When you arrive in Honolulu, the city where most of the island's population works, you might be surprised at how busy and congested it is. It's also the hub of island culture, though, with tons of museums, shopping, restaurants, and nightspots—as well as the hip, artsy neighborhood of Chinatown. Just 20 minutes' drive from the airport is Waikiki, with its famous crescent of sugary beach. If you're staying at one of the many hotels lining the shore and you're not planning to venture too far, there's no need to rent a car. It would be a shame, though, not to check out the "country" of the mostly residential west coast (just 40 minutes from Waikiki), or the wild North Shore—where Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach have some of the best waves, and surfers, in the world.
WHEN TO GO
Oahu has year-round air and ocean- water temperatures in the mid-70s to 80s, and there are cheap packages (airfare and Waikiki hotels) to be had most months. September (after Labor Day), May (before Memorial Day), and January (after New Year's) are the best windows for deals.
HOW TO GET THERE
You can fly into Honolulu International Airport on Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, All Nippon Airways/Air Japan, American, China Airlines, Continental, Delta, Harmony, Hawaiian Air, Island Air, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Northwest/KLM, Omni Air International, Pacific Wings, Polynesian Airlines, Qantas Airways, and United Airlines (808-836-6413; www.hawaii.gov/dot/airports/oahu/hnl). If you have frequent-flier miles, there is no better use for them than a ticket to Hawaii—all you need for an economy seat on carriers like United and American airlines is 35,000 miles.
If you're staying in Waikiki, you might be tempted to do without a car. You can take a taxi, bus, or the Airport Waikiki Express shuttle to your hotel, and walk along the strip to restaurants, bars, and shops. But while Waikiki is fun (in a glam-but-touristy South Beach sort of way), you won't get a glimpse of the real Hawaii unless you go further afield. All the usual rental-car outfits—Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Thrifty—have branches in Honolulu, and some even have pickup garages in Waikiki. The maze of Honolulu can cause road rage, but once you get out of the city, it's easy to navigate.
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau operates an information kiosk at the baggage-claim area of Honolulu airport. The bureau can also be contacted by phone or e-mail or visited on the Web:
Oahu Visitors Bureau
Hawaii Visitors Bureau
Tel: 808 923 1811
Tel: 800 464 2924