With its diverse coral reefs, sea turtles, and colourful fish species, the island of Oahu offers some of the best snorkeling spots for both beginner and experienced snorkelers.
1. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is in our opinion the best place in Oahu for snorkelling. Located in the Hawaii Kai neighbourhood of eastern Honolulu, this beautiful natural bay is home to an abundance of marine life including green sea turtles.
After suffering from the effects of over-tourism for years, the Honolulu Department of Parks & Recreation instituted a booking system for visiting Hanauma Bay.
As such you must make a reservation online before you can visit unless you are a Hawaiian resident.
Reservations open at 7.00am local time 48 hours before the day of your visit, as such if you’re looking to visit on Wednesday you’ll want to book on the Monday at 7.00am.
These reservations are limited and sell out very quickly, as such we highly recommend setting an alarm or calendar alert to remind you.
The bay itself is only open on Wednesday through to Sunday from 6.45am until 4.00pm and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Unlike every other location on this list, there is also a fee for visiting Hanauma Bay. This is currently set at $25 per adult with an additional service fee (2.35%) and a $3 parking charge (payable on arrival).
The money raised from tourists visiting Hanauma Bay is spent on the amenities and facilities in the area, while also ensuring the natural habitat that the bay offers the marine wildlife here is maintained for centuries to come.
As such, we feel that the cost of visiting Hanauma is worthwhile and we left very happy that we booked to spend some time here during our visit to Oahu.
Snorkels, masks, fins and lockers can be rented at Hanauma Bay for an additional cost.
Personally, we opted to rent a single snorkel and mask for $12. However, you can also add fins on to make this a premium rental package for an additional $8 ($20 in total).
However, given how close the reef is to the surface this isn’t required. We both saw plenty of incredible fish while snorkelling close to the surface just 40m or so out from the shoreline.
Instead, the only time you might want fins is if you are a more experienced snorkeller who plans to go further out and swim deeper.
Hanauma Bay also benefits from restrooms and showers, as well as a snack bar and souvenir shop located back up the hill close to the entrance.
2. Shark’s Cove
A popular free alternative to Hanauma Bay is Shark’s Cove. Situated along the North Shore of Oahu, this rocky coastal region is known for its shallow tidal pools which are perfect for snorkelling.
Contrary to the name, you don’t have to worry about seeing any sharks at Shark’s Cove. Thankfully, instead, all you’ll be seeing is plenty of colourful tropical fish.
One thing you will want to look out for however is the beach’s sharp lava rocks which are scattered along the coastline.
These rocks make entering the water here barefoot near impossible, as such we highly recommend wearing water shoes, or potentially skipping this beach in favour of some others if you’re travelling with younger children.
Shark’s Cove has a small parking lot, however, given how popular the area is, this parking lot fills up quickly therefore we recommend arriving early. Shower and restroom facilities are also available.
3. Kuilima Cove
Kuilima Cove, also known as Turtle Beach is situated next to the Turtle Bay Beach Resort, a five-star luxury hotel complex on the North Shore of the island.
If you’re looking to snorkel with sea turtles while in Oahu then we can’t recommend Turtle Beach enough!
Parking for both the beach and Kuilima Cove is available for free at the Turtle Bay Beach Resort – although it can feel as though you’re trespassing on multiple occasions.
While snorkelling gear, drinks and snacks are all available from the nearby beach hut.
While the prices of food and rental equipment are high in comparison to the rest of the island, the facilities of the beach more than make up for it.
We visited this beach during the winter months (January) and found that it was one of the only beaches on the North Shore where we had the chance to safely swim (even with our one-year-old) since the ocean swells are limited by the reef.
4. Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach)
Kahe Point Beach Park, better known as Electric Beach is another popular snorkelling spot along the North Shore of Oahu.
The warm water created by the power plant, from which the beach gets its name attracts lots of marine life, making it a popular spot for snorkelling.
Electric Beach is known for its extremely clear waters and abundance of aquatic life such as tropical fish, green sea turtles and even spinner dolphins.
However, we would only recommend this spot for advanced snorkelers since you must swim out past strong breaking waves to reach the clear snorkelling area.
Beach-goers visiting Electric Beach can benefit from a relatively large parking lot, showers and restrooms.
5. Turtle Canyon
Turtle Canyon is a fantastic spot for snorkelling when in Oahu. However, this location can only be accessed by boat.
My wife Helen took this boat tour from a marina close to the Ala Moana Shopping Centre while I stayed back with our little boy.
Helen would be the first to admit that she’s not the most confident swimmer in open water, however, the rave reviews that we saw from other guests convinced her to book and she wasn’t left disappointed.
The two-hour tour includes boat transportation from the marina, as well as access to the snorkelling equipment, snacks and drinks.
Getting out to Turtle Canyon doesn’t take long, and once you arrive the water is around 20 to 45 feet deep here and has great visibility so you’ll be able to admire the colourful coral reefs and marine life below.
6. Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay is another excellent place for snorkelling in Oahu. This pristine beach on the North Shore of Oahu is good for spotting many species of fish and green sea turtle sightings are also not uncommon.
The left side of the beach typically has the best snorkelling, however, this snorkelling spot is only recommended for advanced snorkelers due to the strong currents.
There is a lot of interesting rock topography and even several underwater tunnels here which you are able to snorkel through if you are a strong enough swimmer.
There is also a small parking lot at Waimea Bay, however, it fills up very quickly.
During our first attempt at visiting this beach (at around 10:30am) we simply had no chance of finding a space here, there were far more cars waiting than cars leaving, especially being so early in the day.
Instead, we opted to arrive at 8:15am the following day and didn’t struggle to find a spot in the parking lot or on the beach.
7. Sans Souci Beach
Sans Souci Beach is a great option for snorkelling right in Waikiki. This beach is located next to Diamond Head State Park in one of the quieter areas of the city.
The beach has a gently sloped sandy entry so the easy access makes it perfect for beginner snorkelers as well as showers, restrooms, picnic tables and nearby stores which make it ideal for families with young children.
While there’s still a wide variety of marine life to see here, it’s not one of the most impressive snorkelling spots on the island of Oahu and certainly better for those looking for a convenient snorkelling location rather than the best one.
8. Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is perhaps the most famous beach in all of Oahu.
This narrow strip of sand is surrounded by high-rise resort buildings making it the most crowded beach on the island.
However, the beach’s popularity doesn’t deter all marine life and the accessibility makes it a great spot for beginner snorkelers.
9. Makaha Beach Park
Makaha Beach Park is situated on the western side of Oahu roughly 45 minutes from Honolulu.
This beach is best known for surfing, but it’s also a good snorkelling spot for advanced snorkelers during the summer months when the water is calmer and there are fewer crowds.
Makaha Beach Park is only recommended for more advanced snorkelers since you’ll need to swim through strong swells to reach the coral reef here.
However, if you can do that then you’ll be rewarded with a vast array of marine life including Hawaiian green sea turtles.
In terms of facilities, you’ll find a small parking lot across the street from the beach as well as showers, restrooms, and picnic tables.
10. Queen’s Beach
Queen’s Beach is considered to be one of the best snorkelling locations in the Waikiki area.
This beach is a short walk from the main Waikiki Beach strip where the majority of resorts and hotels are located and has been formally given the title of a Marine Life Conservation Area due to the marine life that visits this location.
While this is not going to be the most impressive snorkelling spot you see in all of Oahu, it’s a good place to go near Waikiki Beach if you want to see some fish and coral.
In our experience, the best place to snorkel at Queen’s Beach is along the Waikiki Aquarium sea wall.
11. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is one of the best beaches on the eastern side of Oahu for snorkelling. This beach is about a 25-minute drive from Honolulu.
Oahu’s eastern coast, also known as the windward coast, is not as popular for snorkelling as other parts of the island.
This is because its exposure to the prevailing trade winds makes the visibility at most beaches on the east coast lower than those of the west or north sides of Oahu.
However, Lanikai Beach is the best spot if you do want to go snorkelling on this side of Oahu. You can see many coral reefs and colourful tropical fish at Lanikai Beach.
The best time to arrive is in the morning because the winds are typically lower and the visibility is better.
There is no public parking lot or restroom and shower facilities at Lanikai Beach because it’s in a residential area. However, you can find free parking on the street if you arrive first thing in the morning.
12. Ko’Olina Lagoons
The Ko’Olina Lagoons are a popular spot for snorkelling on Oahu and offer some of the best year-round snorkelling on the island.
These four lagoons are very protected and have extremely calm waters, making them perfect for families and beginner snorkelers.
The white sands and clear blue water of the Ko’Olina Lagoons make them a very beautiful spot to go snorkelling.
While there are no coral reefs at the Ko’Olina Lagoons and you may not spot a ton of sea life, you do have the opportunity to see some fish and even a couple of green sea turtles if you’re lucky.
There is a public parking lot at Lagoon #4, and a walking path that is about 1.5 miles long connects all of the lagoons and their beaches. Each lagoon has its own shower and restroom facilities.
13. Aweoweo Beach Park
Aweoweo Beach Park is a small beach on the North Shore of Oahu that is a great underrated snorkelling spot where you can usually see Hawaiian green sea turtles.
This area is known to be a “sea turtle cleaning station” where sea turtles congregate to have their shells cleaned of algae and other materials by schools of small fish.
You can watch this process occur at Aweoweo Beach Park, but it’s important to maintain a distance from the sea turtles and never touch them.
Aweoweo Beach Park is tucked away in a residential area, so there is no parking lot, but you can usually find street parking nearby. There are restrooms, showers, and picnic tables available at the park.
14. Kaʻena Point State Park
Kaʻena Point State Park is located at the westernmost point of Oahu, and it makes for a very secluded and tranquil snorkelling spot if you are looking for something a little different.
This beach is only accessible with a 2.5-mile easy hike along a marked trail which makes it one of the quietest beaches on the island.
While this beach often benefits from unique marine life and Hawaiian monk seals, there’s a limited shade which combined with the hike often makes it only suitable for families with older children or adults.
15. Sunset Beach Park
Located on Oahu’s North Shore, Sunset Beach Park is perhaps best known for its long stretch of white sand and turquoise waters.
In the winter, large waves make this a popular surfing spot while in the summer months, when the water is calmer and visibility is better, it’s a good location for snorkelling.
At the beach, you’ll find a parking lot and several restrooms and showers. While nearby there are a number of independently owned cafés perfect for brunching.
16. Three Tables
Although Three Tables is one of the smaller beaches along Oahu’s North Shore, it’s still one we recommend checking out if you’re in the area.
This beach gets its name from the three coral table formations jutting out of the water and while this area is the best location at the beach for snorkelling, it does come with some risks, especially during times when the waves are strong.
During our most recent visit to Three Tables (January) the beach was closed off to the public due to the threat to life the waves closed. However, even in the summer, it’s advisable that only the strongest swimmers snorkel here.
There are two parking areas adjacent to Three Tables, along with restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.
17. Puaʻena Point Beach Park
Puaʻena Point Beach Park is another great snorkelling spot to check out if you’re travelling along the North Shore of Oahu.
While this beach is perhaps most famous for its surf, snorkelling here is still possible thanks to the tidal pools made from lava rocks which attract coral, fish and the occasional green sea turtle.
Being a beach park there’s also plenty of parking and additional facilities available here including; restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.
18. Haleiwa Beach Park
Situated on the North Shore, just a short walk from the famous town of Haleiwa is Haleiwa Beach Park.
This beach park is perhaps best known for its scuba diving rather than its snorkelling. However, it’s still a worthwhile spot to check out with a snorkel and a mask if you’re in the area.
While we didn’t snorkel at Haleiwa Beach Park during our most recent visit to Oahu, we did spend some time on this beach as a family given its great location, spacious white sands and variety of amenities.
Oahu Travel Planning Guide
🏥 Should I Buy Travel Insurance for a Trip to Oahu?
Yes, you should definitely buy travel insurance for any vacation to Oahu. Basic travel insurance coverage with Safety Wing averages between $5 – $10 per day and offers peace of mind.
🚘 Do I Need to Rent a Car for a Trip to Oahu?
I would recommend hiring a car for a trip to Oahu. Even if it’s only for a couple of days of your vacation. I personally use Discover Cars to find the best car rental deals.
However, if you are on a tight budget or you don’t plan to explore much of the island then you, then you may want to consider comparing the cost and convenience of Uber and rental cars in Oahu instead.
🏨 Where to Stay in Oahu?
The vast majority of accommodation in Oahu is located in Waikiki. If you enjoy shopping, then you may want to stay further north by the Ala Moana Shopping Mall.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to spend your vacation at the beach, then consider staying as close to Waikiki Beach as possible.