The question of the best time to visit Hawaii is a tricky one. Sure, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world—and for good reasons: the magnificent and lush landscape, the ocean waves ripe for surfing, the culinary fusion of various Pacific foodways, and the local cultures worth understanding, remembering, and honoring. One easy, simplistic answer to “when is the best time to visit Hawaii?” is that, well, it’s always a good time to visit Hawaii. But because the destination is so popular, considering the effects of overtourism is key to timing your visit.
Over the years, the tourism industry in Hawaii has swelled to comprise a quarter of the state’s economy. As such, it suffered financially during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, when tourism was limited due to travel restrictions; at its worst, the state’s unemployment rate soared from 3% to 22%. Conversely, in that time, the land’s (and sea’s) flora and fauna flourished; after the temporary closure of Hanauma Bay, a snorkel site that usually saw 3,000 daily visitors before the pandemic, researchers in Oahu witnessed an increase in fish life and improved coral health in the waters.
The last few years have underscored the complicated truth: Tourism is both an integral part of Hawaii as well as a burden on its people and ecosystem. Just this summer, devastating wildfires swept through Maui, leaving the town of Lahaina, a historically and culturally significant site, particularly decimated. As Maui continues to grieve and rebuild, tourists—past, present, and future—must shoulder their due responsibility and consider their impact on the land and its residents, regardless of whichever part of Hawaii they visit. So perhaps the question isn’t just when to visit Hawaii, but also how.
Travelers, no matter the season, will always come to Hawaii to experience everything it has to offer—and that should include listening to and learning from the communities that live there year-round. “Hawaii is a tapestry beyond just sunsets and tropical drinks,” says Robert Friedl, general manager of Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui. To connect more closely and effectively with Hawaii, Friedl recommends booking tours and activities operated by locals, visiting local markets and supporting Hawaiian artisans, and endorsing (and doing your research on) businesses committed to environmental conservation, sustainable tourism, and the well-being of the local population.
Not sure where or how to begin? Let Hawaii’s locals lead the way. “We know Hawaii. We want to show you the right places to visit,” says Joy Stedman, the business development executive at Timbers Kaua‘i at Hōkūala and a Native Hawaiian, born and raised in the state. She suggests talking to a hotel concierge or a local travel specialist who can direct you to expert guides or book activities for you that do not disrupt (and might even help) neighboring communities. Not only will you be traveling more carefully, your visit—any time of year—will likely be all the more memorable and special for it.