Snorkeling is a really fun way to get a glimpse of the incredible underwater world in Hawaii without having to go through the training of learning how to scuba dive. It’s one of my favorite things to do in tropical destinations like Hawaii and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula!
Not only is snorkeling easy, but it’s also relatively cheap compared to a lot of other activities on Oahu! All you need is a mask, snorkel, and fins. From there, simply hop into the water and enjoy.
Continue reading to discover some of the best snorkeling spots in Oahu.
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The Best Snorkeling Tours In Oahu
West Oahu: Eco-Friendly Snorkel Sail with Dolphins (Best Seller)
On this best-selling eco-friendly snorkel and sail tour, you’ll set sail along the turquoise waters of Hawaii’s coast heading towards the Ko’olina coast. While on board, keep your eyes peeled for the spinner dolphins who like to jump and play in the waves of the boat.
As you set sail, you’ll be treated to a tasty continental breakfast, and later on to a picnic lunch as well.
During the snorkeling session, jump in for a snorkel adventure of a lifetime. You’ll get an up-close and personal view of the colorful fishes, corals, and underwater creatures.
Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion from Waikiki (Best Seller)
Share the waters with green sea turtles, tropical fish, and more on this unforgettable 2-hour snorkel excursion from Waikiki.
Under the careful guidance of your expert tour guide, you’ll be able to discover the vibrant sea life of Turtle Canyons (only accessible by boat). You’ll be snorkeling at a site where Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles congregate above the reef at a “Turtle Cleaning Station”.
Above water, wildlife sightings may include spinner dolphins, flying fish, and even humpback whales (in winter months).
All the necessary snorkeling gear is provided. Complimentary refreshments are also provided on the boat.
Dolphin Watch and Snorkeling with Hula and Water Activities
View dolphins in their natural habitat and swim within safe viewing distance to green sea turtles on this highly-rated Oahu snorkel cruise from Honolulu.
Expect to see spinner dolphins swimming alongside your boat and a sea of colorful fish once you get into the water! Snorkel gear, kayaks, and paddleboards are available onboard to help you get the most of this outing.
Along with the fun activities, you’ll be treated to energetic, engaging, and courteous crew members. Hotel transport included.
Best Snorkeling Spots In Oahu: Waikiki and East Shore
1. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a must-do on your Oahu island itinerary, no matter if you’re a beginner or an avid snorkeler! This is one of the island’s premier snorkeling destinations because of how much marine life you’ll see once you get in the water.
This nature preserve is excellent for families with small kids who want to snorkel in a safe, beautiful environment. Because Hanauma Bay is, well, a bay, the waters are calm and waves are usually not a problem.
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open to the public from Wednesdays through Sundays. Hanauma Bay is closed every Monday and Tuesday so that the fish and bay have 2 days of undisturbed rest.
Do note that it has a relatively steep admission fee ($25 per adult, kids 12 & under are free), as well as a parking fee. Reservations are also required nowadays to snorkel here.
While that may be steep, if you’ve never been to Hanauma Bay before, I’d still highly recommend it!
To save on snorkel rental costs, you can bring your own snorkeling set. Seavenger, one of the best snorkel gear makers in the game, sells a Hanalei Anti-Fog 4-Piece Snorkeling Set that’s really loved by both kids and adults.
2. Kiona Beach Park
While Hanauma Bay is known as the premier snorkeling destination on Oahu, it does come with a very steep admission fee of $25 per person.
Don’t want to pay an admission fee to snorkel? You can drive a bit further up the highway to get to Kaiona Beach Park, which is another good snorkeling spot that’s free to snorkel at.
When we snorkeled here, we saw lots of Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaii’s state fish) among other types of fish feeding on the coral!
Kaiona Beach Park is not only easy to get to, but it’s also more off-the-beaten-path, so you’ll likely have the whole beach to yourself.
3. Turtle Canyon
If your main objective with snorkeling is to catch a glimpse of green sea turtles living their best lives, then Turtle Canyon is just the place for you.
Because Turtle Canyon is a spot on the reef where there is a “turtle cleaning station”, and the conditions are just right for turtles to seek out for feeding and resting, you will see lots of sea turtles here! Of course, you’ll also see schools of other tropical fish.
Turtle Canyon is located off Waikiki Beach and will require a boat tour to access. We recommend going on this 2-hour Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour.
4. Kailua Beach / Lanikai Beach
Kailua and Lanikai Beaches are considered to be two of the most beautiful beaches in the world, boasting soft, white sands and vibrant turquoise waters.
In addition to unforgettable beach views and swimming, did you know that you can also snorkel here?
Because it’s a less popular snorkeling spot (visibility can oftentimes be bad due to the tradewinds), these beaches actually have healthier coral than places like Hanauma Bay which sees over 1 million visitors per year.
For the best chances of spotting marine life in Kailua Beach, snorkel near the rocky jetty just past the boat ramp. You are more likely to see colorful fish swimming about over there.
At Lanikai Beach, the area with the densest reef is located between the public accesses at Mokumanu Drive and Kaiolena Drive. Don’t forget to marvel at the sights of the healthy live corals here–something that’s harder to find at more popular snorkeling spots like Hanauma Bay.
Pro Tip: Plan to visit on calmer days with less wind in the forecast. This allows for better visibility and a better chance of spotting sea turtles and tropical fish.
Best Snorkeling Spots In Oahu: North Shore
The North Shore also offers some really great snorkeling spots. If you’re staying in Waikiki or on the East Shore, it may take more effort to get to the North Shore, but the effort will be well worth it when you see what’s underwater.
5. Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove is blessed with colorful, tropical fish; it’s a part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, which is why there are so many fish here!
As a snorkeler, you can expect to see sea urchins, turtles, a whole range of colorful fish, and even octopi! Divers love this spot for its caves, caverns, and walls where lobsters, rays, and eels can be found.
While huge waves break into Shark’s Cove in the winter months, during the summer, this protected cove can be an absolute delight for snorkeling.
Located just past Waimea Bay, this spot offers a small parking lot that fills up quickly. For those that prefer wading and staying closer to shore, there are tide pools for playing in.
Entering the water to start snorkeling is an activity in itself. Because the entrance is mostly rocky, you may want to consider wearing some water shoes as the rocks here are sharp. If there are stronger waves that day, you can easily lose your balance and cut yourself on the rocks.
After you swim through this shallow area (ranges from 2-4 feet deep), it begins to drop off to 6-20 feet in the rest of the cove.
Pro Tip: This is a popular location so the parking can fill up. I recommend arriving early so you can secure a parking spot.
Safety Note: Since Shark’s Cove is located in the North Shore (known for very strong waves in the wintertime), only visit this spot during calm waves.
6. Three Tables Beach
Located next to Shark’s Cove, this small strip of beach on the North Shore is also home to some of the best snorkeling on the island.
The beach gets its name from table-like rock and coral formations–the black lava rocks on the beach make for very unique scenery.
Snorkeling is excellent here but usually only in the summer months. When you get out into the water, you’ll find that it’s teeming with fish and turtles!
The best spots to snorkel at Three Tables Beach are found next to the coral table section where schools of colorful fish gently wander.
Parking at Three Tables can be found on the side of the road.
Safety Note: The surf is too intense here during the months of October through April. Only snorkel here during the summer months!
7. Waimea Bay
While a popular surfing spot in the winter months, Waimea Bay has crystal clear waters perfect for snorkeling during the summer months!
Rock formations on either side of the bay are teeming with marine life. There are so many different species of fish in Waimea Bay and some of them are seriously remarkable. Even dolphins can be spotted here from time to time.
If you’re looking to spot some sea turtles, Waimea Bay is one of my favorite turtle spots on the island. You can often find these cute sea turtles very close to the shore feeding around the huge rock formations below the surface.
After a snorkeling session at Waimea Bay, head to Waimea Valley to see the botanical gardens and swim in a very refreshing waterfall!
8. Kuilima Cove
Kuilima Cove is one of the most sheltered snorkeling spots on Oahu, making it a great place for beginner snorkelers to get out into the water.
What I love about Kuilima Cove is that the cove is enclosed by a natural reef, protecting it from the waves and ocean swells that are all too common on the North Shore. Because I’m not a strong swimmer, I’m not a fan of waves. Not a problem here!
The visibility in the water is also excellent and the average depth is only about neck-deep. The floor/bottom is primarily coral flats scattered with large rocks.
This postcard-perfect white sand beach is tucked alongside the edge of the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. The surrounding areas are a part of the hotel property, so it is very well kept. Having said that, this is a public beach that you can enjoy even if you’re not a guest at Turtle Bay Resort.
Because Kuilima Cove is one of the lesser-known beaches, there will be plenty of room to stretch out and call your own.
Best Snorkeling Spots In Oahu: Western Shore
9. Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach)
Kahe Point Beach Park, nicknamed “Electric Beach” due to the nearby electric power plant, is a popular snorkeling spot for more advanced snorkelers on Oahu.
Because the two large pipes outflow warm water to the ocean, this attracts scores of sea life, including reef fish, sea turtles, eagle rays, and even pods of spinner dolphins to the area.
Around the pipe and the other underwater structures, you will find a great variety of fish, including butterflyfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish, damselfish, and moray eels. Green sea turtles are also very common here–they can usually be found near the water outflow.
Entering the water can be challenging at Electric Beach due to strong waves and currents. You can get into the water from the tiny beach and swim out to the open ocean via the small channel. Beware the current in the channel can be quite turbulent!
Safety Note: Due to the potentially dangerous currents that may occur in the area, this spot is not recommended for beginners. This spot is best for advanced snorkelers and swimmers only. Wear swim fins!
Oahu Snorkeling Tips
- Respect the sea life by not touching, chasing, or harassing them. The official rule is to always be at least 5m away from turtles and all sea life.
- Snorkeling fins really help you get around, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer.
- To float with ease, you can either wear an inflatable life vest or pick up a cheap pool noodle from the local store.
- Bringing your own snorkeling set means you can choose to snorkel anytime you want without having to track down a rental shop to rent gear. Seavenger, one of the best snorkel gear makers in the game, sells a Hanalei Anti-Fog 4-Piece Snorkeling Set that’s really loved by both kids and adults.
- If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs. Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy online:
- Don’t forget your waterproof GoPro action camera or underwater phone housing so you can capture all the magical fish on screen!
TOP FOUR POPULAR TOURS IN OAHU
- Ultimate Circle Island Adventure with Waimea Waterfall: full-day tour featuring a ton of Hawaii’s landmarks, then lunch at the famous Fumi’s Shrimp Stand on the North Shore!
- Chief’s Luau Admission: experience a luau on Oahu, complete with a lei greeting! You can partake in a few activities before eating, followed by a Polynesian show.
- Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion from Waikiki: snorkel with green sea turtles, tropical fish, and more!
- Polynesian Cultural Center: The Polynesian Cultural Center is Hawaii’s #1 paid attraction. PCC is a cultural park that brings to life the spirit of Polynesia through its six Polynesian villages. After enjoying the interactive shows, activities, and demonstrations in the villages, have dinner at the luau, followed by the Ha: Breath Of Life show!
Where To Stay In Oahu
Staying in Honolulu/Waikiki can be a good idea for first-timers, as it puts you close to plenty of introductory things to do, places to eat and shop, and tourist attractions.
While it is convenient and close to a lot of restaurants, bars, and shopping, there are some drawbacks.
First off, because of how compact and populated this area is, street parking is hard to come by.
Do note that a lot of the hotels and resorts here charge both resort fees and parking fees. These fees range anywhere from $20-50 per night for parking and $15-35 per night for the resort fee.
So if you’ve found a hotel you like, be sure to check for these ‘hidden’ fees!
Many hours of research later–here are a few hotels that I’ve found to be the most budget-friendly in the Waikiki area, after accounting for all the added fees:
- Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Waikiki – no resort fee!
- Aqua Oasis – affordable, even with both parking and resort fees factored in.
- Polynesian Residences Waikiki Beach – affordable resort fees and parking fees.
If you have more budget to play with, we like these hotels:
If you’d rather get off the beaten path a little, I would actually recommend staying in a VRBO vacation rental or hotel on any part of the island other than Waikiki. While Waikiki is beautiful and convenient, it is also very developed, meaning it’ll have more of an impersonal city feel.
Other parts of Oahu are way more scenic!
My favorite part of the island to stay is in Kailua, located on the East Shore. Lanikai Beach, named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, is located on the Eastern part of the island, too.
Best lodging/transportation combination: Rent a car + rent a vacation home/private room in a neighborhood with driveway parking or street parking outside of Waikiki. Free parking = more money to spend on other parts of your vacation!
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