It’s hard to pinpoint a time of year most desirable to visit paradise. Hawaii enjoys year-long beautiful weather with only two real seasons — summer (from May to October) and winter (from November to April). With the summertime average temperature at 85 degrees paired with it being “dry season,” a visit during summer means some serious fun in the sun. Winter is known as the “wet season” with localized rains bringing about the beautiful lush landscapes Hawaii is well-known and loved for. Visitors can enjoy flowing waterfalls and watch surfers ride the big waves synonymous with winter in Hawaii. Plus, cooler temperatures, hovering around 78 degrees, make for prime hiking and outdoor adventure weather.
The best times of the year to travel to Hawaii:
1. So, if Hawaii is a paradise year-round, when is the best time to visit?
Some of best times to travel to Hawaii include December – April for being warm and welcoming during a time when the mainland is cold and snowy. It doesn’t hurt that humpback whale migration season is during the winter, so spotting a whale during your trip is a possibility. Another great time to visit Hawaii is in the fall (October); most of the summer rush has fallen away, lending you uncrowded trails, restaurants, and festivals.
2. Should I worry about hurricane season?
While travelers might be concerned about Hurricane season in Hawaii, which is from June through November, the last major hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Islands was Hurricane Iniki on the island of Kauai in September of 1992. Hurricanes in this region of the world usually travel from east to west. The islands’ biggest defenses against hurricanes are Mauna Kea and Moana Loa, the enormous volcanic mountains on the eastern end of the state on the Big Island of Hawaii, which “shield” inclement weather from the other islands.
3. What’s it like to spend Christmas in Hawaii?
Instead of building snowmen like back home, people are building sandmen on the beach. Santa in Hawaii wears an Aloha shirt, and in the beginning of December, he cruises ashore Waikiki beach on an outrigger canoe in front of the Outrigger Waikiki Resort. The Honolulu City Lights festival includes an electric light parade through the city complete with marching bands, performers, and a Christmas tree decorating contest inside of Honolulu Hale (pronounced hah-leh). The Polynesian Cultural Center, the largest cultural center in the Pacific that celebrates six different Polynesian island nations, features live hula, selfies with Santa, and real snow for children to play in. Where else could you go from a fire spinning performance to playing in the snow?
Celebrating Christmas in Hawaii is special because Hawaii enjoys an amalgamation of cultures and traditions, yet traditionalists will still feel at home in Hawaii: the Hawaii State Ballet performs the Nutcracker at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center every year.
You might decide to attend the largest holiday craft show in the state at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center in mid-December where you can find homemade jams, bread, sweets, jewelry, pillows, clothes, and more. Don’t forget to grab an ornament where Santa dons an aloha shirt and shorts to hang on your tree back home.
4. The big events
Chinese New Year
Mid-January — Mid-March (varies)
Hawaii’s population is multi-cultural, lending way to a variety of unique celebrations throughout the year. The ushering in of the Lunar New Year is celebrated with Chinese New Year’s Day. Oahu’s Chinatown district hosts traditional lion and dragon dancing at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza, and nearby restaurants offer traditional dishes and snacks like Nian gao (or Chinese New Year Cake made of glutinous rice), noodles (try Little Village Noodle House), and manapua, or steamed buns with savory fillings like char sui pork (check out Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery).
Private preparatory school and former President Barack Obama’s alma mater, Punahou School, hosts a 2-day carnival every year in February whose proceeds go to benefit their scholarship fund. A tradition spanning back to 1932, the Carnival is now hosted by the junior class and features a variety of carnival rides and games, as well as homemade local goodies like malasadas, or Portuguese fried doughnuts, fried noodles, bean soup, and homemade crafts, flowers, art, and more.
Termed after the Native American “Pow Wow,” describing a gathering for the purposes of culture, art, and music, POW! WOW! Is Hawaii’s week-long celebration of the arts. Street artists from around the world fly in and makeover Honolulu’s Kaka’ako district with various mural projects, while galleries host open houses, creative spaces are brimming with live art demonstrations, and concerts fill the streets with music.
Honolulu Festival is a chance to celebrate not only what’s uniquely “Honolulu,” but also the relationship between Hawaii and its neighbors like Tahiti, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Meant to unify attendees under a theme of “Pacific Harmony,” the weekend-long festival is free and includes an exhibition hall filled with performers, arts and crafts sellers, and food vendors. Cultural demonstrations like having your name ink-written in Japanese are available. The event’s culmination is a large parade down Kalakaua Avenue through the heart of Waikiki where attendees can enjoy hula dancers, drummers, marching bands, and dragon dancing.
Merrie Monarch Festival
Merrie Monarch Festival is held annually in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii and perpetuates hula and the Hawaiian culture. Known as the “Merrie Monarch,” King Kalakua sought to unify the Hawaiian Islands through practicing hula (among other cultural traditions) during a time when Hawaiian beliefs and traditions were suppressed by Christian missionaries. As such, the annual week-long hula festival commemorates King Kalakua by calling it “Merrie Monarch Festival.” Celebrating over 50 years of hula, the festival remains a strong draw for locals and tourists alike; revelers enjoy watching both traditional and modern hula, group competition, as well as bearing witness to powerful Hawaiian chants.
Lantern Floating Festival
Memorial Day (May)
Imagine thousands of floating, fire-lit lanterns launched off of one of the busiest, most beautiful beaches in Hawaii, and you have an idea of how the people of Hawaii celebrate and mourn their lost loved ones. Every Memorial Day, thousands gather at Ala Moana Beach Park for the Lantern Floating Festival to remember and honor those who were lost during service to their country. The ceremony includes an opening oli (or chant), hula, torch lighting, blessing, and the release of the lit lanterns. Prayers and remembrance are offered for all — war victims, victims of disasters and disease, and even extinct plant and animal life.
50th State Fair
May — June
When school’s out for summer, what better to take its place than a carnival? The 50th State Fair is held at the Aloha Stadium and offers all of the thrills and entertainment you’d expect from your neighborhood carnival. Think Ferris wheel rides, churros, cotton candy, swings, and a fun house. E.K. Fernandez, a local show and entertainment company, is committed to flying in some of the best circus acts, performers, and spectacles like monster truck rallies and barnyard animal races.
Kamehameha Day is a public local holiday in Hawaii that celebrates King Kamehameha the Great, the King who unified the Hawaiian Islands when it was still a monarchy. A giant floral parade marches down Kalakua Avenue complete with fragrant plumeria flowers, ukulele players, and island floats that represent each main Hawaiian Island. Expect to see men and women adorned in beautiful costumes, paying homage to Hawaii’s ornate pageantry days.
Hawaii International Film Festival
Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) started as a project by the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa — in 1981, the festival just showed six films. Since then, the festival has grown in popularity — nearly 70,000 international film fans flock to Hawaii every year to watch 150 movies and shorts about or by Asians, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. The festival focuses on films whose themes convey social and cultural ideas. The festival is notoriously inclusive; most films are shown at regular movie theaters throughout the islands and often showcase first-time filmmakers.
Hallowbaloo, an epic block party in Chinatown’s Arts District, is one of Oahu’s hottest draws for Halloween weekend. Usually held the Saturday before Halloween, Hallowbaloo is a chance to get dressed up in your most unique costume and head for the street festival which comes alive with music, entertainers, and food vendors. One of the craziest parties of the year takes place on Halloween night in Waikiki. Streets are filled with party-goers in costumes, and an annual costume party contest is held, but the real reason to venture out to Waikiki on Halloween night is for the people watching.
Hawaii Food and Wine Festival
Foodies delight: Hawaii hosts its very own food and wine festival in the fall, which takes place over the span of three weekends on multiple islands. Featuring the top local chefs and ingredients, farmers, and fisherman, the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival is a great opportunity to sample some unique dishes you can only find in Hawaii. Known for its Pacific Rim, Pan-Asian, and Hawaii Regional Cuisines, the food and beverage offerings in Hawaii demand a seat at the table of culinary big dogs worldwide.
Considered to be the most prestigious triathlon in the world, Ironman takes place in October on the Big Island of Hawaii’s Kona Coast. Over 2,000 athletes will compete for the coveted title of “Ironman,” but the race isn’t for the faint of heart. It is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon! The winner will earn bragging rights for life.
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
Hawaii is the only US state that grows coffee, and it just so happens that Kona Coffee, grown on the Big Island of Hawaii, is some of the best and most expensive in the world. Every November, around 50 events over the span of 10 days revere the beloved beverage. Attendees can attend coffee tastings, art festivals, and even watch a Miss Kona Coffee earn her crown.
Vans Triple Crown of Surfing
November — December
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, so it’s fitting that a series of surfing events invades Oahu’s north shore for some serious big wave surf contents. Going 35 years strong, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing includes three events each for both men and women. Professionals only need apply — waves can reach as big as 50 feet or more in height. Attendees are welcome to attend events held throughout November and December, throw a blanket on the beach, and watch the pros do their thing.
The fourth largest marathon in the US, the Honolulu Marathon is held annually in Honolulu and draws participants in from all over the world. The traditional 26.2-mile jaunt is difficult, as even in winter the sun can be strong. Hawaii’s mountainous terrain is challenging, but with no time limit for participants, the race is known to attract many. The course starts downtown, winds through Waikiki, then goes up to Diamond Head, Oahu’s extinct volcanic crater. The finish in Kapiolani Park has live music, vendors, and merriment abound.
New Year’s Eve – Party of the Year
What could be better than ringing in New Year at the biggest party of the year? Held annually at Aloha Tower Marketplace in Honolulu, this behemoth festival is not to be missed. Over 30 bands and DJs perform on 9 stages and areas, a food truck rally features some of Hawaii’s best eats, and a giant fireworks show helps usher in the new year with style.