Planning a trip to Hawaii and want to experience the richness and magic of the ocean wildlife under the waves? These are our top spots for best snorkeling in Oahu.
Oahu, Hawaii, is a popular tourist and snorkeling attraction featuring over 100 miles of coastline. Nicknamed “The Gathering Place,” Oahu is the third-largest Hawaiian island and home to twelve major beaches and more than 30 stunning attractions.
Snorkeling is an excellent way to see the local marine life while exercising your whole body. Whether a beginner or an advanced snorkeler, you’ll find the perfect swimming spot on this list for the best snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii.
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Best Snorkeling In Oahu
A popular destination for many tourists, Hanauma Bay, is located on the southeast side of Oahu. The white sandy beaches of Hanauma feature diverse marine life and shallow waters perfect for snorkeling. If you’re looking for a chill spot that is family and children-friendly, Hanauma Bay is perfect. The entry fee is free for kids under twelve and $25 per person for everyone else.
Get here early, however, as Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve, and entry is limited to 3,000 visitors daily. Since tourism is high at this beach, conservationists have stepped in to provide visitors with educational videos on how to enjoy the beach without destroying the natural habitat. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the beach is closed to provide a better sanctuary for local wildlife, so plan your vacation accordingly.
Hanauma Bay is home to around 300 different species of fish and sits at the bottom of a volcanic crater, making for some astounding views and an exciting story to tell friends and family back home. During the spring and summer, underwater visibility at this beach is at its peak. Visitors and tourists can access onsite lockers, washrooms, and snorkel equipment rental, as well as talk with local conservationists about the best practices to keep this natural wonderland intact.
If you happen to be staying at or near Turtle Bay Resort, you’ll want to check out Kuilima Cove. This northern beach is perfect for snorkeling beginners and is a beautiful experience diving in Oahu. Kuilima Cove is easy to access and features white sand dotted with flat rocks and coral that is home to plenty of colorful marine life.
Even if you aren’t vacationing at Turtle Bay Resort, there are various island hotels to stay at within a short distance of Kuiilima Cove.
Great for beginners and families, Kuilima Cove includes a rock barrier that offers shelter from rough waves and passing storms. The natural formation of such a stable enclosure means that the water at Kuilima Bay is still and calm, making it an excellent snorkeling adventure.
Sans Souci Beach
For a superior snorkeling experience in Oahu, visit Sans Souci beach in Waikiki. Much like Hanauma Bay, this beach is a protected marine life habitat with plenty of fish and coral. Most of the aquatic life you’ll see here while diving congregates around the stone sea walls that protrude from the coastline.
While your family enjoys the sandy shores and snorkeling, you can check out the Sans Souci Recreation Park, which features grassy areas for picnics and playtime. Nearby attractions such as the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo make the Sans Souci Beach a must-visit for your travel itinerary.
Located on the North Shore of Oahu between Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay, Sharks Cove is named for the shark-shaped reef just outside of the cove. This dazzling spot offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in Oahu, with clear, calm waters and a ton of depth visibility. You’ll find Sharks Cove is teeming with marine life thanks to local no-fishing laws.
Beginner snorkelers and divers beware Sharks Cove has far deeper waters, a rocky sea bed, and fewer lifeguards on patrol than other beaches. Wearing reef shoes is highly recommended since the rock formations are sharp and jagged. If you’ve been snorkeling for a while and want more of a challenge, Sharks Cove may be your place.
While the name suggests that you might see sharks in this area, Sharks Cove is perfectly safe and features a variety of tropical fish, crustaceans, and sometimes a playful octopus. The best time to go is during the summer since waves can become rough and erratic in the winter, especially from November to February.
Three Tables (Tres Mesas)
A short distance from Sharks Cove lies Three Tables, a small beach in the North Shore area. Named for its infamous three flat coral structures, Three Tables is an excellent spot for snorkeling enthusiasts in the medium to experienced stages of diving.
Local laws prohibit fishing, so marine life is abundant and thriving. The coral reef is home to various underwater inhabitants that you can get up close and personal with while snorkeling.
Three Tables doesn’t have much of a barrier from inclement weather and high winds that can create rough, choppy waves, so the best time to go diving is during the summer when the water is calm.
Known as “Electric Beach” to locals because of a nearby power plant, Kahe Point lies on the West coast of Oahu and is home to dense coral growth and a wide variety of sea life. If you swim out to the overflow pipes a few hundred yards offshore, you’ll see plenty of marine life like turtles, dolphins, and other tropical fish.
This beach features strong currents and high waves, so it’s only preferred among experienced snorkelers and divers. There are few lifeguards on duty, and the water is deep, meaning you’ll need your sea legs to get around this area. Novice snorkelers and less advanced swimmers may have a better time at Hanauma Bay or Kuilima Cove.
The water clarity of Kahe Point is unrivaled, with deep waters catering to an exciting assortment of sea life such as sting rays and dolphins and other schools of exotic fish.
If you want a detour from beach snorkeling, go to Turtle Canyon in Waikiki. Turtle Canyon is a trendy offshore boating snorkeling adventure as it provides the best chance of spotting various turtles. Depending on your vacation schedule, you can participate in half-day trips or an all-day excursion.
Turtle Canyon is home to a large coral reef where you can snorkel among turtles stopping to rest and have their shells cleaned of algae by small fish. Many organized snorkeling tours are available by catamaran or boat that will jettison snorkelers out to Turtle Canyon to swim with these fantastic creatures.
Conclusion – Best Snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii
With beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, Oahu has some of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. Whether you visit Kuilima Cove with beginner and family-friendly shallow waters or desire a more experienced diving adventure at Sharks Cove or Three Tables, you’re bound to find a hidden gem on this list.
The best time to snorkel in Oahu depends on the beach you’re visiting, as some areas have higher tides and restricted visitation times. However, you can’t go wrong with snorkeling anytime from May to September. Mornings tend to be the optimal time to snorkel in these areas since the beaches tend to be more populated in the afternoon, and the tide is lower, meaning you’ll get a closer look at the sea life.