Best Things to Do in Hawaii in the “Cold”

Wondering about what winter in Hawaii is like? About the best things to do in Hawaii in the “cold” winter months? Then read on and find out about the best places to visit and top things to see during the season.

If you are looking to get away from the cold, then a Hawaii vacation is the way to go. Beautiful warm weather (and nothing really cold here), stunning beaches, and friendly people, Hawaii in winter is relaxing and fun.

This unique American state is made up of eight islands, which have been a vacation destination for Americans and people worldwide for decades. So, if you are wondering about the best things to do and see in Hawaii in winter, then this post will help.

It will also let you know how to arrive, what to pack, and how to get around, as well as other important travel tips. If you are ready to start planning your Hawaii winter trip, then read on for the best activities.

Kona in Hawaii
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HAWAII WINTER TIPS

This post with the Hawaii travel tips was written by Rebecca, a regular Hawaii visitor.

How to Get to Hawaii

As Hawaii is completely made up of islands, there are only two ways to arrive: by boat or plane. While there are many cruises that can be taken from the west coast of the US to Hawaii, they will take about two weeks to cover the 2500 miles.

This can be a luxurious way to travel if you have the time, but if not, then I would advise flying.

If you fly to Hawaii, there are a number of carriers that come to the major airports on the islands. Personally, I have always taken Hawaiian Airlines and loved it.

Depending on your island destination, your flight price will vary, but you can always island hop.

I have often flown into Oahu, then traveled on to the Big Island or Kauai by way of an inter-island flight.

Hawaii’s major airports are:

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Oahu)

Kona International Airport & Hilo International Airport (Hawaii, aka the Big Island)

Lihue Airport (Kauai)

Kahului Airport (Maui)

How to Get Around Hawaii

In Hawaii, you can get around by taxi, shuttle from your hotel, with tour buses, with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, or by public transportation. But I really recommend making a reservation for a car that you can pick up once your flight lands.

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There are so many lovely little nooks in the Hawaiian Islands that you might miss if someone else is in charge. By driving yourself, you have the chance to really explore in a relaxed manner befitting the Aloha State.

The great thing about Hawaii is that weather is good, so you won’t have to worry about a lot of winter weather conditions making driving hazardous. However, Hawaii is a tropical climate, so rain is common. Use caution and drive slow.

Actually, drive slow regardless of the weather because speed limits are generally lower in Hawaii than other US states. It’s not unusual to see bumper stickers that read: Slow down, this isn’t the mainland.

Where to Stay in Hawaii

What hotel you decide on for your Hawaii visit will depend on which island you will be staying on. I can recommend the Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island as a great hotel for families (there are water slides) and couples.

I also recommend on Oahu the Royal Hawaiian (very luxurious and classic, great for couples) and the Ala Moana Hotel (great central location in Waikiki). 

Since tourism is a major part of the Hawaiian economy, there are no shortage of hotels throughout the islands.

However, if you are visiting the smaller islands, like Lanai and Kauai, there will be less options, so book ahead. Winter in Hawaii is beautiful, which means it’s also the high season for visitors.

Weather in Hawaii in Winter

Winter in Hawaii is very mild, with average temperatures around 78ºF at sea level. If you are going more inland where the elevation may be higher, it will be slightly cooler.

December sees temperatures as high as 82ºF and as low as 67ºF, and January and February have highs of 81ºF and lows of 66ºF.

Winter is known as “hooilo,” and it is the wet season, so expect some rain, especially in December.

What to Pack for Winter in Hawaii

When it comes to packing, Hawaii is easy.

Other winter vacations may require bulky coats and boots, but here, you can wear shorts and t-shirts every day (though I’d bring one sweater, just in case). Beach wear is a must and don’t forget any special gear you might need for hiking, snorkeling, etc.

Flip-flops (what locals call “slippers”) are worn by pretty much everyone.

Resorts and restaurants have relaxed dress codes compared to other cities in the country, and the world, so a nice dress or slacks should suffice for a night out.

So, pack light and comfortable for the warmer weather, and leave plenty of room for souvenirs from the islands. 

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More Travel Tips

English and Hawaiian are the co-official languages of Hawaii, but most locals speak Hawaiian Pidgin (particularly to each other). This can be a little confusing, as a few words are English and then others are not, but in the hotels and tourist areas, you should get on fine.

Car break-ins are rather common in Hawaii, particularly in Oahu and Maui. Make sure that you do not leave valuables in your car and park it in well-lit areas. Avoid isolated locations.

Be careful when driving at night, as you can run into both rain and fog. Use caution and check the weather forecast before heading out.

Hawaii is expensive. Period. Part of this is due to the fact that many products are shipped in from the mainland, and part is due to the fact that tourists have little choice but to pay what is charged once they have arrived.

To save money, consider stopping at a grocery store for your staples and snacks to avoid costly roadside meals as you explore. Also, gas is pricey here, but remember to fill up before heading into more remote areas.

There are agricultural laws about what live plants can be brought into and out of the islands. So, keep that in mind if you had planned to bring some island flora home with you.

Speaking of taking things home, I know that souvenirs are hard to turn down, but a couple that you should avoid are pieces of volcanic rock and stones from the beaches. This is considered bad luck and frowned upon by locals.

And really, while you’re on an island with an active volcano, do you really want to upset Pele?

Winter in Hawaii – What to Do and See

Let´s get started and talk about the best winter activities in Hawaii.

Shine Bright with the Honolulu City Lights (December)

Hawaii is a beautiful place to celebrate the holidays.

Honolulu City Lights in winter
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If you are planning on being on the island of Oahu, stop at downtown Honolulu Hale for the festivities. Starting with the Electric Lights Parade, which features local bands and floats, it ends with the mayor lighting the city Christmas tree.

If you aren’t here for the parade, it’s still a lot of fun to stroll around and see the lights and decorations — not to mention the huge statues of Shaka Santa and Mrs. Claus. This’ll make for some great holiday photos. There’s also a trolley tour if you’d rather not walk.

The Amy & Willie Holiday Show (December)

What would Christmas be without Christmas music? Another annual holiday classic in Honolulu, Hawaii is the Amy & Willie Holiday Show. If you visit Hawaii in December this is a good show to watch.

Enjoy all your favorite holiday songs, redone Hawaiian style. Amy Hanaiali’i and Willie K. are beloved musicians on the islands and this Christmas concert is the perfect way for family and friends to get into the spirit. Good for visitors of all ages.

Countdown to Christmas (December)

Counting down to Christmas isn’t just for kids! The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu makes the days leading up to Christmas all the more fun.

Throughout the year, the center highlights the cultural heritage of Polynesia, but from December 9th to December 22nd, they offer the Thirteen Days of Polynesia.

This holiday-inspired event showcases Christmas canoe rides, live music, snow days, and lots of fun activities for kids. This is great for families, couples, and singles. The only downside is that this event is not free, but it is worth it. Plus, the center offers packages.

See the stars at Mauna Kea (December, January, and February)

On the Big Island of Hawaii, there is a star gazing program that will make a fun stop for any traveler, whether as a family, couple, or on your own.

Mauna Kea star gazing in Hawaii is one of the best winter activities
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Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on the island, so it offers a unique vantage point from which to gaze at the stars. Dress warmly because at this elevation, it can get chilly – you might even see some snow on the mountain’s peak.

The best part of this attraction is that it is free. So enjoy!

Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace (December)

Christmas markets are fun and festive events that are the perfect way to celebrate the season. Hawaii has its own market in Honolulu that you won’t want to miss. The Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas) Marketplace is held in the Neal Blaisdell Expo Hall downtown.

This is great place to visit, especially for families (entry is $4-5, but children 12 and under are free).

You’ll find tons of holiday treats and sweets, pop-up stores to shop in, kid-friendly activities, plus lots more. Perfect for picking up some last-minute holiday gifts.

Watch a Surf Competition (December)

Hawaii in winter is home to some of the biggest waves around.

Oahu’s north shore is famous for these record-breaking swells, so if you are on the island between November and December, then check out one of the largest surfing contests in the world.

Surfing in Hawaii in winter
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TheVans Triple Crown of Surfing is held at Sunset Beach and is a beautiful locale for a relaxing day in the Hawaii sun.

Make a day of it by packing some beach gear (bathing suit optional since only the pros are allowed in the water) and a picnic (or grab a bite at a local place). Get here early to snag a good spot. 

If you’re in Maui, the Pe’ahi Challenge is also going on. This is known as one of the scariest surfing competitions because these waves can reach up to 60 feet high! Definitely unforgettable.

Christmas Night at Queen Emma Summer Palace (December)

This is a great spot for history lovers who would love to explore old Hawaii while visiting for the holidays. The Hulihe’e Palace Event is held in Queen Emma Summer Palace on Oahu, which is a historical building dating back to the time of the Hawaiian monarchy.

While visiting, you can take a tour that will give you a chance to see the interior, as well as the carefully-preserved original furniture. Everything is decorated for the season, and the trees, piano music, and lights are very festive.

The event runs throughout the month of December. You can purchase tickets, or if you have the Go Oahu Card, they are included.

Banyan Tree Lighting (December)

Speaking of Maui, the city of Lahaina will be featuring its annual holiday tree lighting, which won’t be the pine you are used to.

Banyan Tree Lighting in Hawaii in December
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Here they have a banyan tree, which came from India and is now common throughout the island.

Children love them for the shade they provide and the strong vines that the kids can swing on. But during December, you can enjoy them for their festive lights, along with hula dancing and relaxing Hawaiian music. 

Local festivals (January)

Hawaiians are very proud of their culture and heritage. This is apparent by the large number of festivals that go on year round.

But if you are visiting in January, then I suggest stopping at the Iolani Luahine Hula Festival held at the end of the month in Keauhou Bay on the Kona side of Hawaii.

This festival features dance performances, including some amazing hula dancing. Named after a famous and beloved hula dancer, the festival offers a glimpse into Hawaii’s island culture and a chance to see authentic dances that both locals and tourists can enjoy.

See the Nutcracker (December)

It’s true, you can probably see the famous Nutcracker ballet in any city in America, maybe even the world, at this time of year.

But Ballet Hawaii offers a beautiful performance, set to the music performed by the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.

There are also members of the New York City Ballet that perform. Hawaii is known for its laid-back island style, but this holiday tradition is a nice change of pace.

Whether you’re traveling with kids, your significant other, or on your own, this ballet is great addition to your itinerary while in Honolulu, Oahu.

Go on the Makapuu Lighthouse Hike (December, January, and February)

With weather so mild during the winter in Hawaii, why not enjoy a hike? On Oahu, you can enjoy a two-mile hike to the historic Makapuu Lighthouse, which is located at the southernmost tip of the island. 

Makapuu Lighthouse Hike in Hawaii, easy hike in the winter months
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Not only is the hike itself quite beautiful, but you will experience some great views and sights. You’ll pass the Halona Blow Hole on your way to the lighthouse, which is famous for sightings of humpback whales as they migrate.

Go snowboarding (December, January, and February)

I know what you’re thinking — snowboarding in Hawaii? Believe it or not, they do get snow. If you’re visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and have a yearning for some traditional winter sports, then check out Mauna Kea Summit.

This dormant volcano is pretty awesome (I’ve hiked around it, but never gone to the summit), and with its high elevation, it can get as cold as 25ºF in the winter.

This results in decent snowfall that you can enjoy during your trip. Tip: You’ll need to bring your own gear since rentals are not available nearby, and neither are ski lifts.

Diamond Head Hike (December, January, and February)

Another hike that is easier (if you’re not much of a hiker) is the path up to Diamond Head. This one is fun and great for seeing some of the sights of the island, like this historic volcanic crater.

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Tickets for both hikes are included in the Go Oahu card.

Go to the beach (December, January, and February)

Whether you visit Hawaii in December, January or February – the beach is always a good idea in Hawaii.

If there is one thing the islands of Hawaii have a bounty of, it is beaches. But not all beaches are created equal and some are not the white sand variety that make you want to roll out a towel and dive into the water.

Like the black sand of Hawaii’s southern shores, some are better for pictures than picnics.

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But there are still plenty of great spots. On Oahu, you can head over to Lanikai, which offers clear, warm water, sun, and sand. Perfect for a day at the beach.

You can also check out Kualoa Ranch, which is a huge recreational complex with beautiful scenery, a secluded beach, and lots of outdoor fun, like volleyball and kayaking.

Other suggestions are Makena Beach (Maui), Hapuna Beach (Big Island), and Makua Beach (Kauai).

Watch Golf (January)

If golf is your game, then Hawaii is a great place to enjoy it. There are plenty of great golf courses across the islands that offer 18 holes with great scenery. 

But you can also watch golf while visiting Hawaii in the winter. Oahu is home of the Sony Open golf tournament every January. Lasting for about 3-4 days, a portion of the proceeds from the competition are given to charity.

Tickets are available to the public. The event is held at the Waiaele Country Club in Honolulu, and once the event is finished, you can purchase your own tee time if you like.

Go Whale watching (January and February)

You’re not the only visitor to Hawaii in the winter. This season brings an influx of migrating humpback whales.

Humpback Whale spout in Maui is one of the best things to do in Hawaii in winter
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While visiting in January, I took a boat cruise off the coast of the Big Island and was amazed by this magnificent sight.

From January until March, the whales come into the shallower waters close to the islands, so you have a great view of them, whether from a boat or even the shore.

There are dedicated whale watching tours, but you can get lucky on a snorkeling expedition, too (like I did). 

The best spots for whale sightings are Poipu Beach on Kauai, Kohala Coast on the Big Island, and Makapuu Lighthouse on Oahu.

See the Cherry Blossoms

I love cherry blossoms, and if you do too, then I suggest stopping at the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival on the Big Island.

This festival is held in early February, which may come as a surprise, but that is because this is when the cherry trees blossom in Hawaii.

In Church Row Park, you will find cherry trees that are sixty years old or more blossoming at this time of year. It’s truly a gorgeous sight and the perfect way to spend a winter day in Hawaii.

The festival is fun for families and couples alike, as well as solo travelers – anyone who enjoys stunning displays of nature and beautiful flowers.

I hope this post will help you find the best things to do and see while visiting Hawaii in winter.

This is the perfect season to spend on the islands and there is lots to experience on each one. Full of festivals, beaches, outdoor sports, and fun, winter in Hawaii will be a trip to remember.

READ MORE: BEST THINGS TO DO IN HAWAII

Check out the 10-Hawaii itinerary

About the Author:

This post was written by Rebecca, who runs her own blog at The Journey at Home – where she writes about her life as a mother of 5 with everything that comes along with it. She lived in New York for a long time before she moved to Las Vegas. She also works as a freelancer for Arzo Travels.

Safe Travels, Arzo
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