January in Hawaii: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

A rainbow over the beach in Kauai, Hawaii

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Hawaii is one of those rare places where visitors don’t necessarily need to plan their vacations around the weather. The island state boasts pleasant temperatures and plenty of things to see and do no matter what time of the year, and the month of January is just as nice as any other in Hawaii.

As with most tourist-related activities in Hawaii, the best time of year really depends on which island you’re visiting. Parts of Maui and Hawaii Island will be a bit colder, while Kauai will likely see more rain than the others. On Oahu, the biggest obstacle is the crowds, but that tends to be overshadowed by the larger number of attractions. The months of June and July are typically the busiest tourist months on all of the major islands, followed only closely by December, so don’t be surprised if you catch some straggling crowds in January.

Big Wave Season

Hawaii’s largest waves of the year hit the north shores of the islands from November to February, so it is important to be aware of your ocean surroundings if you’re visiting the state in January. Unless you are an experienced professional surfer, don’t plan on paddling out or taking surf lessons on the north sides of any of the islands (though the south ends, like Waikiki, are usually nice and calm during this time). The bright side of these big waves is that they are super fun to watch, at a safe distance, of course! You can spectate surfers on every island, but some of the best in the world are on Oahu's north shore.

Hawaii Weather in January

January maintains the state’s average daytime temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit, with the only exception of being slightly colder in the evenings (which really depends on if you consider the mid-high 60s to be cold). There is also a higher chance of rain in January, which may put some travelers off; but remember, this is the tropics and the rain is what helps give Hawaii its signature rainbows, lush forests, flowers, and fresh air.

  • Average high temperature in January: 80 degrees F (27 degrees C)
  • Average low temperature in January: 65 degrees F (19 degrees C)

Expect an average monthly rainfall of 9.4 inches in January. Daylight hours don’t change much in this state throughout the year, and January usually sees about 11 hours of daylight. Same with swimming temperatures, which average just above 76 degrees F ( 24 degrees C) during this time. However, the biggest temperature changes at Hawaii’s beaches are due to the wind, and January has some of the calmest breezes of the year. You’ll definitely want to cool off at the beach if you’re affected by high humidity, as January is the state’s most humid month at 73 percent average relative humidity.

What to Pack

Since Hawaii’s temperatures don’t change much throughout the year, what you pack on a Hawaiian vacation should depend on which island you’re traveling to and what type of activities you have planned. Definitely throw a stack of bathing suits, sandals, shorts, and T-shirts into your suitcase, but be prepared for lower nighttime temperatures with a light jacket and maybe even a raincoat and umbrella if you’re staying on Kauai or parts of Maui. If you plan on visiting Maui’s Haleakala or Hawaii Island’s Mauna Kea for sunset (one of our favorite activities), warm clothes will be a must, since temperatures can reach below freezing on the summits of these mountains. Since rain is nearly impossible to avoid in January, bug spray, good hiking shoes, and rain gear are an excellent idea if you plan to hike.

January Events in Hawaii

Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii in the winter, and January is one of the peak months to see them no matter which island you’re on. Whether you opt for a designated tour, a hiking trail with sweeping ocean views, or just a well-planned lookout point visit, don’t miss a chance to watch these beautiful, unique creatures in their natural state. While visitors in January will most likely miss out on any traditional holiday activities unless it is early on in the month, they will still be able to enjoy Chinese New Year, a couple of festivals, the Sony Open, and surf competitions.

  • Chinese New Year: Every year from mid-January to early March, Hawaii celebrates the beginning of the lunar year with Chinese New Year. Chinatown on the island of Oahu opens up its Chinatown Cultural Plaza to traditional lion and dragon dances, local entertainment, and ethnic dishes. Other islands, like Maui and Big Island, have their own celebrations with lion dances and cultural demonstrations, as well.
  • Sony Open and Sentry Tournament of Champions: The Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui and the Sony Open on Oahu take place every January, attracting some of the world’s best golfers and most avid golf fans. 
  • Pacific Island Arts Festival: Held in Honolulu’s Kapiolani Park, the annual Pacific Island Arts Festival is a free event that gives visitors the opportunity to view and purchase work from more than 75 Hawaii artists. The festival is within short walking distance for those who are staying in Waikiki, and also includes local music and hula dancing.
  • Waimea Ocean Film Festival: This unique film festival showcases more than 60 films, paired with filmmaker Q&A’s, presentations, and panel discussions at three luxury resorts along the Big Island’s stunning Kohala Coast.
  • The Eddie: While the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is usually over by late December, The Eddie Big Wave Invitational holds an extra special place in the hearts of Hawaii’s surfers. Named for famous lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau, this contest is only held when the waves are exceptionally massive, so it has only happened nine times since 1984. The contest has a three-month window from December through February at Oahu’s Waimea Bay, so surfers everywhere keep a close eye on the surf in hopes of an opportunity to experience The Eddie for themselves in the winter months.

January Travel Tips

  • To avoid the rain as much as possible on a trip to Hawaii in January, head towards the Kohala Coast on Hawaii Island. This part of the island is sunny almost year-round, getting only about 10 inches of rain per year. On that same note, those who want to stay away from the rain should avoid Kauai, which is the state’s rainiest island by far, especially in January.
  • The long weekend that corresponds with Martin Luther King Jr. Day will probably have the largest crowds. If you’re planning a trip around the third Monday in January, book your plane tickets and hotel accommodations as early as possible.
  • Crowds and traffic on the north shores of the islands, especially on Oahu, will likely be worse due to large waves and surf competitions, so plan accordingly by giving yourself extra driving time.

Learn more about January on the islands with our complete guide to the best time to visit Hawaii.