So you’re dreaming of an island paradise…now the only question is, when should you travel to Hawaii?
Or perhaps more importantly, which island would you like to visit? I’ll cover basic climate info for 3 to help you decide when the weather is best. Then, I’ve got some of my dos and don’ts from our latest visit.
Regardless of which island you visit, it’s important to note that the waves are highest on the north side of the islands in the winter and then switch to the south side in the summer. So if you’re planning a sea kayaking adventure on the north shore in December…I’ll be praying for you.
Honolulu, the most popular destination in Hawaii and likely where you’ll have to connect through even if you’re heading to another island, has a pretty steady tropical climate. Temperature wise, you can’t go wrong. In January/February, average highs are around 80* with lows in the mid 60s—this is the coolest time of the year. Peak heating is in August/September with high temperatures creeping near 90* in the afternoon and dipping to the mid 70s at night.
Where you can go wrong in Hawaii is rainfall. Most activities will be outdoors so downpours are your worst enemy. The interesting thing about Oahu is that the number of days with rain doesn’t change by much, you’re going to see 11-15 days a month on average with precipitation. So statistics say that no matter when you visit, you will likely see rain. How much rain can make all the difference. Heavy rainshowers are common from October to March, this poses a problem for hiking because heavy rain means unsafe conditions even after it stops raining. Lighter rainshowers are more common from April to September which means that even if it does rain, your day is likely still salvageable.
The east side of the island (otherwise known as Cinnamon’s…scroll down to hear about this glorious spot) sees more rain than the west side but the beaches are also wayyyy cooler here because of it. You’re essentially butted up against towering cliffs and rainforest, while at the coast it can be clear and beautiful.
It’s nicknamed The Garden Island for a reason—Mount Waialeale boasts the most rain in the United States and top 3 wettest in the world! Farther north with more rain means a slightly cooler climate than Oahu. But don’t worry, it’s not all-rain-all-the-time.
Basing our stats on the main airport at Lihue, high temperatures in the Winter (December to March) are in the upper 70s while at night you may need a sweater as it dips into the humid mid 60s. Temperatures slowly warm through the Spring and Summer, topping out in the mid 80s in August/September.
Alright, the important stuff. Rain. You can’t hike the Kalalau Trail in the rain and TRUST ME, you want to hike this trail. Like the rest of the Hawaiian chain, your driest months will be April-September.
Scroll up and re-read the Oahu section. The two islands have nearly identical climates.
One of my parent’s favorite stories comes from when I was about 5 years old on a dinner cruise in Hawaii. I was such a ham Hula Dancing with the band the entire cruise that I had a crowd by the end and was taking photos with other tourists like a celebrity. My poor parents, I thank them every day for tolerating me.
Family Favorite: Outrigger Reef, Waikiki Beach Resort. Great location and as a kid I would gorge on the Guava Juice at the breakfast buffet. Great swimming and beach right in front of the hotel, this spot still rocks, even though it has likely been 20 years since I have stayed there.
Nearly two decades passed between the times I visited Hawaii as a child and when I went March 2015 as an adult. So let’s focus more on our romantic trip for two to Kauai and Oahu.
First stop, Kauai. No matter where you’re coming from, you can count on going through Honolulu with a layover before getting to the other islands. Even if you’re coming from the U.S. you will have to change terminals here, the puddle jumpers between islands are located in a different part of the airport. Just follow the signs, it’s an easy walk.
By the time we got to Lihue, the main airport on Kauai, we were pretty worn out. I would highly, highly recommend renting a car here. It’s extremely easy driving.
Can I take a moment to bask in the glory that was the Grand Hyatt Kauai?? After such a long day of travel from Atlanta to Koloa, we were immediately greeted with gorgeous leis; mine was made from orchids and Michael’s was Kukui Nuts. Even though it was late, their cafe that overlooks the grounds to the south was still open and we had one of our best meals of the trip! Eat the Mahi Mahi sandwich. Just do it.
The ground were spectacular but we went on an hour long hunt for a hot tub one of our nights to enjoy the stars and came up empty handed. It’s a maze! Tidepools restaurant is extremely romantic; the Koi fish swimming beneath your feet as you hear the Pacific crashing the in background made for an unforgettable dining experience.
The #1 thing we wanted to do in Kauai was hike the Napali Coast! The Kalalau trail entrance is right by Ke’e Beach on the north side of the island. The entire trail takes days of hiking and special permits for camping, so we were just shooting for a visit to the first beach on the trail, approximately two miles in. And boy did we try hard to get to that beach.
Remember when I told you about how rainy Kauai can be? We were there in March, one of the wetter months, and it rained every single day of our 10 in Hawaii. The day of the Kalalau trail was by far the most disappointing. Being meteorologists, we were optimistic! We knew there was rain in the forecast but we traveled all this way for the views. We started the hike with some sprinkles, enjoying the spectacular sights as you climb upwards…but those sprinkles soon became downpours and the hike became dangerous. The soil was slick and the side of the cliffs were way too close for comfort, so at mile 1.5, we turned back. I’m glad we did! You pass several waterfalls on the hike, by the time we saw them a second time these tiny creeks had become gushing rivers, challenging to cross. Additionally, the road in and out of the area had several spots of rushing water over the road that could have become very dangerous very quickly. So watch the forecast closely when you go!
Hanalei is a great spot on the northside for a drink and bite to eat, we enjoyed the rain much more when we could enjoy the volcanic peaks of the island and moody clouds on a covered terrace.
On the drier side of the island is Waimea Canyon, known as The Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This is definitely worth a drive around, there are spots to pull off and enjoy the view. Don’t miss the little towns you drive through along the way, you’ll find incredible local artwork. Tapa Cloth paintings were by far my favorite, we have an incredible octopus that now hangs in our living room.
Our second half of the day we planned a sunset cruise to see the Napali coast from the sea, one of the few ways you can truly appreciate the beauty. Blue Dolphin Sunset Cruise was one of the worst decisions we have made yet.
Now, I vet every part of a trip in every way I can. Also, both my fiance and I are meteorologists, so we are constantly checking the weather and ocean conditions. We called twice to confirm our sunset cruise was still on although it was raining. Turned out rain was the very least of our worries.
We left from the south side of the island on a catamaran and started north toward the gorgeous coast (you may recognize it from the opening scenes of Jurassic Park)…as soon as we hit the northwest side of the island, all hell broke loose. These were not typical waves and they were most certainly not waves that you should be on a catamaran. People were getting sick everywhere. Several times the boat had to stop because the waves were just too powerful and you could hear load cracks every time the boat would slam down between waves.
On the upside, the brief peek of the infamous coast was nothing short of awesome. Also, the 20 foot waves (yes, 20 feet, we went back and checked buoy data afterward) made for some epic humpback whale breaches all around us!
Next up was Oahu! It’s not necessary to rent a car here if you are staying in Honolulu, in fact, I would recommend against it, the traffic is ungodly. But, if you’re looking to explore the island, I highly recommend a convertible. My better half actually had to do a bit of work while we were there (he wrote the course on Hurricanes for FEMA and was delivering the final product) so he sent me for a spa day…did I pick a winner or what? If you’re trying to decide where to stay in Waikiki, do the Moana Surfrider. One of the oldest hotels on the island, it is spectacular. The location couldn’t be better and the spa…ohhhh the spa…is nirvana.
First of all, go east. Go to Cinnamon’s restaurant for breakfast. Get the red velvet pancakes. Everyone will tell you to do this and they are not wrong. I’m not even a red velvet person and they were beyond description. Also, the Pork Kalua Benedict. Seriously!
Once you’re fat and happy, head immediately to Lanikai Beach and fight for a spot to park alongside the road, you have to find the paths between houses to make it down to the beach. Spectacular day!
Of course, Pearl Harbor is a must. I would recommend booking a time online for early in the day. No matter when you go it is busy and unfortunately they restrict the amount of time you are allowed on the bridge over the USS Arizona.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Hanauma Bay. This is a spot I have been coming since a kid and it is still remarkable. Be prepared to wait for a long time and they have a cut off after a certain number of people are in the park. Before the park even open there is a line of cars that is shockingly long, so get there early. The snorkeling is wonderful here and there is something magical about swimming in a 32,000 year old crater created the last time the east side of Oahu was violently erupting.
A must-do is having a Mai Tai at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian at sunset. Waikiki Beach is beyond packed at sunset, but it’s for good reason. It is insanely gorgeous. You will be hard pressed to find a better sunset in the world. Also, the Mai Tai at this place is legit.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!