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Snorkeling is one of the most popular water activities in Hawaii, and for good reason. The crystal-clear waters, colorful coral reefs, and diverse marine life make it an experience like no other. And when it comes to snorkeling on Oahu, there’s no shortage of amazing spots to explore.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu, as well as what you can expect to see and how to make the most of your snorkeling experience.
Snorkeling Oahu: What to Expect
Oahu is one of the most popular Hawaiian islands, and for good reason. It’s home to some of the best snorkeling spots in the world, with crystal-clear water and abundant marine life. If you’re planning a snorkeling trip to Oahu, here’s what you can expect.
One of the main reasons why snorkeling is so popular on Oahu is the clear blue waters. The island is surrounded by crystal-clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling. You’ll be able to see everything from colorful fish to sea turtles and even dolphins and whales if you’re lucky.
View Colorful Coral Reefs Snorkeling in Oahu
Another reason why snorkeling on Oahu is so popular is the colorful coral reefs. The island is home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, with a variety of colors and shapes. You’ll be able to see everything from brain coral to staghorn coral and even fire coral.
Diverse Marine Life
In addition to the clear waters and colorful coral reefs, Oahu is home to a diverse range of marine life. From colorful, tropical fish to sea turtles and even sharks, there’s always something new to see when snorkeling on Oahu. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a pod of dolphins or a humpback whale during the winter months.
Psst – Don’t forget to grab our Ultimate Hawaii Packing list!
Snorkeling Oahu: Importance of Being a Responsible Tourist
When visiting Oahu and snorkeling in its beautiful waters, it’s important to be a responsible tourist. Snorkeling is a popular activity, and it’s important to ensure that you’re doing your part to protect the marine environment and ensure that it remains healthy for future generations.
Here are some tips to help you be a responsible tourist when snorkeling on Oahu:
- Respect Marine Life: While snorkeling, it can be tempting to touch or pick up marine life, but it’s important to resist this temptation. Touching or disturbing marine life can cause harm to both the animal and the coral reef, and in some cases – is against the law.
Be sure to keep a safe distance from marine life and avoid touching or disturbing them.
- Avoid Sunscreen Containing Harmful Chemicals: Sunscreen is essential when snorkeling to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. However, some sunscreens contain chemicals that can harm the marine environment. Look for reef-safe sunscreen that does not contain harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate.
- Don’t Feed the Fish: Feeding fish can cause harm to both the animals and the coral reef. Feeding fish can alter their natural behavior and cause them to become dependent on humans for food. This can lead to overpopulation and other negative effects on the marine environment.
- Take All Trash with You: When snorkeling, it’s important to take all of your trash with you. This includes any plastic bottles, wrappers, or other items that you may have brought with you. Leaving trash behind can harm marine life and the coral reef.
- Use Responsible Snorkeling Companies: If you’re planning to take a guided snorkeling tour, be sure to choose a company that practices responsible snorkeling. Look for companies that have a focus on environmental stewardship and that educate their guests on the importance of protecting the marine environment.
By being a responsible tourist when snorkeling on Oahu, you can help ensure that the marine environment remains healthy and vibrant for years to come.
Best Oahu Snorkeling Locations
Now that you know what to expect when snorkeling on Oahu, let’s take a look at some of the best snorkel spots on the island.
Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular snorkeling spots on Oahu, and for good reason. The bay is home to a beautiful coral reef and a diverse range of marine life. You’ll be able to see everything from colorful fish to sea turtles and even octopuses. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a moray eel or a reef shark.
To access Hanauma Bay, you’ll need a reservation. Reservations open up 2 days in advance at 7 am Hawaii time, and often are snagged up within minutes.
Hanauma Bay is CLOSED Mondays and Tuesdays. This is so that the fish, reef, and other marine life have 2 days of undisturbed rest.
All tourists visiting Hanauma Bay are required to start their visit by watching an educational video to help us help protect the natural wonders of the bay.
Hanauma Bay fees
Since this is one of the most popular snorkeling locations on Oahu, I wanted to include more details about this location, starting with the fees to visit.
You will also have to pay an entrance fee as well. At the time of this article, the fee is $25/adult. Kids 12 and under are free.
Active duty Oahu military and Oahu residents (State Issued ID required) are free.
Parking is $3 or $1 for Hawaii Residents.
There are only 300 parking stalls, so try to get an early reservation to secure a parking spot.
A Few Hanauma Bay Tips:
Small coolers are allowed with snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. Large coolers are not allowed.
There is a snack stand located at the upper-level parking.
Good news – the tram that goes between the upper-level parking (where the snack bar is located) and lower-level parking is now FREE – included with your entrance fee.
Accessibility: Beach wheelchairs are available for free! Supply is limited so be sure to see a beach volunteer ASAP when you arrive to secure one if needed.
Despite its name, Sharks Cove is actually a great spot for snorkeling on Oahu. The cove is home to a beautiful coral reef and volcanic rock formations. Numerous species of fish call this marine conservatory park home, as well as sea turtles and other marine life.
Sharks Cove is located on the famous North Shore of Oahu and is a bit of a drive from the main tourist areas. However, it’s worth the trip for the excellent snorkeling opportunities.
There are two sections to Sharks Cove, offering different experiences. The east side includes shallow waters and numerous tide pools to explore, while the west side is deeper, and better for snorkeling – but still offers calm waters.
Unlike Hanauma Bay, Sharks Cove tends to be less visited (perhaps because the name is misleading) so it is great to visit for a less crowded experience.
Kahe Point Beach Park, aka Electric Beach
Electric Beach is another great spot for Oahu snorkeling. The beach is named for the nearby power plant, which pumps warm water into the ocean. This warm water attracts a variety of sea life, including colorful fish, eels, and sea turtles.
Electric Beach is located on the west side of Oahu, near the town of Kapolei. The beach is easily accessible from the main tourist areas, and there are plenty of facilities nearby.
Kuilima Cove is a hidden gem on the North Shore of Oahu. The cove is home to a beautiful coral reef and a diverse range of marine life, including colorful reef triggerfish and sea turtles. The waters are also relatively calm, making it a great spot for beginners or those looking for a more relaxed snorkeling experience.
Kuilima Cove is located near the Turtle Bay Resort and is easily accessible from the main tourist areas. There is also a parking lot nearby and facilities available for snorkelers.
Makaha Beach Park
Makaha Beach Park is a well-known snorkeling spot on the West Coast of Oahu that is best suited for advanced snorkelers. The beach is located in a remote area and is known for its strong currents and rough waters, which can make snorkeling challenging.
Despite the challenges, Makaha Beach Park is a popular spot for advanced skill level snorkelers because of its abundant marine life. The coral reef at Makaha Beach Park is home to a variety of exotic fish, eels, and even sharks.
For experienced snorkelers and strong swimmers looking for a challenge, Makaha Beach Park is a great spot to explore. But it’s important to take the necessary precautions, such as wearing a wetsuit and snorkeling with a buddy, to ensure your safety while exploring the deep waters.
Kahana Bay Beach Park
Kahana Bay Beach Park is located on the East Coast of Oahu and is known for its calm waters and beautiful coral reef. The beach is also home to a variety of marine life, including sea turtles and colorful fish.
The beach is a bit off the beaten path, making it a great spot for snorkeling without the crowds. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a monk seal or a spinner dolphin.
Located just off the coast of Waikiki, Turtle Canyon is a popular snorkeling spot on Oahu that is known for its abundance of sea turtles, making it one of the best places to view these impressive creatures.
The coral reef at Turtle Canyon is home to a wide variety of marine life.
When we booked a snorkel tour to Turtle Canyon, the winds were too strong for us to actually get in the water once we were out there. However, from the boat we were able to see not only Hawaiian green sea turtles but also spinner dolphins. We also had a great view of Diamond Head, a popular hike and historical and cultural location.
Turtle Canyon is accessible by boat or by swimming out from the shore. There are plenty of tour companies that offer guided snorkeling tours to Turtle Canyon, which is a great option for beginners.
One of the best things about Turtle Canyon is the location for guests staying on Waikiki Beach. The marines for most of the snorkeling boat tours are within walking distance for guests who do not have a car.
Waimea Bay is located on the North Shore of Oahu and is known for its beautiful beach and crystal-clear waters. The bay is also a popular spot for snorkeling, especially during the summer months when the waters are calm.
The coral reef at Waimea Bay is home to a variety of aquatic life, including sea turtles, colorful fish, and even dolphins. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try jumping off the famous Waimea Bay rock, which is a popular spot for cliff jumping.
Ko’ Olina Lagoons
The Ko’ Olina Lagoons are a series of four man-made lagoons located on the West Coast of Oahu. The lagoons are protected from the open ocean, making them an ideal spot for beginner snorkelers.
The waters at the Ko’ Olina Lagoons are calm and clear, which makes it easy to spot marine life. The lagoons are also a great spot for families, as they have plenty of facilities nearby, including restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.
While Ko’ Olina is home to multiple resorts, such as Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa, remember that all beaches on the island of Oahu are public, so you do not have to be staying at these resorts to enjoy the sandy beach and lagoons.
Sans Souci Beach
Souci Beach is a secluded beach on the famous shores of Waikiki on Oahu. it is known for its calm waters and beautiful coral reef. The beach is a bit off the beaten path, making it a good option for snorkeling without the crowds.
The coral reef at Sans Souci Beach is home to a variety of marine animals (noticing a theme about these locations), including sea turtles and colorful fish. The beach is also a great spot for picnics and relaxing in the sun.
Queens Beach is located in Waikiki and is a popular spot for snorkeling and other water activities. The beach is known for its calm waters and beautiful coral reef, as well as its easy access from the many Waikiki resorts.
The beach is easily accessible from the main road and has plenty of facilities nearby, including restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.
And if your feeling adventurous, you can try surfing or stand-up paddle boards at Queens Beach.
Lanikai Beach is a beautiful, secluded beach located on the windward side of Oahu that is known for its clear blue waters and powdery white sand. The beach is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and of course, snorkeling.
The coral reef at Lanikai Beach is home to a variety of marine life, including colorful fish, sea urchins and sea turtles. Snorkelers can explore the reef by swimming out from the shore or by taking a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
One of the highlights of snorkeling at Lanikai Beach is the Mokulua Islands, which are located just off the coast. The islands are a popular spot for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, and they offer great snorkeling opportunities as well.
If you’re planning to snorkel at Lanikai Beach, it’s important to keep in mind that the beach is located in a residential area, so parking can be limited. It’s best to arrive early in the morning to secure a parking spot and avoid crowds.
Overall, Lanikai Beach is a beautiful and peaceful spot for snorkeling on Oahu. The clear waters and abundance of marine life make it a perfect place for both beginners and experienced snorkelers.
Tips for Snorkeling on Oahu
Now that you know where to go snorkeling on Oahu, here are some tips to help you make the most of your snorkeling experience.
- Wear sunscreen: The sun in Hawaii is strong, so it’s important to wear sunscreen to protect your skin. Look for a waterproof sunscreen with at least SPF 30. It is important that you use reef-safe sunscreen.
- Rent or bring your own gear: You can rent snorkeling gear from a variety of places on the island, but it’s often cheaper to bring your own gear if you have it. Make sure your gear fits properly and is comfortable.
- Stay hydrated: Snorkeling can be exhausting, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Bring plenty of water with you and take breaks as needed.
- Respect marine life: When snorkeling, it’s important to respect the marine life and their habitat. Don’t touch the coral or marine life, and keep a safe distance from animals like sea turtles and sharks.
- Check the weather and ocean conditions: Before you go snorkeling, make sure to check the weather and ocean conditions. If the conditions are rough, it may not be safe to snorkel. Sadly, on our first trip to Oahu, they were experiencing extreme winds, making most snorkeling locations un-safe. Thankfully, our resort had a small lagoon for snorkeling so we got to do a little.
- Stay Safe: Follow basic snorkeling safety. Always swim with a buddy, have well-fitted equipment, and use a floatation device, especially if you are not a strong swimmer.
Snorkeling Oahu, A Bucketlist Activity
Oahu offers some of the best snorkeling locations in the world.
Hanauma Bay is the most popular spot for snorkeling due to its crystal clear waters and abundance of vibrant marine life. Shark’s Cove is great for those who want to explore a more rugged underwater landscape, while Kaneohe Bay is ideal for both experienced and beginner snorkelers.
Finally, Kahe Point Beach Park has a variety of coral formations and schools of fish that make it an exciting place to explore.
Whether you choose a boat tour, or a Grand Island Circle tour that includes a snorkeling tour, or you just set out on a snorkeling adventure with your group, Oahu is a great place to snorkel.
With warm water temperatures, numerous marine life conservation districts, and clear blue water, you will enjoy seeing the tropical seal life in their natural habitat.
Regardless of which location you choose, snorkeling on Oahu is an unforgettable experience!
Looking for a drier, cultural experience on Oahu? We suggest visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center!