Should You Choose a California or Hawaii Vacation in 2024?

Considering Hawaii vs California for vacation? I get it- that’s a tough decision! Both states have gorgeous beaches, cool cities, and incredible natural beauty. But they have a lot of differences, too.

As a full-time professional travel blogger, I’ve gotten to visit Hawaii six times. I also graduated from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. And after living in LA for four years, visiting various other parts of the state, and visiting Hawaii so many times, I feel uniquely equipped to compare these two great states!

Since both are such great travel options, it can be hard to choose just one! That’s why I’ve created this guide to visiting Hawaii vs California, so you can take a closer look at the differences and details of both and decide which option is right for you. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!

California vs Hawaii: What is each famous for?

Both Hawaii and California are famous vacation spots, known around the world as popular tourist destinations. But each of these states bring different things to mind when analyzing why they are famous. Let’s compare!

California

Palm trees and sunshine on Ocean Drive

Has any other state been featured so much in song lyrics? Is any other state as talked about? I don’t know- maybe Texas (and I might be biased since I’m based in Dallas and love country music). But it sure feels like California is one of the most popular states in the US, and I understand why!

There’s no shortage to its fame, from TV shows (especially featuring the rich and famous in shows like Selling Sunset, The OC, and 90210), Disneyland, Hollywood, national parks, beaches, and so much more. Let’s go into a bit more detail on a few of these:

Hollywood

As you’ve probably guessed, Hollywood and the media and movie industry are one of the main things that make California such a famous place. This global industry located in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles plays a prominent role in influencing the US and really, the entire world. (It is also just down the road from USC, which made for some great people watching!)

Silicon Valley

Although Hollywood is one of the major industries in California, Silicon Valley is not far behind. In recent years, Silicon Valley has become one of the major economic forces in the state and the country. One of the wealthiest areas in the world, this tech hub is located between San Jose and Palo Alto south of the San Francisco Bay. It’s home to major technology, internet, and software companies.

Yosemite National Park

That’s hubby at Yosemite when we were just kids, dating in college! We took a trip that we’ll never forget with friends to Yosemite!

California has a variety of national parks, but Yosemite is probably the most famous. This natural landmark is not only that, but is also one of the most iconic wonders of the US and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. Yosemite receives more than 3 million visitors a year who explore its old redwoods, huge meadows, stunning cliffs, and deep valleys.

Hawaii

If California is a popular state for its nature and tourist attractions, Hawaii is even more of an oasis. This mesmerizing state boasts picturesque landscapes, delicious food, rich history and culture, and a pristine coastline home to volcanoes and a variety of flora and fauna.

It’s made up of several islands, the most popular being Oahu (home to Honolulu), Maui, Hawai’i aka ‘The Big Island,’ Kauai, Lanai, and Molokai. Here are a few things that it is most famous for:

Honolulu

Tantalus Lookout view of Honolulu

Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, located on the south coast of Oahu, has a population of about one million people. The importance of this region, which is a natural harbor, is reflected in its very name, which means “protected harbor.” Also located here is Waikiki, a famous area that is home to the best restaurants, clubs, shopping, and magnificent hotels, all with the volcanic crater of Diamond Head as a backdrop. It’s also right next to the world-famous Pearl Harbor.

Volcanoes

Haleakala National Park in Maui

Volcanoes are another of Hawaii’s highlights and one of its most prominent features.

Did you know that the Hawaiian islands were entirely formed from volcanic activity? And they are still growing… within the next 100,000 years, the next Hawaiian island (Kamaʻehuakanaloa) will peek above the water’s surface! (Fun fact: it is currently growing at the rate that our fingernails grow!)

Each island is made up of one or more volcanoes. There are currently 6 active and 6 dormant volcanoes; two of the most active volcanoes on earth, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, are located on the Big Island.

Surfing

woman surfing banzi pipeline oahu
Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline

For those who enjoy riding big waves and diving into clear ocean waters, Hawaii is the perfect location for that. Here tons of surfers of all levels gather to enjoy the challenging and exhilarating waves and the relaxed atmosphere while being surrounded by scenic views.

While California is great for surfers, Hawaii is one of the most iconic surf destinations in the world. The Banzai Pipeline, located on Oahu’s North Shore, has consistent swells in the winter, making that the best time for reliable surfing. It’s home to the Billabong Pipe Masters. The North Shore also houses two of Hawaii’s other biggest surf competitions: Reef Hawaiian Pro and the Vans World Cup of Surfing.

California vs Hawaii: Types of Nature

When you compare types of nature you’ll find in California vs Hawaii, at first glance, these two states may seem similar. You’ve got palm trees, mountains, waterfalls, and beaches- right?

Well, these states have a lot more differences than they have similarities, in my opinion. All it takes is peeking out your airplane window as you’re flying over these states to see just how different they are.

Start by sheer size- Hawaii covers 10,931 mi² while California takes up a whopping 163,696 mi². Since Hawaii is so small, it’s much easier to experience the best of an island in one or two visits, whereas it would take countless visits (or one really long and epic van trip) to experience all of California!

Additionally, Hawaii is way more tropical than California’s drier lands. And while both have volcanoes, Hawaii’s are far more active and noticable. While most of California’s mountains come in the form of towering rocks, Hawaii’s lush mountains look straight out of Jurassic Park.

Let’s look more in depth at the types of nature you’ll find in these two paradises.

California

San Luis Obispo, California

Palm trees, epic redwoods, towering cliffs, rugged coastlines, dry deserts, pristine beaches, practically eternal sunshine… these things come to mind when thinking about California nature.

California is known for being one of the most naturally diverse states in the United States, so you’ll have no trouble finding the ecosystem of your choice. Its golden sandy beaches, forests, mountains, rivers and lakes, wetlands and estuaries, grasslands, and hills will enchant any traveler.

And though it’s famous for being warm and sunny, it might surprise you that you can also find snow in the mountains, too!

For California’s best nature, check out these stunning places (note: since California is so big, most visitors visit one or two of these places in one visit):

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Redwoods National Park
  • Alabama Hills
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Southern California’s beaches
  • The fertile vineyards of Napa Valley
  • Big Sur’s rugged coastline

Hawaii

A beach sunset on the Big Island

As almost everyone knows, Hawaii has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But did you know that they have almost every color of sand? You’ll find white, yellow, red, green, and black sand beaches on The Big Island! Additionally, crystal-clear waters surround the islands, making Hawaiian beaches all that more enchanting.

Hawaii’s various national parks also offer tourists the opportunity to hike, bike, or sightsee throughout the vast islands and witness their unique landscapes.

Because of each island’s relatively small size, you can easily swim in the ocean, dip your toes in the sand, go to the summit of a mountain, do an epic hike, see a volcano, chase waterfalls, snorkel or scuba dive, and see animals all on one trip. (Whereas in California, it would take considerably more time to do all of that!)

However, even though each island is small, it would still take weeks of island hopping to see the whole state of Hawaii. If you haven’t been, most visitors just go to one or two islands on a trip to Hawaii. Personally, I recommend at least 4 days on each island, ideally more.

For Hawaii’s best and most dramatic nature, check out these places (I’ll cover them in more detail in the next section!):

  • Kauai’s Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks
  • Kauai’s Na Pali Coast
  • Maui’s Haleakala National Park
  • Maui’s Road to Hana
  • Oahu’s Diamond Head Crater
  • Oahu’s North Shore
  • The Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park
  • Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on The Big Island

Also, I have blog posts about the most Instagrammable places on Maui, the Big Island, Kauai, and Oahu if you’re interested in a visual guide to these places!

California vs Hawaii: Notable Destinations

Due to its size, California has way more notable destinations compared to Hawaii. While this isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it’s something to consider when you’re thinking about which state to visit on vacation.

For California, you’ll really want to narrow down where you want to visit since it’s practically impossible to see the whole state on one trip. You can choose whether you want a city vacation, a trip to a charming small town, travels more focused on epic nature, or a combination of these. Since there are so many notable destinations in California, and I listed its most popular nature spots earlier, I’ll talk about California’s best cities and towns in this section.

Meanwhile, Hawaii doesn’t have many big cities besides Waikiki on Oahu, so in this section I’ll describe some of its most notable nature destinations. They are the main attraction for Hawaii, anyway!

California

As I’ve said, California is a very large, diverse state making its notable destinations hard to mention briefly. That said, I’ll do my best to list some of the most popular cities and small towns in the state.

Los Angeles

My 18 year old self with my college bestie at a USC football game

I graduated from the University of Southern California and lived in Los Angeles for about four years. That said, even though I spent plenty of time there, this was before my days as a travel blogger, so I certainly didn’t explore the area as thoroughly as I would now. However, one thing I’ll mention about Los Angeles is that it’s a big enough city to where you can find almost anything you’re looking for there.

Famous sites in Los Angeles include the Griffith Observatory (especially for epic views!), LACMA, Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood.

I think a lot of people have unrealistic perceptions of Los Angeles (both positive and negative) when really it’s a super diverse place encompassing beach towns, suburban neighborhoods, urban high rises, and so much more. Any type of traveler will find something they like in LA!

San Francisco

Views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

I used to love traveling up to the bay area for the annual USC game against Stanford or Cal. At ‘SC, we affectionately refer to this excursion as “The Weekender.” It was always such a fun time to go on adventures with friends, explore NorCal, and (hopefully) beat a rival in football.

With often noticeably cooler temperatures than you’ll find in Southern California, chances are you’ll need a jacket most of the year in San Francisco. (I was woefully unaware of this and showed up to SF in shorts, sandals, and tees my first year visiting… Cue immediate stop to H&M to buy a sweater!)

When in San Francisco, some musts include exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, riding the trolley, and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Diego

Fairmont Grand del Mar near San Diego

I’ve visited San Diego a couple of times now. This stunning part of Southern California has so much to offer- I love San Diego! It feels like a more relaxed, family-friendly Los Angeles.

From Balboa Park (home to the San Diego Zoo, gorgeous gardens, and 17 museums) and Torrey Pines State Park (go here for sunset!) to La Jolla (charming beach town, anyone?) and coves and beaches, San Diego has so much to offer!

Of course, there’s plenty more to say about San Diego. Check out my Instagrammable Places in San Diego post for a visual guide of this city!

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo from Terrace Hill

If you’re surprised to see this spot on this list, I understand! You may have never heard of San Luis Obispo. I wouldn’t have known much about SLO or thought to include it here except that their tourism board reached out to me to visit years ago and I fell in love with it!

Located almost exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, SLO is a much smaller California city but that’s part of its charm. You can easily walk around the downtown area, drive to the surrounding wineries, eat at plenty of farm-to-table restaurants, and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery!

Read about the best things to do in San Luis Obispo here!

Newport Beach

Balboa Island in Newport Beach

Located in beautiful Orange County, Newport Beach is one of my favorite places to visit in California. Much less city-like than nearby Los Angeles, this area comes with classy vibes, chill beach hangs, and beautiful scenery.

If you decide to explore Newport Beach, one of my favorite places is Balboa Island. It’s one of the most charming towns I’ve visited! You’ll find its walkable main street and gorgeous cottages in a prime location. Check out nearby Lido Village, rent a Duffy boat, and grab an oversized chocolate-covered-strawberry from Balboa Island Berries while you’re here. See the best things to do in Balboa Island here!

Hawaii

There is so much to say about each island of Hawaii that I couldn’t possibly include it all in this post. The good news is, you can read a lot about Hawaii in my other blog posts! Instead, here I’ll list my favorite things about each island and then a link to read more about the island!

You can also check out my Guide to Choosing the Right Hawaiian Island to help you decide which island is best for you!

Oahu

The beautiful Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Oahu

I snapped this shot at the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden when I last visited Oahu. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the island!

Here are some more epic things to do on Oahu:

  • Hike Diamond Head Crater- situated next to Waikiki, a roughly 30-minute hike up this extinct volcanic crater brings you to a lookout point with incredible views over Honolulu. 
  • The North Shore- stop at food trucks and watch surfers on the Bonzai Pipeline.
  • Kualoa Ranch- sign up for a tour at Kuoloa Ranch (where they filmed a lot of Jurassic Park!).

Check out my best things to do in Oahu post for a full list of things to do!

Maui

Haleakala National Park on Maui

I got this photo at Haleakala National Park which is one of my favorite places in Maui. You can drive to the summit to get epic views above the clouds.

Some of my other favorite things to do on Maui include:

  • Iao Valley State Park- you’ll find beautiful rugged mountains and a river you can swim in!
  • The Road to Hana- this famous road goes along its eastern coast until you reach Hana. Most of the drive goes through a lush canopy and there are countless waterfalls and rivers to see along the way!
  • Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm- I love this unique thing to do in Maui! After you explore the lavender farm, grab a lavender scone and a lavender lemonade at the gift shop!

Again, for a much more complete list, check out my list of things to do in Maui!

Kauai

pu'u o'kila lookout
The view from Kokee State Park

I really loved the views at Kokee State Park on Kauai pictured above! In addition to Kokee State Park, here are my other favorite places on Kauai:

  • Waimea Canyon State Park- the red cliffs of Waimea Canyon are unlike the rest of Hawaii! There’s a reason this place is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific!
  • Na Pali Coast- dramatic Jurassic Park-esque cliffs on Kauai’s northwestern shore. You can only see the Na Pali Coast from a boat on the water, via helicopter ride, or by hiking.
  • Hanalei Bay- this is the prettiest beach in Kauai to me! You get to see crystal clear waters on a crescent-shaped beach with a dramatic mountain backdrop.

For more epic things to do and see on Kauai, check out my Kauai itinerary!

The Big Island

The view from Waipio Valley on the Big Island

If you’re looking for epic views on the Big Island, Waipio Valley is definitely a place to check out! But there’s so much more to the Big Island; here are a few favorites:

  • Volcanoes National Park- check beforehand if there’s any volcanic activity (like active lava flows) that you can look at up close! That’s the real highlight!
  • Snorkel with Manta Rays- one of the coolest animal encounters you can do in Hawai’i is swimming with manta rays at night. Sounds scary, but it really isn’t! The rays dance and gracefully flip underneath you in a magical display. It’s truly one of my favorite animal experiences!
  • Stay at the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls– when you stay at this B&B, you get exclusive access to their on-site waterfall. It’s one of the only falls you can swim in on the Big Island!

You can read more about the Big Island in my things to do on the Big Island post.

California vs Hawaii: Cost to Visit

Now that we’ve covered physical differences between California vs Hawaii, let’s look into something that is a bit less visible: cost.

The first thing to consider is usually flights. It is highly probable that flights to California will be cheaper than flights to Hawaii, though we have scored some major deals with Southwest flying to Hawaii.

Also when considering flights, Hawaii is much further of a flight than California is, which may affect your decision if you’re flying with kids or babies.

Now let’s go into more detail with other expenses you’ll incur on a trip to each of these destinations.

Hawaii

Shot at our stay at the Andaz on Maui! Check out Maui’s best luxury hotels here.
Hawaii Travel Costs

Use the tool above to get a sense of vacation costs in Hawaii and know that Hawaii is generally more expensive to visit than California. Although both are very expensive states, Hawaii is usually more expensive because of how remote it is. Since nearly everything must be shipped there over long distances, those costs inevitably get passed on to the consumer!

California

Exploring the charming Balboa Island in Newport Beach.
California Travel Costs

Using the tool above, you can tell that California is a generally less expensive vacation destination than Hawaii. That said, California is still an expensive state compared to most and you should plan accordingly!

California vs Hawaii: Weather

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a section comparing the weather! This might be the very reason you’re looking to visit either Hawaii or California, and I wouldn’t blame you! Come the cold of wintertime or Texas’s sweltering summertime, I am ready to hop over to either location.

While both have incredible weather, they do differ, so let’s take a look!

California

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Deigo

California is a large state, and as a result, has a lot of variation in its weather. It features the Mojave desert, temperate coastal climates, and the chillier climate of the pacific northwest near its Oregon border.

Keeping in mind that weather will vary greatly depending on the season and where you are in the state, you might expect average highs around 84°F and lows around 53°F.

Generally speaking, the best time to visit California if you want to enjoy the warm weather and activities available during that time is the spring, summer, and fall.

However, if you don’t mind not getting in the water, winter can be a great time to go to California! But, for the most part, winter won’t be beach weather.

Hawaii

Pololu Valley on the Big Island

Hawaii’s temperature is remarkably stable compared to most states because of its temperate island climate. However, there is some variance from island to island, so be sure to check the forecast for wherever you’re going specifically. That said, in the winter, you can generally expect lows around 65°F and highs around 70°F and in the summer lows will be around 75°F and highs around 80°F.

The best time to visit Hawaii is between March and September, as this is typically when the least rains occur and temperatures are most pleasant. However, you can usually enjoy activities both on land and in the water all year round.

Though there is a rainy season, usually when it rains on one part of the island, it’s sunny on another part. Additionally, rain usually occurs in short showers, instead of raining all day long.

California vs Hawaii: Top Things to Do

Hawaii and California welcome all types of explorers, but there are certain activities that each location is known for.

California

When considering things to do in California, these activities will have less of a tropical paradise vibe compared to Hawaii. Though you can snorkel, whale watch, and surf, its accompanied with less of an aloha vibe and with more of a California vibe. (Yes, I realize that’s a cop out but I can’t quite describe a California vibe!) Anyway, let’s see what some of the best things to do in California are.

Take a City Tour

Old Town in San Diego

Regardless of which part of the Golden State you visit, you can always take a city tour, where you can see the best and most popular sights and learn all about the city you’re in. If you prefer a less structured activity (like I do), you can do a self-guided “city tour.” When I’m visiting a place, I like to find hidden gems and beautiful places in addition to recommendations from friends, locals, and travel sites. (Then I compile them into a combination of an itinerary or guide and share them here on the blog, like this guide to the prettiest places in San Diego!)

Enjoy a Beach Day

At the Beach on Balboa Peninsula

California is known for having tons of beautiful beaches, so you probably won’t have a hard time finding one near you to lie in the sun, play some beach sports and, if the water temperature is good, go for a swim. We went to the beach on most Fridays at USC and I have to say, California beaches are all they’re cracked up to be! (But, for the most part, I’d argue that Hawaii beaches are more beautiful! So if you’re purely looking for a beach vacation, I’d opt for Hawaii!)

Visit Famous Attractions

Carlsbad Flower Fields in San Diego

From museums to monuments and architectural icons, you can always find something to see in this state. Whether it’s Disneyland, LACMA, the Griffith Observatory, the Golden Gate Bridge, or something else, it’s pretty easy to find famous attractions in California.

Explore National Parks

Harrison and me at Yosemite ages and ages ago! We can’t wait to go back someday!

While Hawaii has two national parks (Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park), California has a whopping nine! That’s more than any state! Here they are:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Death Valley
  • Redwoods
  • Pinnacles
  • Lassen Volcanic Park
  • Sequoia
  • Kings Canyon
  • Channel Islands

Hawaii

Because it’s a tropical paradise, you can expect a lot of activities to revolve around its stunning nature.

Nature and Wildlife Tours

I got this shot of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai during my helicopter tour!

If you’re a nature enthusiast or just someone who wants to discover the true essence of Hawaii, guided tours can be great! One awesome thing about Hawaii is that you can find aerial, land, and water tours, so whether you want to discover Hawaii flying in a helicopter or sailing around, these tours can make for a memorable time. I’ll never forget our helicopter tour of the Na Pali coast!

Snorkeling

Here’s a shot I got of snorkelers at Shark’s Cove on Oahu

This is one of the activities that’s extremely popular in Hawaii and for good reason! On each island, snorkeling tours will help you discover a whole new world full of color and amazing creatures. You can find plenty of snorkeling tours on Viator. And while prices vary, there are some very affordable tours. Of course, you can also just go snorkeling yourself!

Whale Watching

I snapped this pic when we went whale watching on Maui!

If the last two options sounded like fun to you, whale watching will probably be another activity you would enjoy. Here’s the catch: it’s only available during Hawaii’s whale watching season from November to March. If you visit during this time period, you can witness these magnificent creatures on boat tours dedicated to seeing them. I highly recommend one if you have the opportunity!

Go to a Luau

We saw these hula dancers at the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui.

Cultural tradition and events set Hawaii apart from California. Hawaiian culture is beautiful and no trip is complete without a luau! Come together with others and make new friends at a luau while dining on traditional Hawaiian cuisine and watching incredible performances. We absolutely loved the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui!

While speaking of Hawaiian cuisine, there are two more things worth mentioning!

1. One of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life is Mamas Fish House on Maui. If you end up choosing a Maui vacation, get a reservation here!
2. Gas station meals are no joke in Hawaii! You can cut costs by getting gas station spam musubi (rice and grilled spam wrapped in seaweed, sometimes with egg) for a meal. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it… it’s truly delicious, IYKYK!

California vs Hawaii: Is there any time of year you shouldn’t visit?

MonthHonolulu Highs/LowsLos Angeles Highs/LowsHonolulu Days of RainLos Angeles Days of Rain
January81° / 65°68° / 49°6 days/ 2.73in4 days/ 3.29in
February81° / 65°69° / 51°5 days/ 2.35in5 days/ 3.64in
March82° / 67°70° / 52°6 days/ 1.89in4 days/ 2.23in
April83° / 68°73° / 55°5 days/ 1.11in1 day / 0.69in
May85° / 69°74° / 58°4 days/ 0.78in0 days/ 0.32in
June86° / 72°79° / 62°2 days/ 0.43in0 days/ 0.09in
July87° / 73°83° / 65°3 days/ 0.50in0 days/ 0.02in
August88° / 73°85° / 66°3 days/ 0.46in0 days/ 0.00in
September88° / 73°83° / 65°4 days/ 0.74in0 days/ 0.13in
October87° / 72°79° / 60°4 days/ 2.18in1 day / 0.58in
November84° / 70°73° / 53°6 days/ 2.26in2 days/ 0.78in
December82° / 67°68° / 49°7 days/ 2.85in3 days/ 2.48in

Sometimes the easiest way to choose a vacation destination is by seeing if there’s one that simply isn’t as good for the time of year that you’re traveling. Let’s compare Hawaii vs California vacations based on when you might not want to go!

The table above shows average highs/lows/days of rain/precipitation for Honolulu and Los Angeles, and I put it here just as a small example. Keep in mind that some parts of California have drastically different weather, and the same is true about Hawaii. In fact, one of the rainiest places in the world is in Hawaii (Mount Waialeale in Kauai), so you can bet that table looks different with roughly 450 inches of rain annually!

However, generally speaking, we can glean a few things from average weather trends in these two states. Let’s get into it!

Hawaii

Gorgeous mountains on Oahu

Though November to March is classically rainy season, rain occurs in Hawaii throughout the year. What you can’t tell from the table above is that a lot of days in Hawaii see light rain showers that pass by very quickly. Additionally, if it rains in one part of the island you’re on, chances are it’s not raining on a different part of the same island!

In short, rainfall on Hawaii’s islands is often brief and passing. So if rainy season is the only time you can visit, I wouldn’t worry about it too much! I’ve visited Hawaii in November, January, and February (in Oahu, Kauai, and Maui, respectively) and have had amazing weather on all three trips!

California

The Old Cactus Garden in San Diego

Although generally temperate by the coast, California can get really hot in the late summer! There were days in LA where the temperature would be in the high 90s and low 100s.

And one more thing to mention about summertime is that June Gloom is totally a thing in Southern California. That’s when the marine climate creates overcast mornings that sometimes come with a coastal drizzle and sometimes linger into the afternoon.

This phenomenon sometimes happens in late spring (creating May Gray) and in later parts of the summer (no-sky-July or fog-Gust). Though it doesn’t happen every day, if the thought of overcast skies dampens your vacation mood, then head to Northern California, other parts of the state, or Hawaii, instead!

On the other hand, springtime brings wildflowers, making it one of the most magical seasons in California.

Let’s also talk about winter. If you’re looking for a warm reprieve from a cold winter, you’ll want to choose Hawaii, as California can get quite cold in the winter!

California vs Hawaii: Peak, Shoulder, and Off-Seasons

MonthHawaiiCalifornia
JanuaryPeakOff
FebruaryPeakOff
MarchPeak/ShoulderOff
AprilOffShoulder
MayOffShoulder
JuneShoulder/PeakPeak
JulyPeakPeak
AugustPeakPeak
SeptemberShoulder/OffShoulder
OctoberOffShoulder
NovemberOff until ThanksgivingOff
DecemberPeak (but first week is off)Off

This chart gives you a quick overview of Hawaii and California’s peak, shoulder, and off seasons. Generally, it’s cheaper to travel during off-season when hotel rates tend to be lower. However, I typically like to travel during shoulder season, since it typically means fewer crowds in a still pretty desirable time.

Hawaii

Kuliniapia Falls on the Big Island

Hawaii’s peak season runs from mid-December through around late March (and visitors peak around the holidays and spring break). The off-season begins in April and ends in mid-June. Hawaii receives its most visitors in the summer, then sees a dip from September until it peaks again for Thanksgiving.

However, it’s worth mentioning that because there really isn’t a bad time to visit due to weather, off season is a great time to visit Hawaii! You get the weather without the crowds!

California

Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach

California tourism follows the weather, for the most part (and especially on the coast). Peak season in California runs from May to September. The off-season runs from November to March and shoulder season is from April to May and September to October.

If playing in the ocean and soaking up the sun aren’t requirements for your California vacation, then shoulder and off seasons are great times to visit California!

California vs Hawaii Vacation: The Final Verdict

Halona Cove on Oahu

For couples (especially honeymooners!), solo travelers, and groups of friends looking for a paradise destination with good weather year-round, then Hawaii is the perfect destination.

Families with babies or very young children might not get to experience Hawaii to the fullest, as many activities are more suitable for older children. Plus, the long flights to get there can be particularly challenging for kiddos!

On the other hand, California is better for those looking to road trip, those who want more variety for everything from weather and nature to food, activities, and sightseeing, and those who are interested in a more budget-friendly trip.

Here’s a quick snapshot of which place I think is best for certain experiences (many of these are my opinions, so feel free to disagree with me!):

  • Tropical paradise: Hawaii
  • Shorter travel time: California
  • Warm winter destination: Hawaii
  • Travel with babies/young kids: California
  • Beaches: Hawaii
  • National parks: California
  • Surfing: Hawaii in the winter
  • City lovers: California
  • Landscape photographers: either
  • Culture: Hawaii
  • Road trips: California
  • Adventure: I’m leaning toward Hawaii, but really either!
  • Budget travelers: California
  • Natural beauty: Hawaii, but really either
  • Shorter vacation: California
  • Romance: Hawaii
  • Smaller chance of rain: California
  • Luxury: Hawaii

Still can’t decide where to go between California and Hawaii? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help!

Additionally, here are some more posts you may find helpful:

All Posts About Hawaii

And California:

All Posts About California

Safe travels!

Jasmine

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About the author
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
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