Best Snorkeling In Oahu: Top 10 Spots

Discover the best snorkeling in Oahu as we unveil the top 10 spots. From hidden coves to bustling reefs, these locations offer breathtaking marine biodiversity and a glimpse into Hawaii's underwater wonders.

Our 10 best snorkel spots in Oahu

Best Oahu Snorkeling Spots Map
Map of our 10 favorite snorkeling spots in Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu, the third-largest Hawaiian island, is a snorkeler's paradise, and having spent more than two decades snorkeling in Oahu, we are thrilled to share our recommended snorkel spots.

In our opinion Oahu offers a snorkeling experience that can be ranked equally as impressive as snorkeling in Maui. Its surrounding waters are home to a wide range of marine species, including tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, and even the occasional whale.

Before embarking on your snorkel adventure, please keep in mind that reef conservation is a top priority in Oahu. Practice responsible snorkeling by avoiding coral contact, using reef-safe sunscreen, and considering full snorkel suits to minimize environmental impact.

10. Ko Olina Lagoons

Ko Olina Lagoons, situated on Oahu's southwestern coast, comprise a collection of four man-made, crescent-shaped lagoons known as Lagoon Kohola (1), Lagoon Honu (2), Lagoon Nai'a (3), and Lagoon Ulua (4). While the snorkeling opportunities in the lagoons may be somewhat restricted compared to other recommended spots, they are exceptionally accessible and secure, making them an ideal choice for beginners and families, guaranteeing a safe and convenient snorkel experience.

Ko Olina Lagoon Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
Among the lagoons, Lagoon Ulua (4) is often regarded as the prime choice for snorkeling. Positioned at the southernmost end of the series, Lagoon Ulua (4) boasts slightly greater depth than the others, increasing the likelihood of encountering reef fish and sea turtles.

The four man-made lagoons in the Ko Olina share a similar design, featuring cuts in the rocky ocean barrier that enable the flow of seawater. Currents enter through the sides and exit via one or more central channels. In the incoming water channels, it is possible to snorkel through the rock cuts until reaching the breakwater, provided the ocean waves are gentle.

Marine Life: At Ko Olina Lagoons, you can encounter a variety of marine life. Look out for great barracuda, butterflyfish (such as fourspot and raccoon), cornetfish, Hawaiian dascyllus, goatfish (manybar, yellowstripe, yellowtail in large schools), barred jack, Moorish idol, Hawaiian silversides (in large schools), orangestripe surgeonfish, and wrasse (Christmas and saddle).

Parking: Ko Olina Lagoon Ulua (4) offers the largest public parking area among all the lagoons. The parking lot is conveniently situated near the lagoon entrance; however, it tends to fill up rapidly, particularly on weekends and holidays. Free parking may involve waiting, especially on weekends, holidays, and during the summer season. Alternatively, a paid parking lot is available at the nearby Marina, with a fee of $10.

Location South West Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Beginner

9. China Walls

Located in Oahu's Portlock neighborhood within Hawaii Kai, China Walls is characterized by jagged lava rock ledges extending into the ocean. This natural wall-like formation has earned its name. In our view, China Walls offers the finest free snorkeling in Honolulu, complete with complimentary parking and entry.

Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
For stunning snorkeling experiences, swim beyond the breaking waves to reach a small reef located about 300 feet offshore. However, be cautious of small boat and jetski traffic in the area.

The scenic beauty of China Walls attracts cliff jumpers, but it also offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities when conditions are favorable. The underwater topography at China Walls features mini caves, underhangs, and crevices, providing shelter for a diverse array of marine life. As a result, it is also an excellent spot for snorkelers who can freedive and those with underwater cameras.

Marine Life: Snorkelers can expect to encounter a variety of fish species, including beautiful reef fish like butterflyfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish, and wrasses. Other marine creatures such as sea turtles, octopuses, and eels can also be spotted in the vicinity.

Keep an eye out for colorful sea anemones, sea stars, sea urchins, and crustaceans like crabs and shrimps. These small but captivating creatures can be found hiding within the rocky crevices and coral formations.

Parking: China Walls is accessible by a short walk from the nearby residential area. There is no official parking lot available, so visitors often park in the surrounding neighborhood. Be sure to follow any posted parking guidelines to avoid any issues.

Top Tip: When entering the water, exercise care as there is coral present near the walls, approximately 5 meters away.

Location South East Oahu - View map
Entrance Rocky / Cliff
Snorkeling Ability Advanced

8. Keawa'ula Beach (Yokohama Bay)

Keawa'ula Beach, also known as Yokohama Bay, is situated on the westernmost tip of Oahu, offering pristine waters, beautiful underwater scenery, and a chance to encounter dolphins and Hawaiian green sea turtles. If you want to combine some snorkeling with relaxing on the soft white sand of a near-empty bit of coastline, then Keawa'ula Beach is the one for you. It is one of the most remote and secluded beaches on the island.

Keawa'ula Beach Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
Just 30 feet from the shore, clusters of large rocks create an ideal habitat for fish, making it a great spot for snorkeling.

Keawa'ula Beach's shoreline features rugged volcanic stone, with numerous coves and inlets. It is often overlooked by tourists due to its rough waves. Snorkeling here requires strong swimming skills, but it offers clear waters and a unique snorkeling experience with a fun and varied underwater scenery.

Marine Life: With excellent visibility, the clear blue waters of Keawa'ula Beach showcase a vibrant underwater world. The flat coral formations host a variety of marine life, including parrotfish, snapper, triggerfish, butterflyfish, and damselfish. Lucky snorkelers may even spot turtles. Skilled swimmers exploring around the rocks can discover crustaceans and crabs hiding in crevices. Additionally, tidal pools reveal anemones, urchins, and seaweed, providing an exciting glimpse of marine life for those who prefer to stay closer to the surface.

Parking: While the parking lot at Keawa'ula Beach is small, there is ample parking available along the road adjacent to the beach itself. Visitors can utilize this parking option if the lot is full. Additionally, a public restroom and freshwater rinse shower are provided for visitors.

Keawa'ula Beach is located in a remote area without nearby developed facilities. It is advisable to bring your own food or snacks, as the closest options are miles away.

Location South Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Intermediate-Advanced

7. Mākaha Beach

Mākaha Beach, located approximately 35 miles northwest of downtown Honolulu, is renowned for its world-class surfing conditions. However, it also offers an opportunity for sea turtle lovers to enjoy encounters with huge green turtles. During calm periods, this expansive open bay provides a decent snorkeling experience with deep waters, live coral, and the chance to swim alongside these magnificent creatures.

Mākaha Beach Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
While the ends of the beach are adorned with rocks and reefs that reach the shoreline, the middle section offers a sandy expanse extending quite far. Keep an eye out in the water at a considerable distance from the shore to locate the nearest buoy, which serves as the intended destination for snorkeling at Mākaha Beach.

It's important to note that Mākaha Beach is considered an intermediate to advanced snorkeling spot due to factors such as potential waves, a steep beach, strong currents, and the need to swim a significant distance to reach the prime snorkeling areas.

Marine Life: If snorkeling with huge green turtles excites you, Mākaha Beach is the perfect place. Alongside these magnificent creatures, snorkelers can also enjoy sightings of pufferfish, octopuses, and occasional eagle rays. Further out, the underwater landscape features an abundance of Cauliflower, Lobe, and Mound corals.

Parking: To reach Mākaha Beach, visitors can access it by car via Farrington Highway. Although it may be a bit farther from the bustling tourist areas, the journey to Mākaha Beach is well worth it. The beach provides a parking lot for visitors, conveniently located near the beach itself. Generally, parking spaces at Mākaha Beach are accessible, allowing visitors to easily park their vehicles and enjoy their time at the beach.

Location South Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Intermediate - Advanced

6. Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach, situated on the eastern shore of Oahu, Hawaii, is nestled within the community of Lanikai in Kailua. This captivating beach provides breathtaking views of the Mokulua Islands, commonly referred to as the Mokes. These twin islets, located just off the coast, contribute to the scenic beauty of Lanikai Beach. It's no wonder that both visitors and locals are drawn to this beach, particularly in the early morning, to witness the awe-inspiring sunrise over the vast expanse of the ocean.

Lanikai Beach Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
The snorkeling Lanikai Beach area with the most dense reef is located between the public accesses at Mokumanu Drive and Kaiolena Drive. After entering in a sandy area, swim toward the reef. It goes offshore about 1500 feet (457 meters), where the color of the water goes from turquoise to deep blue and the waves are breaking.

Snorkeling Lanikai Beach is our only recommended location on the east side of Oahu. The exposure to the very common trade-winds on this side of the island makes snorkeling challenging.

Marine Life: Lanikai Beach boasts a diverse fish population, including Milletseed and Threadfin Butterflyfish, Hawaiian Dascyllus and Gregory, Bullethead Parrotfish (juvenile), various Sergeantfish, Goldring and Ringtail Surgeonfish (juvenile), Convict Tang, and Bird and Saddle Wrasse (large school, Surge).

Lanikai Beach is also adorned with diverse coral species, such as Blue Rice, Lobe, Mound, Nodule, Rice, Sandpaper Rice, and Thick Finger corals.

Parking: Lanikai Beach does not have a designated parking lot. Visitors typically park on the residential streets in the Lanikai neighborhood. When parking in the neighborhood near Lanikai Beach, make sure to avoid parking on the bike lane to prevent receiving parking tickets.

Location South East Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Intermediate - Advanced

5. Three Tables Beach

Three Tables Beach is a stunning sandy beach that grants access to some of the finest coral formations on the North Shore. Its name stems from the three distinct sections of flat reef visible during low tide. These formations serve as an intriguing backdrop, with the best snorkeling experiences found around these "tables."

Three Tables Beach Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
Located near Shark's Cove, Three Tables Beach features three flat rock formations resembling tables, creating unique snorkeling areas with an abundance of marine life.

Like many spots on the North Shore, Three Tables Beach is ideal for snorkeling during the calm waters of summertime. While exploring this area, it is recommended to swim near the tables themselves, and if the surge or current is minimal, you can venture beyond them for further exploration.

Marine Life: Three Tables Beach is situated within the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, where fishing is prohibited. As a result, the area boasts thriving fish populations, enhancing the snorkeling experience at Three Tables. While the coral formations may be scattered in small patches, they still offer a glimpse of vibrant underwater beauty. Among the coral species found in the area are Blue Rice, Blue Soft, Cauliflower, Lobe, Mound, and Thick Finger coral.

Parking: Parking at Three Tables Beach can be limited. Visitors usually park along the roadside on Kamehameha Highway or find parking in nearby residential areas. Be mindful of parking regulations and avoid blocking driveways.

Location North Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Beginner

4. Kuilima Cove (Turtle Beach)

Kuilima Cove, also known as Turtle Beach, is a small and protected cove located in Kawela Bay within the Turtle Bay Resort complex on the North Shore of Oahu. It is celebrated for its picturesque beauty, characterized by golden sand, swaying palm trees, and the mesmerizing clarity of its waters. The idyllic setting of Kuilima Cove provides excellent snorkeling for beginners and young children, due to its calm and shallow waters. The protective shoals help maintain a peaceful environment, making it an ideal place to explore and observe marine life at a relaxed pace.

Kuilima Cove Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
The snorkeling area within the cove spans the inner part facing the beach, with depths ranging from 3 to 10 feet (1-3 meters). It is delineated on the right by a bar of black rocks and on the left by a line of buoys, beyond which stronger currents can be encountered. The rocks closing the cove are located less than 150 meters away from the beach.

Access to Kuilima Cove is free from the beach of the Turtle Bay Resort, a large hotel complex with various amenities, including two golf courses. Snorkelers can enter the water from the sandy beach of the resort, preferably in the area to the right where the water is calmest, near the bar of black rocks. However, caution should be exercised as there are many sea urchins in the rock crevices, and it is recommended to wear water shoes (booties) for protection.

Marine Life: Kuilima Cove in Oahu, Hawaii is home to marine species such as Green Sea Turtles, Convict Tang, Yellow Tang, Fourspot Butterflyfish, and Millet Butterflyfish.

Parking: Kuilima Cove is part of the Turtle Bay Resort, and parking is available for guests of the resort. If you are not staying at the resort, you can inquire about parking availability at the resort's front desk or use public parking options nearby.

Location North Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Beginner

3. Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach)

Kahe Point Beach Park, famously known as Electric Beach due to its proximity to the power plant across the street, is a must-see for intermediate-level snorkelers. While navigating the waves can be slightly challenging here, the experience is always rewarding. It offers the perfect setting to spend an afternoon, savor a breathtaking sunset, and perhaps treat yourself to a mouthwatering burger at Teddy's on your journey back home.

Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach) Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
Near Kapolei, this beach park offers excellent snorkeling with clear waters, beautiful coral, and chances to spot dolphins. Head to the orange buoy for the best snorkeling experience.

Due to the factors such as the 650 feet (198 meters) swim out to the water outlet, cross currents near the site, and waves crashing onto the beach, Kahe Point Beach Park is not recommended as a beginner or kid-friendly spot. However, if you are in decent physical shape and have some snorkeling experience, you should be able to handle the conditions.

Marine Life: Kahe Point Beach Park is renowned for its thriving marine life, particularly around the pipe running from the nearby electric plant.

Keep an eye out for endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals, sea turtles, dolphins, rays, and a variety of tropical fish species. Moreover, it boasts stunning coral formations, including cauliflower coral, finger coral, rice coral, lobe coral, and many other hard coral species.

Parking: Kahe Point Beach Park has a parking lot available for visitors. It is located across the street from the beach park, and parking spaces are usually available. However, if you plan to visit on the weekend, it is advisable to arrive early to secure a parking spot as the lot tends to fill up rapidly with snorkelers and divers, typically after 8:30-9 AM.

Location South West Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Intermediate

2. Shark's Cove

Nestled within Pupukea Beach Park on O'ahu's North Shore, Shark's Cove comprises expansive tide pools that offer a serene and captivating snorkeling experience. Protected by a natural breakwater, these pools boast calm waters, making them an excellent choice for snorkelers. Moreover, the nearby spacious beach provides a relaxing space to unwind between snorkeling sessions.

Shark's Cove Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
Despite its name, Shark's Cove does not pose a threat of encountering actual sharks while swimming. The appellation originated from a popular tale attributing the resemblance of the reef's outline outside the cove to a shark, visible when observed from above.

Shark's Cove is known for its rocky underwater landscape and diverse marine ecosystem. Lava formations have created a fascinating network of caves and tunnels, ranging from 15 to 45 feet (4.5 to 13.7 meters) deep. For the best snorkeling experience at Shark's Cove, it is advisable to go during high tide. High tide brings in more water, which helps to cover the shallow areas and provides better visibility for snorkelers.

Marine Life: Snorkelers at Shark's Cove can expect to encounter a wide variety of tropical fish and corals. The diverse coral formations include finger coral, cauliflower coral, lobe coral, mushroom coral (Fungia spp.), and plate coral (Favia spp.).

Parking: Shark's Cove does not have its own designated parking lot. Visitors typically park along the roadside on Kamehameha Highway. Be sure to adhere to parking regulations and avoid blocking any driveways or entrances.

Top Tip: Bringing your own water shoes is highly recommended for navigating the sharp lava rocks both on land and in the water at Shark's Cove. While you can rent them nearby, it's worth noting that the rental prices tend to be relatively expensive.

Location North Oahu - View map
Entrance Rocky
Snorkeling Ability Beginner

1. Hanauma Bay

Renowned as the top visitor attraction in Oʻahu, Hanauma Bay holds its well-deserved reputation. Situated in East Honolulu, this protected marine bay is undeniably the island's premier snorkeling destination. Just a short distance of 9 miles (15km) east from Waikiki beach, Hanauma Bay captivates with its breathtaking setting inside a volcanic crater. The bay's graceful curvature provides a sheltered environment, making it an ideal haven for snorkelers to explore the abundant marine life.

Hanauma Bay Aerial Map Snorkeling Location
One of Oahu's most famous snorkeling destinations, Hanauma Bay boasts a crescent-shaped coral reef teeming with vibrant marine life.

For confident swimmers equipped with fins and during mostly calm ocean conditions, we highly recommend venturing beyond the reef at Hanauma Bay and exploring the right (west) side of the bay. By swimming along the west shoreline all the way around Kalaepiha Point, there you will have the opportunity to discover healthier coral formations.

Marine Life: At Hanauma Bay, you'll encounter a rich variety of marine life. Hawaiian green sea turtles gracefully swim among the colorful reef fish like parrotfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, and damselfish. Keep an eye out for fascinating creatures such as moray eels and octopuses, adding excitement to your snorkeling experience.

While exploring the bay, you might also spot groupers like the peacock grouper and yellowfin grouper. If luck is on your side, you might even catch a rare sighting of the elusive white-tipped reef shark.

Parking: Hanauma Bay has its own parking lot, but it can get crowded quickly. It's recommended to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to secure a parking spot.

Reservation: To access the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, non-residents are required to make advance reservations. Reservations can be from The Department of Parks and Recreation, starting at 7 a.m, up to two days prior to your desired visit. Once you secure your preferred time slot, you will need to complete the payment process. Admission fees for non-residents aged 13 and older amount to $25 per person, while children aged 12 and younger can enter free of charge.

Location South East Oahu - View map
Entrance Sandy Beach
Snorkeling Ability Beginner

Essential Gear for Snorkeling in Oahu

In Oahu, having good snorkeling gear is crucial due to the island's unique ocean conditions. The presence of strong and occasionally unpredictable currents, especially in certain areas, can make snorkeling challenging.

Recommended snorkeling gear for Oahu
selection of snorkeling gear that will enhance your underwater adventures in Oahu. From high-quality masks and snorkels to comfortable fins and reliable rash guards.

Protecting yourself from jellyfish stings, swimmer's ear, and harmful sunrays is crucial for a safe and enjoyable snorkeling experience. Efficient fins are also essential for snorkeling in Oahu's powerful currents and surge. They provide better propulsion and control, enhancing safety and maneuverability in challenging conditions.

Dive in and explore the best snorkel gear that will elevate your snorkeling adventures to new depths.

The Best Time to Snorkel Oahu

The best time to snorkel in Oahu is typically during the summer months, from May to September. During this time, the ocean conditions tend to be more calm and the visibility is generally better, allowing for optimal snorkeling experiences. The waters are warmer, ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit (mid-20s to low 30s Celsius), making it comfortable for extended time in the water.

However, it's important to note that snorkeling can be enjoyed year-round in Oahu. Even during the winter months, from December to February, when the surf is higher on the North Shore, there are still plenty of snorkeling spots with protected bays and calm waters. Additionally, the winter months may bring the opportunity to spot migratory marine life, such as humpback whales.

Before heading out for snorkeling, it is advisable to check the current Oahu weather condition forecasts.

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