The word winter immediately conjures images of snow on the ground, frost-bitten fingers, fuzzy socks, and your coziest sweaters. It’s certainly not the time to shed your layers and head to the beach—unless you’re in Hawaii. Winter takes on a new meaning in Hawaii, where instead of snow, you can expect rainy days, lush foliage, and temperatures that feel more like late spring than mid-winter. So, what exactly is winter like in the tropics, and is it a good time to visit Hawaii? Here’s everything you need to know about winter in Hawaii, plus ten fun reasons to escape the chill and plan a getaway in paradise.
Table of Contents
- Is Winter a Good Time to Visit Hawaii?
- 10 Cool Things to Do in the Winter in Hawaii
- 1. Take a Tour of Hawaii’s Beautiful Falls
- 2. Go Whale Watching
- 3. Catch a Wave on Oahu’s North Shore
- 4. Explore Iolani Palace
- 5. Celebrate the Holidays
- 6. Go Stargazing on Mauna Kea Summit
- 7. See the Nutcracker Ballet
- 8. Spend the Day at the Polynesian Cultural Center
- 9. Hike Diamond Head
- 10. Visit the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival
- What Should You Pack for Winter in Hawaii?
- Next Vacay Finds You the Cheapest Flights to Hawaii All Winter Long
Is Winter a Good Time to Visit Hawaii?
Is there such a thing as a bad time to visit the Hawaiian Islands? We’d argue no. The perfect year-round escape, Hawaii in winter boasts mild temperatures that rarely drop below 75°F and water plenty warm enough to swim, surf, or play in.
Winter is considered the high season in Hawaii. Consequently, you’ll find plenty of open attractions and all kinds of events to keep your Hawaii vacation itinerary packed—just remember to leave some room for lazy beach days!
The biggest drawbacks to visiting Hawaii in winter are the crowds and peak season prices. The islands get especially busy—and consequently expensive—closer to the winter holidays. But, as long as you don’t mind sharing the islands and take care to plan your trip ahead of time, you can still have an incredible Hawaii vacation in winter.
What Is Winter Like in Hawaii?
Hawaii has only two seasons: winter and summer. And while people dream of a picture-perfect summer season with warm temperatures and sunny skies, winter is no less favorable. In fact, winter weather offers much of the same and one-of-a-kind experiences you can only have in the cooler months.
Spanning the months of November to April, winter is technically considered the rainy season in Hawaii. However, even the rain has its upsides, bringing about lush vegetation and rushing waterfalls. And while it does mean winter is accompanied by random showers, they rarely overtake the whole island. So while it’s raining on one side of Oahu, you can often escape to the opposite coast for clearer skies.
Overall, winter is the perfect time to visit. Because while you can enjoy the fantastic weather year-round, winter is the only time to enjoy the holiday season, see humpback whales, and experience some of Hawaii’s epic waterfalls.
Can You Swim in the Winter in Hawaii?
Swimming in the winter in Hawaii isn’t just possible—it’s practically required. Okay, not really, but it is a favorite pastime for local Hawaiians and visitors alike. Thanks to warm daytime temperatures and just as warm ocean waters, winter in Hawaii is the same dream vacation as summer in Hawaii.
The average daytime winter temperature sits around 78°F. Compare that to the average daytime summer temperature of 85°F, and most won’t even notice the difference. You might even enjoy the slightly cooler temps, especially while climbing and exploring the jungle-like interiors. And with water temperatures remaining pleasantly warm at an average of 77°F, swimming is an absolute delight.
However, while the waters are warm, most islands’ north shore sees some rough waves. So, for taking a relaxing dip, stick to the western and southern shores for calm, tranquil waters to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and other laidback water-based activities.
What’s the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit in the Winter?
The best Hawaiian Island to visit depends on your winter vacation plans. Those looking to escape winter’s chill will delight in the warm weather and calm ocean conditions found on Maui. Meanwhile, those hoping to experience Christmas in the tropics should set their sights on Oahu for decked-out holiday cheer.
Maui shines—quite literally—as one of the best winter getaway destinations thanks to sunny Kihei. With very little rainfall, even in winter, visitors can enjoy south Kihei beaches year round. Paired with breathtaking whale-watching adventures, Maui is hard to beat.
But, while Maui is certainly warm and dry, Oahu also sports mild temperatures and countless Christmas festivities with a fun Hawaiian spin. From Christmas canoe rides to colorful lights parades, a merry Christmas awaits winter visitors to the Gathering Place.
10 Cool Things to Do in the Winter in Hawaii
What can you do in Hawaii during winter? A lot. Christmas festivities abound, waves surge, and the islands come alive under refreshing rains. So no matter your favorite activities, from hiking to holiday performances and dramatic waterfalls, here are ten fantastic things to do on your winter vacation in Hawaii.
1. Take a Tour of Hawaii’s Beautiful Falls
One of the best times to take in Hawaii’s beautiful falls is during the winter. The wet season stretches from November to March, with rainy days providing ample water to keep Hawaii’s waterfalls surging. The result is powerful displays like the ones put on by Waipo’o Falls on Kauai or Pu’uka’oku Falls in Molokai. For nature lovers and waterfall chasers, the wet season is an opportunity to see Hawaii’s waterfalls in all their stunning glory.
2. Go Whale Watching
Humans aren’t the only ones to love winter in Hawaii; the migrating ocean giants love it too. It’s the only spot in the US where humpback whales mate, birth, and nurse their young. If you want to look out your window and see these magnificent creatures breaching the water, winter is the prime time to visit Hawaii.
Of course, close encounters are even more sought after. Almost every island offers whale-watching tours and fantastic lookout spots. But while you can spy humpback whales from areas like the Kohala Coast on the Big Island, the absolute best place to go whale watching has to be west Maui. Here, humpbacks populate the water, swimming and playing like kings of the ocean.
3. Catch a Wave on Oahu’s North Shore
Large waves and winter in Hawaii go hand in hand. Because while you can find amazing surf spots all over the islands—no matter the season—when winter comes to Hawaii, the best of the best come out to play. Nowhere is there a better spot to catch a wave (or a glimpse of the professionals) than on Oahu.
Dubbed the Seven Mile Miracle, excellent north shore surf spans from Haleiwa Beach Park to Sunset Beach. Amazing competitions and expert surfers will keep you glued to the coast for hours, enjoying the peak weather and choice waves.
4. Explore Iolani Palace
The only royal palace on US soil, Iolani Palace holds a wealth of historical and cultural significance. As home to Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs, Iolani Palace is still fit for royalty and a must-see for fans of history and Hawaiian culture. Undoubtedly, traveling the halls will make you feel like royalty, but this is even more true in winter.
Once winter rolls around, the palace offers an even more unique look at the culture and history of Hawaii with evening tours honoring the late Queen Kapi’olani. These fleeting tours allow Hawaii’s winter visitors to visit Iolani Palace under the enchanting glow of moonlight and dazzling decorations.
5. Celebrate the Holidays
Winter in Hawaii brings the holidays to life in spectacular fashion. The islands sprinkle Christmas cheer over beaches, palm trees, and even imported firs. The best holiday festivities can be found on many of the usual suspects, from the Banyan Tree Lighting ceremony on Maui to the decades-old annual Waimea Christmas Parade on the Big Island.
But a popular winter destination for the holidays has to be Oahu and the bustling city of Honolulu. Endless Christmas activities mark the holiday with cheer. Visitors are treated to fun snow days in the marketplace, Santa’s arrival on Waikiki Beach by outrigger canoe, and Honolulu City Lights, which starts with the Electric Lights parade to set the city aglow. Wherever you go, it’s easy to have a Mele Kalikimaka holiday in Hawaii.
6. Go Stargazing on Mauna Kea
The Big Island is home to some of Hawaii’s most impressive peaks, and Mauna Kea literally stands out above the rest. Taller than Mount Everest when measured from the bottom, Mauna Kea’s snowy peak pierces the heavens. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great place to gaze at them too. You won’t find a better spot to stargaze in Hawaii than 14,000 feet above the sea. And best of all, it’s free.
7. See the Nutcracker Ballet
Technically, you can see the Nutcracker in any state, but there’s a special magic in seeing it in Hawaii. Winter brings this timeless classic to Hawaii’s shores, but the Hawaiian culture, history, and setting truly set these performances apart.
Music from the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra set the scene for a story blended with Hawaiian royalty, traditional Hawaiian dance, and set pieces and costumes modeled after the islands. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t want to miss on your winter visit to Hawaii.
8. Spend the Day at the Polynesian Cultural Center
The art, tradition, and cultural heritage of Polynesia are alive and well at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Considered a top tourist attraction on Oahu, the center takes visitors on an immersive journey into Polynesian history and culture. Spending the day here is a unique experience, but add in the holiday festivities that arrive with winter, and guests are treated to fun events like scavenger hunts, train rides for kids, and Winter Wonderland Lights that capture the spirit of the holidays.
9. Hike Diamond Head
Beachgoers may worry about the slightly cooler temperatures. However, avid explorers will welcome the small respite that winter in Hawaii brings. Under a not-so-searing sun, the steep hike up Diamond Head is much more pleasant, allowing you to comfortably take in the magnificent 360-degree views of the ocean, Waikiki Beach, and Honolulu.
10. Visit the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival
Late winter brings a special treat to Hawaii’s shores. The Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival is an annual event on the Big Island. Celebrated in early February or March, the event pays homage to the gorgeous hanami blooms—and the blending of Hawaiian and Japanese cultures it represents—with cultural performances, fun games, and Hawaiian-Japanese foods. Free of charge, the event is the perfect sendoff for winter and a warm aloha to summer.
What Should You Pack for Winter in Hawaii?
Don’t pull out your winter coat just yet. Winter in Hawaii is like late spring in the rest of the US. The heaviest thing you’ll need to pack is a jacket for the evenings. So you can keep it light for your trip to paradise with just a few essentials in your luggage.
- Short sleeve/sleeveless shirts
- One or two pairs of pants (for those nippy night breezes)
- A jacket
- Rain gear (it is the wet season, after all)
- Beach wear (for those sunny coasts)
- Sunglasses (also for the sunny coasts)
- Binoculars (whale-watching season means fantastic glimpses from the shore)
Next Vacay Finds You the Cheapest Flights to Hawaii All Winter Long
From celebrating Christmas to watching the cherry blossoms bloom, winter in Hawaii is a spectacle for the senses. Despite peak season prices for everything from vacation rentals to flights, you can still save money on your next trip to the Aloha State. How? By flying with Next Vacay.
With fantastic deals vetted and sent to your inbox, you can take advantage of amazing prices to Hawaii and score unbelievable savings. So prepare to pack your beach gear and set out for the sunny Hawaiian coast. With Next Vacay, paradise is a flight away.