What’s the difference between August and January in Honolulu? About five degrees Fahrenheit and three days of rain.
In other words, yes, it’s a little cooler in Oahu in the winter months, and you’ll likely see a little more precipitation. That said, you can still soak up plenty of warm weather and sunshine, so you can enjoy most of the same Oahu activities whether it’s August or January.
But don’t think that the winter season passes in Oahu with barely a word. Oahu hosts a number of winter activities that give the winter season a festive, holiday air. If you’re thinking of moving to Hawaii and curious about what winter is like in Oahu, we’ll share some ways to enjoy the season on the Gathering Place. (And if you already live on Oahu, maybe we’ll give you some new ideas for winter merry-making!)
Note: COVID-19 restrictions may change the timing or availability of these events, activities, and attractions. Please check the listed websites for up-to-date information before making your final plans.
Run the Honolulu Marathon
When it comes to the things that Hawaii is known for, the superlative “largest” doesn’t usually come into play. However, the Honolulu Marathon is one of the exceptions. It’s the fourth largest marathon in the U.S. overall, and, in 2012, it was the second-largest, just behind the Chicago Marathon.
The Honolulu Marathon, scheduled for the second weekend in December, is also wildly popular among two very specific groups of people:
- First-time marathoners: If you’re going to run 26.2 miles, why not do it on a course that takes you past the spectacular views of Oahu’s coastline and its major landmarks, like Iolani Palace?
- Japanese visitors: In fact, the Honolulu Marathon Association actually has an office in Tokyo to make entry simpler for people living in Japan.
The race also features awards for the fastest Hawaii-born runners and Hawaii state residents—male and female.
Tip: The word kamaaina can mean different things in different contexts. Some kamaaina discounts, for example, are available to anyone with a Hawaii driver’s license. However, when it comes to the Honolulu Marathon, the kamaaina division is reserved for those born and residing in Hawaii. If you live in Hawaii but were born elsewhere, you’ll be placed in the Hawaii Resident category.
Discover more and register at: HonoluluMarathon.org
Hit the Legendary North Shore, a.k.a. “The Seven-Mile Miracle”
Many of the best surfers in the world make an annual pilgrimage to Oahu’s North Shore to surf the world’s best—and most challenging—waves. Major winter storms in the Pacific from roughly October through March bring massive swells to the “seven-mile miracle,” drawing surfers to Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, Pipeline, and many more breaks to try their hand at big wave surfing. During the winter season, the North Shore also hosts several professional surf contests, including the Vans Triple Crown, where the latest and greatest surfers have the opportunity to show off their skills and maybe just become the next Kelly Slater.
If you’re interested in catching a comp, check out the WSL’s website: WorldSurfLeague.com
Because the weather stays warm year-round in Oahu, if surfing isn’t your style, you can also simply head to the North Shore to enjoy a beach day on one of Oahu’s gorgeous white sand beaches. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, try Haleiwa Beach Park.
Take a Tube Ride at the Christmas Celebration at the Hukilau Marketplace
Snow does grace Hawaii’s highest peaks in the winter. Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island regularly see snow, and you’ll occasionally catch a glimpse of it on Maui’s Haleakala. However, you might not think that you’d get the chance to see it on Oahu, let alone in Laie.
However, if you stop by the Christmas Celebration at Hukilau Marketplace on their Snow Day, your keiki can enjoy an inner tube ride on the white stuff that will put the merriest of winter smiles on their faces. You’ll also find live music, a live Nativity, selfies with Santa himself, and more, all at the entrance to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
To see the full schedule of events, visit the Polynesian Cultural Center website: Polynesia.com/christmas
Get into the Spirit with Honolulu City Lights
It’s not just a popular song by legendary slack-key guitarist Keola Beamer. The Honolulu City Lights is a month-long celebration, presented by the City and County of Honolulu and the Friends of Honolulu City Lights, which includes holiday light displays and activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Stroll on over to Honolulu Hale on a balmy winter night to catch the mayor lighting the city’s traditional 50-foot tree, and don’t forget to wave to Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele who preside over all the merry-making from their spot on the Honolulu Hale Fountain.
In addition to all the dazzling light displays, the Honolulu City Lights festival also includes a holiday concert, a light parade, vendor booths and rides, and photos with Santa.
For the full events schedule, visit: HonoluluCityLights.org
Take a Turn Around the Rink at Honolulu’s Ice Palace
If inner tubing in the show at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s celebration left your kids with a taste for winter sports, head on over to Hawaii’s only full-service ice skating rink, Ice Palace Hawaii. While the skating rink is open year-round, during the holiday season, it might just offer you that wintry blast you need to get yourself in the spirit. Plus, you can join the ranks of legendary skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who has taken her own turn around the rink.
The best part? Adults who are chaperoning young skaters (and not skating themselves!) don’t need to pay the admission fee. Skate rentals are available, just in case you’ve taken our advice and left your winter gear behind when moving to Hawaii.
For hours of operation, visit: IcePalaceHawaii.com
Shop the Post-Thanksgiving Holiday Craft Fairs
If you weren’t able to clean up on Black Friday, you can still get a head start on your holiday shopping the weekend after Thanksgiving at the Mission Houses craft fair, one of the oldest in Honolulu—and one that focuses on made-in-Hawaii items your family and friends on the mainland will love. In addition to art, jewelry, pottery, clothing, and accessories, you’ll also enjoy local food and music while you’re shopping.
Additionally, the Kawaiahao Church right across the street also holds its craft fair on the same day. Hit both, and you’ll have plenty of gift ideas so you can take care of everyone on your list.
Keep Your Eyes out for Kohola
The return of winter also means the return of the humpback whales, who travel to Hawaii’s warmer waters every year to breed and give birth to new calves. Hop a boat tour to view these majestic creatures, or simply make your way to Hanauma Bay or the Makapuu Lighthouse and . . . be patient.
During peak whale-watching season (roughly January–March), it might only take a few minutes for you to spot a tail slap or a whale spout. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a full breach, or even see one of these gentle giants demonstrating these skills to their keiki. There’s nothing quite so “aww”-inspiring as watching a young whale attempt one of its very first breaches.
Just a gentle reminder: Regulations prohibit boats from getting within 100 yards of a whale, and you shouldn’t attempt to swim with or touch any whales you might encounter in the wild. By keeping your distance, you’ll avoid inadvertently stressing these monumental mammals or accidentally diverting them from crucial activities like feeding.
Make Oahu Your Winter Wonderland
If you’re used to seasonal swings on the mainland, Oahu’s weather might not feel very wintry to you. (Although, when you live here long enough, you’ll start to recognize that subtle shift in the weather!) That said, there are plenty of special activities and holiday events during Oahu’s winter season that will help you and your family make plenty of merry.
Thinking of moving to Oahu? We’d love to help! After helping tens of thousands of families and individuals relocate to Hawaii, we know how to help you make a safe, easy, and affordable move. It all starts with a complimentary quote from one of our experts.