Updated: November 16, 2017
When To Visit Hawaii
Best Time for Surfing: The best time for surfing in Hawaii depends on the skill level of the surfer. The biggest waves tend to hit the north shores of all islands in winter, from about November through March – especially in December and January, and particularly on Oahu’s North Shore. This is the best time for pros, experienced surfers, and spectators. Beginning surfers will want to stick to the south sides of the islands during winter, or travel in the summer months. Waves are especially calm from May through September.
Best Time for Snorkeling and Swimming: Great swimming and snorkeling are possible year-round in Hawaii, but during summer months (May through September) water is warmer, waves are smaller, and skies are sunnier, making conditions ideal for these water-based activities. Big Island and Maui tend to have the best snorkeling, because their snorkel spots are affected less by trade winds from the east. Kauai has the least reliable snorkeling, because it tends to rain more year round, reducing visibility in the water.
Best Time for Hiking: Some of the world’s most amazing hikes are available in Hawaii, especially on Kauai. Though hiking can be done year round, summer is usually best, because there are more daylight hours and the trails tend to be drier. Summers can get very hot here, so be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen, and plan on beginning your hike early in the morning, when the air temperature is cooler.
Best Time for Whale Watching: Whales head down from Alaska to Hawaii every year for the winter, from December through April. The peak time for sightings runs from late February through early March, after the calves are born. Whales can be spotted from the coast on every island, but tend to concentrate between Maui’s western shores and the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai.
Best Time to See the Volcano: Kilauea on the Big Island has been erupting non-stop since 1983, sometimes in dramatic bursts and sometimes in lazy flows. There is no certain time of year that sees more or less lava than any other. The main factor in choosing when to visit is the weather. Temperatures at higher elevations are about 6-11 Celsius degrees cooler than at sea level with winter temperatures averaging 8-12ºC. Summer (May through September) is the best time for visiting the volcano while staying warm.
Best Time for Fishing: Fishing is a year-round activity in Hawaii, with different fish biting at different times off different islands. (Except sharks – you can always find sharks!) Generally, winter sees lots of striped marlin, snapper, skipjack, and bigeye tuna; and there’s a good chance of spotting a whale while you’re out, too! Spring offers more Mahi mahi, yellowfin, and blue marlin. Summer finds jumbo-sized yellowfin and blue marlin, along with ono and skipjack. Fall sees lots of billfish, all varieties of marlin, mahi mahi, and giant trevally.
Best Time for Stargazing on Mauna Kea: Similar rules apply for visiting Mauna Kea as to visiting Kilauea. Colder winter temperatures mean that summer months are best for keeping warm. For visibility, the best time of month to see stars is during a new moon. If you plan to utilize the world-class telescopes on Mauna Kea’s summit, remember to keep elevation in mind; at nearly 4200 meters up, Mauna Kea’s oxygen level is low. It is highly recommended that travelers pause halfway up for an hour to acclimate, and that they never ascend Mauna Kea within 24 hours of scuba diving.
Best Time for Skiing/Snowboarding: Mauna Kea means “white mountain” in the Hawaiian language. There is snow here year round, though its consistency varies. The best time for skiing or snowboarding Mauna Kea is during February and March. There are no lifts or resorts, and you’ll need a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but the snow is said to be among the best worldwide.
Best Time for Discounts: For discounted rates, it’s usually best to book early and schedule flights for mid-week. In general, the cheapest rates on flights and hotels can be found during spring and fall months. Late March through mid-June usually finds great rates, except during the last week in April, which is Golden Week, Japan’s peak travel time. Later in the year from September through mid-December is also a fantastic time to find deals, except during the week of Thanksgiving. June and July are usually less expensive than the pricey winter months, but are more crowded; deals during this time tend to be both rare and last minute.
Best Time for Avoiding Crowds: The quietest month for tourists is November, with the exception of Thanksgiving week. May through the first week of June, September, and October are also great times to avoid crowds. April can be quiet, except during Golden Week and during the years that Easter falls at the beginning of the month.
Best Time for a Destination Wedding: Summer months tend to be drier than winter months, so planning a wedding for May through October means less chance of rain, though Kauai and Hilo nearly always have some rain. Hurricane season generally goes from June through November, though big storms are rare. The best bet for a sunny wedding is May.
Best Time for Inter-Island Cruises: Winter months, December through March, are the best times to spot whales off the sides of your ship, but this is also the rainiest and most expensive time to visit. The best time for cruise deals is between Thanksgiving and mid-December. A greater variety of boats can be found in April, September, and October.
Best Time for Buying Airline Tickets: Prices for flights fluctuate dramatically. Generally, booking one to four months in advance offers the best rates, with six weeks out being the optimal time for finding deals. Exceptions are when booking for Thanksgiving week and mid to late December. For these times, it’s usually best to book as soon as tickets are available, up to eleven months out.
Best Time for Good Weather: Hawaii has warm weather all year round, with average highs of 26-28ºC in the winter, and 29-31ºC in the summer. The biggest variables are rain and surf conditions. Winter months tend to be rainier, while hurricane season goes from June through November (but big storms are rare here). Surf swells are largest in winter, especially on the islands’ north shores. The most consistently good weather is usually found in April, May, September, and October.
Hawaii Travel Seasons
High Season (December – March): December through March is Hawaii’s high season, especially around the Christmas and New Years holidays. Flights, hotels, and cars will be at their most expensive this time. Hotels often require longer minimum stays, greater deposits, and have stricter cancellation policies around the holidays. Cars can sell out well in advance. Plan well and book early for peak season travel.
Low Season (April through mid-June, September through mid-December): Spring and fall are the low seasons for travel in Hawaii, from April through mid-June, except the last week in April, and from September through mid-December, except for Thanksgiving week. Flights, hotels, and cars are less expensive, while beaches and attractions are less crowded.
Summer (Mid-June through August): From mid-June through the end of August, family travel season is in full swing in Hawaii. Prices tend to be less expensive than during the winter months, but beaches and attractions will be more crowded. Fewer deals are available during the summer, especially in August, and the rare ones tend to be last minute.
Hawaii Weather by Month
Temperatures in Hawaii are warm all year long. Rain is more common in the winter months of November through March, with the rare big storm seen during hurricane season from June through November. Brief and light showers occur regularly everywhere. Kauai and the Hilo side of Big Island are the wettest areas, while West Maui and Big Island’s Kona coast are the hottest and driest. Surf is bigger and rougher in the winter, especially on the islands’ northern shores.
- Hawaii Weather in January: January is one of the cooler months of the Hawaiian year, with temperatures as low as 20ºC. Rain is likely, but not heavy. The north shores will see their most enormous waves during this month, with large swells in the west, too. It’s a good idea to bring a light jacket or dress in layers for evenings or for visiting high elevations. (Average high 26ºC, average rainfall 78mm, Honolulu average water temperature 24.7ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in February: Average temperatures in February are the same as January, around 20-26ºC, but rain is a little heavier. Huge wages continue to hit the north and western shores. A light jacket and clothes that dry quickly are advised this time of year; whale watching excursions sometimes get splashy. (Average highs 26ºC, average rainfall 90mm, Honolulu average water temperature 24.4ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in March: March temperatures remain the same as in February, with just a little less rain. Northern swells are still quite large but not the monsters of winter. Western waves may be a little bigger than those up north. (Average highs 26ºC, average rainfall 88mm, Honolulu average water temperature 24ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in April: Temperatures hold steady from March to April, but rain drops off significantly. Layers are still a good idea, but rain gear can be left behind. Waves on all coasts in April range from flat to medium in size, and the water’s starting to warm up. Great time for snorkeling! (Average highs 26ºC, average rainfall 52mm, Honolulu average water temperature 25ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in May: May is one of the sunnier and drier months of the year, and temperatures continue to heat up. Surf is still small to medium in most places, with warm ocean temperatures. This is considered one of the best months to visit Hawaii for outstanding weather conditions. (Average highs 27º, average rainfall 38mm, Honolulu average water temperature 25.5ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in June: Gorgeous, sunny, and dry. June sees surf picking up on the south shores, while north shore waves disappear entirely. Ocean temperatures are incredibly comfortable beginning this time of year. (Average highs 28ºC, average rainfall 43mm, Honolulu average water temperature 26ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in July: High temperatures hold steady in July, with a little more rain than in June. South swells reach their peak, bringing in some big waves. A jacket is still useful this time of year if visiting Haleakala Crater or taking a helicopter tour. (Average highs 28ºC, average rainfall 57mm, Honolulu average water temperature 26ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in August: In August temperatures reach their upper limits, and rainfall is at its yearly low. Northern surf is still flat, while southern swells are large, and west and east waves are picking up in size. (Average temperature 29ºC, average rainfall 34mm, Honolulu average water temperature 26.5ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in September: September has the warmest water temperatures of the year in Hawaii, while waves are medium to large on all shores. Air temperatures hold hot and steady. This is one of the rainier summer months, though there’s still not as much rain as is seen in the winter. (Average temperature 29ºC, average rainfall 61mm, Honolulu average water temperature 27ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in October: October is the last really warm month here, though the rains are beginning to pick up. Waves on the south and east begin to subside, and the north and western swells begin to ramp up for winter. A rain jacket or umbrella may be useful if visiting during this time of year. (Average temperature 29ºC, average rainfall 80mm, Honolulu average water temperature 26.5ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in November: This is the rainiest month in Hawaii by far, seeing three times as much precipitation as in May or August. Bring an umbrella, and plan some rainy day activities in case of a downpour. Water and air temperatures are still very comfortable, and north and western waves are large again, to the delight of many a surfer. (Average temperature 27º, average rainfall 124mm, Honolulu average water temperature 26ºC.)
- Hawaii Weather in December: In December, air temperatures reach their winter lows, which generally hold steady throughout the coming months. Water temps are still comfortable, though not quite balmy. Southern waves flatten out entirely, while western and especially northern surf grows bigger. The first whales of the season should be showing up now. (Average temperature 26ºC, average rainfall 87mm, Honolulu average water temperature 25ºC.)
Hawaii Events and Festivals
Hawaii in January
- North Shore Surf Competitions (Oahu): January is prime surfing season, with several events happening on the North Shore of Oahu. Volcom Pipe Pro at the Banzai Pipeline takes place at the end of the month. January also falls into the competition window for the Quicksilver Big Wave Invitational aka The Eddie, held in Waimea Bay. (But don’t hold your breath on that one. With its minimum requirement on wave size, it has only ever taken place nine times since its inception in 1984.)
- Chinese New Year (Oahu, all islands): Celebrated from mid-January to mid-February on all the islands but especially impressive in Honolulu’s Chinatown neighborhood. Expect impressive fireworks, lion and dragon dancers, kung fu demos, and music. http://hawaii-nye.com/cny/
Hawaii in February
- Maui Whale Festival (Maui): Presented by the Pacific Whale Foundation to raise awareness for the protection of humpback whales. Events take place over the course of the month, but the highlight is World Whale Day with its Parade of Whales.
- POW! WOW! Hawai’i (Oahu): International arts, music, and cultural festival featuring gallery installations, live art, mural projects, lectures, and music. Takes place during Valentine’s week.
- Waimea Town Celebration (Kauai): Eight days of activities in this Western desert town near the canyon. Events include a deconstructed triathlon and an ice cream eating competition.
- Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival (Big Island): Celebration of Japanese and Hawaiian cultural heritage. Tea ceremony, origami, hula, feather leis, food, music, and more!
Hawaii in March
- Honolulu Festival (Oahu): Waikiki’s three day celebration of Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. The festival includes cultural explorations via food, dance, and arts, and ends with a parade.
- Kona Brewer’s Festival (Big Island): Featuring 47 breweries and chefs from 29 restaurants. The festival opens with a hula and includes a home brewer’s competition, live music, and a trash fashion show.
Hawaii in April
- Merrie Monarch Festival (Big Island): Three day festival with a huge hula competition, invitational arts fair, hula shows, and a parade through Hilo. Most events are free to the public, but tickets are required for the competition and can only be requested by mail.
- Waikiki SPAM JAM (Oahu): A celebration of Hawaii’s infatuation with SPAM, the only meat that gets cooked in a can! This is an evening street festival where chefs from fine dining restaurants come up with new SPAM recipes. Expect SPAM-themed arts, crafts, and retail. The event is free to the public, but attendees are encouraged to donate a can of SPAM to the Hawaii Food Bank.
- Honolulu Brewers Festival (Oahu): Featuring over 100 craft beers from Hawaii, the Mainland, and abroad, plus live entertainment, and food from Oahu’s top restaurants. Tickets have previously been limited to 2500 and have sold out, so pick yours up as soon as they’re available.
Hawaii in May
- Lei Day (all islands): “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.” Celebrations all over the islands on May 1st typically feature a lei competition, hula dancing and live music.
- Lantern Floating Ceremony (Oahu): Each Memorial Day at sunset in honor of fallen slodiers, around 40,000 people float paper lanterns carrying prayers and messages into the waters off the coast of Ala Moana Beach.
- Kauai World Challenge Canoe Race (Kauai): A 36 mile outrigger canoe relay race along the Kauai coast. The race begins at Kapa’a Beach Park and ends at Salt Pond.
- East Maui Taro Festival (Maui): Out in Hana town, this festival celebrates Hawaii’s staple food. There’s a farmers market, poi pounding, taro pancake breakfast, and more.
Hawaii in June
- Pan Pacific Festival (Oahu): Annual event celebrating Pacific Rim art, performance, and cuisine. Over 100 performances are slated with the festival ending with a parade.
- King Kamehameha Day (all islands): This is a Hawaiian public holiday honoring King Kamehameha the Great, who united all the Hawaiian Islands. Celebrated throughout Hawaii, common features are a floral parade with pa’u riders, women on horseback in colorful dresses. The biggest festival takes place on Oahu.
- Maui Film Festival (Maui): Taking place in the Wailea resort area, this event includes fine foods, panel discussions, and film screenings under the stars and with toes in the sand.
Hawaii in July
- Koloa Plantation Days (Kauai): Celebration of historic Koloa, the first sugar plantation in Hawaii, and of the community, cultures, and environment there. Events include a rodeo, dance, music, food, and a parade.
- Honolulu Surf Film Festival (Oahu): Month-long film festival at the Honolulu Museum of Arts, celebrating surf history and its cultural impact. Classic and contemporary full-lengths, shorts, and documentaries.
- Prince Lot Hula Festival (Oahu): This is an annual tradition for the past forty years, the largest non-competitive hula event, showcasing dance from several renowned hula groups.
- Joy of Sake (Oahu): Honolulu hosts the largest sake tasting event outside of Japan. Food from some of Honolulu’s best restaurants accompanies the over 300 sakes being poured.
Hawaii in August
- Ho’oku’ikahi Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival (Big Island): This event celebrates ancient Hawaiian culture. Free to the public, but visitors are asked to learn at least one craft before they go to help preserve the culture; choose from lei making, feather standards, and more. Activities include Ho’okupu Ceremony, canoe rides, and Hawaiian food tasting.
- Na Hula Festival (Oahu): Prince Lot is the largest, but this is the longest running, non-competitive hula festival. Free admission, takes place in Queen Kapi’olani Park.
- Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (Big Island): Five day long fishing competition in Kona. The public is invited to the afternoon weigh-ins of the huge fish caught, and some may get a photo with the latest Miss Billfish.
Hawaii in September
- Kauai Mokihana Festival (Kauai): Weeklong Hawaiian cultural event that includes a music contest, hula contest, lectures, and a craft fair.
- Aloha Festivals (Oahu, all islands): A statewide celebration, all islands have their own Aloha Weeks, but Oahu has the biggest one. This massive festival attracts over 100,000 attendees. Events include a reenactment of the royal court, Hawaii’s largest block party in Waikiki, and a floral parade.
- Okinawan Festival (Oahu): A celebration of all things Okinawan, featuring karate demos, dance, taiko drumming, food, and lion dancers.
Hawaii in October
- Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (Oahu, Maui, Big Island): Events take place over three islands on different days. Some highlights include an urban luau, rare wine tasting, ramen showdown, kids’ cooking class, and a history of cocktail scandals. Tickets for each event are sold separately.
- Coconut Festival (Kauai): A celebration of the coconut fruit on Kauai’s Coconut Coast. Features a coconut cookoff, a cooking demo, and a pie eating competition.
- Ironman Competition (Big Island): The world’s biggest and baddest triathlon. Competitors by qualification only.
Hawaii in November
- Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (Oahu): Three iconic surfing competitions on the North Shore Beaches. There are holding periods for each event with competitions held on the day during each period when waves are biggest. Continues into December.
- Kona Coffee Cultural Festival (Big Island): A celebration of the Kona region’s coffee, history, culture, and arts. Events take place over eleven days at various spots in the Kona Mountains and on the coast, including coffee cupping competitions, gallery installations, coffee farm and history tours, and coffee science seminars.
Hawaii in December
- Festival of Lights (Kauai): Visit for the opening ceremony or throughout December to see the County Building decked out in lights. These are special decorations made by a deceased member of the community, who made the ornaments out of scraps, like soda cans, toothpicks, and bottle caps.
- Moku’ula by Moonlight (Maui): Free night of slack key and ukulele music, mixed with storytelling and talks on contemporary Hawaiian issues. On the beachfront in Lahaina. Bring your own beach chairs, mats, and blankets.
- Wailea Village Mochi Pounding (Big Island): A community tradition, making rice cakes the old fashioned way. Everyone takes their turn pounding the sticky rice for good luck in the New Year. With taiko drumming, food vendors, fortune telling, and more.