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Is it Wise to Visit Hawaii in December?

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Updated: September 1, 2021

Hawaii is nearly 2,500 miles from the U.S. mainland—which means that it’s not an easy place to jet off to for a last-minute getaway. Instead, optimize your visit to Hawaii with some planning and prioritization.

There are two types of December travel to Hawaii—the first two weeks and the last two weeks. The time to visit Hawaii to get the most out of your vacation budget is in the early part of the month.

Each of Hawaii’s eight major islands has a unique array of activities. Their weather varies slightly between their locales. However, the weather year-round in all of the Hawaiian Islands remains in a warm and comfortable range.

The most popular travel spots for a Hawaii vacation are:

  • Oahu
  • Kaua’i
  • Maui
  • The Big Island

If you want to trade in snow boots for swimsuits, snow shovels for umbrella drinks, frozen fingers for flip flops, and low temps for luaus, the time to visit Hawaii is early December.

Weather

girl relaxing in a pool with Diamond Head in the background

Hawaii boasts heavenly weather year-round. Overall, temperatures typically only vary by a matter of single-digit degrees across the calendar year. This goes for air and ocean temperatures. The best weather for your Hawaiian vacation depends on your personal preferences and what activities you will prioritize. 

Air Temperature

Keep things in perspective when deciding the best time to visit Hawaii. In December, a “bad weather” day in Hawaii is still better than winter weather in many parts of the continental United States. Early December in Honolulu sees temperatures as warm as the low 80s.

Air temperatures vary by about eight to ten degrees from daytime to nighttime year-round in Hawaii. You will find the average temperatures slightly warmer overall in the summer months, along with the ocean temperatures. However, Hawaii weather is mild and enjoyable almost every day of the year.  

Trade winds have an impact on the December weather in Hawaii. Though the islands are breezy throughout the year, the trade winds are more prevalent in December.

Air temperature averages (in degrees Fahrenheit) for the Hawaiian islands in December are:

  • Big Island: High 82/Low 67
  • Maui: High 72/Low 56
  • Oahu: High 79/Low 66
  • Kauai: High 72/Low 55
  • Lanai: High 75/Low 62
  • Molokai: High 77/Low 64

Though similar activities are available on many of the islands, the significant difference in their availability when you visit Hawaii will result from the water conditions at your destination. Areas suited for swimming in summer turn in winter into a surfer’s paradise that swimmers should avoid.

Water Temperatures

It’s likely you’ll wish to spend some time in the water if you’re planning to travel to Hawaii. Depending on which Hawaiian island you visit, you can create an epic winter vacation of fishing, surfing, paddleboarding, sailing, witnessing whales, scuba diving, and snorkeling among the sea creatures when you visit Hawaii.

The water temperature in Hawaii averages in the 70s, depending on the shore and time of year. Pacific Ocean temperatures on Honolulu shores are warmer than those of Hilo, but both are still swim-worthy at 77 and 73 degrees, respectively.

Ocean temperatures in December all around the Hawaiian islands rest comfortably at about 77 degrees. You will notice slight changes depending on which side of the island you choose for dipping your toes in the water. Take the island itself and your location on the island into consideration when planning a time to visit Hawaii.

Rainfall

The beauty of the weather in Hawaii in December is subjective. December is the wettest month of the year for all of Hawaii’s islands. However, in Hawaii’s case, this means just 1.3 inches of rain that month to take the title.

While other states in the U.S. might see this rainfall total in the course of a few hours, in Hawaii, it will likely come in short bursts of rain over many days. December is the rainiest month on the beautiful island of Maui; however, most of the precipitation is confined to the northern areas with drier times in West Maui.

Hurricane Threat

The Hawaiian Islands are most at-risk for hurricanes from June through November. Hurricane season in Hawaii means more breeziness than usual and possible rain and storms. However, you’ll avoid this when traveling to Hawaii in December.

Activities

Surfing

Hawaii is a surfer’s paradise, but when can experienced surfers catch the big waves these islands have to offer? December brings large waves to Oahu’s North Shore, making it the absolute peak season to bring your board to North Shore beaches.

Waimea Bay on the North Shore can produce 30-foot waves in the winter months, making December the time to visit for an unforgettable experience you can only find in Hawaii. However, novices should take note: if you’re not an experienced surfer, December is not the time to try to catch your first wave.

Swimming

The same weather systems that make the North Shore a popular surfing destination in December make it unfavorable for swimmers. Maui’s west shore offers a calmer beach fit for frolicking in the sea. The neighboring islands off Maui’s western shores protect them from the large swells surfers seek.

Snorkeling

If an underwater adventure is what floats your boat, Hawaii offers an abundance of opportunities in December. Winds and waves affect the snorkeling conditions on the shores of the Hawaiian islands, so the best opportunities for this activity vary by time of year.

In December, gear up with your goggles and snorkel and head to the sandy, sun-soaked shores of Maui before the Christmas crowds arrive.

Fishing

You can’t beat the deep-sea fishing in Kailua-Kona in December. Kailua-Kona is on the western shores of the Big Island and offers a wide variety of entertainment options on and off the water. With a December ocean temperature averaging 78 degrees, this destination is full of history, natural wonders, and opportunities to dive into the waters of Hawaii.

Wildlife Watching

Many people think of the Northwest or Northeast as the coastal regions to visit for whale watching in the U.S. However, these magnificent creatures also spend their winters in Hawaii, arriving from the Gulf Coast in December.

Thousands of humpback whales migrate to the warm coastal waters off all the Hawaiian Islands in early December. This is the best time to visit Hawaii for whale-watching, and it falls before the busy peak season that begins in mid-December.

snorkeling, honu, turtle

Sea turtles don’t love December in Hawaii as much as whales, however. Though visitors will still spot them, turtles much prefer the calmer waters of Hawaii’s summer months. In December, the turtles will nest on the uninhabited islands of Hawaii.

However, if they are not breeding that season, you can see them hanging around rocky shorelines where they enjoy feasting on algae. Green sea turtles—or honu—are a sign of good luck in Hawaii.

Hiking

hiking on Oahu

Planning a sunset hike or any event in the evening may call for bringing a light jacket if the breeze picks up after the sun goes down. If you seek hiking locales off the beaten path, you will likely be looking at higher elevations and a cooler jaunt.

Volcanoes

lava flow on the Big Island

Park rangers lead free daily walking tours at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park all year long. You’ll find four of Hawaii’s five active volcanoes on the Big Island, with the fifth on Maui.

Holiday Events

Just because you won’t get a white Christmas in Hawaii doesn’t mean you need to leave all your family’s favorite holiday traditions behind. Hawaiian feasts honoring the traditional Makahiki festival are a much-loved part of the Hawaiian Christmas holidays. Enjoy festive fare such as poke, sashimi, turkey, and fruitcake. 

You can also find Christmas carols accompanied by a ukulele and palm trees sparkling with holiday lights. Take in the spectacle of the annual Christmas parade in Lahaina. The favored Christmas flower of many holiday decorating schemes, the poinsettia, blooms in abundance in the Hawaiian climate.

If your idea of the perfect Christmas means good weather, sand, and sunny days galore, visit Hawaii this December.

New Year’s Eve on the Big Island is a celebration for the ages. Yes, revelers will find explosive fireworks displays illuminating the night sky and lighting up in reflection across the glistening water.

You may even consider taking advantage of lower travel costs and lighter crowds in early December. You can then greet your family back on the mainland with a sun-kissed tan and beachy Hawaiian glow for all your family holiday photos.

Sporting Events

If your holidays are more about football than fruit cake, then you’re in luck! The Hawaii Bowl is an annual event at a stadium in the Honolulu suburbs on Oahu’s South Shore.

Excitingly, construction is currently underway in the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District. This development will include a new multi-sport stadium and residential, office, and hotel space. 

Historic Events

Each year, many Americans make the sojourn to Honolulu to remember and honor the men and women lost at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

You can visit Pearl Harbor in the summer season, too. However, the experience may not be quite the same as standing next to veterans at the Pearl Harbor Memorial National Memorial on the day of remembrance.

Accommodations

Hawaii hotel rates are generally lower in the winter and higher in the summer. The exception to this rule is the last two weeks of December, when the holiday season is in full swing. You can do your due diligence by browsing hotel comparison websites to find the best rates—you never know when a last-minute cancellation might result in snagging the perfect room.

If you want to stay away from hotels, you can look for a vacation rental in Hawaii. Be sure to find one that has the proper licensing to operate.

Vacation Rentals

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is working to minimize the impact that tourism has on the natural resources in Hawaii. While they have no say in the number of flights that come into the islands or car rentals available, tourism industry leaders are working with government officials to regulate the number of vehicles on the road and parking at beaches.

Tourists should book accommodations at hotels rather than a private vacation rental listed on websites like VRBO or Airbnb, as Hawaii officials are working to find ways to limit their availability with possible fines.

Hawaii tourism and government officials present these regulations not to decrease tourism but to mitigate the industry’s impact on the environment and permanent residents. Look to utilize options like airport shuttles or hotel shuttles to beaches.

Popularity

Hawaii is a popular destination for families who vacation over the December holidays. Rooms fill up, and rental cars sell out over the last week of December in Hawaii. This is not a good time of year to go unless you have booked your accommodations well in advance.

In the other winter months, you may experience fewer tourists with children. Families with school-age children tend to visit in the summer months when traditional schools are on break. However, this changes in late December when schools are also out for the holiday break.

Oahu is the most popular vacation destination in Hawaii, seeing more than half of the state’s visitors. Oahu’s more than 500,000 arrivals in December is by far the most of any island; however, these numbers are skewed, with most tourists arriving in the last two weeks of the month.

Unlike many other popular tourist destinations—who cram their millions of visitors into a few peak weeks each year—the comfortable climate year-round spreads out these travelers over the months. As a result, the islands may not feel as crowded as their tourism numbers suggest.

Shoulder season is the term used to describe the “in-between” periods of a destination’s most busy and least busy seasons. Hawaii’s shoulder seasons are spring and fall, which is typical for many vacation destinations.

Holidays

The last two weeks of December are one of the peak seasons for Hawaii tourism, with people flocking to the islands’ scenic and serene shorelines.  Late December sees occupancy rates skyrocket to max capacity levels. Planning a last-minute trip will be difficult—if not impossible—during this time.

A better bet for December travel to Hawaii is to avoid the high season and plan your visit in the first two weeks of the last month of the year. Hotel rates will be more affordable than if you delay by just a matter of days and get into the busy holiday season.

When to Book Your Hawaii Vacation

Airfare

There are airports on each of Hawaii’s five main islands for tourists. Some offer direct inbound flights, while for others, you will need to fly out from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Many major airlines offer routes to Hawaii, with either non-stop options or one-stop options through San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and other West Coast airports. 

Accommodations

It is advisable to book your vacation rental in Hawaii as far out as possible. Start looking for options and locking in rates as soon as you have your travel dates nailed down. The rates will only go up the closer you get to your trip.

If the rates go down, you can request an adjustment. If you can’t get a lower rate, it will be worth the difference for the peace of mind you will attain, knowing that your accommodations are secure. Vacation rentals in Hawaii also fill up quickly for the holiday season during the last two weeks of the year.

Car Rental

It is advisable to reserve car rentals in Hawaii as soon as you know what dates you will be on the island. Consider renting a car for the entirety of your trip or just a portion. You may wish to rent a car for one day to explore the island or take you to a destination far away from your hotel accommodations.

Best Bets for December

Activity

Swimming: Maui

Surfing: Oahu

Solitude: Lanai

Fishing: Kailua-Kona

Whale watching: Maui

Travel Dates

For the most affordable rates and greater availability, search for Hawaii arrival and departure dates between December 1 and 21. Rates increase during the Christmas holiday and through the new year, with lower rates returning in early January through early February.

Is December a Good Time to Visit Hawaii?

Unless you dream of Christmas snowflakes and ski runs, you really can’t go wrong with any of the Hawaiian Islands in December. You might even consider delaying your trip until the first week of January. There is no better place to start the new year than surrounded by the absolute magic of a Hawaiian shoreline.

Hawaii sees more than 900,000 visitors in December, with most of these coming in the last two weeks of the year to celebrate the holiday season in paradise. You will not find discounts on travel or accommodations during this time.

Hawaii is an idyllic destination for thrill chasers and solitude seekers alike. The islands are a bucket list destination for young families, retirees, world explorers, honeymooners, adventure seekers, surfers, and spring breakers.

If you’re looking to save money or get the most out of your vacation budget, Hawaii is within reach. Consider ways you can save on the homefront, such as asking family or friends to watch your home and pets instead of paying for a kennel service.

What Is the Best Time to Visit Hawaii?

With proper planning, some research, and outlining your priorities, your dream Hawaii vacation is attainable. Hawaii offers the best weather of many popular destinations, with a comfortably moderate climate and warm air and ocean temperatures at all times. 

The best time to visit Hawaii is the time when you can get away from work for a while. As a premier year-round destination, the best time to visit Hawaii probably depends more on your home life rather than the islands themselves.

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