Oahu, Best snorkeling places to explore around the island

Oahu is such a fun place to be outdoors and out on the water, but there are really just a few select places to go around the island with the best snorkeling spots to explore. If you are looking for a more active water time snorkeling along Oahu’s pristine and special snorkeling spots, then check out all the best Oahu snorkeling spots around the island below. You’ll find the best spots to see active marine line, corals and tropical fish from around the island at these wonderful locations below to explore.

Oahu snorkeling

Snorkeling on Oahu’s east side (Winward side)

Snorkeling possibilities are more limited on the east side although there are some really spectacular beaches on the windward side of the island. The most famous snorkeling in Oahu is at Hanauma Bay and the information for visiting is below.

Lanikai beach

Lanikai beach

Lanikai beach is a fantastic beach location and swimming there are some rocky areas off the beach that have snorkeling potential and this family friendly beach is a good beginner beach to start with especially with shallow water, minimal wave action and easy access to the water from the beach. Further out from the beach area towards some of the rocks, the water is clearer and you can actually spot some coral and tropical fish the further out you go.

Snorkeling spot – from Mokuloa Drive go to the public beach access between Kaiolena Drive and Mokumanu Drive.

Amenities – none although this is a public beach, there are no restrooms, parking lot or life guards at this sandy beach in East Oahu. Parking is strictly on the street and tickets enforced for any questionable parking situations so be careful trying to park at this beach area.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

One of the most popular and famous snorkeling and beach areas is Hanauma Bay which is also known as Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, one of the most pristine and abundant marine life, coral and tropical preserves in Hawaii. Located in an old crater and protected from huge ocean swells that can occur on the east side, this naturally formed bay is the best snorkeling spot on the island with it’s fragile and living ecosystem that is carefully protected by the state and various organizations.

The shoreline is white sand beach and entry and the corals are just a short distance away making it easy to get to the snorkeling spots so it is perfect for beginners to more advanced and even diving to see the deeper areas and more remote access spots on the bay.

Amenities – grassy areas, showers, restrooms and lockers, lifeguard stations, parking and concession stands along with snorkel gear rentals if you forget to bring yours along.

Note – entry per day is limited so you need to reserve in advanced and check into the website here for more details and reservations and time slots to visit.

Snorkeling on Oahu’s west side (leeward side)

Oahu’s west side or leeward has quite a few offerings for snorkeling areas in the resort lagoons of Ko Olina, Kahe Point and also Ka’ena Point State Park which is far from the tourist must see areas and crowds.

Kahe Point

Kahe Point

Located north of the Ko Olina resorts, Kahe Point is beautiful and more of an advanced swimming/snorkeling spot on the west side of Oahu. Due to the challenging waves over the rocks, depth and more difficulty with stronger currents in the area, this is not a beginner beach and their are no life guards present to watch over swimmers or snorkelers in the point.. Also, known as Electric Beach because of the power plant which also pumps out clean and warm water into the ocean, this actually attracts a variety of fish and sea life that are drawn to the warmer waters. You’ll find a variety of marine life to include the various tropical fish, green sea turtles and even spinner dolphins that love to frequent the area just outside the beach area.

Amenities:  Parking lot, showers and restroom, grassy areas with picnic tables. There are no lifeguards in the area.

Direction to get to Kahe Point – Drive west from Honolulu on Hwy 1 which eventually will turn into Hwy 93 and take it all the way to Kahe Point Beach park which is about 56 minutes from downtown Honolulu

Ko Olna Lagoons

Ko Olina Lagoons

Located on the Western side of the island, these man-made lagoon and beach areas are fun kid friendly beach and snorkel spots on the island with access to four man made lagoons. The snorkeling areas are small with rocky sides to the beaches that offer possibility of spotting tropical fish in the area. The lagoons have a resort vibe with big resorts located by the lagoons and very well maintained with restrooms and parking areas. If you are looking to stay on the western sides, you have four excellent resort choices with Aulani Disney Resort, Four Seasons Resort, Marriot’s Ko Olina Beach Club and Beach Villas at Ko Olina to choose from. There is a nice paved pathway that extends 1 1/2 mile and connecting the lagoons and resorts. Water entry is easy from the beach to the soft sandy bottoms of each lagoon area. You’ll find the better snorkeling activity closer to the rock barriers of each lagoon.

Note – there is limited parking so come early. Lagoon #4 has the largest parking areas of the other four so you can park here and visit any of the other lagoons. If you are not staying at any of the resorts, you should try and come early or later in the afternoon to find parking in the public parking zones which have about 20 parking spots each. You can visit the other resorts if you are looking for meals and other activities that the resorts offer for visitors.

Amenities – parking, walkways, shade tree areas, restroom and showers, lifeguards. Food concessions at the various resorts or close to beach area, wheel chair accessibility

Only go towards the rock barriers if the waves outside the barriers are calm and not crashing over the barrier areas for safe snorkeling conditions.

Ka'ena Point State Park

Ka’ena Point State Park

Located on the western side of the island, Ka’ena Point is a gorgeous mile long white sand beach that is isolated and without crowds. There is an abundance of rocky outlets submerged into the ocean and creating lots of areas for tropical fish and other marine life to thrive and flat coral in various areas. Located at the end of Farrington Highway at Yokohama Beach, Ka’ena is desolate and uncrowded. The swells and currents are unpredictable for this area so more advanced snorkelers should enter and pay caution to the surf and currents before entering the ocean areas.

Amenities – at the end of Farrington Highway is a small parking lot or you can park next to the sandy beach, Life guard stations, restroom and shower facilities. There are no shops or eateries in the area so bring your own

Check out more details to visiting Ka’ena Point State Park here for information and snorkeling in the area.

Snorkeling on Oahu’s North Shore

Oahu’s North Shore offers fantastic snorkeling during the calm summer months but is not advised during winter time when the waves and currents are dangerous for snorkeling activity. Check out the best snorkeling spots at Waimea Bay, Kuilima Cove, Shark’s Cove and Haleiwa Beach below.

Kuilima Cove

Kuilima Cove

One of the best places to snorkel in Oahu is Kuilima Cove. Kuilima Cove is a secluded lesser known area on the North Shore. Its white sand beach is located near the Turtle Bay Resort. Because it is located near Turtle Bay the beach is kept in impeccable condition. Kuilima Cove is protected by a natural rock barrier. Even during winter months when the waves are larger on the North Shore this cove is protected and a perfect place to snorkel. The water is very calm and crystal clear. The bottom is mostly coral and large rocks. There are so many fish! The water depth is about 4-5 ft. This makes it a perfect place for families to learn to snorkel. If you are staying at Turtle Bay, snorkel gear is included with your stay.

Hot Tip Kuilima Cove is a public beach. This means that you do not need to stay at Turtle Bay to have access to this beach. Although parking appears to be on Turtle Bay property, there are public parking spaces dedicated for those individuals who wish to snorkel. (There are not very many, so the early you go the better.)

Kuilima Cove is definitely one of the best things to do on the North Shore!

Check out Lisa’s post on Things to do on the North Shore

For hotel stay in the North Shore, check out the Turtle Bay Resort here for reviews and current rates.

Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay

Part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, the snorkeling activity around Waimea Bay is calm and easy during the summer months when the water is relatively calm and save. The bay has some rocky areas on both sides of the bay that are perfect for snorkeling activity to find some marine life, sea turtles and tropical fish in the bay.

Amenities – picnic areas, grassy areas, lifeguard stations, restrooms and shower areas. Come early to get a parking spot because this beach is very popular in the north shore, or you can try to find parking along the main roadway.

Note – only swimming and snorkeling is feasible during the summer months at Waimea Bay. In winter time the swells and currents are very dangerous here but summer conditions, the water is relatively calm and safe.

Noel at with Oahu Travel Now

If your considering staying at the North shore, check these accommodation reviews around the North Shore here for more details and current prices.

Haleiwa Beach

Haleiwa Beach

A popular spot to swim with sea turtles, Haleiwa is one of the best places to snorkel, kayak, standup paddleboard, surf, and hang out on Oahu. Found on the North Shore, Haleiwa is about a 45-minute (30-mile) drive from downtown Honolulu.

There’s a spacious sandy beach at Haleiwa Beach Park with lifeguards on duty, plenty of sand to lounge on, public showers and bathrooms, and roadside parking. On the weekends, the beach does get a bit crowded and parking can be challenging to come by. Next to the beach is Surf N Sea, Oahu’s oldest surf shop and where visitors can rent snorkel gear or go on a guided snorkel excursion.

Within walking distance of Haleiwa Beach Park is the historic town of Haleiwa, a quaint cluster of surf shops and quick-bite restaurants. In the beach area itself is a basketball court, playground, picnic area, tennis court, and massive grassy area. Neighboring Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park, you’ll find one of Oahu’s best places to learn how to surf. Visiting early morning or on a weekday is the best way to have a large part of the beach to yourself.   

Sea turtles are often spotted sunbathing on the sand or swimming under the bridge just a short walk from Haleiwa Beach Park. One of the best ways to see them up close (while giving them plenty of space) is by renting a kayak and paddling up the Haleiwa estuary, where it’s common to spot green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles taking refuge. Having a mask and snorkel handy means you can quickly look overboard to watch the turtles cruise in calm waters. The waters off of the beach directly also are a prime place to spot sea turtles as well as reef fish cruising around the coral reef.

Amenities – parking lot, restroom and shower, grassy areas and picnic tables, lifeguards

Chantae from The Salt Sirens

If your considering staying at the North shore, check these accommodation reviews around Haleiwa here for more details and current prices.

Shark’s Cove

Shark’s Cove

A perfect snorkeling spot that is family friendly and located on the North Shore of Oahu, Shark’s Cove is a naturally protected swimming area but is only a summer area for snorkeling activity.  The shape of the reef resembles many shark tips from different vantage points which gives it its name but fortunately in name only. You’ll find a variety of sea life at Shark’s Cove to include coral, marine life, tropical fish and rock formations to explore here. Since the cove is designated as part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, you’ll find an abundance of marine life and activity to see in the cove area. On the south side of Sharks Cove is the Pupukea tide pools; a great place to wade and explore safely and enjoy the tidepool areas when you’re done with the snorkeling fun.

Amenities – there are no public restrooms, shower or lifeguard stations at this cove so come prepared. Across from the beach are some small shops and sometimes truck vendors where you can buy food or other essentials.

Note – Shark’s Cove is a very popular attraction in the North Shore and can be very crowded, come early so you can find parking and avoid crowds in the early morning hours around 8 or 9 am before the majority arrive mid-day. Also, there is no beach area with rocky entrances to the cove so always be care on entering the water areas.

Noel with Oahu Travel Now

Snorkeling on Oahu’s South Shore

Snorkeling the South shore area of Oahu has calmer oceans, waves and winds in general especially during the winter season when the southern areas are more protected. There are some fantastic beach areas just around Honolulu that actually have snorkelng potential and then more on the western side of the island.

Queen’s Beach/San Souci Beach

Queen’s Beach/San Souci Beach

Even though other snorkeling locations on Oahu might be better known or more popular, Queen’s Beach is an excellent place to snorkel in Oahu!  

Snorkeling at Queen’s Beach is one of the best things to do in Waikiki, Hawaii, and it’s an excellent snorkeling destination for travelers who are staying in the Waikiki area exclusively. The best snorkeling spot on the beach is located between the Kapahulu Groin and the Waikiki Aquarium, and it’s just a short 3.8-mile drive from Downtown Honolulu.  

Queen’s Beach is located in the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District, designed to conserve and sustain marine life in the Waikiki area. This means there is an excellent array of fish and coral to discover once you swim out into the ocean! The further you can swim, the more coral and marine life you will be able to see.  

Queen’s Beach is a beginner-friendly snorkeling destination if the waves are calm—check with the lifeguards located on-site if you’re not sure. There are also restrooms, showers, restaurants, and plenty of other things to do near the beach. However, if you’re planning to drive to Queen’s Beach, arrive early to find a parking spot. This area can get busy, especially in the afternoon.  

There are plenty of sandy spots to lounge around on Queen’s Beach, but please note that the shoreline is rocky and shallow, so it’s not a great place to swim without flippers. If you’re looking for a beach with a smoother shoreline that still offers great snorkeling opportunities, travel just a bit further east along the coast to San Souci Beach. 

Brittany with Travel By Brit

If your considering staying at the South shore, check the best accommodation reviews here for more details and current prices.

Kaimana Beach

Kaimana Beach

Located just south of Waikiki’s busy strip, Kaimana Beach park is next to the War Memorial Natatorium and probably one of the better snorkeling spots in Waikiki area. With a shallow reef area just in front of the sandy beach park, you’ll find a small coral area to explore in the reef. The beach area is protected with a sea wall barrier that does open for you to explore outside making snorkeling in the protected area relatively safe and easy access from the wide sandy beach.

Amenities – adjacent at the Natatorium with restrooms, shower and lifeguards, parking is off street

Located just southeast of Queen’s Beach and the War Memorial Natatorium with a nice wide sandy beach area of the park.

If your considering staying at the South shore, check the best accommodation reviews here for more details and current prices.

Ala Moana Beach Park

Ala Moana Beach Park

Located just across from the Ala Moana Shopping center the Ala Moana Beach Park is a wonderful beach area that is the alternate to Waikiki beach with nice grassy areas and shady tree zones, white sandy beach and places to actually snorkel along the submerged rocks in the area. The water area is shallow and protected by the shallow reef barrier at the distance and there is snorkeling along the reef area, but be careful of the waves and go when it is a calmer day to visit the area and the water is relatively calm. With easy access in Honolulu and abundant parking, Ala Moana Beach Park is the easiest beach to get to in Honolulu with good amenities, parking and services.

Amenities – parking areas, restroom and shower facilities, lifeguard stations, concession stands and a nice paved walking area that covers the entire beach area all the way to Magic Island.

If your considering staying at the South shore, check the best accommodation reviews here for more details and current prices.

Magic Island

Magic Island

Located next to Ala Moana Beach Park, Magic Island is a smaller crescent shaped beach that was originally made to a development and resort area that didn’t happen and reverted back to the state as a beach park with a protected bay that makes it relatively easy and safe to swim and snorkel in. This is good beginner beach and also used for beginning diving instruction in Honolulu so it is a good starting point to snorkeling fun in Oahu. The snorkeling areas are closer to the rock barriers where you’ll find a variety of tropical fish around the rocky points. Just be careful of windy and strong surf conditions that make if difficult and dangerous close to the rock areas with waves that can crash over the rocks.

Amenities – parking areas, restroom and shower facilities, lifeguard stations, grassy areas with benches and picnic areas along with a nice paved walking path extending all the way from the end of Ala Moana Beach Park.

If your considering staying at the South shore, check the best accommodation reviews here for more details and current prices.

Turtle Canyon, Off Waikiki Beach via Catamaran

Turtle Canyon, Off Waikiki Beach via Catamaran

An iconic and super fun way to experience snorkelling from the island of Oahu is to jump on board with a sail-boat operator from Waikiki Beach for a few hours snorkelling at Turtle Canyon. Turtle Canyon is located a leisurely 20-minute sail from Waikiki Beach and is one of the most exhilarating snorkelling experiences our family has experienced anywhere in the world.

Sailing out to the canyon itself is all part of the fun as you can either opt to jump in the boom net to experience the softly crashing waves over the front of the boat or take the more relaxed approach to sit back and watch the retreating view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.

Once arriving at Turtle Canyon, the snorkelling is done straight from the boats’ edge. Tour operators will provide all of the snorkelling equipment including your snorkel, mask, fins and after a short safety briefing you are free to enter the water and start exploring.

You will be truly gobsmacked when you instantly discover a whole bunch of sea turtles diving and cruising right beside you. They are not at all concerned with the human arrivals and you can spend a solid hour or more in the water watching them in their natural environment. It was truly a magical experience and the best thing we have done in Oahu. Along with the turtles you also spot some beautiful tropical fish and corals.

The snorkelling at turtle canyon is a good distance from shore so the water is deep and you need to be a confident swimmer in order to participate. Our tour operator was able to provide some support for our youngest child who was only 5 at the time. Although a decent swimmer, the depth and time we were in the water meant she was able to hitch a ride on the surfboard of our tour guide and snorkel straight from the board so she could be part of the fun.

Facilities on board are limited with no bathroom or food supplied. You can bring your own snacks and drinks and you are back on the beach within a couple of hours.

Karen with Big Adventures for Little Feet.

Other details to snorkeling in Oahu

Summer time is the best time to go snorkeling around the many snorkel spots in Oahu when the waves and currents are calmer in the summer months compared to winter where many of these same snorkel spots are very dangerous and not advised to snorkel in.

The calmest waves and winds in Oahu tend to be in the South and Southwest areas so the beaches and snorkeling spots there tend to be calm compared to other parts of the island.

If you do snorkel, please be advised that you need to wear sunscreen that is reef protected and not the typical popular brands that are sold at various stores. It is a state law to utilize sunscreen that is reef protected.

Never snorkel alone, always have a partner with you snorkeling in the same area for safety while being in the ocean.

Always get to the beach and snorkeling areas early in the morning to avoid the crowds, easier parking and the sun’s rays are not so intense compared to later morning to afternoon timeframe.

Most of the activity where you will see more tropical fish, corals and marine life would be in the rocky areas, reef areas or artificial barriers or underwater structures that attract fish and marine life, so always be in the lookout for any of these places outside the sandy beach area.

Recommended Reading on visiting Oahu

Explore the North Shore Beaches

A visit to Haleiwa on the North Shore

A visit and swim at Waimea Falls

Botanical Gardens of Oahu

Explore Kailua town and beach

Best things to do and see in Waikiki

Check out the top beaches in Oahu

Conclusion to the best snorkeling spots in Oahu

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6 Comments

  1. Jeff & Crystal Bryant

    We love that you included snorkeling spots for people of all levels of experience. Being landlocked in the Midwest, we would probably start our snorkeling adventure in a safe environment like Shark’s Cove. Then we can move up to some of the more open sites.

    Reply
    • emorata

      There’s a lot of cool Oahu Snorkeling places around the island that are fun to explore and enjoy at all levels

      Reply
  2. Jackie K Smith

    I am one of those folks who love being by, on, near or over water but not in it. . .that said, I so enjoyed this because where there is snorkeling there is a beach and I am certainly up for that. . .made me homesick for Hawaii. . .

    Reply
    • emorata

      Beach and snorkeling in Hawaii doesn’t always work together but some of these Oahu snorkeling spots are doable for both.

      Reply
  3. Juliann - Browsing the Atlas

    What great information! I’m not a snorkeler, but would love to visit some of these beaches. They look absolutely beautiful!

    Reply
    • emorata

      Beaches and snorkeling works well with many of these Oahu snorkeling spots around the island.

      Reply

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.