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When is the best time to visit Hawaii?

When is the best time to visit Hawaii? To some degree it depends on your preferences, but factors to consider include the weather, cost, ocean conditions, availability of seasonal activities, crowds, and which island you’re visiting. Below we examine each consideration and then conclude with our rankings of the best months to visit.
snorkeling at tunnels beach Hawaii's best snorkeling is during the summer (photo shows Tunnels beach)

Seasonal Weather

Hawaii has one of the most pleasant climates in the world. Average temperatures at sea level only fluctuate by about 6 degrees between summer and winter. For example, Honolulu averages 72 degrees in February and 78 degrees in August, with daytime highs about 10 degrees more. The temperature rarely reaches 90. The ocean temperature varies between 74 in winter to 81 in the summer.

The biggest weather concern for a vacation is rainfall. In the summer this isn’t something you need to think about, but some areas of Hawaii do get a lot of rain in the winter. So for a winter vacation, pick a location with less rainfall. Popular choices include Waikiki, South and West Maui, the Big Island’s Kohala coast, and Poipu on Kauai.

Hawaii's Best Weather Months

MonthWeather
June Perfect.
September Perfect. Ocean temperatures have peaked at around 81 degrees.
July Perfect.
August Perfect but a little hot in places like Lahaina and Kihei.
May Almost perfect, but a chance of rain here and there.
October Good, but possibility of early winter rainfall. Ocean temperatures still high.
April Good, but possibility of late winter rainfall.
December Generally nice.
February Fickle in some areas, but can be good. Ocean temperatures are the coolest (around 75 degrees).
January A mixture of sun and rain. Unheated swimming pools can get cold.
November Often the wettest month in some areas.
March Can be nice, but prone to heavy rain storms.

For more information see our Hawaii rainfall guide which includes charts for different towns.

Cheapest Months to Visit Hawaii

The least expensive months to visit Hawaii are April, May, September, October, Novemeber and the first 2 weeks of December. The most expensive times to visit are as follows:
  1. Peak Season: Dec 22 - January 3.
  2. High Season: January, February, March.
  3. Summer Season: June, July, August.
Prices for accommodations are about 20% more in the summer versus low season. Peak season is much more expensive than other times of the year and it’s a good idea to book a year in advance. We’ve never seen discounts during peak season. Car rental rates can sky-rocket, especially on last minute bookings. 

Depressed by the gloom of winter, many find themselves trying to plan a last minute trip during the winter. But accommodations for this time period book well in advance, so it’s a good idea to book as early as possible. Occupancy rates for hotels and rentals are often over 90% for February. Timeshare rentals offer another option for those looking for a last minute rental. Hawaii timeshare rentals are essentially the same as vacation rentals in that they provide spacious accommodations and an array of amenities, however they are located within resorts. This means you’ll be getting the perks of a condo rental with the advantages of resort services. You can find these on by-owner marketplaces like SellMyTimeshareNow.com.

Crowds

Hanuama bay is one of Hawaii's most visited beaches
Most people wouldn’t consider Hawaii “crowded”, particularly compared to many popular destinations. The exception is Waikiki, by far the most crowded area in Hawaii. On average there are roughly 200,000 tourists on the islands on any given day: 100,000 on Oahu, 48,000 on Maui, 29,000 on the Big Island, and 22,000 on Kauai.

Oahu, Maui and Kauai are similar in size but the populations and amount of developed land vary considerably. Oahu has a population of nearly 1,000,000 while Kauai’s is 64,000. The population density is about 1600 per square mile on Oahu versus 100 on Kauai. There are areas of Kauai, like Wailua and Kapaa, which suffer from congestion but Kauai is a clear choice for those wanting more solitude.

From December 22 – January 1st almost all Hotels are at 100% occupancy and the congestion will be noticeable at all the popular resort areas. The best region to visit for a quieter holiday during this period is Kauai’s north shore.

The following chart shows the average number of tourists in Hawaii on any given day. The numbers are based on visitor data from 1990 – 2012, so they are lower than today’s averages, but they still give you an idea of how each month compares to the next. For example, July is 29% busier than September. December’s numbers are skewed because most arrive around the 19-24th. The beginning of December is much less crowded.

MonthHistoric average number of tourists
(any given day)
How much busier than September?
Sep146,608 -
May148,5891%
Oct150,1602%
Nov154,3445%
Apr155,0236%
Mar169,92616%
Jan172,35418%
Feb173,89419%
Dec179,90423%
Jun180,04023%
Aug182,71625%
Jul189,04929%

Ocean Conditions

The character of the ocean changes dramatically in the winter as far away storms in the northern hemisphere generate powerful waves that eventually hit Hawaii’s north facing coasts. This is an exciting time for surfers but the waves also make most north shore beaches too rough for swimming during big swells. The surf can also “wrap around” the coast and affect west and east facing beaches.

Kauai’s north shore boasts miles of beaches but many are exposed. Several interesting beaches that are usually safe to swim at in the summer become too dangerous in the winter (except on calm days).

Oahu’s famed north shore beaches don’t see as many tourists with Waikiki about an hour’s drive away. Surf contests are held at locations like Waimea Bay and Sunset beach, and on days when the surf exceeds 25ft many make the drive north to view the awesome power of the sea. Perhaps half a dozen of these huge swells hit Hawaiian shores every winter.

Maui’s most popular tourist beaches are located on its western shores. This is one of the reasons Maui is such a popular winter destination. Western coasts are drier and less prone to winter surf. Molokai and Lanai also act as barriers. But some nice beaches in the Kapalua area are affected. DT Flemming becomes a surfing and boogie boarding beach while a couple other beaches, usually offering snorkeling, tend to be too rough.

In conclusion, surfers will be drawn to Hawaii during the winter while snorkelers will find more options in the summer. April and May can be excellent months for surfing as more stable weather settles in, water temperatures increase, and wave sizes become more suitable for recreational surfers.

A few excellent beaches, especially on Kauai, will be off limits for swimming during high surf winter days.

Seasonal Activities

Hawaii has a few activities which are seasonal, whale watching being the most popular.
  • Whale watching starts in November and lasts through April.
  • Boat tours of Kauai’s Napali coast run during the summer.
  • There are more hiking opportunities in the summer.
  • North shore surf usually arrives in October and subsides in April.
  • Spring offers great surf for boogie boarding and beginner surfing.
  • The best snorkeling is in the summer.
Serious photographers who want to capture ocean and beach scenes will prefer the summer months. In Hawaii the sun is directly overhead twice a year - in May and July. The increased luminosity during the summer, calmer ocean conditions with less runoff from streams and rivers, and additional vegetation all make for stunning photos. Some beaches also experience seasonal sand erosion and are at their best during the summer.
best time to visit hawaii Kauai's Napali Coast

The Best Months to Visit Hawaii

September

September gets our vote for the best month to visit Hawaii. With the resumption of school the summer crowds have departed, and accommodations return to low season rates. The weather remains fantastic for September, and ocean temperatures are peaking at around 81 degrees. There is some surf on southern shores while the north remains flat - unless an early swell rolls in at the end of the month. Conditions are perfect for snorkeling.

May

May and September have a lot in common. In Hawaii, May signals the beginning of summer and ocean temperatures are on the rise. Crowds and prices are equivalent to September. One difference is that the ocean is more active in May, particularly on northern shores. In this regard, if you want to learn how to surf or enjoy boogie boarding, May would be preferred over September. Still, there are plenty of calm days that are good for snorkeling.

June

June is an excellent month to visit Hawaii. Technically speaking June experiences the best weather of the year with the lowest amounts of rainfall. Temperatures are more comfortable than July and August. Depending on school schedules, the summer crowds don’t arrive until the second or third week of the month.

July & August

The summer is also a wonderful time to visit Hawaii, especially if you love the ocean. Surf’s up on the south shore and many uncrowded beaches that were too rough during the winter are open for swimming and snorkeling. This is a busier time of year but outside of Waikiki you likely won’t mind.

April

Despite how warm Hawaii is all year, as April rolls around one can “feel” that winter has ended. There’s a noted difference in air temperatures in the evening compared to March. The sun is brighter (the zenith is in both May and July), flowers are blossoming, and the humpback whales are slowly starting to depart. The ocean is still on the cool side, but there’s a lot of fun to be had snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding and swimming.

October

October is a transition month – the first winter swells will likely roll in by the middle of the month, perhaps accompanied by some rain. Still, October is an excellent month to visit Hawaii. The ocean is warm, there’s plenty of sunshine to go around, crowds are minimal and low season prices are in effect.

December

By December the Humpback whales have arrived in Hawaii. If you want a winter vacation in Hawaii, the beginning of December is the best time to visit. Prices are low and the crowds don’t arrive until the holidays.

January

January and February are very similar in Hawaii. On the one hand the ocean is a couple degrees warmer in January and it’s slightly less busy (except New Year’s week). And we’ve observed better prices on airfare in January versus February. But January usually has more rainfall.

February

A nice aspect of Hawaii’s winter climate is a decrease in trade winds, and on some days they reverse or completely stop (a rarity during the summer). This can make for great beach conditions. For experienced surfers February would likely be the preferred month.

November

November and March are the two wettest months in Hawaii. That’s not to say you won’t get good weather. The key to vacationing during these two months is to stay for at least 2 weeks thereby increasing your odds of getting “average” weather which should include plenty of sunny days. If you visit for 1 week you could get a week of mostly sun, or if you're unlucky, a week of mostly rain. Alternatively, stay in an area that has a dry climate.

March

Although March is slightly warmer than February, in the last decade several big storms have rolled around in March. It’s still a very popular time to visit and certainly worthwhile if March is your only option. Bare in mind that tropical weather is unpredictable and varied. So it’s hard to claim that March’s weather is really much worse than the rest of winter. Big changes are possible from year to year. Also, looking at our weather guide you’ll notice areas that receive very little rainfall even in November and March.

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