Ringed by beautiful beaches and the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, Oahu is a hub for water sports…and snorkeling is no exception. Coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, sea turtles, and friendly sharks line the coast while dolphins frolic just offshore, curious about their human counterparts. Many of the Oahu snorkel spots are just a short stroll from the shore while others can only be accessed by kayak or as part of an organized Oahu snorkeling excursion.

While winter brings big swells (and surfers) to Oahu’s North Shore, there are protected bays and coves around the island where you can snorkel throughout the year. Snorkeling near Waikiki is also possible, with beaches that are within walking distance of Honolulu hotels.

In this guide, we’ll introduce 10 of the best Oahu snorkeling spots, what you can expect to see there and the experience level they’re suited to. From designated marine parks to offshore sandbars that are only exposed at low tide, get ready to don your mask, snorkel, and fins to encounter Hawaii’s underwater world!

DIFFICULTY

Beginner

DEPTH

2ft to 8ft (0.6m to 2.4m)

VISIBILITY

40ft to 80ft (12m to 24m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Porcupinefish, eels, sea turtles

RENOWNED FOR

Sheltered waters, easy access, convenient facilities

Established as a marine conservation area in 1967, Hanauma Bay offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu, with a huge diversity of tropical fish and turtles feeding on its reef. It’s conveniently located on the southeast coast of the island and just 30 minutes’ drive from Honolulu. There’s snorkel equipment available for rent and lockers for storing your gear, as well as a snack bar for purchasing food. You will need to pay an entrance fee (currently $7.50), which goes to supporting conservation projects and watch a short video on reef safety before you jump in the water. It’s a great spot for beginner snorkelers, although experienced snorkelers might find the crowds a detractor.

best places to snorkel in oahu 2020

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

DEPTH

8ft to 15ft (2.4m to 4.5m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 80ft (24m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Rocky shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Sea urchins, sea turtles, butterflyfish

RENOWNED FOR

Underwater rock formations, myriad tropical fish, sea turtles

Situated between Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore, Shark’s Cove has a slightly deceptive name. It’s not sharks that you’ll encounter here (although small white-tipped reef sharks have been spotted) but myriad tropical fish, sea turtles and sea urchins, as well as some impressive underwater rock formations. Snorkeling gear can be rented from the stores across the road from the beach where you’ll also find a handful of food trucks. Beginners should stick to the calm tide pool on the left while more experienced snorkelers can venture into the main area. When the waves are pumping during the winter, it’s best to avoid this spot as there are no lifeguards.

scuba diving kauai

DIFFICULTY

Advanced

DEPTH

20ft (6m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 100ft (30m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, reef sharks

RENOWNED FOR

Pipes spurting out hot water, coral heads, dolphin encounters

Nicknamed “Electric Beach” by locals, Kahe Point boasts some of the best snorkeling in Oahu for experienced snorkelers. Surprisingly, it’s the site’s proximity to an energy plant that is its appeal. The plant shoots outs warm water into the sea that attracts a variety of marine life, including spinner dolphins, sea turtles, and friendly sharks. The strong currents and lack of lifeguards mean this snorkeling site is best only for strong swimmers. Also, keep an eye out for scuba divers and spearfishers who also frequent the waters.

snorkling in waikiki 

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

DEPTH

30ft (9m)

VISIBILITY

40ft to 80ft (6m to 24m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry, boat dive

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Spinner dolphins, monk seals, sea turtles

RENOWNED FOR

Interesting bottom topography, dolphin encounters

During the winter months, Waimea Bay is bombarded by 40+ foot waves, drawing surfers from around the globe. But in summer, the ocean settles and offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu. The turquoise waters are home to a variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, and the occasional monk seal, with spinner dolphins often coming to play in the mornings. There are bathroom and shower facilities available, as well as lifeguards on hand. But be aware that currents can be strong along the left and right-hand sides of the bay.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

Up to 6ft (1.8m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 180ft (55m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Reef triggerfish (humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa), unicornfish, invertebrates

RENOWNED FOR

Vibrant fish life, beginner-friendly waters, resort facilities

Situated near the northernmost tip of Oahu, Kuilima Cove sprawls on the eastern side of the Turtle Bay Resort. It combines a beautiful beach with a sheltered cove that makes it ideal for beginner snorkelers. Kuilima Cove boasts crystal clear waters and colorful coral, not to mention sightings of Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa. Even though it’s accessed through the resort grounds, the beach is open to all, with facilities that include bathrooms, showers and a restaurant for once you’ve built up an appetite.

best snorkeling in waikiki

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

30ft to 35ft (9m to 10.5m)

VISIBILITY

40ft to 80ft (6m to 24 m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Green sea turtles, triggerfish

RENOWNED FOR

Abundance of sea turtles

If you have your heart set on seeing turtles, then this spot just off the coast of Waikiki Beach is the place to head. Turtles frequent the reef to feed and relax, as well as have their shells cleaned by small fish. You’ll need to join a catamaran or boat trip to get out to Turtle Canyon as part of an organized tour. But it’s a small price to pay for getting to experience some of the best snorkeling in Waikiki.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

4ft to 5ft (1m to 1.5m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 50ft (15m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry, boat access

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Cornet fish, rays, turtles

RENOWNED FOR

Idyllic sandbar, boat excursions, picnic lunches

snorkeling in the waikiki marine life conservation district

A short boat ride or kayak off the east coast of Oahu is the unique Kaneohe Sandbar, a tidal “island” amid the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. Aside from being a great spot to see a variety of tropical fish, you may also catch a glimpse of sea turtles and rays hidden in the sandy bottom. Catamaran cruises to the Kaneohe Sandbar usually include a barbecue lunch on the sands, making for an ideal day adventure. If you’re going independently, remember the sandbar is only exposed at low tide, so time your visit accordingly.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

DEPTH

3ft to 6ft (1m to 2m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 60ft (18m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Sea turtles, surgeonfish, wrasse

RENOWNED FOR

Vibrant corals, picture-perfect beach

oahu snorkeling spots

The trade winds and waves on the east coast of Oahu don’t make for the best snorkeling Oahu conditions. But if you’re an early bird, then head to Lanikai Beach as dawn breaks to take advantage of the calm conditions and crowd-free snorkeling. It forms part of Kailua Bay, which is a protected feeding ground for sea turtles who come to feast on seaweed off the rocks. Once the trade winds begin to whip the water’s surface, the fine sand can make the visibility incredibly cloudy. But seeing as Lanikai is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Hawaiian Islands, the trip won’t be in vain if the snorkeling conditions aren’t favorable.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

8ft (2.4m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 40ft (12m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Butterflyfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish

RENOWNED FOR

Convenient for Waikiki hotels

snorkel waikiki beach

Located directly in front of the Honolulu Zoo, Queen’s Beach, Oahu offers the best snorkeling in Waikiki. It’s protected as a marine conservation area, so you’re bound to see lots of fish, although the visibility is often poor and there isn’t much coral. Lifeguards patrol this snorkeling Waikiki beach but it’s best to avoid getting in the water if the waves are choppy, as the visibility will make it near impossible to see anything. Just south of Queen’s Beach is San Souci Beach, another option if you want to go snorkeling in the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner

DEPTH

4ft to 5ft (1m to 1.5m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 60ft (18m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Moorish idol, butterflyfish, silversides

RENOWNED FOR

Calm waters, safe snorkeling conditions, resort amenities

snorkel waikiki beach

If everywhere else is windy and wavy, the Ko’olina Lagoons on the west side of the island are one of the best places to snorkel in Oahu. These four lagoons are ideal for beginners and children throughout the year, with calm and protected waters that aren’t exposed to currents. Tropical fish are the highlight here, with the occasional turtle spotted too. Snorkeling gear can be rented from one of the hotel kiosks along the beach and there are palm-fringed lawns where you can enjoy a picnic.

RAINFALL

Oahu’s dry season is from April until September while the wet season extends from October through to March. December and January are generally the wettest months, with around 3.8 inches (96.5mm) of precipitation. The driest months are June, July, and August, with as little as 0.4 inches (11mm) of precipitation.

TEMPERATURE

Temperatures on Oahu range from around 79°F to 82°F (26°C to 28°C) during the winter months and 84°F to 88°F (29°C to 31°C) in the summer.

BEST SNORKELING MONTHS

The dry, summer months are the best time to go snorkeling in Oahu, with warmer water and less rainfall to disrupt the visibility. However, hurricanes are known to hit from June through to November and crowds are at their biggest over the summer holiday period of June to August. If you want to escape the crowds, then the shoulder months of April/May and September/October are the best times to visit to go snorkeling in Oahu. You’ll experience minimal crowds in the water and accommodation prices will be more affordable.

TIME ZONE: Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (GMT-10)

CURRENCY: United States Dollars (USD)

CALLING CODE: +1

ELECTRIC VOLT: 120 V

PLUG TYPE: A and B

MAIN AIRPORT: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)

1. Does Oahu have good snorkeling?

Oahu boasts some excellent snorkeling sites designed for all experience levels. There are numerous marine conservation areas around the island, which ensure an abundance of tropical fish species and some pristine coral reefs. Snorkeling sites on Oahu include rocky coastlines, protected bays, and offshore sandbars, as well as calm lagoons where beginners can take their first snorkeling steps. More experienced snorkelers can head to the pipes at Kahe Point where the expulsion of warm water attracts myriad species.

Most of Oahu’s best snorkeling spots are located on the north, west and south coasts of the island. The east coast experiences trade winds that affect visibility, although you can enjoy good snorkeling in the early morning hours. Among the island’s most famous snorkeling locations is Hanauma Bay to the east of Honolulu, which has been protected as a marine park, and Shark’s Cove on the North Shore between Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. For the best snorkeling in Honolulu, head to Queen’s Beach, Hawaii or opt for a Waikiki Beach snorkel excursion to Turtle Canyon.

2. Where can I snorkel in Oahu?

There are snorkeling sites on all of Oahu’s coastline and due to the short travel times across the island, you’re never far away. If you’re based in Waikiki, then Queen’s Beach and San Souci Beach offer the most accessible snorkeling in Honolulu, although the underwater experiences are much better if you make the 30-minute drive east to Hanauma Bay.

If you’re wondering where to snorkel in Oahu if you’re an experienced snorkeler, Kahe Point on the west coast of the island is just under one hour’s drive from the Hawaiian capital. It’s located adjacent to an energy plant that expels warm water into the ocean, attracting a diverse array of marine life that can be seen directly in front of the pipes.

Snorkeling on the North Shore of Oahu is best in the summer months when it’s not experiencing the huge swells that attract surfers from near and far. The best snorkeling on Oahu’s north coastline is found at Shark’s Cove, Waimea Bay, and Kuilima Cove near the northernmost tip of the island.

The East Coast is exposed to trade winds that often lead to poor visibility. But there are a handful of sites that offer good snorkeling under the right conditions. Picture-perfect Lanikai Beach is deservedly popular, as is the offshore sandbar in Kaneohe Bay.

3. Is it safe to snorkel in Oahu?

Oahu offers some very safe snorkeling conditions in its protected bays and lagoons that are ideal for beginners and kids. But there are also snorkel Oahu sites that are exposed to swift currents and waves that should only be explored by experienced snorkelers under the right conditions.

The North Shore of Oahu can become particularly dangerous during the winter months when it experiences huge swells. If you’re not a strong swimmer or experienced in the ocean, it’s easy to get caught in rips and swept out to sea. While some beaches have lifeguards patrolling them, others don’t. So check the conditions before jumping in the water and only snorkel at sites that are within your capabilities. If you’re not sure, ask the locals or join a snorkeling Hawaii Oahu tour staffed by experienced professionals who will keep an eye on you in the water.

4. How much does it cost to rent snorkel gear in Oahu?

Snorkel gear can be rented at many of the most popular snorkeling sites around the island or from hire shops in the nearby vicinity. Prices vary widely from around $12 for a basic mask, snorkel, and fin set up to about $35 for a high-quality set. ABC stores in Waikiki sell basic snorkel sets that will do the job and are often cheaper than the rental options available.

If you wear prescription glasses, then it’s best to bring your own mask from home with prescription lenses fitted. Those who plan on doing a lot of snorkeling may also find it more cost-effective to purchase their own, either at home or at a reputable Waikiki snorkeling store on arrival.

5. Where can you snorkel with turtles in Oahu?

Sea turtles are encountered at many of Oahu’s most popular snorkeling sites, including Hanauma Bay and Shark’s Cove. But aptly-named Turtle Canyon off the coast of Waikiki is perhaps the best place to head if you want (almost) guaranteed sightings of these gentle creatures. The turtles come here to feed and relax, with small fish coming to diligently clean their shells. Getting to Turtle Canyon requires you to join a catamaran or boat trip, with the opportunity to spot dolphins and whales on the ride from Kewalo Basin Harbor. If you don’t see turtles during your Waikiki Beach snorkeling trip, some tour companies allow you to ride again for free the next day.

6. What are the best beaches in Oahu for snorkeling?

Hanauma Bay on the south coast of the island is considered one of the best places to snorkel in Oahu. It’s a protected marine reserve and is well set up for snorkelers, with rental gear available and a short video presentation screened about safety in the water. On the other side of the island is Shark’s Cove, which (despite its name) is renowned for its tropical fish and sea turtle sightings. It offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu for marine diversity. Also on the north coast of the island is Kuilima Bay where you can snorkel directly from the beach and see Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.

One of the most beautiful snorkeling beaches on Oahu is undoubtedly Lanikai Beach within Kailua Bay. It boasts powdery white sands and idyllic turquoise waters, with good snorkeling in the morning before the trade winds pick up and spoil the visibility. If you want to snorkel in Waikiki, then Queen’s Beach is an easily accessible destination. But for some of the best snorkeling in Waikiki, you’ll need to jump aboard a boat and head to Turtle Canyon.

7. Where can you snorkel in winter in Oahu?

Winter is not considered the best time to go snorkeling in Waikiki or Oahu, with big swells resulting in huge waves on the North Shore of the island. Heavy rainfall also impacts visibility along the other coastlines. One of the best Oahu snorkeling destinations if you are visiting in winter are the Ko’olina Lagoons on the west side of Oahu. These four lagoons offer calm and protected waters throughout the year. It’s an ideal destination for beginner snorkelers and children. Experienced snorkelers can explore some of the other sites along the west and south coast of Oahu. But always check the currents and conditions before jumping in the water, particularly if there aren’t lifeguards patrolling the beach.

snorkeling near waikiki

As always, we create our content with you, fellow divers, in mind. So, how’d we do? Did you find this informative? Did it help you make a decision? Did we miss anything? We’d love to hear from you below. Thanks for reading and we hope your next dive is a great one!

Pippa Strickland

Pip is a product expert, a degreed environmental scientist, and an adventure-style traveler originally from Australia. Pip has been an SSI-certified Divemaster for over 5 years, during which time she’s worked with hundreds of certified divers. She’s dived widely throughout Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines and the Middle East, with a particular passion for night diving. When she’s not diving, her key interests include surfing, trekking and gardening in her ever-growing veggie patch.

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