Winter weather on the mainland can leave you dreaming of a beach vacation. If you’re ready to escape the cold, snowy months and head to Hawaii you might wonder what the best Hawaiian island to visit is. While they are all probably warmer and sunnier than where you live, the islands all have different climates and weather patterns you should know. 

The best Hawaiian island to visit in the winter is Maui. In the winter on Maui you’ll find little rain, relatively calm ocean conditions, and great whale watching.  

But there’s more to it than that. Read on to learn more about what you can expect when you visit each island in the winter. 

 

The Best Hawaiian Island to Visit in the Winter: Maui

If you’re looking for an amazing winter vacation in Hawaii, your best bet is to head to Maui. There are three very good reasons why: 

1. Weather

If you’re staying on the western side (Lahaina or Ka’anapali) or the South Shore (Kihei or Wailea), you will probably have pretty good weather. While it’s not all sunshine all the time, as you can see from the charts below, you have the least amount of rainfall on average in Kihei. 

 

2. Ocean conditions

You most likely are excited to get into the water on your vacation (yes, the ocean is still warm here!) and you’re most likely to encounter calm conditions on Maui, specifically in Ka’anapali and Wailea. While the ocean can still get rough and Maui does get it’s fair share of winter swells, there are a number of days when winter swimming is calm and clear. 

Want to know where to snorkel in the winter? Here’s the best snorkeling spots on all the islands by month. 

3. Whale watching

Each year, approximately 12,000 humpback whales migrate down from Alaska to give birth and mate in the warm waters of Hawaii. And while you can see whales from any island, you have the best chance of seeing whales on Maui. That’s because they love the shallow waters of the ‘au’au channel.

Don’t miss our complete guide to whale watching on Maui (with discount codes from some of our favorite tour operators!).

The biggest drawback of choosing to visit Maui in the winter is that it’s the most expensive island year round. So if you’re headed to Maui, you can expect to pay more for your accommodations, rental car, and even some activities. 

 

Hawaii in the Winter: island by island

When you’re planning a trip to Hawaii in the winter you might be curious what to expect. While the islands can all have sun (and rain) during the winter, each one has a few differences you should know about. 

Oahu in the winter

Lanikai Beach (Oahu) in February

What’s it like to visit Oahu in the winter?

Oahu, or The Gathering Place, is the most popular island to visit year-round. According to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, approximately 50% of all visitors to Hawaii go to Oahu. If you’re coming in the winter, don’t expect to see a decrease in crowds — Oahu is a hub of activity all year. 

In the winter (and year-round) you’ll find the cheapest average hotel prices on Oahu. The average nightly rate is less than $300 while the average nightly rate on Maui is over $400. So you can expect to find more reasonable prices on a hotel stay for your winter vacation. 

When it comes to weather, average rainfall in Waikiki (Honolulu) is pretty dry, averaging less than 2” per rain each month in the winter. You’ll also see temperatures in the mid 70’s, which is likely warmer than where you’re visiting from. 

Two of the most popular places to stay on Oahu are Waikiki and KoOlina. Those two areas are located on the leeward side and will see plenty of sunshine and dry weather. You’ll also find calmer ocean conditions making it easier to get out to swim, snorkel, or take a boat ride. 

But if you’re hoping to head to the North Shore for some beach time, you likely won’t be as lucky. Popular swimming spots like Waimea Bay are incredibly calm in the summer but will have huge winter surf and swells, making swimming there dangerous. The north shore will also get more rain and have cooler temperatures. But on the plus side, you might get lucky and be able to see the Eddie — a big wave surf competition in Waimea Bay. 

And if you’re coming for Christmas, you’ll find the most Christmas activities on Oahu. 

If you’re heading to Oahu, don’t miss our full Oahu guide helping you find the best places to stay, where to eat, and what to do. 

Maui in the Winter

Whale watching on Maui in the winter

What’s it like to visit Maui in the winter?

Looking for your best shot at clear skies? Maui is your spot. With the smallest average rainfall in the winter (using Kihei/Wailea, a popular place to stay for measurement), you should get great beach days. Average high temperatures will still be balmy in the mid-70’s, making it warm enough that you’ll want to get into the water. 

Just like the other islands, the windward (wet) side of the island will get more rain, especially during the winter months. But most of the resorts are located on the leeward (dry) side of the island. And you’ll find that most of the south and west Maui beaches have reasonably good swimming conditions during the winter months. 

But this winter beauty comes with a cost. Maui has the highest hotel per night cost of any island year round, so expect to still pay that premium. Average nightly hotel rates during the winter months are above $400 per night. 

With that hefty nightly price tag, there is one big perk: whale watching. During the winter months, approximately 12,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii. While you can see humpback whales on any island, the best whale watching is on Maui. 

Heading to Maui? Our Maui guide will help you plan your trip with the best places to stay, where to eat, and what to do

Big Island in the winter

A beach day on the Big Island in the winter

What’s it like to visit the Big Island in the winter?

The Big Island is a popular winter destination and it’s easy to see why. You can enjoy some seriously warm weather during the winter months when you’re staying on the Kailua-Kona side. And while Kailua-Kona does get a little rain, if you head up to the Kohala Coast, you’ll find less rain. 

But don’t expect calm seas to match the dry conditions on the Kohala Coast. Swimming at the northern beaches is often off limits in the winter months as large swells and dangerous ocean conditions make a regular appearance. 

If you’re looking for another whale watching option, aside from Maui, visiting the Big Island is a great choice. You can often spot humpback whales off the Kohala Coast and there are some great tours that can bring you up close and personal with these beautiful animals. 

And if you’re heading to the Big Island hoping to do a night snorkel with Manta Ray’s, you’re in luck. You’re still able to swim with these gentle giants in the winter. But you do run a slightly higher risk of your tour being cancelled due to large swells and unfavorable ocean conditions. So you can still see them, but just be prepared that adverse weather might make things a little more difficult. Our Manta Ray guide gives you all the information you need to know before going on a Manta Ray night dive or snorkel, plus we list our favorite tour operators that we always use.  

Our Big Island guide will give you the most important information you need to know while you’re planning your trip. 

Kauai in the winter

Kokee State Park on Kauai

What’s it like to visit Kauai in the winter?

Kauai is nicknamed the Garden Isle because of its lush, beautiful landscape. But that lush landscape needs one thing: a lot of rain. And that’s what you’ll find on the northernmost Hawaiian island. 

There are three popular places to stay on Kauai: the north shore, including Princeville and Hanalei, the east coast, called the Coconut Coast, and the south shore, which is home to the popular resort area in Poipu. Unfortunately, for winter travelers, the north shore and the east coast get a considerable amount of rain during the winter months. If you’re visiting in the winter and want to try to avoid the rain, staying in Poipu will be your best option.

Our Princeville vs. Poipu article dives into the details of staying on the north shore and the south shore of Kauai. 

Not only will the north shore and east coast have rain, but swimming at beaches in those areas will mostly be dangerous (large waves and currents). Luckily, Poipu and the south shore area will usually have very calm water, great for swimming and snorkeling. 

Our Kauai guide will help you with everything you need to know to plan a great trip to Hawaii. 

 

Visiting Hawaii in the Winter FAQs:

Is winter a good time to visit Hawaii?

We like to say there is never a truly terrible time to visit Hawaii. Winter can be a great time to visit, but just know what to expect. You might encounter more rain, cooler temperatures, and ocean conditions that aren’t great for snorkeling and swimming. But chances are that Hawaii is warmer in the winter than wherever you’re traveling from, so head to Hawaii and enjoy some sun!

Which Hawaiian island has the best weather in the winter?

All of the islands offer fairly mild winter weather on their leeward side. But if you’re hoping to see the most sun, Maui is the best island for you. If you’re heading for the hottest temperatures, the Big Island has the winter weather you’re looking for. 

What is the coldest month in Hawaii?

On all of the islands, February is the coldest month. But it’s not too cold — average high temperatures range from 81 degrees in Kailua-Kona (Big Island) to 73 degrees in Poipu (Kauai). 

 

Make Your Trip Planning So Much Easier

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, we’ve got you covered. Our island itineraries help you navigate the planning process and make your trip smooth once you’re on-island. Thousands of customers have loved them, whether they were planning for a trip that was a year away or a trip that was a day away. 

“This is not a question but simply a “thank you”.  Our original European vacation plans fell through last minute.  So we had 2 weeks to plan something else…your Vacation Guide was a LIFE SAVER.  We had no idea how to begin planning, which island, where to stay, what to do.  Your honest reviews of the islands led us to Maui for 8 days….Mahalo!!.  You guys are awesome!!” – Eva M.

Hawaii itineraries

Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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