Trip Ideas - 16 min read

10 Best Snorkeling Spots in Oahu: The Ultimate List & Guide

Margaret Carter

Margaret Carter, Updated September 23, 2022

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Oahu, the third largest island of Hawaii, is a fantastic place to visit. It’s brimming with wildlife, teeming with ocean life in the sea, and has many options for all-inclusive stays or beach club fun. That said, it’s best to go in the spring, summer, or fall to avoid the rainy season if you can. 

Like many other Hawaiian islands, Oahu offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities, either directly off the island beaches or near neighboring lands. Hawaii is famous for its sea life, offering chances to see sea turtles in their natural habitat and experience over 400 species of tropical fish that call Hawaiian waters home.  

We’ve put together a list of the ten best places to go snorkeling on or near the island so that you know where to go for your snorkeling excursion while enjoying the best Hawaii has to offer! If you’ve never been before, plan on taking kids, or really want to meet a sea turtle, we have you covered. We also have a few of the best hotels near each listed to make things a bit easier for you! 

1. Hanauma Bay

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Location: Hanauma Bay, Honolulu, HI 96825 | Hours: Entry: Wednesday through Sunday 6:45 am to 1:30 pm, Closes at 4:00 pm | Approximate Cost: Entry Fee – $25 with Reservations

Pronounced Ha-now-mah, Hanauma Bay is the top tourist destination on Oahu. It’s a gorgeous marine embayment and looks like something out of a movie. With crystal clear waters, dozens of species of tropical fish, a living reef, and an incredible marine restoration in progress, it’s a great place to visit. 

Due to its popularity over the past century, Hanauma Bay has very strict admission times and rules to preserve marine life after years of tourism damaged the area. Only 1000 people are allowed inside the Bay daily, and entry is only available between 6:45 am and 1:30 pm on Wednesday through Sunday. The beach must be empty by 3:30 pm, and all guests must leave the area by 4:00 pm. You must also make reservations no more than two days in advance, so it’s not always a sure thing you’ll get the experience. However, if you wake up early on a Monday morning and try to book, you’re likely to get in that Wednesday. 

There’s a $25 fee for entry, and it does not include snorkeling equipment, so be prepared to rent what you need or acquire it before heading to the bay. That said, this is an excellent place for beginners and kids; entirely worth the fee and strict hours! 

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, check out the Kahala Resort, The Royal Hawaiian, Kaimana Beach Hotel, Outrigger Reef, or Island Colony 3715. They’re all highly rated and close to Hanauma Bay, so you’ll be sure to get to the Bay bright and early on your reservation day!  

2. Ko Olina

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Location: Ulua Lagoon, Kapolei, HI 96707 | Hours: 8:00 am to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Located on the Southwest coast of Oahu, Ko Olina is a lovely resort community with some of the top hotel names and excursions available in Hawaii. It’s close to Kapolei, so there are plenty of restaurants and shopping available while still giving that airy Hawaiian vibe. The area has four lagoons to snorkel that are perfect for beginners. 

As some of the best year-round snorkeling, the four lagoons offer safe and easy-to-navigate artificial environments with that classic resort-style feel. You’ll find that some beautiful Hawaiian fish have taken a liking to the lagoons, and coral and urchins have made their debut. You’ll also see the occasional turtle coming to check it out. 

The waves are rarely a problem, so it’s great for kids and beginners alike. Access is free, but you’ll need to rent or buy snorkeling equipment before heading out into the water. You’ll also find bathroom amenities and a lovely walkway that connects the lagoons for a great afternoon of snorkeling fun. 

Each lagoon at Ko Olina has a luxury resort nearby. You’ll find Aulani Disney Resort & Spa, The Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, Beach Villas at Ko Olina, and Marriott’s Oahu Beach Club. If you plan to spend a lot of time snorkeling in Ko Olina, staying at one of these resorts will make your trip that much better. 

3. Aweoweo Beach Park

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Location: 68-197 Au St, Waialua, HI 96791 | Hours: 7:00 am to 9:00 pm | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Located in Mokuleia, Hawaii, Aweoweo Beach Park is one of the best places in Oahu to swim with turtles. It’s a hidden gem that locals love with restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and tons of shade. Because it’s tucked away behind a residential neighborhood, very few people knew of its existence until recently. 

One of the most incredible things about Aweoweo is it has a natural turtle cleaning station underwater that you can find while snorkeling! There’s a round rock that looks a bit out of place on the bottom of the sea, and turtles come up for the little fish nearby to give them a thorough cleaning by eating the grime off their shells and on their legs. 

Remember always to stay at least ten feet away from any turtles you see, and please don’t touch them. If you are lucky enough to see a monk seal, you’ll want to leave more than 50 feet between this fantastic creature and yourself! 

While Aweoweo doesn’t have a hotel directly on the water, there are quite a few nearby that make for a nice walk down. Check out Ke Iki Beach Bungalows, Turtle Bay Resort, Owen’s Retreat, or Hawaiian Princess. There are even a few vacation rentals on offer at Turtle Bay Hideaway!

4. Turtle Beach

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Location: Turtle Beach, Kahuku, HI 96731 | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Located in Kawela Bay on the North shore of Oahu, Turtle Beach, also known as Laniakea,  offers surfing, diving, snorkeling, and more, all within the boundaries of an offshore reef. The rugged terrain and cove-like shape make it perfect for turtles to come flop on the sand while you’re walking by. It’s also a favorite hang-out for monk seals to take a nap. 

There’s plenty to see and do, including a bridged walkway across the sand, but if you’re there for snorkeling, you’re in for a treat! You’ll see the turtles swimming in the water and pushing against the tide. 

Speaking of tides, Turtle Beach is part of the 7-Mile Miracle, famous for its waves that are perfect for surfing. This means the waters are not calm enough for people without snorkeling experience or children. Still, if you know what you’re doing and want to hang with the sea turtles, check it out! You might also get lucky and see a very calm day on the water. Just keep an eye out on the water forecast and speak with locals before chancing it. 

With so much to see and do near the North shore, you might as well get a hotel in the area, such as Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North, Turtle Bay Hotel Oahu, Tiki Moon Villas, Ocean Villas at Turtle Bay, or Camp Mokulē’ai. You can also camp out at Malaekahana Beach Campground and sleep under the stars for a once-in-a-lifetime experience if you aren’t from the islands! 

5. Kuilima Bay

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Location: Kuilima Dr, Kawela Bay, HI 96731 | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Kuilima is a spectacular beach on the eastern side of Turtle Bay in North Oahu. It has all the beautiful bright sand you could possibly want, with exciting snorkeling opportunities and plenty of sea life. It’s great for beginners and kids because the cove keeps the waves from crashing onto the sand. 

While there are lots of beautiful fish in this part of the water, not all of them are friendly! Black Sea urchins can sting you if you get too close, so let your kids know and keep an eye out for them. Many juvenile reefs are also growing, with colorful coral and tiny fish darting in and out. 

You’ll want to go as early in the morning as possible since it gets very crowded, and the fish tend to drift away during the afternoons. Still, if you go at the right time, you and the kids will have a blast snorkeling throughout the water. You’ll also find plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby if you need a break from the sand and sun. 

If you plan to spend your time near this gorgeous stretch of land, consider staying at The Turtle Bay Resort, Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu, Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North, Paradise Bay Resort Hawaii, Four Seasons Resort Oahu, or Embassy Suites by Hilton Oahu. Entry to the area is free, so any of these hotels will offer access and a break from the hustle and bustle during peak afternoon hours. 

6. Electric Beach

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Location: 92-201 Farrington Hwy, Kapolei, HI 96707 | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

The Electric Beach Park in Honolulu, Hawaii, on the southern coast of Oahu, is great for snorkeling. Also known as Kahe Point, there are many little coves with reefs that make it perfect for beginners so long as you stick close to shore. The surrounding hills are also full of unique Hawaiian wildlife, so if you take a break from snorkeling, be sure to take a walk! 

If you look at drone photos of Electric Beach, you can see the coral right offshore. The reason it’s such a popular snorkeling spot might surprise you. There’s a power plant nearby (hence the name) that releases extra warm water into the ocean about 200 yards out, something many tropical fish can’t get enough of during their fishy adventures. They gather near the output, an area teeming with coral, so you can see vibrant sea life that you won’t find elsewhere. 

If you head a bit north of the beach, you’ll find what the locals like to call Mermaid Caves, accessible only through skylights along the shoreline. They’re half-submerged caves, and the depth changes with the tide. Sometimes they’re only knee-deep, but they could very well be over your head if you don’t time it right. Only enter during a calm and shallow tide. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a lot of trouble. Thankfully, you can see into them by peeking through the skylights. 

With so much to see and do in Honolulu, staying at one of the nearby hotels is an excellent idea. Check out the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort or Kaimana Beach Hotel for the more budget-friendly options, or Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, Aqua Aloha Surf Waikiki, Ala Moana, or Hyatt Regency Waikiki if you’re looking for something a bit on the luxurious side! 

7. Waimea Bay

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Location: Waimea Bay, Hawaii 96712 | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Located near the far North Shore of Oahu on Haleiwa, Waimea Bay is where the Waimea River meets the sea. The name comes from the red-tinted water that spills into the ocean after the water travels through Waimea Valley. In the wintertime, the waves are so large that many surfing contests are held at this spot. Still, in the summer, it’s calm enough for moderately experienced snorkelers to have a fantastic time exploring the water. 

The crystal blue water, white sand, and lush tropical backdrop are what put this spot on the map, and snorkelers love the various sea life they encounter. Keep in mind that the water along the northern edge gets cloudy sometimes due to the river. It calms down so much in the summer, though, that you’ll find yourself snorkeling alongside dolphins (with at least 50 feet between you and the friendly creatures per law) that spend their afternoons resting here. 

Fishing regulations are strict, and many locals claim this is why the sea life is so abundant. Just be sure to stay close to shore when snorkeling, or you can find yourself within a riptide even if the water looks nice. There’s also a rocky cliff that many people enjoy jumping from, but this can be a hazardous activity and has resulted in many injuries. 

Whether you’re there to watch the surfing competitions and hope the water stays calm for an hour or so or plan to spend your entire summer afternoons on the beach, staying close to Waimea is the best way to experience this part of the island. You’ll find Waimea Plantation Cottages are the only accommodation nearby, so book soon if you plan to go! Otherwise, you’ll need to stay inland at one of the other hotels we have mentioned.  

8. Sans Souci

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Location: Kaimana Beach Park, Honolulu, HI 96815 | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Sans Souci Beach Park in Honolulu is an all-time favorite for family vacations. The beach is gorgeous, the snorkeling is epic, and the surrounding area is full of fun things to see, great food to eat, and wonderful places to stay. Sans Souci means “without a care” in French, and this area certainly gives that vibe in the best way. Due to the calm waters, many families find it one of the best places to take their kids’ snorkeling, so long as they stay near the sandy beach. 

When snorkeling at Sans Souci as a moderate to experienced snorkeler, it’s best to go when the water is calm, and the tide is high. There’s a small reef straight out on the water with three feet of clearance, giving you a close-up view of the shallows. Towards the left end of the beach, you’ll find a rock wall that offers even more fish. Be careful, though. Currents can be challenging to navigate. 

Another nearby area also offers decent snorkeling across the street from the Waikiki Aquarium on Queens Beach. A dredged channel rests offshore and offers fantastic opportunities for sea life and shell examinations. It’s a bit far out for the kids, but it makes for a great time for adults. 

Since Sans Souci and the surrounding area is so great for families, it only makes sense to stay nearby, especially if you plan on visiting the Waikiki Aquarium. Consider staying at the Waikīkī Grand Hotel, the Waikiki Resort Hotel, the Queen Kapi’olani, the OHANA Waikiki, The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, or the Park Shore Waikiki Hotel. Just make sure if you want a beachside resort that you’re checking for an Oceanside room! 

9. Ka’ena Point

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Location: Ka’ena Point State Park, Waialua, HI 96791 | Hours: 6:00 am 6:45 pm | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Ka’ena Point is a State Park located on the far west side of Oahu. It’s a top tourist destination with amazing hiking, lush Hawaiian forests, and a beautiful beach. Many people go just for fishing or to see Kaneana, the large cave that is home to the legend of Nanaue, the shark man. The sand stretches a mile along the coastline, offering jaw-dropping views and ample snorkeling opportunities. 

While it isn’t as fish heavy as others on our list, it’s so far off the beaten path that you’ll likely have the water to yourself to casually snorkel as long as you’d like without dealing with tourists. For this reason, it’s not recommended for kids or inexperienced snorkelers. It’s very remote, and you’ll be hard-pressed trying to find help if something goes wrong. It’s always best, even if you’re an expert, to only go out on calm, clear days and have a snorkeling buddy and satellite phone on hand. 

The reef within the water is flat and gently slopes out along the way, though the best snorkeling is a bit further out than expected due to visibility. With so much sand at such shallow depths, the water near the shore is very cloudy. It’s worth the hour-long trip solely for the ambiance and various fish, such as butterfly fish, wrasse, parrot fish, perch, triggerfish, and more. If you get there and snorkeling is out of the equation, you’ll still find yourself at one of the nicest and most secluded beaches in Hawaii, so enjoy! 

Unlike many other destinations, this will have to be a day trip. No hotels are nearby, and the no camping rule is strictly enforced. In fact, you can find your vehicle locked inside the park with a violation ticket if you overstay your welcome, so be sure to head out on time and get your car through the gates before 7 pm! 

10. Sharks Cove

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Location: Sharks Cove, Haleiwa, HI 96712 | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: Free Entry

Sharks Cove is located in Pupukea, right around the corner from Waimea Bay. Contrary to its name, it’s not a hangout for sharks. In fact, you’re much more likely to see other vibrant sea life like turtles, dolphins, and tropical fish. The name comes from the shape of the cove, and there are many small caves and crevices that hide the wonders of Hawaii unless they sneak out to say hi!

Sharks Cove has two sides. On the east side, there are many small tide pools and very shallow water. These are wonderful for the kids to play in but not so great for snorkeling. The west side, however, is deeper and broader, allowing plenty of room for people of all ages to enjoy the underwater world. 

Even better, Sharks Cove is completely free, so all you need is your beach stuff and your snorkeling equipment to have a great day. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as crowded as some other beaches nearby, but if you know about it, so do others, so don’t expect it to be empty as it’s easy to find! 

For hotel accommodations, you’ve hit the jackpot. It’s on the North shore, which offers some of the best hotels in the area. We’ve already mentioned a few of them, but we’ll leave them here as well! Check out Ke Iki Beach Bungalows, Courtyard by Marriott Oahu, Turtle Bay Resort, Pacific Marina Inn, and the Four Seasons Oahu. 

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