Few visitors to Oahu leave without having enjoyed some time beneath the waves, exploring the reefs, and encountering tropical fish and other marine species. Of course, there’s plenty to see and do on the island, the third largest and most populated island in Hawaii, but if you’re looking for the best snorkeling on Oahu especially for beginners, you’ve come to the right place.
With 227 miles of shoreline, the island has no shortage of opportunities to explore the ocean but knowing the best places to snorkel in Oahu can save you plenty of precious time on your travels and ensure a memorable experience to look back on for years to come.
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Here's what we're covering:
- Best Places to Snorkel on Oahu
- Map of Best Snorkeling on Oahu
- What Makes Oahu Great for Snorkeling
- Guided Snorkeling Tours on Oahu
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Places to Snorkel on Oahu
We’ve divided the island of Oahu up into four main areas and listed the best snorkeling spots in each. Most of these locations are free to snorkel and usually easy to access from wherever you’re staying on the island – you may need to hire a car if you’re heading out on your own. Hanauma Bay is the exception where the cost is concerned, and visitors do have to pay to enter.
Generally speaking, the West Shore offers some of the best snorkeling spots on the island, while the North Shore and South Shore are more seasonal due to wind conditions and swells making things a bit tricky. There are fewer good snorkel spots on the East Shore, mainly due to the exposure to trade winds.
The South Shore is more seasonal than other regions on the island as a result of the strong southern swell during the summer months. While the southern shore offers a wide variety of hotels and resorts (and even some beach hotels that won’t break the bank), the snorkeling here is less amazing, but there are a few good spots to try.
Some of the best snorkeling in Honolulu and its surroundings are within easy reach of the metropolitan area and really affordable to visit in terms of travel costs.
1. Hanauma Bay
If you’re staying in Honolulu or nearby Waikiki where many of the larger resorts and hotels are to be found, it’s easy to get to Hanauma Bay on the south-eastern tip of the island.
You’ll be snorkeling within a nature reserve, so you’ll be asked to pay an entrance fee. If you’re looking to see plenty of fish and a wide variety of fish, this will be money well spent for a day of snorkeling in these waters.
The biggest downside to a visit here is that it can get crowded with like-minded tourists also hoping to experience this magical marine reserve.
2. Queens Beach/Sans Souci Beach
Arguably some of the best snorkeling in Honolulu can be enjoyed in Waikiki at either Queen’s Beach or the nearby Sans Souci Beach. If you’re staying on the South Shore, these two beaches are easy to access and also within quick and easy reach of other top attractions in the area like the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, not to mention the Diamond Head State Monument.
The beauty of these locations lies in their proximity to the marine conservation area off the shore which hosts fascinating fish and coral. Seasonality is a factor here – if there are big waves (usually in the summer months), you’d do better to travel a bit further out along the coast to the east or west to avoid the swell.
Some of the best snorkeling in Oahu can be had on the west shore of the island. Flatter waves and clearer conditions are more common on the leeward side of the island, making this one of the best places to snorkel in Oahu.
3. Kahe Point Beach Park
Kahe Point is known for its crystal-clear water and high fish populations. The area is also known as Electric Beach due to its proximity to the electric power plant which pumps clean, warm water from its cooling system into the ocean.
The warmth tends to attract plenty of sea life, making this a rewarding snorkel spot. This area is also popular with spinner dolphins and green sea turtles.
The best spots here require a bit of a swim to reach, so we would not recommend this as the best snorkeling in Oahu for beginners. There are other ways to experience this area, like on this Dolphin and Whale Snorkel Sail.
4. Ko Olina Lagoons
This great year-round snorkeling spot offers some of the best snorkeling on Oahu for beginners. With four sheltered and calm lagoon areas to explore, this is a good place to see some fish and a few corals and urchins along the stone wall.
This isn’t a tropical reef so species are fewer and numbers less spectacular, but there’s still plenty to see and enjoy – a great option for younger kids and beginners.
The sandy bottom of the lagoon can cause visibility problems, so if you see there are bigger waves in the open ocean it might be better to move along to another spot.
If you look on the map, there are actually 4 separate lagoons to choose from and are numbered as such. The first is right in front of Aulani, Disney Vacation Club. The second is part of the Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort Oahu at Ko Olina. The third is in front of Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. Lastly, the fourth lagoon is fully on its own and adjacent to Ko Olina Beach Park and the marina.
It’s worth noting that all of these lagoons are accessible by the public.
5. Kaena Point State Park
Located on the western tip of the island, Kaena Point State Park is known for its postcard-perfect sprawling sandy beach. Snorkeling here is fairly rewarding with numerous marine species making an appearance.
The beach you should look for is Keawaula Beach which is connected to the state park and is right at the end of the main road.
TIP: Visibility increases the further you swim out due to less stirring up of the sandy bottom.
The north shore offers some of the best snorkeling spots in Oahu but the snorkeling here is seasonal.
During the winter months, it’s still possible to find good snorkeling spots but conditions are better suited to surfing because the waves become quite large so you need to be very careful.
6. Shark’s Cove
Contrary to what the name might suggest, there are no sharks here. However, there are plenty of fish, making this a great spot in Oahu for snorkeling.
As you can see in the photo above, Shark’s Cove is mostly jagged coral rock and sparse sand to set up a towel. With the rock, you do have to be careful traversing through. That said, the water is quite shallow here and quite protected, making it a great snorkel spot for beginners.
It’s important to note that in the winter the cove is battered by waves so not an ideal snorkel spot. Due to this wave action, there’s not very much coral to see.
That said, in the summer it can get quite busy so it’s a good idea to get there early to find a parking spot.
7. Waimea Bay Beach
Waimea Bay is a popular surf spot, particularly in the winter months. This means that while snorkeling here is good during the summer months, it’s less so in the winter.
The bay forms part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservations District which limits fishing, ensuring vast populations of fish to see, as well as spinner dolphins who come here to rest during the day.
As a result, the bay can get super busy so it’s best to get here early in the day.
8. Three Tables
Summertime at Three Tables Bay offers calm waters, but it’s a relatively exposed bay and at the mercy of surges and waves which can make conditions somewhat precarious.
The bay gets its name from three table-shaped coral formations, home to good fish populations. This bay also forms part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District which protects the fish populations.
9. Kuilima Cove
Arguably the best for beginner snorkeling in Oahu can be found at Kuilima Cove. The cove offers sheltered conditions for snorkeling as well as a white sandy shore to enjoy.
This cove is slightly less busy than other snorkeling spots in Oahu so you can really spread out and make a day of it. In the winter months, when the rest of the north shore is potentially battered by larger waves, this spot remains sheltered and calm.
The waters here a clear with coral flats and large rocks that house plenty of fish. This is a great spot for snorkeling with kids in Oahu.
The East Shore of Oahu isn’t usually associated with great snorkeling. The reason for this is that this side of the island is exposed to greater wind, making conditions less than ideal for some time in the water with a snorkel.
Add to this, that these winds often bring rain to the east side of the island, which then causes river run-off into the ocean making visibility murkier.
10. Lanikai Beach
The exception on the east coast is Lanikai Beach which offers some good snorkeling. Half a mile of palm-fringed sandy beach makes this a popular spot with tourists, so it can get somewhat busy.
As for the snorkeling, there is a lot to see beneath the waves along with some things to be avoided, like the Portuguese Man-of-War and the stinging limu seaweed.
Map of Best Snorkeling on Oahu
This map contains all 10 snorkel sites on Oahu that we’ve recommended.
What Makes Oahu Great for Snorkeling
- Loads of fish to see. Many of the locations we’ve mentioned are within protected marine reserves where fishing is prohibited ensuring plenty of fish to see.
- Oahu is the busiest island in Hawaii – It’s highly populated and sees large volumes of tourists. While this can mean more crowds to contend with, it does also mean that there are many great tours and guides to choose from.
- Also, as the island is so popular, there are heaps of other activities to enjoy, like a sunset beach Segway tour or a thrilling helicopter tour over the island’s top landmarks.
Guided Snorkeling Tours on Oahu
The beaches mentioned in this list make it really easy to go on your own snorkel adventure but if you’d like a more guided experience and to be taken to spots that you simply can’t drive to, make sure to take a look at this list of excursions that you should definitely book that we highly recommend.
Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion – This is a 2-hour snorkel experience from Waikiki. Turtle Canyons is a popular reef in front of the Marriott Waikiki but you need a boat to get here and it gets its name from the fact that this is where turtles hang out and get cleaned.
Oahu Circle Island and Snorkeling Tour – Tight on time on the island and want to tour around and go snorkeling? This is a great option.
Oahu Catamaran Cruise – For a more extensive snorkeling experience, sailing on one of these catamarans in Oahu is a great option. This particular one leaves from Ko Olina.
Frequently Asked Questions
It is free to snorkel in public beaches on Oahu but there are fees for special nature preserves such as Hanauma Bay State Park where they currently charge $25 for adults. Locals and kids 12 and under are free.
Currently, there are only 1000 guests per day and tickets need to be reserved.
The department of parks and recreation has a special reservation page for Hanauma Bay. Note that you don’t need an account to make a reservation. There is also a 2.35% service fee for credit cards.
For the most part yes. The exception are special places such as Hanauma Bay which are first-come-first-serve. They are cash only here and is $3 for non-residents. In other popular snorkel locations, spaces are limited so it’s recommended to go early.
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