If you’re planning a vacation to Oahu, we know that snorkeling is probably one of the most exciting things you might have planned for your trip.
A few questions might immediately draw your attention: Which spots should you visit? Do you need snorkeling shoes? Do you need a boat or can you drive there? 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. Luckily, we have tested the top snorkeling spots on Oahu and are here to help you decide.
Don’t have time to read about all the top snorkeling spots on Oahu? No worries! We have shortlisted the top three options below to make things easy for you.
(1) Hanauma Bay
- Top snorkeling spot in Hawaii
- Lifeguard on duty
- Beach access
(2) Shark’s Cove
- Lots of marine life
- Free of charge
- Snorkel gear rental shop across the street
(3) Turtle Canyons
- Increased chance of spotting turtles
- Lots of marine life
- Tour company provides snorkel equipment
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Best Snorkeling on Oahu Map
(1) Hanauma Bay (East Oahu)
Hanauma Bay is one of the best beaches in Hawaii and a top snorkeling destination on the island.
The bay is sheltered by a volcanic crater, creating calm and clear conditions perfect for snorkeling. Snorkelers can encounter various marine life, including over 400 colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, and even the occasional reef shark.
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 very stringent rules about how many people (1400 guests) are allowed in the water daily, and reservations are required (non-residents).
There is also a $3.00 parking fee and a $25.00 entry fee for each guest (non-residents). Parking is first come first serve, so plan accordingly.
If you are anything like us and don’t like big crowds, book one of the earliest reservations. We went at 7:00 am and enjoyed snorkeling with very few people around. The park started to get busy around 9:00 am. If you get there early, you can also pick one of the best spots to lounge on the beach.
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday; entry is allowed from 6:45 am to 1:30 pm. All visitors must leave by 4:00 pm.
- Lifeguards on duty
- Restrooms and showers
- Food concession stand
- Picnic tables
- Snorkel gear and locker rentals
- Beach access
- Paid parking ($3.00)
Pro Tip: Hanauma Bay is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. If you want the best water visibility, Wednesdays are the best days to go, but book your reservation in advance. Online reservations can be made two days in advance, starting at 7:00 am Hawaii Standard Time.
Since Hanauma Bay is one of the top things to do in Honolulu, tickets are in high demand, so make sure you are online at 7:00 am. We initially wanted a 6:45 am reservation but could not snag one even though we were online on time.
(2) Shark’s Cove in the Summer (North Shore)
Shark’s Cove is a renowned snorkeling destination nestled on Oahu’s North Shore. Despite its intimidating name, this spot offers a captivating underwater world teeming with marine life. Shark’s Cove gets its name from the shape of the cove and not its inhabitants.
The cove is part of Pupukea Beach Park and is characterized by its rocky shoreline and lava formations.
We have spotted various marine life, including tropical fish, turtles (occasionally), eels, and octopuses.
It’s worth noting that south of Shark’s Cove is a tide pool area you can also snorkel in. It has a protective reef barrier that creates a lagoon, making it more protected from the massive winter waves.
This area is excellent for beginners to get their bearings and practice using snorkeling equipment. If you have kids, this is also a much safer option for them than Shark’s Cove.
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). While some people snorkel here in the wintertime, we do not recommend swimming during the winter (November- April) due to the rough conditions.
We have visited here multiple times in the winter and couldn’t enter the water due to the strong rip currents and rough surf.
Tip: There have been multiple reports of theft here, so do not leave any valuables in your car when you go.
- No lifeguards on duty
- Showers and restrooms are located south of the cove (right next to the southernmost parking area)
- Picnic tables
- Food trucks (across the street)
- Snorkel rental shop (across the street)
- Limited parking
(3) Turtle Canyons (Off Waikiki Coast)
Located just off the coast of Waikiki, Turtle Canyons is a snorkeler’s paradise renowned for its abundance of graceful sea turtles. This popular snorkeling spot offers a unique opportunity to swim alongside these gentle creatures in their natural habitat.
The perfect blue waters of Turtle Canyons reveal a breathtaking underwater landscape filled with a diverse array of marine life. As you snorkel through the canyons, you’ll encounter schools of tropical fish, including colorful tangs and butterflyfish.
But the true highlight is undoubtedly the majestic sea turtles that gracefully glide through the water, captivating snorkelers with their beautiful presence.
Turtle Canyons earned its name due to the abundance of sea turtles that frequent the area to feed and rest. They also have their shells cleaned by resourceful fish swimming in the area, acting as a cleaning station for the turtles.
Note: Compared to most of the places listed here, you will need to take a boat tour to snorkel at Turtle Canyons (unless you have a boat). Many of the snorkeling tours on Oahu will take you to Turtle Canyons, so there are multiple options.
We took this Turtle Canyons Snorkel Tour from Waikiki, and it was one of the best options. We saw an incredible variety of sea life, and the tour guides were very knowledgeable.
(4) Kahe Point Beach Park (West Side)
Kahe Point Beach Park, also known as Electric Beach, is a beautiful snorkeling spot not to be missed if you are a moderate or advanced snorkeler.
This beach park earned its nickname due to its proximity to the nearby power plant, which releases warm water into the ocean, attracting an array of marine life. The water here is clear blue when the water is calm, but visibility can be poor at times (winter months).
The reef here is home to many types of tropical fish. If you are looking to snorkel with a very high fish population, then this is where you need to go.
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 (100 yards) to get out there.
Safety Note: Never snorkel alone, and always check the surf conditions before entering the water.
Note: This is another high theft area, so please do not leave any valuables in your car. Signs are posted all around the parking lot to remind you of this.
- No lifeguards on duty
- Showers and restrooms
- Beach access
- Lots of parking
- Some shade
(5) Kuilima Cove (North Shore)
Located at the famous Turtle Bay Resort, Kuilima Cove is an excellent place for families to snorkel on 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 our favorite places to snorkel because it’s less popular than the other places we mentioned in this article. The water is clear and calm, and there are rarely any waves, making 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 has fantastic white sand, making it a perfect spot to relax and unwind. Be sure to bring a picnic and enjoy it after snorkeling. It’s no wonder why it’s one of the top things to do on Oahu’s North Shore.
Note: There is limited public parking at Turtle Bay Resort. Getting there early is always recommended if you do not want to wait for a parking spot. We had to leave multiple times because we couldn’t find a parking stop in the afternoon. We never run into this problem around 9:00 am – 10:00 am.
- No lifeguard on duty
- Showers and restrooms
- Free limited public parking
- Restaurants at Turtle Bay Resort
- Beach access
Bonus Snorkel Spot on Oahu
We couldn’t wrap up this article without adding Three Tables:
Three Tables (North Shore)
Three Tables is a small white sand beach with some of the best coral on Oahu. It’s located south of Shark’s Cove at Pupukea Beach Park.
It’s called Three Tables because of the flat table-like coral structure you can see from above the surface, and it also happens to be an excellent spot for snorkeling.
Three Tables is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, so fishing is prohibited 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 summer. If you go during the winter, check the surf report beforehand.
Snorkeling in Oahu: Safety Precautions
While snorkeling in the breathtaking waters of Oahu, it is important to prioritize your safety and well-being.
Here are some safety tips to help you plan your trip to Oahu:
Check Weather and Ocean Conditions: Before heading out for a snorkeling adventure, always check the weather and ocean conditions. Pay attention to surf advisories, currents, and visibility reports. Strong currents or rough waves can pose risks, so choosing a day with calm waters is best for optimal safety.
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.
Be Aware At All Times: 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.
Snorkel With a Buddy: Snorkeling with a buddy is highly recommended. Having a companion not only enhances the enjoyment of the experience but also provides an additional layer of safety. Keep an eye on each other; in an emergency, you can rely on each other for assistance.
Know Your Limits and Abilities:
- Be aware of your own swimming abilities and snorkeling skills.
- If you are a beginner or not a confident swimmer, stick to shallower waters or areas with lifeguards present.
- Stay within your comfort zone and avoid venturing too far from the shore or beyond your capabilities.
Use Proper Snorkeling Gear: Make sure you have the appropriate snorkeling gear that fits properly. A well-fitting mask, snorkel, and fins are important for comfort, visibility, and ease of movement in the water. Test your equipment before entering the water to avoid issues or discomfort during your snorkeling excursion.
Stay Hydrated and Wear Sunscreen: Snorkeling can be physically demanding, and it’s easy to dehydrate while enjoying the water. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your snorkeling session to stay hydrated.
Additionally, apply waterproof reef-safe sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
What to Know About Snorkeling on Oahu
When planning your snorkeling adventure in Oahu, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Respect the Wildlife
When snorkeling in Hawaii, respecting and preserving the island’s marine wildlife is crucial. Keep a respectful distance from marine animals, refraining from touching or chasing them.
We know it’s hard, but avoid feeding marine life, as it disrupts their natural feeding patterns.
Also, show care for coral reefs by refraining from touching or standing on them and instead using buoyancy control techniques to swim above the reef without causing damage.
Always remember that while swimming with marine life is one of the top things to do in Hawaii, it is a privilege. All snorkelers are expected to adhere to the guidelines of responsible eco-tourism. As a note, turtles are protected by the law and should not be touched or harassed in any way.
Do Not Take Anything Home With You
When snorkeling in Oahu, remember to refrain from taking anything home from the marine environment. Preserving natural beauty requires us to leave shells, rocks, and other objects undisturbed.
Collecting souvenirs disrupts the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Each element within the marine environment plays a vital role, and even minor disturbances can have far-reaching impacts. By leaving nature untouched, we contribute to preserving Oahu’s underwater ecosystems long-term.
Clean Up After Yourself
Remember to pack and dispose of your trash properly in designated waste bins. Take all of your personal belongings with you when leaving the snorkeling site.
Minimize the use of single-use plastic items and opt for reusable alternatives. Respect protected areas and marine reserves, following any guidelines in place.
By taking responsibility for your waste, you preserve the beauty of Oahu’s marine ecosystems.
What to Bring When Snorkeling on Oahu
Here is what you need to bring with you when snorkeling:
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen and Sun Shirt: Bring some reef-safe sunscreen or a snorkeling shirt if you’ll be in the sun all day. Oahu is usually hot, so add these two items to your Hawaii packing list.
- Water: Bring enough water to keep you hydrated during the day. You won’t want to get dehydrated when snorkeling.
- Waterproof Camera: This is great for catching memories of your trip without worrying about water damage. You can also use your phone with a waterproof phone case.
- Snorkel Gear: This is a must. There are multiple places to rent snorkel gear while on the island. You can also bring your own from home. We bought ours off Amazon and always bring them with us.
Snorkeling on Oahu: FAQs
Below are some frequently asked questions about snorkeling on Oahu:
Which side of Oahu has the best snorkeling?
The short answer is it depends on the time of the year. If we had to choose, we would pick the North Shore in the summer (May-October) and the south and leeward (west) sides in winter. Here’s why:
In Hawaii, the trade winds blow in from the northeast, meaning 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. You can find good snorkeling here in the summer months (May-October).
You just have to be mindful when the waves are much stronger during winter.
When is the best time to go snorkeling on Oahu?
The best time to snorkel is the summertime (May-October). However, if you are in Hawaii in the wintertime and want to snorkel, you can do so on the west side, where the water is much calmer.
Regarding the best time of day to go snorkeling, we prefer the morning hours for the typically calmer waters. Weather permitting, we prefer a nice sunny morning to really light up the water and add to the visibility.
Is it safe to snorkel in Oahu?
Generally speaking, it is, as long as you take all necessary precautions and remain aware of your surroundings.
The currents can shift quite quickly, so pay attention to any signs or indicators where you’re snorkeling. It’s also highly recommended to swim with a buddy. Lastly, do not swim during high surf, especially in winter (November- April).
Hawaii is well-known for its beaches and snorkeling. It 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 snorkel spots around Oahu, but our top five are Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove, Turtle Canyon, Kahe Point, and Kuilima Cove.
Remember to always prioritize your safety and respect the islands’ marine life by following the guidelines of responsible eco-tourism.