Snorkeling in Oahu - The Top Destinations
Oahu, a.k.a. The Gathering Place, has the highest population of any of the Hawaiian islands (about a million), and is the third largest in size. Honolulu, the State Capital, is located in Oahu on the southeast coast. The landscape in Oahu is spectacular, as it consists of two separate shield volcanoes and a valley in the middle, resulting in a tropical environment truly unique to the United States.
In this article we will summarize the best snorkeling in Oahu, pointing out some unique features of each. They are not ranked in any particular order, as the strengths and limitations of each snorkeling destination depends on what you're after. Additionally, for more detailed information on each destination, check out our individual reviews of snorkeling spots in Oahu!
Located on the North shore of Oahu, this isn't your standard snorkeling spot. Given the swell can be huge during the winter months, it is only recommended for the summer on days with low wind and calm water. If you can be in the area on one of those days, then Sharks Cove is an awesome spot to snorkel.
Although there are some harmless white-tipped reef sharks that can be spotted just outside of Sharks Cove, they generally don't like that area you will be snorkeling in. Therefore, depending on how you feel about these types of sharks, this can be either an advantage or disadvantage to the snorkeler. Otherwise, there is an abundance of colorful marine life that can be spotted at Sharks Cove.
The landscape at Sharks Cove is pretty cool, as the ground has mainly been formed from lava and the area is rather remote (part of a marine life conservation district). This means that if you're heading to a spot primarily for good snorkeling, you're in luck. If you're looking for a white sandy beach and snorkeling is just a bonus, you may want to head further North to Kuilima Cove.
Overall, this is a really neat snorkeling spot that is recommended for intermediate to advanced snorkelers. Beginners can also have a great time, but may be more limited by weather and surf conditions. Click here for a more detailed review of Sharks Cove Oahu.
Located in the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on the Southeastern tip of Oahu, spectacular snorkeling is a convenient 20-30 minute drive away from the Hawaii state capital of Honolulu.
Hanauma Bay is highly recommended for everyone, especially those staying in Honolulu looking to get a taste of snorkeling. Hanauma Bay is basically a shallow pool formed by a volcanic crater that eventually eroded enough to allow water in. This is an excellent spot for life to flourish, and subsequently, for snorkelers to explore this life in a safe and beautiful environment.
Although anyone can have an amazing time at Hanauma Bay, it may be worth noting that this is also a great option for families. With a lot of amenities, a nice sandy beach, lifeguards, an education center, and amazing snorkeling, there is definitely lots to do. Just keep in mind that they are closed Tuesdays, allow 3000 visitors per day, and parking can fill up quickly in the morning.
For more detailed information on snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, please click here.
Makaha Beach Park
Located about 35 miles Northwest of Honolulu along the Farrington Highway, this is an excellent alternative to Hanauma Bay. However, as it is way more open than the crater-sheltered Hanauma Bay, the experience you have will depend a little more on the weather and surf conditions.
Makaha Beach Park is also well known for surfing, so it is recommended that you go for snorkeling in the summer months on days when the surf is low. It sounds pretty limited, but if you catch the right conditions the snorkeling can be absolutely awesome.
This snorkeling destination is often recommended for advanced snorkelers due dependency on conditions, but also the fact that a little more exploration may be involved before seeing cool critters. The beach is quite large, and at each end there are rocky formations and coral that are very accessible. It's more sandy extending out into the water int he middle of the beach, but if you are comfortable with swimming, there is some really cool coral and marine life to see, extending as deep as 35 feet.
Overall this is a great spot to snorkel on days with low surf, lots of area to explore, a huge beach to relax on, and there's a great chance you will see some really cool turtles. However, it is recommended more so for those who are strong swimmers and can endure swimming out a bit, exploring, and then swimming back into the beach (potentially against current).
Sans Souci Beach
Sans Souci Beach, sometimes called Kaimana Beach, is located on the West side of the Southeastern tip of Oahu (make sense?). Another way to describe the location is on the East end of Waikiki just across from Kapiolani Park.
This is more of an "well-rounded" beach, as it has a nice large sandy beach area, decent snorkeling, potential for good surf, lots of amenities, and is very close to the city. Most of the time, especially in the summer, the water is calm and clear, which allows for nice snorkeling. There is a lovely reef that you can explore just in front of the beach that is only about a few feet deep. In fact, it's in such shallow water that it is recommended to wait until high tide before exploring.
Generally speaking, this beach lacks the abundance of marine life that other popular spots tend to boast, for example, Hanauma Bay. However, with clear and calm water, a gradual slope, and no currents, it is a great spot for beginners. If you intend on staying somewhere nearby, perhaps this would be a great way for a beginner to become accustomed to snorkeling without devoting a full day to it. If you find snorkeling is something you want to further pursue on your trip, there are other great spots in Oahu that are more advanced with a greater abundance of marine life.
Although there isn't as much marine life as some other locations, there's still a great chance you will see some really cool tropical fish, and there are also turtles and sea urchins in the area as well. With easy access to the shallow water, taking nice relaxing breaks between exploring is really easy, which is desired by some when on vacation.
There are tons of amenities at Sans Souci Beach, including lifeguards, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and snack shops. Plus there's tons of stuff nearby that isn't directly on the beach, so you shouldn't be stranded for supplies. Overall, we highly recommend Sans Souci Beach for Beginners or families, but an experienced snorkeler might not find it that interesting.
Waimea Bay Beach Park
Waimea Bay Beach Park is located on the North Shore of Oahu across from Waimea Falls Park and is a legendary spot best known for its surfing and influence in the development of big wave surfing. However, like other spots on the North shore, if you are intending on snorkeling it's best to visit in the summer when the surf is down (May - September).
In the summer months the water is almost always crystal clear. With some really cool rock formations there is lots to explore, but for some of the coolest spots you will need to be a strong swimmer. For example, there is an islet known by the locals as The Rock. Underneath this rock is a really cool tunnel, but definitely not recommended for beginners.
Waimea Bay is part of the protected Pupukea marine life preserve, and a lot of the fish have become a little more accustomed to humans being around, which theoretically should increase your chances of seeing lots of interesting colorful fish. Even better, Waimea bay is often frequented by Hawaiian spinner dolphins, so if you're lucky enough to be around when they're in the area, you can potentially get some really cool views.
There are a good amount of amenities at Waimea Bay, including a parking lot (gets full early), restroom, showers, lifeguards, and picnic areas. The sandy beach allows for optimal relaxation between snorkeling sessions. We recommend Waimea Bay for any experience level, but only in the summer, and you should know your limitations once you're out there.