Oahu Snorkelling Sites – The 10 Best Snorkel Spots on Oahu, Hawaii

Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities in Hawaii. Warm, calm, clear oceans filled with abundant and exotic marine life make this a paradise for snorkelers. While Oahu is not the best of the Islands for snorkeling there are still plenty of really good Oahu snorkeling Sites around the island you can head to in order to get you Snorkel on.

Our guide to the best Snorkel Spots on Oahu will take you around the island to find the finest snorkeling the Island has to offer. We will tell you where to snorkel, the difficulty level, potential hazards and what you are likely to see. You will never need another Snorkeling’s guide.

Our 10 Best Snorkeling Sites guide is aimed at finding you the best spot for your needs be it a total Beginner or Advanced Freediver. Everyone’s best spot will differ based on Technical ability and taste. So we have taken the varied approach to try and find a spot for every type of Snorkeler. As such they are not listed in order of “bestness”. Instead, we take you on a tour around the island stopping at the best sites. We start in Waikiki and finish up in Ko-Olina with stops on the Windward, North and Leeward coasts along the way.

Oahu Snorkelling Sites

Snorkeling Safety

We hate to Preach but Snorkeling can be a dangerous activity. Hawaii’s waters can be stunningly beautiful and serene and it can at times feel like nothing bad could ever happen. But Hawaii is a remote and rugged Island Chain and the ocean is a Cruel Mistress. She can turn on you in an instant and your dream vacation could become a nightmare..or worse. Please always take care and maximum precautions. We have a full guide on Ocean Safety below that echo’s the advice of the government along with taking things further based on our own real-world experience.

Hawaii Snorkeling Safety Guide

Ok, Preaching out the way lets get wet…

Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District – Sans Souci Beach

  • Experience Level: Beginner-Moderate
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Ok
  • Location: Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach Honolulu

Waikiki is where the majority of Oahu’s visitors stay, at least for part of their trip. Waikiki beach is an incredible spectacle, but the snorkeling is pretty poor. The beach is renowned for surfing and as such is very wavey this stirs up a lot of silt that makes visibility near zero and then there is alway the risk of a surfer landing on your head…

Fortunately, all is not lost is you are Staying in Waikiki. Sans Souci beach park near the Waikiki Aquarium is part of the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District. There is a small inner reef and then a large outer reef that helps protect the beach from the breakers.

There are man-made walls either side that act as reefs and large amounts of fish can be found along these. Near to shore, if the surf is low, then this is an idea beginners site but the currents can be quite strong further out so care is needed.

What can You see?

This is a pretty basic site. Hawaii’s regular Reef fish will all be present such as Tangs, Triggers, Butterfly’s, etc… along with the odd turtle.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

  • Experience Level: Beginner-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Great
  • Wild Life: Great
  • Location: Hanauma Nature Preserve
Hanauma Bay Underwater

Hanauma is Oahu’s worst kept secret. The location of the bay is stunning and the marine life dense, varied and incredible. However, the most common life found in the bay is People! It is the perfect recipe for Snorkeling, Protected, calm, clear, waters, shallow rich reefs teeming with life and just a short drive from the City. As such it gets very busy.

This huge amount of visitation has taken its toll on the reefs and the bay is not to the same standard it once was, the coral is damaged and the life has partly moved away. It’s still a great site comparable to anywhere in Hawaii, but just not as perfect as it once was.

For, beginners it does not get much better than here. Easy entry, year-round flat calm waters, and abundant life. There are sandy bottom areas the butt right up to the reefs meaning you can enter on the sand before exploring the reef. The abundance of people also means there will be someone around at all times and the beach is lifeguarded. You can even rent gear from the Store on the beach. And really there is still an awful lot of fish here.

For more experienced Snorkelers. The bay is still great. The outer edge’s of the inner reefs are less explored and still in better condition. The more distant reefs are far less crowded and the reefs even less damaged, however, these can be quite a swim and are only for advanced swimmers.

Conditions are very reliable and this is one of the most attractive things about the bay. The enclosed nature means there is almost always calm water even if the swell outside the bay is pretty fierce. Only if the swells are running directly into the bay, which is rare, will the surf be too rough to swim.

On Tuesdays, the reserve is closed. This gives the sea-life a break from the human onslaught but if you plan to visit on a Tuesday you will be very disappointed.

What can You see?

A lot. Just about every Reef fish found in Hawaii can be found in the bay at one time or another. The outer reef can be visited by the larger pelagics like Trevally and Rays, while the reefs are teaming with the colorful Reef species you expect to see. Large Parrot fish roam the Coral. Big Chub and Unicornfish are common and there are plenty of Morish Idols and Humuhumunukunukuapua’a for that really tropical feel. Turtles are present but not as abundant as other locations on Hawaii but they are still likely sightings.

Makapu’u Tide Pools

  • Experience Level: Moderate-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: moderate
  • Consistency: poor
  • Wild Life: Good
  • Location: Windward Coast Kaupo Bay
Makapuu Tide Pools

Makapu,u is one of only a few good snorkel spots on the Windward Coast. As the name suggests this coast gets quite a bit of wind most days. This can ruin any snorkeling spots as the surf just gets too much. However, the Makapu’u Tide pools area is shielded slightly by Rabbit Island.

This means the snorkeling here can be acceptable even if it is a bit breezy. However, it is hit and miss still. When it is good this remoteness makes it a great site. The exposed nature and the fact it’s quite remote means this is far from a beginners site, far better suited to experienced snorkelers looking for something more challenging.

This site is technically the whole beach area from the pool down to the Makai research pier. Some people call it various names so we have settled for just trying to explain where it is.

What Can you See?

The big draw here is the Sea Turtles. These turtles are not overly used to people but they are not afraid, more curious. There are large numbers here and Turtle sightings are as good as guaranteed (We are sure you will tell us below you didn’t see any). There is as ever the usual reef fish that make their homes in the reef as well and the remote nature means they are here in good numbers.

Goat Island – Mālaekahana State Park

The Snorkeling around Malaekahana is only OK really and not worthy of this list however the proximity of Goat Island makes this a wild and exciting proposition. The swim across the channel is only 250m through pretty shallow water and is a fantastic and remote feeling dessert island.

The site is regularly swamped with large swells that will make it unsafe to swim and even when it is calm enough on one side the outer edges can be far too hairy. This site is about good judgment and only for advanced snorkelers who are strong swimmers. While more novice snorkelers may be ok near the beach there are better sites if you are not heading off on a Robinson Crusoe adventure.

The Channel is shallow and at low tide and low surf is technically walkable. But the channel is rocky underfoot and there is still some coral there that hasn’t been trampled to death so we advise swimming rather than wading. And if you can’t admire from the shore!

What you will see?

There is no standout sea life here, just good numbers of the typical Hawaiian fish, The draw is a remote adventure to Goat Island. One thing you won’t see on Goat Island, only enough, is goats!

Kuilima Cove / Turtle Bay

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Average
  • Location: Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay Resort

Kuilima Cove is the baby pool for the Turtle Bay resort. there is a large reef at the mouth of the bay which takes the sting out of the surf on most days making for good conditions most of the time in the bay. The gentle sandy slop means access is simple and it’s the perfect place to try out snorkeling if you are up this end of the island.

There are many other bays in this area but none are so regularly unaffected by the surf meaning this is the number one spot for the Turtle Bay area. When the conditions allow there is great snorkeling in all of Turtle Bays coves.

What can You See

You are at Turtle Bay so have a guess? Well, actually there are fewer Turtles in the Area than you might expect. You will probably see Turtles in most of the bays but there are better places on the island to see them despite the name. There will be plenty of fish and other creature to spot however and is a great place to try out snorkeling,

Turtle Bay resort offers free Snorkelling gear to guests so make sure you try it out.

Sharks Cove

  • Experience Level: Moderate – insane
  • Entry Difficulty: Difficult
  • Consistency: Summer Good, Winter BAD
  • Wild Life: Excellent
  • Location: North Shore
Sharks Cove
Sharks Cove by tdlucas5000 on CC3.0

Two things. One, this is one of Oahu’s BEST snorkeling spots. Two If the Surf is up it will kill you!

Let’s explore those two points in depth. Sharks Cove is located on Oahu’s world famous North Shore. Famed for its EPIC Surf. Waves bigger than buildings pound this coast and these are not conditions for snorkeling. During winter months if the swells are high, avoid. Even if the cove is calmer than the main coast the churning of the ocean outside the bay can cause huge currents.

If however, it’s calm outside the bay conditions in the bay will be near perfect the shape of the Bay resembles a Sharks Bite being taken out of the Island (it’s a big shark!) and this means the water is calm clear and wonderful. The bottom is a jumble of broken Lava Boulders and Coral which means getting in is tricky but once in the life is off the scale.

What will You See?

As we said the Cove is named after the shape of the bay, not its contents. There will be no snapping jaws and severed legs in here. Instead, there are huge numbers of reef fish, large schools of Convict tangs and Opelu can be seen. The Rocks and boulders can be home to more interesting critter too such as Day Octopus or Moray Eels. Spotted Rays often wander in from the open ocean too.

Makua Beach

  • Experience Level: Moderate
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Great
  • Wild Life: Great
  • Location: Leeward Coast

The Leeward coast is a wild and remote coastline on the west of the island. The Northern portion is largely undeveloped and feels very much like a land time forgot. It is a truly stunning landscape. Makua Beach Sits at the end of a lost Jurrasic valley carved into the Waianae Mountains range and provides a really stunning backdrop to the postcard beach.

The Calmer waters of the leeward side mean plenty of reefs and sea life all along this stunning beach. It is quite a trek for most people and as such tends to be fairly deserted. For this reason, we do only recommend this site for moderate to advanced Snorkelers as you are largely on your own. And there is nothing between the beach and the Philippines some 5000 miles away…

It’s exposed location means when the surf is up it is to be avoided but most of the time the wind blows from the east, so the beach is in the lee of the island. It is still likely to be choppy as it’s exposed to open ocean and seriously DEEP water only a few miles of shore. making this no place for beginners.

What Will You See?

Along the Reefs, at the edge of the bay you will find the usual reef fish and in good numbers with shoals of Morish Idols, Butterflyfish and really good sized Parrot and Unicornfish. The Big Draw is a bit of a secret though, and we can only tell you if you promise to obey the rules?

The Bay is home to a Pod Of Spinner dolphins, and they MAY swim with you. HOWEVER, you absolutely MUST not Approach them. If you spot them. Stay Still and move away slowly. The Dolphins Use the Bay to rest so approaching them is highly disturbing to them. However, IF they approach you, thank your lucky stars and get that Go Pro Rolling as you just hit the Jackpot!

PLEASE do not come here with the intention of approaching the dolphins, it really is not good for these utterly majestic creatures.

Mākaha Beach Park

  • Experience Level: Beginner-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Great
  • Wild Life: Great
  • Location: Leeward Coast

Makaha Beach Park offers excellent snorkeling opportunities. Its location is almost as stunning as Makua but a bit more built up, unfortunately. This means there will be more people about and there are LifeGuards on Duty. So it is better suited to more novice Snorkelers.

There is a huge reef system here that starts just offshore and heads right out beyond the headlands. This means there is great snorkeling for all levels. Out in the deeper water, the topography is excellent, With swim-throughs, caves, and overhangs. Loads of places for sea life to hang out.

What Will You See?

For Beginners this is probably the best place on the Island for Turtles, there is one more location where turtles are more abundant than here but it is an advanced site (Electric Beach)

On top of this, Sealife here is fantastic, the reefs are extensive and filled with great Coral and huge quantities of Reef fish. The area is a regular dive site and this usually means there will be plenty to see.

Electric Beach Park

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Great
  • Wild Life: Stunning
  • Location: Leeward Coast

Sometimes Human’s interactions with nature can have completely unintended consequences. Electric Beach Park is one such lucky Coincidence. The Hawaii Electric Power Plant uses sea water to cool the plant. This means warm water is then pumped back out to sea. It is perfectly clean…just warmer.

Local Ocean Life LOVES this. And it Gathers in, at times, Staggering numbers. At the end of the exit pipe, the shoals gather in huge numbers. It is thought the warm water increases plankton growth in the area and this has a trickle-down effect with the whole pyramid of life concentrating in the area.

It is also the best place on the Island to Snorkel with Turtles. They too love the warm calm waters and the abundance of algae in the area and you can see an awful lot of these stunning creatures on any given day.

At this point, you might be wondering why we bothered with the rest of this article? If Electric beach is SO good why not just start with it and skip the rest. Well, that lies in the technical difficulty of this site. The Outflow of water makes this a very risky location. Even on Google Maps, you can see the extent of the outflow.

Wander into that and the already long surface swim suddenly becomes huge as the current picks you up and deposits you out into deep water! Stronger than any rip current this is not a fun place to be even for very strong swimmers. Most people simply advise to steer clear of the currents but unless a 700-1000m swim is within your capabilities we would avoid the area altogether.

Another thing to watch is the number of shore fisherman. All these fish are bound to attract anglers and getting yourself caught by getting too close to their lines is not advisable. And they can be grumpy and aggressive towards Snorkelers who get too close.

What Will You See?

Pretty much anything that lives in Hawaiian waters can be seen at this location at one time or another and many fish are here in staggering numbers!

Ko Olina

Ko Olina Resort
Ko Olina Resort by Alakea1100 on CC3.0

We are not sure why, but someone decided that Oahu’s stunning natural beauty was not enough. So They built 4 large man-made lagoons at the bottom of the leeward coast to create picture-perfect beaches for a bunch of big fancy hotels.

Well, the beaches are picture perfect even if they are man-made and Nature has decided these bays are just fine to be taken over underwater by the same host of marine life found elsewhere on the island. This makes them the perfect place to start out snorkeling.

The Leeward coast is pretty serine at the worst of times but inside the enclosed bays, it is pancake flat nearly year round. Snorkeling is best along the walls and the bay entrances where nature has retaken a hold. If the ocean is calm it ok to explore beyond the entrance if you are comfortable and experienced.

What Will You See?

Life here is not the best as the majority is just a sandy bottom. There will be plenty of goatfish and possibly shoals of scad or sardines. Up against the walls reef fish take over and there will be plenty of Tangs, Butterfly, and Triggerfish.

Have Your Say

Got a Favourite Oahu site that we missed? Let us know in the comments below or maybe you have tried one of our top ten sites and had a poor experience? Again just let us know your thoughts. In fact, if you have anything at all to say about this article, or any questions, we would love to hear from you. Talking about Snorkeling anywhere on Hawaii is one of our favorite things…apart from actually snorkeling that is!

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