Is Winter a good time to go to Hawaii?

Hibiscus at sunset
Beautiful hibiscus blooming on a January day in Hawaii.

I sometimes see and hear people asking if winter is a good or bad time to go to Hawaii. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hawaii in all four seasons and each season is great – even winter. Here are three excellent reasons why winter is a definitely a good time to visit Hawaii.

1.  Hawaii’s Winter Weather is Wonderfully Warm
Hawaii can be a great winter escape, especially if you live in a cold climate. I’ve been to Hawaii in the chilliest winter months of January and February and thoroughly enjoyed the warm Hawaiian sun. So, what sort of temperatures can you expect? Let’s take Waikiki and Honolulu as good, centrally located example and examine their January weather averages. Per, Waikiki’s average daily high temperature in January is 80ºF. Just imagine what a respite that would be from the freezing cold of North America. I can tell you from experience, it rocks!

Now, Waikiki’s January evenings will get a bit “chillier”, that is if you want to call 66ºF “chilly”. When you’re knee-deep in snow at home, 66ºF is almost unimaginably, sweltering hot.

If there is a “downside” to Hawaii’s winter weather, it’s that the islands tend to receive more rain during the winter as compared to summer. Typically, spurts of rain are short lived in Hawaii. One very interesting pattern for Hawaii rain, is that most of Hawaii’s precipitation falls overnight. It would be unusual to experience two or three days of solid rain. Just think of this increased chance of rain as increasing your rainbow and waterfall viewing opportunities. Check out our Hawaii rain post to learn more.

Hawaii has many micro-climates and some areas receive significantly less quantities of rain. So, if you are headed to Hawaii in the winter, be sure and see my recommendations on where to stay in Hawaii to avoid rain. You may not be able to avoid it altogether, but you will certainly minimizes your chances.

To learn more information on the weather patterns of Hawaii, see our Hawaii weather guide.

Oahu-Hawaii-Feb-2009 329

2.  The Big Waves Visit in Winter
Hawaii’s winter brings monster waves. What do I mean by monster waves? I mean waves that are 20-feet and higher. Oahu’s North Shore is the place to see these giant waves and watch the expert and professional surfers carve their way through these massive forces. The big winter swells normally come from the north. So, most north-facing areas of the Hawaiian Islands will have the winter waves crashing to the shore. On Maui, “Jaws” at Peahi is a spot to watch for big waves. Kauai’s North shore also experiences big waves.

On Oahu, if you time your visit right, you may even get to watch the world’s most prestigious surfing competitions, Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Two of my favorite big wave watching spots are the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach and Waimea Beach.

Ehukai Beach Park - Banzai Pipeline

3.  Hawaii Offers Outstanding Humpback Whale Watching in Winter
Each winter, between four to six thousand humpback whales migrate to Hawaii’s protected waters to mate and give birth. It’s virtually impossible not to be amazed when you see a 40-ton whale leap out of the water and create a giant splash. Even the sight of a whale’s tail or exhalation is fascinating.

The months of January, February and March are the peak months for humpback whale watching, though you may also see them in December and April. The Hawaiian Islands of Maui, Lanai, and the Big Island are our favorite islands for observing humpback whales. (Learn more about when and where to see humpback whales in Hawaii.)

Maui-2009 190

So, let’s recap. In winter, you’ll have the chance of soaking in some warm tropical weather while observing incredible waves and humpback whales. Wouldn’t you agree that winter is a great time to go to Hawaii?

Have you been to Hawaii in the winter? What was your experience? Did you bask in the sun while your hometown was freezing cold?

Also see our article on the best months to visit Hawaii.

  1. Did a last minute trip to Waikiki for our good friends wedding last January.. We have also been in July and August. We felt the difference in temperature…especially in the water…but coming from Toronto…Hawaii was beautifully warm in January.. But much cooler than in the summer… It was perfect weather for the wedding though! Not to hot!

    The waves were crazy fun in January and we had lots of fun watching the suffers! Regardless, Hawaii is an excellent vacation idea any time if the year..

  2. I remember coming to Hawaii on December 24, 1980 from a freezing cold winter in Idaho. Even though it was about 80 degrees, I went to the beach every day for 2 weeks upon my arrival to thaw out from the cold Idaho winter. I have lived in Hawaii ever since.

    I agree with your other reader, anytime is a great time to visit Hawaii.

  3. Last February in Maui was our first winter visit, and I’d write a tale of woe about how cold Chicago is during that time, but Toronto has me beat. 🙂

    The whales definitely make the trip totally worth while, and we’re thinking of making a week in February part of our annual routine because of those guys.

    This past February, I guess it was a little colder than usual, at least according to our friends that live there. It was funny talking to them and hearing them say how cold the 50s were at night. That’s good sleepin’ weather.

    The one thing we missed out on, though, was the after dinner strolls on the beach. Walking along the waterfront at night was just too cold for that time of year, but somehow we managed to pull through.

    1. Kris – I’ve been to Kaanapali in early January and never reached for a jacket or sweater. We were there just this past April and I needed a jacket a couple of nights. I guess, in Winter, you never know what your going to get. BUT, it’s a darn sight better that those FRIGID Chicago winters that I remember. 🙂

  4. Hi Sheila, the place in Idaho where I went to college was so cold and windy that if you walked outside at night for about an hour and if you left your ears unprotected, they would probably snap off if some one pulled them hard enough.

    I think I decided to live in Hawaii for a long time the minute I got off the plane back in 1980. The friendly people and the warm air filled with the scent of Hawaiian flowers did it for me.

  5. We have been almost all of the months and stayed on all of the Islands. They are great any time. We are from Ottawa. What about Molokii. We are going there this January for three weeks respit from winter in Canada’s capital. We may not go home!!!

  6. I would love to visit Hawaii between November and February, especially to watch the surfers on the North Shore.

    Has anyone here seen The Blue Crush which was shot in Hawaii? I love that film. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. Apart from impressive surfing, you’ll see the beautiful surroundings of Hawaii, a sweet love story, a little teenage trouble, and the beauty of following one’s dream.

    1. The same summer months as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere — June 21 through September 21. Though Hawaii experiences lovely summer-like tropical weather year round.

  7. Hi SHeila, I’m planning to go to Hawaii – Oahu in the end of this year (December-Januart)… Do you think it is possible to enjoy the beach activities such as sunbathing and surfing even in winter? Can you also tell me if I can go in to nightclubs as I’m 18 years old? Would you recommend a school where I can do an English course? Loved your blog! Thank you! Looking forward to hear from you!

    1. Hi Julia — yes, you can definitely sunbathe and enjoy beach activities during December and January.

      Most nightclubs require that you are 21 or older for entrance.

  8. Hi Shiela,

    Thanks for this info via blog, it helps to know better…

    We are planning to visit Hawaii this year in March or April, is that a good time?


  9. What a fantastic blog! And really helpful advise. Can you tell me is it still possible to swim with turtles and do the whole shark cage thing in Jan/Feb?? I don’t want to miss anything!!

    1. Vicki – I know it’s possible to swim with the sea turtles year round as long as the conditions permit, but I’m not entirely sure about the shark cage experience. I believe the shark experience is on Oahu’s North Shore and that time of year, the gigantic waves and ocean swells flow to the North Shore. Check directly with the shark cage tour operator to know what to expect.

  10. my wife an i are thinking of spending 4 month every winter in Maui or Waikiki , we are just bring one suit case of cloth and our devices. i would like to get a studio or 1 bedroom near a nice beach and bus transportation. And becomes friends with the landlord so that we can return every year! We are willing to do side part time work as volunteers to help out. I am 54 and my wife 45, we are homeowners and fun kind people! clean too!.let me know if you can help us out.

    1. Terri – that’s outside of our expertise. I would think it would be possible. Maybe a “scouting” trip would help you to meet locals and network. Best wishes.

  11. Sheila,

    Thank you for the information. I was wondering whether any of the nature-related sights and activities (waterfalls, vegetation, hikes, others) would be negatively impacted by winter visit compared to summer. We have never been to Hawaii and it is a big financial step for us, so we wouldn’t want to be disappointed. Thanks,


    1. In general, the “nature-related” sights are not negatively impacted in the winter. In fact, one could argue that the vegetation is prettier and greener in the winter and the waterfalls flow more fully.

  12. I read your stuff prior to coming to Kauai and I have to say it would of been helpful to know just how cool it gets here on the North Shore of Kauai. I was glad my husband had his light down jacket because I just could not get warm with a rain jacket and a sweater on. The one hr of sun we had today was wonderful, but not worth a very long trip. Maybe the summer is better than March.

    1. Thanks for adding your experience from North Shore, Kauai.

      The perception of being cold varies from person to person. With average Winter temperatures in Kauai in the 70’s, we don’t tend to think heavy sweaters and down jackets.

      To avoid rain, we don’t really recommend the North Shore of Kauai in Winter as the links in the article indicate. We just got back from visiting the Big Island yesterday. We brought light jackets, but never had to wear them. The weather was sunny everyday and Sunday almost felt too hot.

  13. Hi Shelia

    Thank you for your blog!! My husband and I are looking for a zika-free sun vacation as he works very hard and really deserves some time to relax. We have never been to Hawaii and only have about 7 days end of Jan-beginning of Feb 2018. Our main goal is to enjoy the sun and ocean. Which islands and areas would you recommend? Do you also have any recommendations for hotels?

    Thank you so much in advance!

  14. Hi Sheila,
    Me and my husband are travelling to Hawaii in a week. March belongs to the winter months, doesn’t it.. I’d like to ask about surfing. We’re a bit new to this sports… To be honest, I’ve never stood on a board before. You wrote the waves are huge in winter, and now I doubt whether I’ll have the guts to do this, though I’d love to learn surfing. Are there any good spots suitable for beginners? Are the waves always THAT HUGE as 20-feet?

    1. The big waves hit the north shores in the winter. Usually there are calmer waves on other sides of the island.

      When you get there, check locally for a surfing lessons.

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