A few weeks ago I did the unthinkable. Okay…falling down a steep mountainside on Oahu was not in the plans. But what was part of my long weekend pans was ensuring I visit Oahu without a car.

Rental cars can be pricey, especially in Hawaii. I rented one last year on my first visit to the island with my two sons. But given that this was a solo trip, I opted to plan an itinerary without one. I would take mass transit from the airport, walk around Waikiki, and take the bus as needed everywhere else.

It turns out that the Oahu bus system is pretty sophisticated. You can get pretty much anywhere. The bus timing isn’t always the best, but if you do your research, it’s a great option.

The Oahu Bus System

TheBus — the name for the city and county of Honolulu’s system — turned out to be an excellent option. It allowed me to visit Oahu without a car, saving a bundle of money. TheBus can get you all over the island, not just around Honolulu. But Honolulu is definitely the focus.

There is a CityExpress (route A), multiple Country Express buses to Ewa and the eastern part of Oahu, and multiple Pearl Harbor Express buses. Route maps and timetables can be found here. Beyond these there are many more routes that can get you to places such as Hawaii Kai, Kailua and the nearby towns, Wahiawa and other locations in the middle of Oahu, and even a circuit around the North Shore. The site is not the best, but if you can decipher the route maps and timetables, there should be something that meets your needs.

I ended up taking the bus several times. Once to church, once out to Hawaii Kai, and all the way back to Waikiki. I rode another the next day up through a Honolulu neighborhood.

Some key routes to know (that I looked into or used):

  • 1 – Runs the length of Honolulu out to Hawaii Kai
  • 2 – Some stop at Diamond Head
  • 20 – Can get you from HNL airport to Waikiki
  • 23 – Access Diamond Head and Sea Life Park from Waikiki
  • 87 – Kailua Express from downtown Honolulu
a rainbow over a city by the ocean

TheBus can get you near the Diamond Head


The best part is that you can buy a single transit card that can get you anywhere on Oahu: the HOLO card. The HOLO card will deduct the correct fare for each trip from your balance. However, it does even better than that, as it should cap out at the correct daily or monthly fare pass amount, which happens automatically. It’s very simple to use.

If you don’t want a HOLO card and are just interested in a couple rides, cash is just fine. Fares to ride TheBus are as follows:

  • $3.00 standard cash fare, including transfer
  • $7.50 max daily fare cap
  • $30.00 seven-day pass
  • $80.00 month cap / month pass
  • $880.00 annual cap

One child 5 years old or under is free with a paying adult.

There is also a $2.00 one-time fee the first time you buy a HOLO card.

Where to Buy a HOLO Card

HOLO cards are available a number of places in Oahu. The easiest place to buy a HOLO Card is at an ABC Store, since they are pretty much everywhere. However, the card you buy comes loaded with an adult day pass, which is the only option. Since the day pass costs $7.50, a new HOLO card costs $9.50 — the additional $2.00 is for the card itself.

This option worked great for me, since I took five separate buses during my first day, maximizing the adult day pass. If you have to ride more than twice in a day, a HOLO card will easily be worth it. Rather than keep charging you, it’ll stop at the $7.50 daily cap.

If you need another option, you can also buy a HOLO card at any of the following:

  • 7-Eleven
  • Foodland Supermarket
  • Palama Supermarket
  • TIMES Supermarket
  • TheBus pass office

These outlets offer options ranging from 7-day passes to month passes.

If you need to reload your card, it’s easiest to do it online.

Visit Oahu Without a Car: Final Thoughts

While I ended up having an unexpected end to my recent trip to Oahu, it doesn’t take away from the fact with how pleased I was to visit Oahu without a car. I headed to Koko Crater on Sunday after a couple other bus rides, and then headed to hike the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail on Monday via the bus. My plan was to head back to HNL the next day on the bus. But I had a fateful tumble down a mountainside instead.

I’m sure I’ll be back on Oahu at some point. I hope to explore the island more via TheBus. Ir’s preferable in may ways to visit Oahu without a car.