Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

With its tropical climate and balmy temperatures year-round, you may be wondering if Hawaii even experiences winter. This Pacific island paradise is known for its warm beaches, surfing, and laid-back vibes no matter the season.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Hawaii does not have a true winter. Due to its location near the equator, Hawaii enjoys warm weather all year long. The closest thing Hawaii gets to a winter is the slightly rainier, cooler season from November to March.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain exactly why and when Hawaii experiences its mild “winter” season compared to the mainland United States. We’ll also suggest the best months to visit to enjoy cooler weather, whale watching, big surf, and Hawaiian holiday celebrations.

Hawaii’s Tropical Climate

Near the Equator

Hawaii’s tropical climate stems from its location near the equator in the Central Pacific Ocean. Situated just north of the Tropic of Cancer at about 21°N latitude, Hawaii enjoys warm weather year-round. The sun shines brightly on the islands, providing consistent solar heating.

Hawaii’s proximity to the equator means its seasonal changes are more subtle compared to locations farther from the equator.

Consistently Warm Temperatures

Across Hawaii’s six major islands, average year-round temperatures range from 70°F to 80°F. Even in Hawaii’s coolest months from December to February, average highs remain in the 80s. Low temperatures might dip into the mid-60s at higher elevations on islands like Maui or Hawaii Island.

The ocean moderates air temperatures, keeping conditions pleasantly warm. Hawaii holds the record for the lowest record high and highest record low temperatures of any U.S. state.

While the mainland United States endures frigid winters, Hawaii remains comfortably warm. December and January are considered Hawaii’s “winter” months, yet temperatures resemble summer elsewhere. The subtropical warmth makes Hawaii an idyllic winter escape for over 9 million annual visitors.

Two Distinct Seasons

Within Hawaii’s consistently warm climate, two distinct seasons emerge: summer and winter. The clearest delineation comes from contrasting rainfall patterns. Hawaii’s winter months from October to April bring more precipitation, while summer months from May to September are drier.

Season Months Rainfall Temperatures
Winter October – April Wetter Slightly cooler
Summer May – September Drier Slightly warmer

The winter wet season sees more rainfall, tropical storms, and slightly cooler temperatures. Winter lows might dip to the mid 60s. Summer brings drier conditions, gentle easterly trade winds, slightly warmer ocean temperatures and air temperatures peaking around 90°F during the day.

So while Hawaii enjoys warm tropical weather year-round without a true winter, it does have subtler seasonal shifts. Visitors in December through March can expect more rain while enjoying plenty of sunshine and temperatures ideal for beach days.

The winter months make an excellent time to experience Hawaii’s natural beauty!

When is Hawaii’s “Winter” Season?

Cooler and Rainier Weather

Though Hawaii is known for its year-round tropical climate, the islands do experience subtle seasonal changes. The winter months in Hawaii, spanning November to March, tend to have slightly cooler temperatures, increased rainfall and cloud cover, stronger trade winds, and larger surf compared to the summer months.

According to climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hawaii’s winter months bring an average of 5-10°F drop in daytime highs and nighttime low temperatures across the islands.

For example, Honolulu averages highs of 78-83°F in the summer months of June-August compared to 73-79°F in the winter months of December-February.

November to March

The start of Hawaii’s rainy “winter” season coincides with a shift in prevailing winds toward the northeast trade winds. These winds carry more clouds and moisture over the islands from November through March, resulting in Hawaii’s wettest months of the year.

For instance, Honolulu typically sees only 1-3 inches of rain per month in the summer but 4-5 inches of rain per month in the winter.

Increased rainfall leads to heightened vegetation and lush, green landscapes across the islands during winter. It’s a beautiful time of year, though visitors should come prepared with rain jackets and umbrellas.

Temperature Differences

One of the biggest differences between winter and summer in Hawaii is nighttime temperatures. Thanks to increased cloud cover and rainfall, winter nights tend to feel much more comfortable and cool. For example, while Kahului, Maui drops only around 5°F between day and night in August (averaging 88°F days and 83°F nights), the spread increases to roughly 10°F in January (82°F days and 71°F nights).

This provides excellent sleeping weather!

Location Avg High Temp in August Avg Low Temp in August Avg High Temp in January Avg Low Temp in January
Honolulu 87°F 75°F 80°F 65°F
Kahului 88°F 73°F 82°F 62°F
Lihue 87°F 73°F 79°F 66°F

So while Hawaii is a top destination year-round, winter offers a refreshing respite from the heat with cooler weather (relatively speaking), refreshing trade winds, and rejuvenating rainfall.

Fun Winter Activities in Hawaii

Whale Watching

One of the most popular winter activities in Hawaii is going whale watching. From December to April, thousands of gentle giant humpback whales make the journey from Alaska to mate and birth their young in Hawaii’s warm waters.

According to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, over 10,000 whales visit Hawaii each winter, making it one of the best places in the world to spot these incredible creatures in action.

Visitors can book whale watching cruises or kayak tours to get up close views of the whales breaching, lob tailing, and slapping their massive pectoral fins. It’s an unforgettable experience to witness the whales caring for their newborn calves.

Some tours even offer snorkeling opportunities to potentially swim alongside these bus-sized mammals! For an extra special encounter, opt for a tour in Maui or Kauai in February or March when mother and calf pairs actively socialize and play.

Big Wave Surfing

The massive winter swells that roll towards Hawaii between November and February create some of the biggest rideable waves on the planet, drawing professional big wave surfers from all over the world.

Top big wave surfing spots like Jaws on Maui’s north shore, Waimea Bay on Oahu’s north shore, and Peʻahi on Maui dominate international surf competitions when the huge 30-60 foot waves arrive.

While surfing these monster waves is strictly for the pros, visitors can still experience the excitement by watching the tow-in surf competitions in person or on live streams. The energy on shore is electric when riders courageously take on towering walls of water that look like apartment buildings folding in on themselves!

Or visitors can simply admire nature’s raw power and beauty from a safe viewing area.

Holiday Festivities

Hawaii celebrates the holiday season in style with colorful decorations, festive music and dance performances, block parties with local food vendors, and dazzling fireworks displays. Favorite events include Honolulu City Lights on Oahu, Maui Celebration of Festival of Lights, Kona Christmas Parade, and New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganzas across all the islands.

Visitors can take part in time-honored cultural traditions like the jaw-dropping Samoan fire knife dances or native Hawaiian hula shows. Or enjoy free holiday concerts from Grammy-winning performers, sample fruitcake and wassail punch at Victorian-themed gatherings, and meet Santa making the rounds across his “tropical workshop”.

From Christmas through New Year’s, Hawaii offers nonstop ho-ho-ho-liday magic sure to delight everyone!

The Best Months to Visit Hawaii in “Winter”

December to February

The winter months of December through February are a wonderful time to visit Hawaii. With pleasant temperatures in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit, crystal clear waters, and smaller crowds, you’ll find excellent conditions across the islands.

December kicks off the start of whale watching season as humpback whales migrate to Hawaii to mate and give birth. From any coastal viewpoint, you may catch a glimpse of these gentle giants breaching or slapping their tails on the water’s surface.

Nothing beats seeing a mama whale swimming with her new calf!

January hosts the Sony Open golf tournament on Oahu, attracting sports fans from across the globe. The islands also celebrate Chinese New Year with colorful decorations and lively lion and dragon dances to welcome happiness and prosperity in the coming year.

In February, the islands host festive celebrations for Valentine’s Day. Renew your love amid tropical floral displays, intimate dinners, couple’s spa treatments, and stunning sunsets along the shores. It’s one of the most romantic times to visit paradise!

Weather Differences on Each Island

While Hawaii’s winter months offer ideal weather overall, some differences exist across the islands.

  • Oahu stays consistently warm, with highs near 80 F. Its south and west shores receive the most sunshine year-round.
  • Maui is also warm and sunny, with daily highs in the lower 80s F. The famous Road to Hana on the lush east side sees more rainfall.
  • The Big Island has greater weather variations, with warmer and drier conditions along the Kona and Kohala coasts, and tropical rainforest climates on the Hilo and windward sides. Temperatures range from 75-85 F during the day.
  • Kauai, nicknamed “The Garden Isle”, enjoys abundant rainfall on its mountainous interior and north shores. The south and east sides (Poipu and Princeville) stay drier and sunnier with highs around 80 F.

No matter which island you choose, Hawaii offers idyllic weather for both relaxing and adventure during the winter months. The comfortable temperatures coupled with festive holiday celebrations create a magical time to soak up the islands’ aloha spirit.

Packing Tips for Hawaii’s “Winter”

Dress in Layers

Even though Hawaii enjoys warm temperatures year-round, the “winter” months can have cooler weather, especially at higher elevations and at night. Packing layers is key so you can adjust to the variable conditions.

Bring lightweight shirts, pants, jackets and sweaters that you can mix and match as needed. Having options like a rain jacket, windbreaker and light down coat will prepare you for Hawaii’s changeable weather.

Bring Rain Gear

The winter months tend to be Hawaii’s rainy season, so make sure to pack rain protection. Bring a compact rain jacket and travel umbrella to stay comfortable during passing showers. Waterproof shoes like duck boots or rain boots are also handy for outdoor activities, as trails can get muddy.

Packing a few quick-drying microfiber travel towels is also a good idea.

Check Water Temperatures

Even though air temperatures don’t vary drastically in Hawaii’s winter, ocean water temps can dip into the low 70s Fahrenheit. While fine for many, chilly waters may warrant a wetsuit or other gear if you plan extended swimming, snorkeling or surfing.

Checking ocean temperatures at your destination before packing can help determine if you need to bring any special cold water accessories.


While Hawaii does not have a true winter with snow or sub-freezing temperatures like the continental USA, it does have a cooler, rainier season from November to March. During these months, visitors can experience epic surfing waves, go whale watching, celebrate Hawaiian holidays, and potentially save money compared to the high tourist season.

No matter when you choose to visit, with average temperatures in the 70s and 80s year-round you’re almost guaranteed to have a fabulous Hawaiian vacation. Just be sure to pack a few layers and some rain protection to fully enjoy everything Hawaii offers even during its “winter” season.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts