go Oahu card. Check out the options and see if it makes sense for your trip. It’s a great way to do a lot of activities, like Kualoa Ranch, Polynesian Cultural Center, day tours and catamaran trips, without breaking the bank. Make sure you buy your card ahead of time and call to make reservations.
- In Honolulu without a car? No worries, you can take the bus! It’s only $5.50 for an unlimited day pass to take as many trips as you’d like. The buses have air conditioning, they’re super clean and they call out all stops so you won’t miss yours. The buses are a great and easy way to get around.
We had an amazing time exploring Honolulu without a car and I don’t think we missed out on much being car-less. I can’t wait to go back one day to enjoy more of the delicious food, admire the landscapes and make it over to Lanikai and the North Shore, which we didn’t get to on this trip.
Have you been to Honolulu or elsewhere in Hawaii?
What was your favourite spot or what are you excited to see if you haven’t been before?