When we planned our 15-day trip to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island, we knew we didn’t want our list of diverse activities to be limited by transportation. We also knew that we wanted to stick within our tight budget. After going back and forth several times between using the bus and renting a car on each island, we finally decided to try and tackle the bus on Oahu and rent cars on Maui and Hawaii.
We considered the many pros and cons of using the bus, like cost of parking at our hotel, the cost to ride (2.50 per ride), not having to deal with traffic, frequency of stops, and transportation time. Since we were planning on venturing far from our hotel in Waikiki, we were worried that we’d be spending all our time navigating Oahu’s bus system. But, with a little strategic planning, we landed on five days of both popular and off-the-beaten-path activities that maximized our chosen mode of transportation.
1- Diamond Head Crater + Kuhia Beach (20-minute bus ride one way)
Our first day was very Hawaii, with a 1.6-mile hike up and down the popular Diamond Head Crater and a walk back through Waikiki’s nearby neighborhoods. We grabbed AMAZING fresh-fruit shave ice from a hole-in-the-wall called Monserrat, and, after stopping back at our hotel for cocktails, headed back our toward Kuhio Beach Park, where there is a torch-lighting and hula show three times a week at 6:30 pm. For dessert, walk through the outdoor mall surrounding the resorts and accept all the samples of macadamia nuts, cookies, and salt water taffy.
2- Pearl Harbor Sites + Downtown Honolulu (1-hour bus ride one way)
Day two was all history at the Pearl Harbor historic sites and buildings in downtown Honolulu. At Pearl Harbor, we took the free (thanks, NPS!) USS Arizona Memorial tour and opted for the extra $7.50 audio headsets, which added a lot to the experience. After spending about four hours (we’re slow though) touring the memorial, seeing the sights, and reading the exhibits at the museum, we hopped back on the bus to Honolulu. We wanted to see the Iolani Palace (only palace in North America) and the Hawaii State Capitol Building. Check, check, and we were back to the hotel for our personal top-floor lounge happy hour and Waikiki Friday night fireworks.
3- Byodo-In Temple and Lanikai Pillbox Trail (2-hour bus ride one way)
We got an earlier start on our third day and took a bus to the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a significant Buddhist temple in Japan. It was beautiful to walk through the garden and participate in a few rituals like sounding the gong and meditating before entering the temple. Although it was a quick stop, it was one we didn’t regret. Next, we hopped on a bus to the Kailua area, which featured a famous hike called the Lanikai Pillbox Trail. The trail climbs almost a mile up to amazing views of not only Lanikai and Kailua, but also the protected natural areas surrounding the cities. After a sweaty hike, we practically dove into the ocean at the Lanikai public beach and spent the afternoon relaxing and snorkeling.
4- Dole Plantation + North Shore (2+ hour bus ride one way)
One touristy activity I really wanted to do was the Dole Plantation. And even though it was a bit gimmicky, we still had fun acting like kids on the train ride and in the (2008) World’s Largest Maze, which also happens to be shaped like a pineapple. My favorite was the Garden Tour, an audio tour of the Dole Garden, featuring native and imported flower species. (My real favorite was the Dole Whip, just as amazing as advertised). Next we were picked up by friends (but the bus also continues up) and headed to the much more laid-back North Shore. We drank margaritas, walked around and looked at the shops, ate incredible shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, watched a sunset, and ended the day with pie from Ted’s Bakery. Definitely a day of amazing food.
5- Koko Head + Hanuama Bay Nature Reserve (45-minute bus ride one way)
We ventured on our fifth day east of Waikiki to Koko Head, where we took on one of the most taxing short hikes of my life. The trail, actually 1,100 wide steps, follows an old rail cart track 1,200 feet up the side of Koko Head Crater. The views were stunning! We staggered back down with shaky legs and headed over to nearby Hanuama Bay Nature Reserve, one of the most popular snorkeling spots in the country. I may have done more napping on the sand than snorkeling, but what I did see (and what Cole saw) was amazing and friendly schools of colorful fish.
There were many downsides to using the bus. Everything took longer to access, and we couldn’t squeeze as much into our days as Cole would have liked. (Did I say downside?)
However, it was nice to not add to the already-too-many cars on the small island. The bus also gave us a nice opportunity to relax and unwind. There was nowhere on the island we wanted to visit that the bus routes didn’t reach. The buses generally weren’t crowded. And Google Maps’ public transportation mode was reliable (not quite as much on the weekends).
If you do choose the bus in Oahu, do a little research first to make sure your stops are covered. Be verrrry patient. Adjust to island time. Bring a book.
Shop our Waikiki exploring gear: