Travel Tips: Using The Bus to Get Around Honolulu

Last updated on:
Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Read the full disclosure policy here.

So you’re going to Honolulu.

You want to see as much of the island of Oahu as possible, but you don’t really like guided group tours, and you don’t want to spend the money on a rental car. What do you do?

You take TheBus, of course.

Bus Stop, Hawaii, Oahu, North Shore

Honolulu’s public bus system services the entire island of Oahu. This may sound impressive at first, but you have to remember that the island is only 44 miles long and about 30 miles wide. Meaning that it’s entirely feasible to use large buses to cart people all around it.

Yes, using TheBus on Oahu can definitely save you some cash if you plan to do a lot of traveling. But, if you’re not familiar with city bus travel or with the city of Honolulu, it can be a bit daunting. What bus should you take? How much will it cost? Where all can you go?

To help you out, I’ve compiled a few tips on using TheBus to navigate your way around Oahu.

Use a Google Maps App

Before you even head to a bus stop, download the free Google Maps app for your smartphone. Believe me, it is the most useful app to use when traveling around Honolulu (and probably a lot of other cities, too).

With this app, you are able to get bus directions for all of Oahu. Simply use the “Get Directions” feature, type in your beginning and ending points (exact addresses are best, but you can also use street names or attraction titles with city and state), and then select “public transit” in the “Travel by” section. Then, simply hit “Get Directions,” and Google will figure out all your route options.

It will tell you what bus to take and at what time, where the nearest stop is, and where to transfer buses. You can look at options “in the future,” and also get reverse directions. If you go to the “Map View,” you can see detailed walking directions to the nearest bus stop, and even follow the route as the bus is traversing it.

This really came in handy when I was bus-hopping on my own on multiple days.

Have Exact Change or Buy a Bus Pass

A ride on the Honolulu bus costs a set price of $2.50. You need to have exact change, which you feed into a machine right next to the driver. The driver will then give you one transfer ticket that is valid for a couple of hours (though, it seemed like you could get away with using it beyond the expiration time, as long as it was used on the same day that you got it).

If you don’t want to carry around that much change and worry about losing those transfer slips, however, consider buying a 4-day bus pass. These passes cost $25 and can be purchased at any ABC Store in Honolulu, and at a variety of other convenience shops. They allow you unlimited use on ALL of Oahu’s bus routes, including Express ones. $35 might seem like a lot, but if you are using TheBus frequently (such as taking more than 4 buses per day), you’ll get your money’s worth.

And, even though the pass is only supposed to be valid for 4 consecutive days from the day you begin using it, I got away with using mine for 6 days when I was in Hawaii. Most of the drivers just glanced at it, but never actually checked the dates.


SAVE up to 55% OFF Top Oahu Attractions!

Pay Attention

Bus Stop, Hawaii, Oahu, HonoluluEspecially if you’re traveling on your own, you’ll want to pay attention to make sure you don’t miss a transfer point or your intended stop. Some of the buses are equipped with scrolling marquees at the front that flash the cross streets of each stop before you reach it. Others will announce upcoming stops over a PA system. Some will do both. Others may lack the marquee and only verbally announce major transfer points.

The Google Maps app I mentioned can help with this, because it will tell you exactly which stop you need so you can listen/watch for it. And, if you follow your progress on the map view feature of the app, you can get an idea of when you need to be getting ready to request a stop.

When in Doubt, Ask

If you aren’t very confident in your map reading skills, or if the bus is noisy and you can’t hear the announcements, or if you just aren’t sure about what route to take, simply ask someone.

Most of the bus drivers I encountered were super friendly, and they all knew the bus routes well. Even though my Google Maps app was wonderful, it still gave me confusing directions a few times, and I had to confirm with the driver that I was getting on/off the right bus. (Unlike in the photo to the right, some bus stops don't actually list which number buses stop there…) If you ask a driver about a particular stop or route, most likely he/she will personally give you a heads-up when you’re getting close.

Alternatively, you can also ask fellow bus riders any route questions you might have. Not all of them will have answers for you, but most will at least be friendly about it. I was actually asked bus advice 3 times during my stay, which I found humorous since I was just a visitor, too! I guess I must have at least looked like I knew what I was doing.

Bundle Up

This tip might sound silly, considering Hawaii has an average temperature of about 75 degrees F that only ever varies by 5 or 10 degrees either way. But don’t be fooled by that warm, tropical air outside the bus doors. Inside, the buses are all air conditioned. REALLY air conditioned. If you’re going to be riding for a while, it’s not a bad idea to bring a light jacket along for when that chilly air is blowing right on the back of your neck.

It also tends to be colder at the front of the bus, so snag a seat further back if you don’t want to spend the whole trip covered in goosebumps.

Be Courteous

This should go without saying, but be polite when riding TheBus. Give up your seat to little old ladies. Don’t spread your stuff across 6 seats. And thank the driver when you leave. A little courteousness can go a long way.

Bus Stop, Hawaii, Oahu, North Shore

Now For the Caveats

Using the bus to get around Honolulu is definitely a great way to save money. But I’d be lying to you if I said it was also always fast and efficient. It isn’t.

Here are the things you should be aware of about TheBus on Oahu:

  • It takes twice as long to get places. Because of the frequent stops most of the buses make, it often takes twice as long to get places as it would if you just had a car (unless, of course, it’s during rush hour in downtown Honolulu… then TheBus might actually be faster). For example, you can drive from Honolulu to the North Shore in less than an hour. But it’ll take you nearly 2 hours on TheBus.
    • This can get frustrating if you don’t want to waste hours on public transportation each day. To counter this, try to find out if where you want to go is along any of the Express routes (A, B, C, E, and some early-morning routes like 88). If so, these routes make fewer stops, and therefore can get you places slightly faster.
  • They’re not all punctual. While certain buses are supposed to run every 15 or 30 minutes, this is often not the case. I had to take the Number 4 bus frequently while in Honolulu, and it was chronically late. One evening, I waited 40 minutes for a No. 4 to come by. If you are running on a strict time schedule in Honolulu, take this into account if you plan to get around by bus.
  • Buses are crowded during rush hour. Just as the highways around Honolulu get choked up during rush hour, so do the buses. The drivers will cram as many people as possible onto the buses during these busy times of day, so be aware that you might be getting very close to your neighbor.

 

Overall, though, using TheBus is a great, affordable way to get around Honolulu. All of the buses are handicap-accessible, and most even have bike racks on the front.

Plus, riding the bus will help you get a better feel of how the locals get around. You’ll feel less like a tourist, and more like you fit in. And that’s always an adventure worth having.

For more useful info on TheBus, visit the official website, or this helpful Wikipedia page which lists all the routes.

Need more help planning your Hawaii trip? Check out this guide on where to stay in Hawaii.


Do you use public transportation while in new cities? If so, what are some of your tips and tricks?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

Join the ADB Community!
Sign up here to get exclusive travel tips, deals, and other inspiring goodies delivered to your inbox.

45 Comments on “Travel Tips: Using The Bus to Get Around Honolulu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Thanks for the great advice Amanda! Have saved this post and will use it when we get to Honolulu.

    We’re also considering renting a smart car for the day (mostly for the novelty and a bit of a laugh) – did you see many of these around the island?

      You’re welcome! Hopefully it’ll come in handy for you.

      As for smart cars — no, I don’t recall seeing very many at all! But, then again, I wasn’t paying very close attention to the cars. Just be aware of the traffic, and the high price of gasoline in Hawaii!

    regarding the use of google maps for direction in Honolulu, is there any region on the island where there is no cell phone signal. I don’t want to lose the directions at where I need them most.

      With my experience on Oahu, I had no problems getting cell signal (and I traveled pretty much all over the island). My provider is Verizon, though, so I’m not sure how other providers do there.

      The good news is, though, that it’s a pretty small island! So if you do find yourself without signal, you shouldn’t really get too lost before you can pick the signal back up again.

    This is huge. I am moving to Honolulu tomorrow and was wondering if I was going to be able to get to the north shore without having a car for surfing purposes. Do you know if they let surfboards on the bus??

      Hmm… I have no clue about surf boards on the bus. You’d have to ask around once you get there!

      I know suit cases aren’t allowed on the bus so surf boards probably aren’t too.

    I am travelling to Hawaii via cruise ship ( Golden Princess). We do not like high prices charged by the cruise. We will be arriving in Honolulu and other islands in early March. As you know these cruises stop for a day only at each island meaning we have limited time of about 7 to 10 hrs.
    We want to visit Pearl Harbour & Waikiki beach own our own. Where do we take the bus and which number? Our stop in Oahu is Honolulu cruise port. I am not sure how long the journey will be.
    By the we do not have a smart phone so have to rely on local map and good information.

      I think you’d want bus #42 from the cruise port to take you to Pearl Harbor. (From what I’m reading, the bus stop should be across the street from the cruise port, which should be near Aloha Tower.) HOWEVER, I would caution you that if your ship is not arriving in Honolulu early in the morning (like, before 9 a.m.) you run the risk of not getting a ticket for the Arizona Memorial if you don’t book some sort of tour. Getting to Pearl Harbor from downtown Honolulu can take up to an hour, and those free Arizona tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. So keep that in mind if you decide to do the bus/taxi route!

    I just want to compliment you on this page! I am from Honolulu and have plenty of experience over the years taking the bus. Not only have you provided great advice regarding the ins and outs of riding the bus, but you have very nicely reminded people to be considerate of others and use a little courtesy, especially with little old ladies — Mahalo! You obviously understand the side benefit too: having an opportunity to meet local folks outside of the artificial environment of Waikiki. Most of us are friendly and willing to help polite visitors like you! A heartfelt aloha —

      Thank you so much for this comment, Laurie! 🙂 It really made my day!

    Are aged visitors entitled to pay senior fares on The Bus ? Thank you Alfons and Maria Van Rymenant

      I’m not sure, to be honest. Check out TheBus’ web site to find current prices.

    Is there a bus that runs from Waikiki to north shore directly? And how longs a bus ride from HNL to Waikiki? Better off with a cab? Thanks!

      I think there ARE express routes between Waikiki and Honolulu. But, since it’s been 2 years since I’ve been there, you would be better off just checking TheBus’ website for more info!

      I am staying about 5 miles from the north coast near Wahiawa and I see the buses all the time. There are at least 3 stops in Haliewa that I have seen.

    Also coming in on a cruise and want to know if it is possible to take the bus from the port to Diamond Head. Thanks in advance!

      I’m sorry, but since I never took the bus to Diamond Head, I’m not in any position to give you advice on it! I would play around on TheBus’ website to see if you can figure it out.

      Tim,
      My husband and I always take the bus from Waikiki to Diamond Head to hike. There is one bus transfer involved but otherwise very easy. The stop is quite a walk away from the entrance of Diamond Head so be expected to walk a bit BEFORE the actual hike! Also do the hike EARLY in the morn, it gets really hot. On the bus ride home, we stop at the point where we change busses and hit the Whole foods market and or shopping center, movie theater and buy supplies before we transfer busses back to Waikiki. Saves some money than paying the Waikiki Market prices.

    Thanks Amanda your tips should help a lot when we go to Honolulu
    next month,and use the bus…don’t even use it in my home country,
    so could be an adventure,or a challenge,either way we will see Honolulu
    cheaply

      Adventures and challenges are good when you’re traveling! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the advice! It really would be awesome to not need a rental car in Hawaii. Not only would it save money, but using a charter bus would also help us get much more familiar with the city. I mean, I definitely want to get to know Honolulu well if I am going to be staying there for a week and a half!

      Yes, you definitely can get by without a rental car if you really don’t want to pay for one. I spent a week there without a car and did just fine!

      Doesn’t save you money if you are paying $10 or more to park it every night.

    These are some really useful tips! I am going to move to Honolulu and now I am packing my stuff. I am leaving everything, my job my house, my family and I am going on an adventure. I think that life is too short to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect time or the perfect person. So, I decided to go where my heart wants! Thanks again for the advices!

      Hi Sophia Greer! I’m interested to fin out how you are doing and if you are happy you made that move? Was there something that prompted you to decide to leave everything behind?

    If you are visiting for a couple of weeks the monthly bus ticket may be better. Only costs $60

    I just moved here to Honolulu and I am thankful for Ur write up on how to utilize the bus system here. You provided practical advice and now I’m going on an adventure with public transit…. A first for me! Thank you.

      Happy to be able to help, Bennie!

    Is there a shuttle service from the airport to waikiki beach walk in Lewer street, honolulu. Or what is the best way to get to the hotel from the airport without getting a rental car.

      Hi Onie. When I visited Honolulu, I shared a taxi with a friend from the airport to downtown. There are also shuttles available, though I don’t have any experience with them. If you just Google “Honolulu airport shuttle,” several options do pop up.

    Can I use bills on The Bus ? Or do you need $5.50 in change for a Day Pass ?

      You can use bills – but exact change is best (i.e. a $5 bill and 50 cents in coins.)

As Seen On

As Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen On