Hawaii is a paradise no matter when you choose to visit, offering up its sandy expanses of beach, lush rain forests and vibrant cultural scene year round. If you have your heart set on a specific event, whether that’s spotting the migratory humpback whale or running in the Honolulu Marathon, you’ll want to plan your trip around those dates. For everyone else, throw a bathing suit, some sunscreen and a good book into your luggage, and venture out whenever you get the chance; this majestic archipelago won’t disappoint!
Weather in Hawaii
Hawaiian weather is quite consistent throughout the year, and it experiences only minor fluctuations in temperature. It doesn’t, therefore, go through four distinct seasons. Rather, it has kau (summer) from May to October and hooilo (winter) from November to April.
Temperatures in the summer average about 85 (Fahrenheit), with nighttime temperatures only dipping about 10 degrees lower than that.
Winter temperatures come in at an average of 78, and nighttime averages hover around 68. Expect the wettest months from November to March on any given island’s northeastern side.
Backroads Pro Tip
Stuck in a rainstorm on your vacation? Fear not! Hawaiian rain is typically highly localized. If it’s raining on your lanai, venture a few miles in any given direction. You’re almost certain to find your patch of sun.
While the temperate doesn’t swing too drastically at any time of year, Hawaii does produce an impressive array of microclimates. With variations in elevation and the shielding effects of mountains (some volcanic), you can find everything from lush rain forests and dry deserts to sun-drenched beaches and cooler alpine spaces—sometimes all within a radius of a few miles. Make sure to research the microclimates where you plan to visit to ensure you’ve packed accordingly.
• Humpback Whales
Nothing makes you feel as viscerally close to nature as the power and excitement of spotting a behemoth of the sea breaching in the distance or gliding gracefully under your boat. Your best chance of spotting humpbacks typically comes from December to April. While whales can be seen from any Hawaiian island, you should have particular luck with the Auau Channel, a warm, shallow section of water that runs between Lanai, Molokai and Maui.
Backroads Pro Tip
Haven’t seen so much as a tail tip or dorsal fin? If you’re coming up empty trying to spot whales from shore, consider a guided whale watching tour. It’s a great way to increase your odds of getting up close and personal with these impressive specimens of the deep!
• Green Sea Turtles
Green sea turtles love to seek out calm, shallow water, so your best chance of a sighting is during the summer months. For the highest odds, aim for 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Laniakea Beach (“Turtle Beach”) on Oahu.
Backroads Pro Tip
These curious, friendly creatures are likely to swim right up next to you as you’re snorkeling, but do everything to keep your distance! The species is highly protected, and any form of illegal touching or harassing can come with a fine upwards of $2,000.
• Manta Rays
Often confused with the stingray, the manta ray is another underwater behemoth. They typically span anywhere from 18 to 23 feet wide. (That’s approximately half the length of a humpback whale!) While there isn’t a designated season for these amazing creatures, taking a guided night dive consistently proves fruitful for tourists.
Take in these distinctly Hawaiian phenomena at any time of year:
• Volcanoes – Big Island
Active volcanoes are one of Hawaii’s major draws, and you can see them best at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (on the Big Island). Thanks to these impressive displays of geological power, the island actually gains approximately 36 acres of new land every year! Drive the Crater Rim to experience billowing steam vents, or simply marvel at Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
• Sands of All Colors
Sure, we’ve all seen images of Hawaii’s pristine white-sand beaches, but the islands actually offer up a few surprises in this regard. Head to Kaihalulu (Maui) for one of the world’s only red-sand beaches, or travel to Punalu’u Beach (Big Island) for black-sand basalt beaches.
• Golden Ponds of Keawaiki – Big Island
Hidden within an expansive lava field on the Kohala Coast are two freshwater ponds that positively shimmer with gold tones. The color comes from a particular breed of golden alga that thrives in the water and lends the pools its otherworldly luminescence. For the best experience, go on a sunny day, when the color will be fully on display.
Backroads Pro Tip
To preserve the delicate ecosystem within the ponds, please don’t swim or wade in the water. Also, remember the hike to get to the ponds is over rough lava fields, which can absolutely shred thin sandals. Opt for sturdy hiking shoes instead, and as with any Hawaiian hike, don’t forget the sunscreen and water.
• Maui Whale Festival (Late February or Early March)
Humpback whales play an important cultural role throughout Hawaii, so it makes sense they’d be celebrated and commemorated through a festival. This event has taken place annually for more than 30 years, and festivities include amazing food and drink, live music, a parade, Run for the Whales and lots of informational talks and presentations about the magnificent 40-ton wonders. Parking can be chaos, so take a shuttle if at all possible.
• Kona Brewers Festival (Typically March)
Taking place on the Big Island, this celebration of Hawaii’s critically acclaimed local brews invites almost 30 breweries and features over 60 types of beer. There’s also live music, culinary delights, fire dancers and a fashion show. What’s not to love? As an added bonus, the event is a committed zero-waste festival.
• Merrie Monarch Festival (April)
Commencing on Easter Sunday every year, this weeklong festival takes place in Hilo, on the Big Island. The festival’s events honor King David Kalākaua and center around many of the cultural traditions that were prevalent during his reign, including the hula. For anyone looking to experience some of the world’s most prestigious hula contests, don’t miss this event!
• Honolulu Marathon (Second Sunday in December)
Calling all competitive runners! The Honolulu Marathon is one of the world’s largest races of its kind. Featuring stunning scenery—the race starts near Ala Moana Beach Park and ends in Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park—the marathon draws lots of first-timers, despite its relatively hilly terrain and often high temperatures.
Crowds descend on Hawaii several times throughout the year. The first peak season is in the summer months (think when kids are out of school), and the second comes when mainlanders are looking to escape long, dreary winters. Crowds also tend to ramp up around holidays, so it’s particularly busy on Easter, Thanksgiving and the period from Christmas to the New Year.
There’s also something called the “Golden Week” in Japan, which is the last week in April. This is when three Japanese holidays all fall within the same week, and crowds in Hawaii can surge during this time (particularly in Waikiki).
If you’re seeking solitude, October and November tend to be the quietest and most serene times to visit the various islands.
Keep in mind, though, Hawaii is a year-round destination. Even if you go in the height of the tourist masses, there’s plenty to enjoy in the electric bustle of high season!
No matter the time of year, Hawaii offers up an array of outdoor adventuring options:
• Hiking and Walking
Hiking and walking are some of the most common adventure activities in Hawaii, and it’s easy to see why. No matter what island you’re on, there are innumerable trails leading to secluded beaches, hidden waterfalls, sheer cliffs and lush jungles. From easy day hikes for families to all-day marathon scrambles for advanced hikers, Hawaii provides something for every level of adventurer.
Whether you’re cruising around the paved bike paths of Oahu or taking on any number of mountain biking trails, Hawaii is an amazing place to travel on two wheels! Maybe you want to take a leisurely day ride into town or to a white-sand beach, or perhaps you’re looking to accelerate the pace (and your heart rate) with steeper, more challenging terrain. Whatever you’re looking for, Hawaii can accommodate.
Snorkeling is one of the best ways for everyone to enjoy the amazing displays of color and diversity that wait just under the surface of Hawaii’s waters. Even if you can’t swim a stroke, simply fit yourself with a snorkel mask, wade to your stomach, and stick your face into the warm waters. If you’re well positioned, you’ll likely be met with vibrant colors, exotic fish and, if you’re very lucky, a friendly sea turtle or two.
• Horseback Riding
With its varied terrain and breathtaking scenery, Hawaii makes the ideal grounds for horseback riding. At a leisurely pace, you can experience the splendor of coastal views or take in lush valley trails. If you’re a newcomer to horseback riding, consider going with a guided tour. These horses tend to be serene, well cared for and easy to manage.
Hawaii is a relatively safe place to travel, especially if you stick to well-traveled paths during the day. Still, even in a laid-back paradise like Hawaii, exercise common sense. Don’t wear ostentatious jewelry or flaunt expensive cameras, always keep an eye on your belongings, and be attuned to the vibe you get from any given location. Note: rental cars have increasingly become targets of theft, so park in well-lit, well-traveled areas, and never keep valuables in a vehicle (and especially not in plain sight!).
In terms of natural safety hazards, heavy rains and even flash floods are possible in the winter, and you should be especially cautious if you’re visiting the north shore of any given island. With this time comes extra rough surf and tumultuous ocean conditions. Even if you’re a very experienced swimmer or surfer, take extreme caution about where and when you get in the water. Conversely, in the summer, expect big (and potentially dangerous) surf on the south shores.
Unexpectedly strong currents and deceptively big waves can make swimming unsafe at any time of year, though, so always exercise caution and diligence. This becomes especially important if you have small children or you aren’t a particularly strong swimmer.
Hurricane season runs from approximately the beginning of June to the end of November. Hurricanes aren’t particularly common in Hawaii, but it’s something to be aware of if your travel dates correspond. Similarly, tsunamis are quite rare—they happen roughly once a decade—but they still constitute the deadliest natural disaster threat across the state. The warning system runs for one minute at 11:45 a.m. on the first workday of each month. If you hear sirens from those mounted yellow speakers at any other time, make your way to higher ground immediately.