Hanuama Bay Nature Park on Oahu
November 14, 2018

Where to Snorkel on Oahu – Our 5 Top Picks & Places

Snorkeling is a very popular activity for visitors and locals alike. With basic swimming skills, a mask, snorkel and fins you can interact with some of the world’s most beautiful fish.

One of the most popular things to do on Oahu is snorkeling.  With an island as beautiful as Oahu and the abundance of incredibly clear blue, inviting ocean water around you at every turn, you will find it difficult to ignore the desire to slip on the fins, mask and snorkel and explore the underwater world of some of the worlds most spectacular fish, reefs and sea life.

Almost anyone with beginner-level swimming skills can enjoy snorkeling in some areas around Oahu, but it is a better idea if participants have at least a moderate to high skill level of swimming.

There are two general ways to enjoy snorkeling on Oahu.  You can choose to go with a Snorkeling Tour Operator or going it on your own.  A Snorkeling Tour Operator is a licensed and insured tour operator who will provide all the snorkeling equipment, transportation to and from the snorkeling area and often the tour operator will provide drinks and even lunch.  Check their Websites for details.

For this article we are focusing on the ‘Go it on your own’ option.  We only recommend this option for those with good to great swimming skills, because there are some areas you may want to explore that could have deeper water, currents, and a bit of rougher water.

Of course, ideally you want to snorkel in calm water whenever possible.

One of the first things we would do when we arrive in Hawaii, after we check in to our hotel, and getting settled, one of the next things we would do is buy a Snorkel and Fin set at Wal-Mart or even at the ABC Store (if you are not familiar with ABC Stores – you have not visited Hawaii).

We buy the moderately priced Snorkel and Fin set, nothing super fancy, you can find these items for $20 - $40.  You can spend much more, but most people only need a basic set.

We toss the Snorkel and Fin set in the back of our rental car, that way as we drive around the island, we can simply reach in the back seat, grab our Snorkel and Fin set and we can be snorkeling in minutes.  If you are reading this in Minnesota, we understand how unrealistic this may sound but I can tell you, some of the best times snorkeling trips have been totally unplanned and random.  Oahu is very rich with great, quiet beach areas and secluded beaches that are easily accessible and not always crowded.

Where to Snorkel on Oahu – Our 5 Top Picks & Places

1. Kuilima Cove: This isolated cove is situated on Oahu’s North Shore and is great for beginners with a moderate skill level for swimming.  The water is almost always very calm due to the natural rack barrier that blocks the cove from the open ocean on the other side.

The white sand beach is located on the east side of Turtle Bay Resort located on the North Shore of Oahu.  There are other great snorkeling areas and beaches on the North Shore, but these other areas are for more skilled swimmers.  Kuilima Cove is not as popular as these other areas so there are fewer people.

The depth of the water in Kuilima Cove is about 3 to 6 feet deep and the clarity is excellent, so you can see many fish, coral, and other sea life.  It really is like looking into a sell stocked tropical fish aquarium.

2. Kahe Point Beach Park: This park is known for its water clarity and the abundance of variety of fish.  On a good day the water clarity at Kahe Point Beach Park can rival almost anywhere in Hawaii!

Located on the West side of Oahu, just north of Ko Olina Resort, Kahe Point Beach Park is nicknamed ‘Electric Beach’ because there is an electric power plant nearby.  The electric power plant outflows clean warm water through 2 giant cooling pipes offshore.  The water that is pushed through these pipes is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and this difference in warmer water temperature attracts sea life.

Tracks Beach, which is just north of Kahe Point Beach Park has some great snorkeling also. These beaches are exposed to the open ocean so the entrances to the water can be a bit challenging due to currents and waves, so it is best not to explore this area unless you are a good swimmer. 

Don’t buy expensive Mask Defogging Spray.  There is a plant called, Naupaka that is plentiful around the beaches on Oahu.  You can simply crush up a few of the Naupaka leaves and rub them on the inside of your mask, then swish your mask in the water just before you begin your snorkeling session – your mask will remain ‘fog free’ – for free.

3. Sharks Cove:  Sharks Cove is one of Oahu’s best beaches for diving and snorkeling and as such, it can be crowded during days with great weather (which is every day in Hawaii), so get there early to get a parking spot in the parking lot just across from Sharks Cove. 

Sharks Cove on Oahu
Sharks Cove

Scuba Diving Magazine called Sharks Cove one of the “Top 12 Shore Dives in the World.”  Sharks Cove is in Oahu’s North Shore and is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District which is why there are so many varieties of fish.

The bottom is made up of large smooth boulders and coral heads forming small caves and ledges for marine life to hide and feed.  The walls of the surrounding cliffs provide calmer water attracting schooling surface fish.  

Sharks Cove is located between the famed big wave beaches of Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay, so the water can become quite rough in the months of October to April with key Winter months of December to February where the waves are at their peak, so the summer months are the best time to snorkel Sharks Cove.  

Because the entrance points to Sharks Cove have sharp rocky areas, it is recommended that you wear reef shoes or other thick soled shoes as the rocks here are sharp and you can lose your balance if you are hit by a small wave.  It is best to keep your fins under your arm until you are in the water where it is much easier to slip them on and off when you return from your snorkeling trip.

On the south side of Sharks Cove is the Pupukea tide pools which are a great place to explore more sea life.

4. Hanauma Bay: Ahh, Hanauma Bay…this is perhaps the most famous of all the Oahu Snorkeling beaches because of the vast number of varieties of fish and its easy access.  The fish in Hanauma Bay are very tame simply due to the amount of people who visit this Nature Preserve each year.  There are an estimated 3,000 visitors each day to Hanauma Bay.

Located on the east side of Oahu, this old volcanic crater is protected from all but the biggest of ocean swells making it a wonderful place to snorkel for beach goers of all ages.  If you haven't been to Hanauma Bay recently, much has changed for the better.

Before entering the preserve, everyone must watch a short video in the Marine Education Center.  You are encouraged to treat Hanauma as “a living museum”.  This is in part due to the damage done to the park when there were as many as 10,000 visitors a day allowed in the park.

Hanauma Bay is known for the vast variety of tropical fish and for the fact that the fish are used to seeing people up close, so this makes for good underwater photo opportunities.  Hanauma Bay is not known for colorful corals and live reefs though.  There are some channels to view but if you are set on seeing beautiful coral reef, you may want to explore some of the other great snorkel spots on Oahu.

The park has an entrance fee of $5 per person, and the fee is waived for visitors under 13 years of age or for residents of Hawaii with valid identification.

5. Kaena Point State Park: This beautiful white sand beach is located on the western tip of Oahu between the rugged Waianae Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Kaena Point State Park on Oahu
Kaena Point State Park

Kaena Point is more isolated than some of the other popular snorkeling spots on the island, therefore you will not likely see near the crowds.  The ocean floor off Kaena Point is mostly made up of white sand and flat coral with the shallow water slowly sloping off as you swim further from shore.

You will not see the variety or volume of fish at Kaena Point as you will see at Hanauma Bay, but you will not be disappointed either.  Depending on the weather, the water can be nice and calm, but if the wind is strong the waves can kick up a bit making snorkeling a bit more difficult.  If this happens, just relax on the beach and wait for the wind to die down a bit.

As a conclusion to “Where to Snorkel on Oahu – Our 5 Top Picks & Places.”: Snorkeling is a great relaxing sport and a great way to enjoy the sea life around the island.  Snorkeling can be enjoyed by almost anyone of any age as long as they have basic to good swimming skills.   But keep in mind, you are dealing with nature and the ocean and waves that are unpredictable and the weather and environment of the ocean water can change quickly.  Even the very best swimmers can get into trouble in the wrong, or right situation.  

Therefore, you should never snorkel alone.  Always be aware of the body of water that you are snorkeling in. Know the currents and the depth of the area you are swimming in.  If you do not know – ask.  Snorkeling is a great sport and it can be enjoyed by young kids to adults – but be careful and enjoy the beautiful island of Oahu.