A window into a completely different world. That’s what snorkeling can offer you—and there’s no place better to do it than Hawaii.
Below, you’ll find our guide to the eight best snorkel spots on the island of Oahu. Take a little tour around the Gathering Place with us, and we’ll show you where to go, what you might find there, and how to get the most out of your time in the water. We’ll also show you what kind of amenities and facilities you can expect so you can pick the perfect spot for you and your snorkeling buddies.
First, though, let’s talk a little about what makes snorkeling in Oahu different than other places you might have snorkeled before.
4 Things to Know When Snorkeling on Oahu
Be Aware of Wind, Waves, and Weather
Ocean conditions at a particular spot can change significantly from day to day. For example, some of the spots we list below are on Oahu’s North Shore. During the winter months, a monster swell can bring massive waves to these bays. Although that can mean a great day for surfing, it also means a not-so-great day for snorkeling. Additionally, whipping winds can create surface chop and difficult swimming conditions in other areas.
In summary, make sure you check the weather before you go out so you can choose the right spot for the day’s conditions.
Always Snorkel with a Buddy
The Hawaiian Islands lie right in the middle of thousands of miles of open ocean with very little protection. Many beaches have rip currents, powerful shorebreaks that can catch you unawares, and more. When you snorkel, always go with at least one buddy. Additionally, if you’re a new or inexperienced snorkeler, stick to the spots with lifeguards, and don’t push your limits.
Respect the Wildlife You See
When you encounter a breaktakingly cool underwater creature, it can be tempting to swim closer, follow it for better viewing, or even reach out to touch it. Remember to give these fascinating species the space they need to go about their daily activities. View them from a respectful distance and don’t touch or feed them. Not only is this the pono (right) thing to do, it’s also the law, since many of the marine creatures in Hawaii are protected by state and federal statutes.
Relax, Float Along, and Have Fun!
Finally, once you and your snorkel buddy have picked out the right spot and know what to look out for, all that’s left to do is enjoy yourself. Float calmly along the reef. Take it slow and enjoy the relaxing view of Oahu’s wild and wonderful underwater world.
Now, let’s talk about where you’ll find the best snorkeling on Oahu.
Best for families of all ages
Hanauma Bay might be the most popular and most crowded of Oahu’s snorkeling spots. However, there’s a reason that it attracts so many visitors. At Hanauma, you’ll find a huge bay with nearshore spots for beginner snorkelers, as well as some farther-off spots for advanced snorkelers to explore. Plus, you’ll also see a ton of fish in the bay, so everyone in your group will get the chance to spot something pretty cool. Finally, with a huge parking lot, restrooms, showers, and lifeguards, Hanauma is an easy spot to reach if you’re traveling with a family. (No need to stress about a long walk from the car while hauling snorkeling gear!)
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays. To protect this remarkable ecosystem, the City & County of Honolulu has instituted a reservation system to visit Hanauma Bay. Hawaii residents with valid identification may access the nature preserve without a reservation from 6:45 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
Best for spotting plenty of colorful fish
Tons of frequent turtle sightings plus a huge array of tropical fish await you at Shark’s Cove. Additionally, if you have any scuba divers in your party, Shark’s Cove makes for a great shore dive as well. Since Shark’s Cove sits on Oahu’s North Shore, you’ll need to time your adventure carefully. Look for a day that’s calm, which means easy swimming and crystal-clear water. You may also want to consider bringing water shoes to navigate the rocky shoreline. Parking is limited, so get there early to secure your spot.
Best for enjoying the underwater architecture
If you want something a bit gentler on your feet than Shark’s Cove, head down the road about a quarter of a mile to Three Tables. This snorkel spot was named for three stretches of flat reef that peek out from the water at low tide. You’ll find abundant marine life around these tables, as well as in and around the lava formations you’ll along the ocean floor. Keep your eyes out for the many species of colorful tropical fish and occasional turtles who make their home in the area. Like Shark’s Cove, you’ll want to go on a calm day.
Best for a quick snorkel, right in Waikiki
If you’re a die-hard snorkeler, you might not put Queen’s Beach on the top of your list. But, if you’re staying in Waikiki and you want a relaxing way to get wet and see some fish, head on down to Queen’s Beach. There, you’ll find a narrow beach that’s quieter than the beaches you’ll find in busy central Waikiki. For restrooms, showers, and concessions, head to next-door Kapiolani Regional Park.
Kahe Point / Electric Beach
Best for experienced underwater adventurers
Although its official name is Kahe Point, Electric Beach gets its name from the adjacent Hawaiian Electric power plant. The plant ejects warm water into the ocean, which attracts certain types of sea life to the area. To access the snorkeling at Electric Beach, you’ll find a small parking lot along Farrington Highway. Once you park, walk north, and you’ll see a sandy area next to a wall. That’s your best entry point to the surrounding reef. Swim out, and you’ll find a shallow reef to the left, and a deeper reef to the right. In addition to a ton of tropical fish, you can also see bigger stuff here, like manta rays, monk seals, dolphins, and even whales (during whale season, of course!).
The conditions at Electric Beach can get a little rough, so this is an adventure best left to advanced snorkelers who are comfortable in the water. Avoid getting too close into the rocky shoreline or the walls near the entry point. You may also see divers in the area who tend to explore the deeper reef to the north (to your right as you swim out).
Best for a quiet, relaxing snorkel
Although this spot is also known as Turtle Beach, it’s not to be confused with the North Shore spot, Turtle Beach/Lanikea Beach. Instead, you’ll find this bay tucked away on Oahu’s leeward coast, just in front of the Hawaiian Princess Resort. It can be tough to find a legal spot to park, but a quiet stretch of sand, clear water, and a nice reef to explore will be your reward. Check the conditions carefully before heading out. The beach can be subject to some serious currents and shorebreak when there’s a swell.
Best for serene snorkeling
Sometimes, you just want to float serenely in calm waters, with nary a worry in your mind. Or maybe you want an easy way to introduce snorkeling to the younger members of your family. If gentle, placid paddling sounds appealing, head over to Kuilima Cove, located on Oahu’s North Shore. The cove is protected by long stretches of rock walls, which keep the interior waters quiet.
Because Kuilima Cove is located within the Turtle Bay Resort, look for the free public beach access parking spots. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay the daily resort parking fee to park your car. If you want to rent chairs and umbrellas from the resort to complete your relaxing day, they’re available for a fee, depending on availability.
Makaha Beach Park
Best for making a full day of it
Depending on the day, Makaha is either a great beach for snorkeling or surfing. When the ocean is calm, Makaha offers a fascinating reef to explore, with arches, caves, and tunnels. Makaha is also a great spot to see turtles, octopus, dolphins, and sometimes even manta rays. Just be aware that you’ll need to swim a pretty good distance away from shore to see the reef, so this isn’t a great spot for kids or beginners. However, when you want to take a break, there’s a long, wide beach for you to enjoy at Makaha. Bring a cooler, some chairs, and an umbrella, and you’ll have plenty of room to enjoy a full day at the beach.
Making the Most of Your Time on Oahu
There’s so much to do on Oahu. Visitors and residents alike can enjoy world-class shopping, eating at one of Honolulu’s innovative restaurants, discovering Hawaii’s history at one of the island’s museums, or catching a perfect wave at one of Oahu’s incredible surf spots. However, none is quite as unforgettable as experiencing the diverse, colorful, and fascinating life you’ll find just under the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
Considering making Oahu your permanent home? We’d be happy to help you make a safe, easy, and affordable move to the Gathering Place. Reach out to one of our experts to get started with a complimentary quote.
Tell us about your move!