If you’re planning a vacation to Oahu, we know that one of the most exciting things you might have planned for your trip will be snorkeling.
A few questions might immediately draw your attention: Which spots should you go to? Do you need a boat or can you drive there? What time of day is best for snorkeling, and what gear will you need to bring? Will you need to reserve a snorkeling tour, and if so, how much will it cost?
There are so many options and it can all be overwhelming. The good news is we’ve done all of this work for you! Here’s our list of 5 must-see snorkel spots in Oahu! We have also included an additional 6 Oahu snorkeling options for you, so be sure to check them out as well.
Our top five spots are Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove, Kehe Point, Kuilima Cove, and Ka’ena Point.
The next time you visit Oahu, Hawaii make sure to pick one of these fantastic spots. You won’t regret it!
Before we begin let’s answer some FAQs. Also, note that we included some snorkeling safety tips as well.
Snorkeling in Oahu: FAQs
Which side of Oahu has the best snorkeling?
This is a hard question to answer, and it depends on the time of the year.
If I had to choose, I would pick the North Shore in the summer months and the leeward (west) side in the winter months. Here’s why:
The south and southwest shores have some of the best snorkeling on Oahu due to the water being calm.
In Hawaii, the trade winds blow in from the northeast, which means that any island to the leeward (south or southwest) is protected from harsh waves.
The island’s windward side (the side that faces the wind) tends to be rougher with higher waves (and consequently better surfing).
With that being said, that doesn’t mean that the windward side of Oahu doesn’t have good snorkeling. In fact, you can find some of the best snorkeling here in the summer months (April-September).
You just have to be mindful when the waves are much stronger in the winter months.
When is the best time to go snorkeling in Oahu?
The best time to snorkel is the summertime (May-September). However, if you are in Hawaii in the wintertime and want to snorkel, you can do so on the leeward side where the water is much calmer.
Is it safe to snorkel in Oahu?
Generally speaking, yes it is as long as you take all of the necessary precautions and remain aware of your surroundings.
The currents can shift quite quickly, so be sure and pay attention to any signs or indicators at where you’re snorkeling. It’s also highly recommended to swim with a buddy. Lastly, do not swim during high surf, especially in the winter months.
Oahu Snorkeling Safety Tips
One of the biggest dangers you will face while snorkeling is the surf, especially in the winter months. Be sure to use your best judgment and do not underestimate the power of the ocean.
NOTE: Just because a beach is labeled as great for beginners in this article does not mean that it will always be that way when you are there.
- Make sure to check the weather/tide report and make sure you are keeping up with the conditions of the ocean.
- Be aware of rip currents that can form, cease and then form again with zero warning and can sweep you out to sea. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore to try and get out of the rip current. Stay afloat and yell for help if possible. Swimming parallel can help with getting out of the rip current so that you can eventually swim back to shore.
- Be aware of rogue waves. Rogue waves are defined as far larger waves than the other surrounding waves. These rogue waves can appear out of nowhere and sweep you off your feet.
- Do not turn your back to the ocean; always be aware of what’s in front of you. This way, you will know what to expect if something comes towards you.
- Always snorkel with a buddy. It’s important to always have someone on hand, just in case something does happen.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the best snorkeling places in Oahu!:
The 5 Best Places to Snorkel in Oahu
1) Hanauma Bay
Location: Leeward side
Facilities/Amenities: Lifeguards, restrooms, showers, food concession stand, picnic tables, snorkel gear rentals, and locker rentals
What to See Here: Fish, turtles (occasionally), Octopus
Hanauma Bay is located on the southeast side of Oahu, about 12 miles from the Waikiki area, and it’s known for its beautiful reefs.
It was initially designated as a Marine Life Conservation District in 1967, making it one of the first in the nation. Because of this designation, Hanauma Bay has some very stringent rules about how many people are allowed in the water each day; if you go, plan on arriving early.
The bay has one of the most diverse fish populations, and snorkeling is a fantastic way to experience Hawaii’s marine life.
Note: there is a $3.00 parking fee and a $25.00 entry fee for each guest (non-residents). Also, Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular places to snorkel and the parking lot fills up fast, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
See also: Turtle Beach Oahu
2) Shark’s Cove
Location: North Shore
Facilities/Amenities: Showers and restrooms located south of the cove (right next to the southernmost parking area)
What to see here: Fish, turtles (occasionally), eels
Shark’s Cove is located on the north shore of Oahu and it’s one of the most popular snorkeling places in Hawaii. The cove is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District and offers a long reef home to many different types of fish.
The best time to snorkel at Shark’s Cove is during the summer months when the water is the calmest.
The winter months bring rougher waves but you can still snorkel here during this time if you’re are an experienced swimmer/snorkeler. Check the weather report before heading out to Shark’s Cove, especially during winter.
Also, I would not recommend bringing children to snorkel here during the winter months, as the water can be quite rough.
If you bring young children, make sure to go on a calm day and stay in the shallow waters with less surf.
Warning: Shark’s Cove can sometimes have rip currents, so always swim with a buddy and don’t go out too deep (there are very steep drop-offs).
Tip: There have been multiple reports of theft here, so do not leave any valuables in your car when you go.
3) Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach)
Location: Waianae Coast (Leeward Side)
Facilities/Amenities: Free parking, bathrooms, and showers
What to see here: Fish, coral
Located on the west side of Oahu, Kahe Point Beach Park is a popular place to snorkel in Hawaii.
The water here is clear blue when the water is calm, but visibility can be poor at times. The reef here is home to many types of tropical fish. If you are looking for a snorkel with a very high fish population, then this is where you need to go.
The beach is nicknamed Electric Beach because of the electric power plant nearby.
Like most places on Oahu, this spot can get quite crowded. This is especially true during weekends and holidays, so you may want to plan accordingly.
Kahe Point is best suited for intermediate to advanced snorkelers as the reef is pretty far out and you will need to do a little swimming to get out there.
Note: There are no lifeguards here, so be sure to swim with a buddy and take precautions at all times.
4) Kuilima Cove
Location: North Shore
Facilities/Amenities: Showers, restrooms, free parking, beach bar, and grill
What to see here: Fish, sea urchins, coral
Located on the north shore, Kuilima Cove is a great place to snorkel in Oahu. It’s enclosed by a natural rock barrier that helps shield the coral reef from currents that come into the bay. Because of this, you can typically find suitable conditions for snorkeling here most days of the year.
This is one of my favorite places to snorkel because it’s not as popular as the other places I mentioned in this article. The water is very clear and calm and there are rarely any waves here, which makes it an excellent choice for beginner snorkelers and kids.
The reef here is home to many types of fish, and if you are lucky you can even spot the famous Hawaii state bird: the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (or reef triggerfish).
Tip: The beach here has fantastic white sand, making it a perfect spot to relax and unwind as well. Be sure to bring a picnic and enjoy after snorkeling.
5) Ka’ena Point
Location: Windward side
Facilities/Amenities: Free parking (small), restrooms, showers, and lifeguards
What to see here: Fish, sea urchins
Located at the westernmost end of Oahu, Ka’ena Point has clear blue waters and a 1-mile white sand beach that’s worth visiting.
The best part about this beach is that it’s never crowded and is not as popular as the other places mentioned in this article.
It’s worth noting that while you can see some fish at Ka’ena Point, it’s not as rich in fish life as some of the other places mentioned. Even still, I think it’s one of the best places to snorkel in Oahu.
If you are looking for an authentic experience and want to get off the beaten track, this is a great spot.
Note: The waves here can get pretty big during a west swell, so be sure to check the tide before you go and take precautions at all times.
1) Three Tables
Location: North Shore
What to see here: Fish, Coral
Located on the north shore of Oahu, Three tables is a small white sand beach with some of the best coral on Oahu.
It’s called Three Tables because of the flat table-like coral structure that you can see from above the surface, and it also happens to be an excellent spot for snorkeling.
This place is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, which means that fishing is not allowed here. As a result, Three Tables is rich in fish and you can expect to see many types of tropical fish here.
Warning: The area here has high currents, so the water is not the calmest to snorkel in. This place is good for swimming/snorkeling when the water is much calmer in the summer months. If you go during the winter, make sure to check the weather before heading out.
2) Waimea Bay
Location: North Shore
Facilities/Amenities: Lifeguards, showers, restrooms
Best time to go: Only snorkel here during the summer when the water is calm
What to see here: Fish, turtle sightings
Waimea Bay is mainly known for its spectacular monster waves that come rolling in during the winter, but it’s also an excellent snorkeling spot in the summer months.
Tip: You will find the best snorkeling towards the southern end of the bay or the left side.
3) Sans Souci Beach (Kaimana Beach)
Location: South shore, very close to Waikiki
Facilities/Amenities: Free parking, lifeguard, restrooms, and showers
What to see here: Fish
This beach is protected by the Honolulu wide reef, which helps break up large waves and makes it great for snorkeling. The water here is shallow and sandy; the perfect place to snorkel.
Here you can find very clear blue water and a nice reef full of life (especially during the summer months). The best part about this spot is its calm waters, making it great for beginner snorkelers.
Kaimana Beach is known for people being able to snorkel with the famous Hawaii state fish: the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.
4) Aweoweo Beach Park
Location: North Shore
Facilities/Amenities: Free street parking, picnic tables, showers, and bathrooms.
What to see here: Turtle sightings are almost guaranteed
Aweoweo Beach is a secluded beach park away from the busy, touristy areas. It’s in a residential neighborhood, but most residents usually visit the beach on the weekends so you shouldn’t have difficulty finding parking.
The best part about snorkeling here is seeing the turtles. There is a turtle cleaning station (big round rock in the ocean) where turtles clean their shells, nooks, and crannies by small marine fish.
If you are into seeing turtles this is the place to go. Remember to respect the turtles by not touching or chasing them when they are in the area.
Warning: There is no lifeguard on-site so make sure to take extra precautions at all times, especially when swimming in the winter months.
5) Lanikai Beach
Location: Kailua; on the windward (east) side of Oahu
Facilities/Amenities: Free street parking, NO lifeguard
What to see here: Fish and coral
This area of the island is often sunny and has some of the best views of Oahu, including gorgeous views of the Mokulua Islands.
While not the best snorkeling on the island, Lanikai Beach is still a perfect place to snorkel if you are already visiting the beach.
Due to its location, Lanikai Beach is exposed to the trade winds and it can make snorkeling here a bit challenging. Also, while there is a protective reef, the visibility is often low due to waves/currents.
Warning: Like other beaches on the windward side, Lanikai has high winds during the fall and winter months, making snorkeling difficult. Also, there are naturally strong currents in this area, so while the swimming conditions are good, you should still be aware of your surroundings.
The downside of Lanikai is that the parking lot gets full pretty quickly, so you would have to get here early. You can also park at the neighboring Kailua Beach if Lanikai is full.
6) Ko Olina Lagoons
Location: Waianae Coast (Leeward Side)
Facilities/Amenities: Restrooms, shower, and water fountains
What to see here: Fish, turtles, and coral
There are four man-made lagoons at Ko Olina, an excellent place for snorkeling. They are protected mainly by the ocean space, making swimming and snorkeling here spectacular, especially around the rocks.
So there you have it, our favorite spots to snorkel in Oahu!
Lastly, let’s cover…
What to Bring When Snorkeling in Oahu
Here is what you need to bring with you when snorkeling:
- Reef Safe Sunscreen: Make sure to bring some reef safe sunscreen if you’re going to be out in the sun all day. Oahu is usually quite hot, so make sure you are protected at all times.
- Water: Make sure you bring enough water to keep hydrated during the day. You won’t want to get dehydrated when snorkeling, as this makes you prone to cramping!
- Waterproof Camera: This is great for catching memories of your trip without worrying about water damage.
- Snorkel Gear: This is a must. It’s not too difficult to rent snorkel gear, buy it for your trip, or bring your own from home.
Oahu Snorkeling Tips
- Make sure to pick a location that’s appropriate for your level of experience. As mentioned multiple times in this post, the summer months are the best time to snorkel due to the water being calmer. If you’re not sure about snorkeling, choose a calm day to start with before venturing out into rougher waters. The leeward side is usually best for beginner snorkelers.
- If you’re worried about currents, pick a low-tide day. It’s always best to know what to expect when visiting Hawaii’s seas. A good rule of thumb is “red flag=bad water.” Lifeguards usually put up red flags when the waters are particularly rough and not safe for swimming. Keep in mind that this is only available in locations with lifeguards.
- Do not feed the fish/wildlife- doing so introduces an unnatural behavior to the reef.
- Please don’t touch or stand on coral, as it can damage and kill them.
- Don’t litter or disturb marine animals.
- Have fun! Hawaii is a beautiful place, so make sure you enjoy yourself when out on the reefs.
The Wrap Up: The Best Snorkeling in Oahu
Hawaii is well-known for its beaches and snorkeling. The state has some of the best reefs in the entire world, making it a prime location to see tropical fish, turtles, and much more.
There are many popular spots around Oahu, but our top five spots are Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove, Kehe Point, Kuilima Cove, and Ka’ena Point.
As always, please remember to respect the wildlife. Make sure not to chase the wildlife or touch them. Also, if you see a turtle trying to rest, please give it space. Remember that it’s illegal to touch turtles in Hawaii, and you can be fined.
Outside of that, happy snorkeling in Oahu!!
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