Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay in Oahu

Visiting Hawaii during winter: What to expect and things to do (2024)

Visiting Hawaii during winter is a fantastic way to escape the cold and get sunshine. I always visit Hawaii during winter with my family and have a wonderful time. 

I live in California, and you might wonder why I need to escape to Hawaii from sunny California in winter. But it does get very cold in San Francisco and Northern California in general during winter. The warm beaches of Hawaii are great for winter vacations!

In fact, Hawaii is a popular destination for many people during the holiday season. It’s so popular you’ll probably want to be planning your trip in advance.

With year-round perfect temperatures and gorgeous scenery, it’s easy to forget the sub-zero temperatures in other places. You can go whale watching, hike, swim in the ocean, and even surf!

A little rainy weather won’t stop the fun— I’ll go over all the details so you know exactly what to expect.  

What’s Winter in Hawaii like? 

You’ll be pleased to know that winter in Hawaii is still pleasant and lovely. In fact, it’s the only time of year I choose to go! I have visited Big Island, Oahu, and Maui all during winter.

The weather in Hawaii is temperate and warm all year long. It might be a bit colder during the winter months, but it’s still enjoyable. 

Hawaii’s rainy season is from November through March, with December typically getting the most rain. 

While this means you might not get to be at the beach 24/7, you’ll find the rain offers other incentives. Waterfalls are impressive and gushing during the rainy season, and the greenery is lush and verdant.

Plus, the rain doesn’t typically last all day. This means you’ll still have the morning or afternoon to get sunshine in. Hiking in the rain is also pleasant, helping to keep you from overheating. 

Hawaii Weather in Winter 

During the winter, you’ll find Hawaii a bit rainier and a little cooler than other months. 

While temperatures on the Hawaiian islands average 86°F during the hottest months, they only drop about 5 to 10 degrees in the winter. 

Most days, the high will be around 75 to 80°F. Any colder than that, and you’ll see residents bundled up like it’s a snow day! Temps drop at night, so you might want to bring a light sweater. 

As I’ve mentioned, the winter months are the rainy season. Hawaii gets an average of 25 to 30 inches of rainfall a year. However, the distribution of that rain isn’t equal! 

Each island’s South and West coasts get less rain than the North or East coasts, so consider that when planning where to stay. 

Lush green mountains, valleys and beach with waves in Hawaii during winter
Beautiful lush landscape in Hawaii during Winter (This is Waipio Valley on Big Island)

Hawaii weather in December

In December, the islands average a high of 70-80°F and a low between 56 and 67°F. December 15th is also the official start of whale season and is considered one of the rainiest months of the year. 

Hawaii’s pretty busy during December as many families (like us!) and snowbirds come to the tropical islands to escape the cold winter. 

Hawaii weather in January

In January, the average high is closer to 79/80°F, and the low is more relative to 65°F. While it’s still part of the rainy season, you’ll get plenty of sunshine and days to lounge at the beach. 

Experienced surfers will find the winter waves are much larger than the summer ones. This is the month with the most surfing competitions as well.  

Check out the Pipeline WSL Championship or the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout on the North Shore of Oahu. 

Even if you don’t surf, watching professional surfers on the massive winter waves is super cool. 

Hawaii weather in February

February is a fantastic time to visit Hawaii. The average high is 81°F, and the low usually is 66°F. 

It’s also the peak of whale season, as many migrating humpback whales will have made it to the islands by then. Booking a whale watch or listening to them sing as you swim off the shore is a magical experience. 

There’s a bit less rain at this point, too, making it perfect for any sun-lovers in your group. 

Can you swim in Hawaii in December?

Swimming in the Pacific Ocean is a must-do when visiting the Hawaiian archipelago— no matter the time of year.

 While ocean conditions might be rougher during winter, you’ll still be able to dip and swim around.

The water temperature averages 78°F during December— no wet suit is required! 

Papakolea green sand beach
Papakolea green sand beach on Big Island in January

A good rule of thumb with the ocean is to know your limits. “If in doubt, don’t go out” is a famous saying on the islands.

Ocean currents can be strong, and conditions can change quickly, so exercise caution. Always keep an eye on the ocean when you’re exiting the water. You don’t want to get hit by an unexpected wave. 

Are Hawaii beaches warm in winter?

You’ll find Hawaii’s beaches lovely and warm no matter what time of year you go. The water temperature sits around 78°F, and the sun often comes out even on the gloomiest days.

Koki beach is a red sand beach stop on Road to Hana
Koki beach is a red sand beach on Road to Hana in Maui

Remember to pack reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. You can still get plenty sunburnt in December. 

Does it snow in Hawaii? 

Believe it or not, the tropical islands of Hawaii do get snow! Not on the beaches, though— just at the tops of the highest volcanoes. 

Coconut Island Hilo
Coconut Island in Hilo and snow-capped Mauna Kea summit in the distance

Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Haleakala (on Big Island and Maui, respectively) all have been known to get snow. Seeing a snowcapped mountain in the distance while you sunbathe on a beach is a super cool experience.

If you’re curious, check out my in-depth article about does it snow in Hawaii and where?

Is it worth going to Hawaii in winter?

No matter what time of year you visit Hawaii, it’s always worth it. There’s so much to do for any type of traveler. 

With stunning beaches, incredible hikes, delicious Hawaiian food to try… and minor temperature changes, you’re not sacrificing anything by visiting in the wintertime. 

In fact, the yearly migration of humpback whales makes Hawaii an extra-special winter experience. Watching them breach is magical. 

Which Hawaiian Island is best to visit during Winter?

Of course, knowing when you’re coming to Hawaii is just the tip of the iceberg. You also have to decide which of the Hawaiian islands you’re going to visit. 

While you can’t go wrong with any Hawaiian islands, each one has something different to offer. 

Each island has a unique personality. I have visited Big Island, Oahu, and Maui during winter, and I would visit any of them during winter again. Still, I’ll explain some of the differences so you can make an informed decision. 

Big Island

The island of Hawaii, nicknamed the “Big Island,” has the least rain in the archipelago. The youngest and largest island in the chain, you can travel through a vast variety of climate zones.

Visit the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and check out the snow-capped summit of Mauna Kea and the black sand beaches on the coast. We were fortunate to see the lava glow in Volcanoes Park on our visit to Big Island and this was on New Year’s Eve! What a great way to ring in the New Year!

Kilauea Volcano glow Big Island
We saw Kilauea Volcano glow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island.

The Big Island is perfect for adventure lovers and anyone wanting to spend a vacation exploring. 

If you choose to go to the Big Island, you should definitely consider one of the Big Island snorkeling tours.

Snorkeling with the manta rays is a bucket list activity on any Big Island itinerary, even if visiting Big Island for a day.

Between Kona or Hilo, I recommend staying in Kona. Located on the western coast, you’ll have the highest chance of sunshine and close access to some of the best beaches on the island. 

Kona has some of the best brand-name resorts on the Big Island that are ideal for families.

Kona also has the best beaches and water activities like snorkeling, swimming, and sunset cruises. You can also take Big Island volcano tours from Kona.

You can choose to spend a day or two in Hilo to explore the eastern part of the island. You can take Volcanoes Park tours from Hilo and explore the rainforests and black sand beaches.

Punaluu black sand beach Big Island
Punaluu black sand beach in Big Island

We stayed five nights in Kona and two nights in Hilo.

It only rained a couple of times while we were in Hilo, and it would stop quickly. We were able to go about our day as planned.


Maui, the second-largest island in the state, is charming and perfect for families. 

It’s got small towns and is home to the famed Road to Hana – a winding road through a lush jungle chock full of excellent hikes and scenic waterfalls.

Winter is the best time to go waterfall hunting! The falls were flowing in abundance when we visited Maui during winter.

Couple posing in front of sunset at Haleakala summit
Anu with hubby enjoying sunset views at Haleakala summit on Mauiit is cold on the mountains

Another unique attraction in Maui is visiting the Haleakala summit to experience sunrise or sunset. You need reservations to go during sunrise time, but sunset is open to all. We went for sunset and had the most amazing views.

Despite the recent wildfires that devastated the historic town of Lahaina, Maui is still welcoming tourists. While Lahaina remains closed, the rest of the island is open.

Your support, compassion, and respect are greatly appreciated as the island heals from its devastating loss. 

People relaxing on a wide sandy beach with clear skies and an island seen in the distance - beaches and water activities are some of the best things to do in Kihei
Beaches in Maui during winter

Some of the best places to stay in Maui right now are Kihei and Wailea on the Southside. Not only will you avoid more of the rain, but you’ll also be close to some amazing beaches. Kihei is popular for surfing and also has some amazing breakfast restaurants.

Plus, Maui is touted as one of the best islands to experience whales, so make sure to book one of these best Maui whale-watching tours.


The busiest of all the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is a vibrant island with so much to offer. 

We spent a week in Oahu in winter and stayed in Waikiki. We explored the whole island in our Oahu itinerary, which was amazing.

Waikiki Beach in Oahu
Waikiki Beach in Oahu during January

In Oahu, you’ll find the state capitol of Honolulu, a fusion of different cultures, laid-back surf towns, and the best food in the state. 

Oahu during winter is extra fun to visit as it has the most holiday celebrations. Watch Santa arrive at Waikiki in an outrigger canoe or see Honolulu City Lights early in December. 

For the most accommodation options and easy access to the best restaurants, shopping, and beaches, stay in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu. Waikiki has the most attractions and activities for tourists.

A trip to the surfer’s Mecca on the North Shore is fun for the whole family (surfing not required), and with a plethora of incredible hikes, you’ll never get bored.

Cultural show at Polynesian Cultural Center
Cultural show at Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu

Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-visit to experience the culture and traditions of local Hawaiian tribes, and it has the best luau and show. Must-do while in Oahu.


Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. Kauai is best described as dramatic, with jagged cliffs, gorgeous mountain ranges, lush rainforest, and a laidback atmosphere.

This island is also one of the wettest islands, so there will be rain no matter what time of year you visit. 

The Na Pali Coast is stunning and can only be seen from the water or by hiking in. Flash floods are likely during the winter, so I recommend booking a sunset sail or a helicopter tour instead of hiking. It’s amazing!

I’d recommend staying in the Poipu area for the best chance of great weather. 

Top Things to do in Hawaii during winter

There are so many fun things to do in Hawaii during the winter. Here are some of my top activity recommendations: 

Whale Watch

You can book a whale watch from any island you stay at, but you’ll probably see more whales if you visit Maui or Kauai. 

Large boat whale watching tours from Lahaina
We took a whale-watching tour in Maui during the winter holidays

Get out on a boat, see the island from the water, and watch for whale activity.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see a breach or two! 

Waterfall Hunting

The waterfalls during the winter are fantastic due to all the extra rain.

 If you’re staying in Oahu, check out the Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden for some fantastic views of waterfalls on the Ko’olau Mountain range. 

Waterfall pools at Pipiwai trail
Waterfall pools at Pipiwai trail on the Road to Hana drive in Maui

On Maui, drive the Road to Hana and see waterfall after waterfall next to the road as you explore the best Road to Hana stops.

My favorite waterfall in Maui was the Waimoku Falls at the end of the Pipiwai Trail hike through an amazing bamboo forest.

In Big Island, we saw waterfalls in the Hilo region. Akaka Falls was by far the most impressive.  

In Oahu, we did the Manoa Falls hike, and it was a cool waterfall at the end of a beautiful hike through a tropical rainforest.


Take advantage of the warm tropical weather and get some hiking in. Some of the best islands for hiking include Kauai and Oahu. 

The Waimea Canyon Trail is a popular and moderately challenging hike on Kauai. You’ll be rewarded at the end with Waipoo Falls. 

Some of the most popular hikes on Oahu include the Diamond Head Summit hike and Koko Head. 

Kilauea Iki Trail Crater Floor
Kilauea Iki Trail – Walking inside a volcano crater in Volcanoes National Park on Big Island

On the Big Island, my favorite hike was the Kilauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In this hike, we walked through a lava crater and a rainforest and, at the end, visited the Thurston lava cave. Super cool and rewarding hike!

No matter your skill level, you will find a hike to enjoy.


Some of the best stargazing in the world is at the top of Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island.

Sunset at Mauna Kea Summit
Observatories on top of Mauna Kea (Big Island)

While you can’t enter the observatories yourself, if you watch the sunset at the top and then stay after, you will have a fantastic view. Even Mauna Loa or Haleakala on Maui are great spots to go stargazing.

Make sure to bundle up nice and warm. With the summit over 10,000 feet high, it can get quite cold at the top. It’s even been known to snow!


For anyone with previous surfing experience, the winter waves in Hawaii are great. Each island has a variety of surf spots. Rent a board, get some wax, and hit the water! 

View from Hookipa Beach Lookout
Hookipa Beach in Maui is popular for surfing in winter

The winter swells are typically big, so if you’ve never surfed before, I recommend coming back during the summer when the water is calmer. 

Holiday Festivities

Each island has a variety of holiday festivities for you to enjoy! Check out the Waimea Christmas parade on the Big Island, the Honolulu city lights, or a Maui tree lighting ceremony.

Huge Christmas Tree with a surfboard ornament on it
Christmas Tree in Whalers Village on Maui – Maui Christmas!

You’ll find Christmas cheer all over the islands, with lights, decorations, and surfers sporting Santa hats. 

Helicopter Rides

Hawaii is one of the best places on earth to take a helicopter ride. As most of the island areas are inaccessible by road, taking a helicopter ride is the best way to see aerial views of lush rainforests, waterfalls, and dramatic coastlines.

Aerial views of Diamond Head Crater, Waikiki and Oahu mountains.
Aerial views of Diamond Head Crater, Waikiki, and Oahu mountains

Check out my articles about best helicopter rides in Oahu and best helicopter rides in Maui.

What to pack for a Hawaii winter vacation

A Hawaii winter packing list would not be much different than a Hawaii summer packing list. I always pack the below items on my trips to Hawaii:

  • Clothes – sundresses, t-shirts, shorts
  • Swimming costumes – I would recommend taking multiple pairs and coverups
  • Footwear – flip flops for the beach, dressy sandals for dinners, hiking shoes for hikes (Pro tip: We wear our hiking boots on the flight, thus saving space in our luggage)
  • Reef safe sunscreen
  • Cosmetics
  • Toiletries
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat or cap if you like to wear it
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Backpack for day trips and excursions
  • A warm jacket, beanie, gloves, and full pants if going up the mountains for sunrise/sunset/stargazing. (Pro tip: We wear these on the flight while coming from the mainland, as they can take up space in the luggage.

Final Takeaways: Hawaii in Winter

Hopefully, I have convinced you enough that Hawaii is an awesome place to explore during the winter season. And with four major islands, you have plenty to pick from!

Be it Oahu, Maui, Big Island, or Kauai, you cannot go wrong with visiting any of the islands. The weather is always perfect, and even though you might encounter the occasional rain, it usually does not interfere with your plans. It never did with ours!

Plus, winter is a great time to enjoy whale watching, exploring waterfalls, and hiking, as well as enjoying helicopter rides and sunset cruises!

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