Wondering where to find the best snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii? You’re in the right place.
Oahu, Hawaii’s largest island, is home to stretches of beautiful sandy shoreline. Turquoise waters and a huge variety of sea life including tropical fish, turtles, dolphins, whales and more can all be found along the coast.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Oahu, but there’s no better way to experience its natural beauty than donning your snorkel mask, slipping on your flippers and getting up close and personal with the island’s unique ocean biodiversity.
Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced snorkeler, Oahu’s open beaches and hidden coves offer something for everyone. We’ve done the research to bring you 22 unbeatable spots for the best snorkeling in Oahu. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Best Snorkeling in Oahu
3 Things to Remember When Snorkeling in Oahu
Before we dive into our picks for the best snorkeling in Oahu, here are a few things to remember before heading out into the water.
Respect Hawaii’s nature and wildlife
The Hawaiian Islands receive millions of tourists each year, so it’s super important that visitors make an effort to protect its unique biodiversity.
Make sure you respect the wildlife, which means no touching or feeding any of the animals. Keep your distance from larger aquatic life including dolphins, turtles, seals and whales.
Although it may be tempting to take a souvenir home, be sure to leave everything, including shells, where you find it to protect the ocean flora and fauna.
Additionally, dispose of any waste properly and clean up after yourself when you leave the beach.
Protect the coral reef
Coral reefs play an essential role in the marine life ecosystem.
You’ve probably heard that coral reefs around the world are dying due to global warming and various other factors. So it’s super important that you do your part to protect them while enjoying the beauty and wildlife they host.
Corals are fragile living animals, so make sure you don’t kick or stand on them when you’re in the water, as even the slightest touch can damage or kill them.
Additionally, be sure to invest in reef-safe sunscreen as some chemicals found in common brands can lead to coral bleaching and damage their DNA.
Although it may seem like a relatively low-key activity, snorkeling can be dangerous.
First of all, ensure you head out into the water with a buddy. If you’re traveling solo, don’t worry. There are plenty of group excursions all over the island. Not only will this ensure your safety, it’s also a great way to make new friends.
Whether you have your own snorkel gear or you plan on renting it, make sure you’re prepared with the essential equipment to ensure you make the most out of your Oahu experience. It’s recommended to avoid full-face snorkel masks, as these have been linked to increased inhalation of carbon dioxide, which can lead to dizziness, headaches, and fainting.
Finally, make sure you check the weather and swell conditions before getting in the water. Hawaii’s waters can change quickly, so don’t risk getting pulled out and dragged under. Fortunately, there are plenty of shallow spots that can be enjoyed all year round.
Now we’ve got all the admin out of the way, here’s where you can find the best snorkeling in Oahu.
1 – Kuilima Cove
Located on the North Shore of Oahu, Kuilima Cove, also known as Turtle Bay, is well sheltered by a protective rock wall.
Its serene setting and calm waters make it a great spot for beginner snorkeling and you can expect to see a variety of sea life including colorful fish and sea turtles.
You can access the cove from Turtle Bay Resort, which has been a filming site for more than 150 television shows and feature films including Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Hawaii Five-0.
Note that conditions can vary so it’s always a good idea to check with a lifeguard before heading out into the water.
2 – Aweoweo Beach Park
If you’re looking for the best snorkeling in Oahu, you can’t miss Aweoweo Beach Park.
This untouched location boasts tranquil waters and a relaxed atmosphere, which makes it the ideal area for exploring the waters away from the crowds.
Expect to see turtles and a variety of marine life. The beach also features showers, a playground, a basketball court, and some picnic tables, which makes it a great place for a family day out.
3 – Kahe Point Beach Park
Also known as Electric Beach due to the power plant it’s located next to, Kahe Point Beach Park is a favorite spot for snorkeling in Oahu.
The beach’s warm waters attract a huge variety of aquatic life, making this a popular location for beginners and more experienced snorkeling enthusiasts alike. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to observe sea turtles.
4 – Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve
Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area with calm, clear waters, and a huge variety of colorful fish, coral, and marine life. The bay has a sandy beach, restrooms, showers, and equipment rentals.
Because it’s such a popular site for families, Hanauma Bay can get pretty crowded. We recommend arriving before 8 am to beat the crowds and note that you’ll have to watch a safety video before diving in.
5 – Shark’s Cove
Sharks Cove is one of the best snorkeling spots on the North Shore of Oahu. Don’t worry, it doesn’t get its name because it’s frequented by sharks but because of the shape of the reef.
The cove is a rocky area with an abundance of sea life, including turtles, tropical fish, and eels. The area can have strong currents, so it’s important to be careful when heading into the water. Be aware that Shark’s Cove is a summer-only snorkeling location, as winter conditions can be quite rough.
6 – Turtle Canyon
If you want to see sea turtles on your trip to Oahu, head to Turtle Canyon. There are many dense coral formations that act as a “cleaning station” for turtles, where they have their shells cleaned by smaller fish in the reef.
The best way to visit Turtle Canyon is by hopping on a guided sailing tour from Honolulu. Tours generally last around three hours and you’re guaranteed to see a variety of sea life including turtles (of course), sharks, stingrays, octopus, and colorful fish, as well as picture-perfect views of the Waikiki coastline along the way.
7 – Ko Olina Lagoons
If you’re staying on the west side of the island, Ko Olina Lagoons offers some of the best snorkeling for families and beginners.
Comprising four man-made lagoons, the area is safe and protected from strong waves, making it a great site to swim with tropical fish.
8 – Lanikai Beach
Located on the eastern shore of Oahu, Lanikai Beach is consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the world and is also a popular spot for snorkeling and swimming.
The clear water and calm conditions make it ideal for beginners, but more advanced snorkelers may find Lanikai Beach somewhat underwhelming due to its fine white sand that can limit visibility.
9 – Queens Beach (Waikiki)
There are countless fun things to do in Waikiki, but if you’re heading to this part of the world then snorkeling is a must. Waikiki Beach is made up of eight stretches of ocean and shoreline, and, when it comes to snorkeling, some are better than others.
The first Waikiki Beach to check out is Queens Beach, also known as Queen Kapiolani Beach or Kapiolani Park Beach.
It’s an ideal site for beginners and more experienced snorkelers, as the calm waters offer great visibility and a huge variety of fish and other marine life including octopus, stingrays, and moray eels.
10 – Waimea Bay
Situated in Haleiwa on the North Shore of O’ahu, Waimea Bay is one of the most famous beaches on Oahu.
The bay is known for its large waves, which make it a popular site for surfing in the winter.
Waimea Bay is also a great location for snorkeling in the summer months when the waters are calmer, and the bay is home to a variety of fish and other marine life.
11 – Sans Souci Beach (Waikiki)
Sans Souci is a small beach located just south of Waikiki, and is a favorite place for snorkeling, swimming, and lapping up the sunshine.
Easily accessible from Waikiki, this is a great place for beginners to try their hand at snorkeling. Fishing is prohibited, which means there’s more sea life for you to admire.
12 – Mokulua Islands
Located about 1.5 km from the shores of Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach, the Mokulua Islands (affectionately nicknamed the “Mokes”) is a popular snorkeling spot for locals and tourists alike.
Only accessible by boat, kayak, or paddleboard, you can expect to see a huge variety of sea life once you’re out in the open waters.
13 – Kaena Point
Surrounded by rocky coastline, Kaena Point offers some of the best snorkeling on Oahu.
Although it’s not home to as much sea life as some of the others locations on this list, this hidden gem still deserves a mention due to its spectacular setting and clear waters.
The beach is an ideal location if you want to avoid the crowds, but do be aware that swells and currents can be strong so it’s not ideal for young children or beginner swimmers.
14 – Three Tables
This area is named for the three large rocks that jut out of the water. The small and sandy beach offers access to some of the best coral reefs on the north shore of the island.
Three Tables is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District where fishing is prohibited, which means there are high fish populations and plenty to see through your snorkeling mask. Keep your eyes peeled for eels, parrotfish, unicornfish, and more.
Make sure to check the conditions before heading into the water.
15 – Sunset Beach Park
Although Sunset Beach is known for being a popular surfing spot during the winter, in the summer it offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu.
When the waters are calm enough, pop your snorkeling gear on and head out into the crystal clear ocean to observe an array of sea life. Be aware that the water gets deep relatively quickly and take caution as you swim out to the reef.
16 – Laniakea Beach
Nicknamed Turtle Beach, it’s no surprise that Laniakea Beach offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu to see turtles. You’re almost guaranteed to glimpse Hawaiian green sea turtles here, whether in the water or on the shore.
Another popular site for families, Laniakea Beach offers plenty of space for relaxing on the golden sand, crystal clear waters, and tall palm trees that provide shade from the sweltering sunshine.
17 – Puaʻena Point
Often frequented by beginner surfers, Puaʻena Point is a hidden gem for snorkeling enthusiasts.
Located on Oahu’s north shore next door to Haleiwa Beach Park, Puaʻena Point’s shallow waters make it an ideal setting for families with young children who want to try their hand at spotting aquatic life.
Although it’s generally safe, pay attention to the rocks when you’re in the water, particularly when paddling with little ones.
18 – Waialua Bay
The rock formations at Waialua Bay create a huge tidal pool, making it a great place to experience some of the best snorkeling in Oahu.
This sheltered beach is ideal for beginner snorkelers as well as children. However, most people know Waialua Bay for its popularity as a dive spot, as larger marine animals such as dolphins and whales often swim around these waters.
19 – Mākua Beach
If you want to experience tropical island beauty without the crowds, head to Mākua Beach on Oahu’s west coast. Enjoy snorkeling and immaculate scenery on this golden sand beach.
Surrounded by the Makua Valley and the Waianae Mountain Range, this secluded spot is home to two main snorkeling locations. Head out into the waters to see a plethora of fish, including parrotfish, triggerfish, tang, and many more.
If you want to see the best of Oahu’s west coast, why not join a guided dolphin watching and snorkeling tour to learn about the island’s unique wildlife and try your hand at various water activities.
20 – Mākaha Beach Park
Famous around the world for its excellent surf, Mākaha Beach Park also offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu.
Turtles and dolphins are the main attractions here, and you have a better chance of observing them further from the shore. For this reason, snorkeling at Mākaha Beach Park is more suitable for more experienced swimmers.
21 – Maunalua Bay Beach Park
Popular with all kinds of water enthusiasts, Maunalua Bay Beach Park is a great snorkeling site due to its tranquil waters. The coral reef hosts a huge variety of fish and marine life and the sandy shore is perfect for drying off in the sun.
Maunalua Bay features a separate area where water sport enthusiasts can get their adrenaline pumping, and the surrounding area is home to epic dive spots and wrecks.
22 – Heʻeia State Park
Heʻeia State Park is a national park situated in the Ko’olau Range mountains.
The beachy waterfront area offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu due to the natural reef and ongoing preservation efforts to protect its aquatic life.
Volunteers also run educational workshops where you can learn about Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna before heading into the waters to experience it first hand.
Snorkeling in Oahu Wrap-up
So there you have it folks, 22 spots to experience the best snorkeling in Oahu. You’ll be a pro in no time!
With so much natural beauty, stunning beaches, and incredible hiking opportunities, Oahu is a paradise for any type of traveler.
Oh, and if you’re planning a longer trip to this spectacular part of the world, be sure to check out the 20 best things to do in Hawaii by island.
As always, happy travels everyone! We’ll see you on the road!