Oahu offers some of the best snorkel spots in the world. With over 100 miles of coastline, thousands of acres of coral reefs, and 3 marine life conservation parks, you’re never far from a great snorkeling spot on this island.
But we’ve narrowed it down to the nine best spots to snorkel in Oahu. We’ve based our choices on accessibility, water conditions, sea life, beach quality, facilities, and chances of turtle sightings! We’ve included spots suitable for first-timers to advanced snorkelers and have picked offshore sites accessible by boat trip as well as places you can wade to from the shore.
So whether you want to teach your toddler about the ocean, take a leisurely snorkel between sunbathing sessions or tick off every fish on your Hawaii species card, we’ve got the spot for you. And there are one or two truly unique sites on this list, so take notes for your next trip to Hawaii!
This safe, sandy, protected bay is one of the most famous snorkel spots in Hawaii and is often listed as one of the best places to visit on the island of Oahu. This beautiful white sand beach sits in a volcanic crater protected from the elements. As a result, the water is nearly always calm and clear and perfect for all snorkeling levels. It’s also a designated marine life conservation district and is known for the abundance of sea life it contains.
Conservationists are working hard to preserve this area of natural beauty and to undo the damage caused by years of over-tourism. For this reason, Hanauma Bay charges a fee of $25 per visitor (over 12 years old). They also impose a limit of 3000 visitors per day and close on Mondays and Tuesdays to give the reef a break. So, if you’re set on visiting Hanauma Bay – and you absolutely should – it’s wise to plan ahead, get there early and secure your spot.
You’ll find lockers, lifeguards, washrooms, snorkel equipment rental, and concession stands all available within the bay, as well as education stations to help tourists learn about the conservation efforts in place.
One of the best snorkel spots in Oahu for families, beginners, and conservation enthusiasts.
Sans Souci Beach
If you’re staying in Waikiki and want a snorkel spot that’s not just beautiful but convenient, then head to Sans Souci Beach. This beach is part of a second protected marine life district which means that no fishing is allowed in the area, and the aquatic life remains abundant and unafraid of people. Try snorkeling beside the stone sea walls that jut out from the coast, as this is where most of the fish like to hang out.
Located at the southern end of Waikiki, the beach is part of the Sans Souci Recreational Park, so you have all the benefits of the park’s facilities nearby, plus plenty of grassy space to spread out your towel or picnic blanket.
The best snorkel spot in Waikiki, Oahu.
Ko Olina Lagoons
On the west side of Oahu are 4 artificial lagoons that offer some of the island’s safest, most accessible, and most consistent snorkeling. Popular with beginners and families with small children, the lagoons are entirely protected from the elements and have calm, shallow waters, soft sandy sea beds, and good visibility all year round.
Because of their shallow design, they don’t attract large marine life, and more advanced snorkelers might find the lagoons a little tame. But beginners and children will find plenty of fish and crustaceans to entertain them, and turtles are occasionally spotted here too.
The lagoons are open to the public and free to visit, but they are popular spots, so arrive early if you want to find parking. There are lifeguards on duty plus toilets, showers, cafes, and snorkel rental available nearby.
One of the best snorkel spots in Oahu for safe, shallow, year-round snorkeling.
Shark’s Cove is a more advanced snorkeling spot and a famous dive site. Part of the island’s third marine conservation district, Pupukea, this spot offers an abundance of sea life, including some of the bigger fish you won’t see in shallower areas. It’s also home to plenty of coral and jagged rock formations where many crustaceans and tropical fish live, and the occasional octopus is known to hide.
The deepwater, rocky sea bed, and lack of lifeguards mean we wouldn’t recommend this area for beginners or small children. Although there is an area of tide pools that kids will enjoy exploring. And whatever level of swimmer or snorkeler you are, Shark’s Cove is for summer snorkeling only. This is because the waters around the north shore of Oahu can get very rough in the winter, and are much more suited to surfing than swimming.
The best snorkel spot in Oahu for intermediate and advanced summer snorkeling.
If you’re after a more accessible snorkel spot on the north shore, try Kuilima Cove. It’s a beautiful white sand beach that will appeal to everyone, and even the most tentative swimmer will be tempted to get in the water here.
The cove is protected by a natural arm of rock which defends against any rough weather and leaves the water tranquil and perfect for snorkeling even in winter. There is easy access to the water over soft white sand, and then the sea bed becomes scattered with flat rocks and coral, around which you’ll find plentiful shoals of colorful fish. This cove is a great place to spot the official state fish of Hawaii, the reef triggerfish. Or to give it its Hawaiian name, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (try saying that 3 times fast!).
The Kuilima beach is located right beside the famous Turtle Bay Resort and so is exceptionally well maintained and offers excellent facilities.
One of the top-rated spots in Oahu to snorkel off a beautiful beach with naturally calm water.
Kahe Point on the west coast of Oahu is also known as Electric Beach because of the nearby electric plant which expels water into the ocean. This water is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean, creating the ideal conditions for coral growth and attracting a wide variety of sea life. Swim out to the overflow pipes and you’ll see a reef of healthy coral growing around it and be able to spot large numbers of tropical fish, turtles, small sharks, and even dolphins that gather to enjoy the thermals.
The pipe outlet is located a few hundred yards offshore, so you’ll need to be a decent swimmer to reach it. The area is also prone to strong currents, so we’d recommend this spot to advanced snorkelers only.
The best snorkel spot in Oahu for advanced snorkelers wanting to see a unique variety of marine life.
Kaena Point State Park
In Oahu, deserted stretches of beach are rather hard to come by. But if you want to combine some snorkeling with relaxing on the soft white sand of a near-empty beach, then Kaena Point is the spot for you. Located on the far western point of the island, this beach doesn’t make it onto many tourists’ itineraries, so you won’t struggle for space here, neither to park, not to spread out your beach towels. You’ll find lifeguards on duty and toilets and showers available near the parking lot, but you won’t find anywhere to buy food or drink, so pack a picnic!
The clear blue waters have excellent visibility and the flat coral is home to plenty of life including parrotfish, snapper, triggerfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, and occasional turtles. And, if you snorkel around the craggy rocks, you’ll find crustaceans and crabs hiding within the crevices.
One of the greatest spots in Oahu for a snorkel trip to a deserted beautiful beach.
If you don’t fancy snorkeling off the beaches but want to get out into the deep waters, you’ll find plenty of organized boat trips leaving from all areas of Oahu. Depending on how much time you have, you can choose an all-day or half-day trip or an excursion that lasts a little longer than an hour.
Turtle Canyon off Waikiki, is one of the most popular offshore snorkeling spots because it offers one of the best chances of encountering turtles in Oahu. Turtle Canyon is home to a reef that turtles are known to visit when they wish to feed, rest or have a good clean. That’s right, Turtle Canyon is a cleaning station! You can snorkel over the reef and watch while small fish approach the turtles and feed on the algae growing on their shells.
The best Oahu offshore spot for snorkeling with turtles.
For another unique offshore snorkeling experience head to the Kaneohe Bay off the east coast of the island. There you’ll find a long thin sandbank that is exposed at low tide and is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike to come and float in the beautiful shallow water.
The sandbar is over a mile from the shore, so you’ll need to board a boat to get there. You can join an organized tour, charter a boat for the day, or when the waters are calm, you can kayak or SUP board over. Once there, enjoy snorkeling in the pristine waters, exploring the coral reefs, and watching the many turtles and rays that frequent this area.
Be aware that this beautiful spot has zero facilities or shade, so pack everything you need for the trip, including plenty of water and sunscreen. And remember to take all rubbish away with you when you leave.
A great snorkel spot in Oahu for a unique, memorable day trip.
Is Oahu good for snorkeling?
Yes, Oahu is great for snorkeling. There are 3 marine life conservation areas on the island and plenty of native sea life for you to look for, including turtles! The water is clear and warm enough that you won’t need a wetsuit and the many snorkeling beaches and boat tours offer something for swimmers of all levels.
What is the best snorkeling spot in Oahu?
Hanauma Bay is the best snorkeling spot in Oahu. It’s a protected conservation area with calm waters and so many fish you’ll think you’re swimming in an aquarium. However, you do have to pay to enter the bay, and it does get busy, so plan ahead and get there early.
When is the best time to snorkel in Oahu?
The best time to snorkel in Oahu is in the summer, May through to September. This is when the conditions are best, the water calmest, and sea life most abundant. Plus it’s warmer and sunnier and so more enjoyable for you.
Conditions in Oahu also tend to be better in the mornings than in the afternoons, so try to get out early. And if you snorkel at low tide, you can get closer to the coral and sea bed and can get a better look at the sealife.