Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii with blue water and coral reefs

Hawaii in December: A Complete Guide

Most travelers don’t visit Hawaii when the weather’s best here – rather, when it’s at its worst everywhere else. This is why the busy season is usually from mid-December through March or mid-April. If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, the last two weeks of December (around Christmas) are the best time to schedule your vacation. However, this is also one of the most expensive times to travel to Hawaii.

Note on Related Articles: This article is part of a series of articles to help our readers decide which month is best to visit the Hawaiian Islands. If you are thinking of going to Hawaii in a different month, please check out our other articles listed at the end of this one.

December Weather in Hawaii

You can pretty much always expect the weather in Hawaii to be comfortably warm. Daytime temperatures usually reach the low 80s while in the evenings, they tend to stay around the mid to upper 60s (Fahrenheit). A light sweater or jacket is recommended in the evening. 

In most places on Hawaii it rains quiet a lot during this time, so we recommend bringing a rain jacket and umbrella with you.

Average Temperatures

The year-round temperature doesn’t differ much. When you’re at the beach during the day, the temperature can stay around 78°F and become about 10°F cooler at night. However, how warm it is on any given day really depends on where you are on the island.

Water Temperatures

Hawaii attracts a lot of water sports lovers in December because the water tends to be warm and inviting this time of year. If you’re staying in Oahu, swimming can be particularly pleasant with water temperatures around 77°F on average.

Ocean Conditions

Spending time in the ocean is one of the most common ways for visitors to enjoy this paradise island. Depending on which island you’re staying on, you can go surfing, fishing, sailing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, and many other activities in December. Temperatures on the shore of Honolulu are warmer than those of Hilo, but you can still comfortably swim.

Ocean temperatures in December all around the Hawaiian Islands remain around 77-degree Fahrenheit, on average. Of course, you’ll notice slight differences depending on which side of the island you’re on.

Cost to Visit Hawaii in December

The first two weeks of December are relatively cheaper to visit compared to the last two weeks when Christmas and holiday festivities are in full swing. Still, you should be prepared to spend more during your trip since December is considered the “high season”. If you are looking for a cheaper month to visit, September in Hawaii is a good option.

Airfare

Economy-class, round-trip flight tickets to Hawaii from the Midwest or East Coast can cost around $500-$900 or even more during December. The cost of round-trip business class or first class tickets can go upwards of $2,000. We recommend booking your trip 2-3 months in advance – book as early as you can. If you wait until the last possible minute to buy your ticket, you’ll pay much more than if you book at least 30 days in advance.

A good trick to find cheaper tickets is to be flexible in your travel times. For example, a lot of people prefer not to fly before 7-8:00 am or on “red-eye” (overnight) flights. If you’re willing to fly at these less-than-popular hours of the day, you can save a significant amount.

Accommodation

Once Thanksgiving is over hotel rates begin to go down, but they do get back up as the holidays approach. The Christmas week leading up to New Year’s Day can be the most expensive time to book a hotel in Hawaii. On average, hotels can cost about $250-$350 or more in December. Even the most budget-friendly hotels can cost $130-$160 per night on average.

If you have a tight budget, consider staying at a hostel or a rental condo via Airbnb or Booking.com. Many visitors find that VRBO and Airbnb are often cheaper than staying at a hotel.

Keep in mind that Oahu is the cheapest island in Hawaii and you can find a hostel or an Airbnb rental for about $50-$70 per night, even in the peak season.

Another super cheap option is to couch-surf, i.e., staying for free in a local’s home. If you do choose this option, remember to do thorough research before making your decision. It’s not for everyone after all. On the plus side, it’s, well, FREE and a great way to completely immerse yourself in the local culture.

Fun Tip: If you can’t afford to stay at a fancy hotel but still want to enjoy the luxury perks like the spa, sauna, and swimming pool, you can buy a hotel day pass for as little as $25/person. The pass will allow you to hang out at the pool and use several other amenities that only hotel guests get to enjoy.

Car Rental

Renting a car is the best way to explore Hawaii, especially if you’re traveling with kids because you won’t be restricted to activity shuttles or public transportation. That being said, car rental prices in Hawaii are among the highest in the nation.

In off-seasons, renting a car costs around $70-$125/day. In December, you can expect to pay around $80-145/day for the more reasonable vehicles. Larger vehicles and SUVs will be on the higher end.

See Also: Do I need to rent a car in Maui?

Best Times to Book For Your December Vacation

For a December vacation, book your flights, accommodation, and everything else at least 30 days in advance if you can. The week of Thanksgiving is usually the best time to score savings on Christmas travel.

Many people think that booking 2-3 months in advance (for domestic travel) is the best policy – it is, unless you’re traveling during a popular holiday or peak season. Also, you may have heard that last-minute tickets are the cheapest – don’t wait for that, it happens very rarely. Sure, sometimes there can be a short window a couple of weeks out if an airline is trying to fill a plane, but it’s never a guarantee.

Is December Crowded in Hawaii?

The last two weeks sure are. If you don’t like crowds, schedule your trip for the first or second week of December. The end of the month gets really busy here with people flocking to Hawaii for the holidays.

Events in December

Here is what’s happening in the Hawaiian Islands in December:

Oahu

December is when the world’s top professional surfers come together to compete in the Triple Crown of Surfing on the North Shore of Oahu. The prize money is more than $1 million. While you’re there, check out the best food trucks on the North Shore and the best beaches on the North Shore.

The Festival of Lights is also celebrated on all the Hawaiian Islands during December. On Oahu, the mayor performs the ceremony of lighting up a gigantic pine tree and other ancient trees in front of Honolulu Hale.

See Also: 71 Awesome Things to Do on Oahu With Your Family

The Big Island

Held during the second week of December, there’s a stunning Christmas parade along Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona.

The Kona Surf Film Festival is also held this month at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. If you are a wave rider, this is where you can check out some outdoor screenings of independent movies about everything pertaining to waves. No, Fast and Furious will not be shown here!

Maui

There’s the Na Mele O Maui competition held in Kaanapali. It’s a traditional Hawaiian song and art competition held in the first week of December in the ballroom of one of the Kaanapali Resort hotels.

Lahaina Banyan Tree Lighting is another fun event scheduled for December 2nd and 3rd this year. The Banyan Tree Park located in the heart of Lahaina comes alive with all types of entertainment including holiday crafting, face painting, cake decorating, and more. It’s a good place to take your family to.

If you like baked goodies – who doesn’t – you can book a trip on the Maui Sugar Cane Train. Imagine delicious baked treats, live music, a crafts fair, and free toys passed around by the Santa himself. Train rides depart from Pu’ukolii every day during the Christmas week in the evenings. Tickets are $30/person.

Kauai

There’s quite a few things going on in Kauai this month. Let’s start with the Annual Lights on Rice Parade in Lihue. Head over to the historic county building in Lihue where Christmas decorations will light up the whole area, along with a parade down Rice Street and local entertainment.

The Waimea Lighted Christmas Parade is usually held a week before Christmas and is a good way to enjoy the company of locals with scrumptious refreshments and entertainment. 

If you want to see major fireworks, make your way to the Poipu Beach Park on December 31st for some New Year’s Eve festivities.

See Also: Maui Vs. Kauai: Which Island Is Best For You?

Lanai

If you’re in Lanai in early December, you can see the Christmas Festival and a tree lighting ceremony featuring local food, island-style live entertainment (luau), Christmas music, goodie bags for children, and so much more.

Molokai

The Christmas Light Parade in Kaunakakai is filled with holiday arts and crafts and lively music. The parade is usually held in mid-December.

And of course, there’s the Festival of Lights with its floats, marching bands, and other special activities in Kaunakakai.

Water Activities 

While there is your usual swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, and other fun stuff to do in the water here, the best thing to do in Hawaii in December is whale watching!

You don’t even have to head out in a boat – in December, you can see these magnificent sea creatures breach and spy-hop from the shore. If you’re in Maui, one of the best places is McGregor Point located at mile marker 9 along the Honoapiilani Highway.

See Also: The Best 15 Stops on the Road to Hana

You can also book a whale-watching cruise or a snorkel tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to protecting whales from extinction. There are several daily trips you can take out of both Maalaea and Lahaina harbors.

Some other good whale-watching spots on Maui include:

Wailea Beach Marriott Resort: The Hawaii Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary installed a telescope here so people can come and see the whales through it.

Olowalu Reef: Along the straight part of Honoapiilani Highway, between Olowalu and McGregor Point, you may see whales leap out of the water. Their appearance often brings traffic to a screeching halt as people abandon their vehicles and run down to the beach to watch.

Pu’u Olai: It’s a challenging climb up this coastal landmark located near the Maui Prince Hotel, but this is the island’s best spot for off-shore whale-watching.

Another good way to spend your time here is to go boating. One of the most spectacular natural attractions in Hawaii is Kauai’s Napali Coast. There are only two ways to see it – by boat or by helicopter, unless you are willing to make the 22-mile hike.

When the Pacific humpback whales visit Hawaii from December to March, you can watch them from a boat as they swim right by Kauai. Also, there are many freshwater areas in Kauai that you can only access via a boat, such as the Menehune Fish Pond, Huleia and Hanalei national wildlife refuges, Wailua State Park, Fern Grotto, and several waterfalls. It usually costs about $80-$100 per person to book a boat tour. 

Outdoor Activities

One of the most notable outdoor adventures awaiting you on the islands is in Honolulu, Oahu. We are talking about the Honolulu Marathon, the 4th largest marathon in the US. Over 30,000 people participate to run a scenic course of 26.2 miles. 

You can also visit the Haleakala National Park in Maui to go biking, hiking, or just exploring the enchanting forest trails. This is a preserved park with a currently dormant volcano. Legends say the Hawaiian demigod Maui hid the sun inside the forest here because he was trying to make the days longer than the nights. You can either take a hike or drive through the scenic surroundings to the Haleakala crater.

For those who crave a little danger with their adventures, try swimming in Shark’s Cove in North Shore Oahu. But don’t worry, your odds of coming across a shark are actually very low.

And of course, the go-to outdoor event no trip to Hawaii will be complete without – attending a luau!

See Also:

The Best Luau in Oahu: A Complete Guide

The 9 Big Island Luau Shows: Everything you need to know!

25 Best Beaches in Hawaii For A Spectacular Trip

Other Activities Worth Mentioning

Here are some other things you can do in Hawaii during the winter months:

Birding: You’ll see many tropical birds here that are found nowhere else on earth. There are black-winged red birds, curved-bill honeycreepers, and the rare o’o, whose feathers were once used to make capes for the Hawaiian royalty. Molokai and Kauai in particular are wonderful places to spot exotic birds. Molokai’s Kamakou Preserve is home to Molokai creeper and Molokai thrush, which only live on this tiny island.

Body Boarding and Bodysurfing: Becoming one with the rolling water and riding the waves without a board is the way they roll in Hawaii (pun intended). Some bodysurfers use hand boards while some just rely on their hands to ride the waves.

Horseback Riding: Seeing Hawaii on horseback is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You can find riding opportunities on almost all islands, no matter how old you are or what your level of experience is. You can gallop across the wide-open spaces of the Big Island’s Parker Ranch, one of the largest privately-owned ranches in the nation; ride through Oahu’s remote windward valleys on Kualoa Ranch; or ride into Maui’s Haleakala Crater.

FAQs

Is there a hurricane threat in Hawaii in December?

No. June through November is the hurricane season in Hawaii, but still big storms are extremely rare. A storm may occur in December, but the risk of a hurricane during this month is pretty negligible.

Is December a good time to go to Hawaii?

Well, it depends. December falls under the holiday season and Hawaii happens to be one of the most popular vacation destinations for Christmas and New Year. This means December, especially the last two weeks, are crowded and thus expensive.

However, if you want to celebrate Christmas island-style and you can afford it, December can be a stupendous time for your trip.

Is it warm in Hawaii in December?

It’s always warm in Hawaii, but a typical December day sees temperatures in the low 80s, on average. You can expect the evenings to be chilly – it is winter after all. But compared to the rest of the US, we’ll say yes, it stays pretty cozy-warm during this month.

Which part of Hawaii is the warmest in December?

Kauai. The temperatures on all islands don’t vary that much but still, you may find Kauai to be the warmest.

Can you swim in December in Hawaii?

Yes, definitely. The waters are comfortably warm in December; you won’t need a wetsuit.

What part of Hawaii is best to visit in December?

Our vote goes to Oahu because even during the peak Christmas festivities, it stays the least crowded. For those who want to celebrate Christmas in Hawaii on a budget, you can’t pick a better place than Oahu.

What to wear in Hawaii in December?

During the day, we recommend wearing loose, Aloha wear – dresses and skirts for women and t-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, and shorts for men. But you’ll need a light sweater, jacket, sweatshirt, and pants during the evening as it can get chilly.

Plan Your Itinerary  

We hope this guide helped you gain some clarity about what to expect from Hawaii in December. If you need additional help, check out our other Hawaii articles below.

Mahalo for reading our post! Until next time, Aloha!

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