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Best Places for Snorkeling in Oahu: [2024 Guide]

Oahu is a magnet for visitors from all over the globe for its crystal clear turquoise waters and long stretches of white sand beach. We spent over a year living and exploring the entire island and uncovered the best places for snorkeling in Oahu.

best places in oahu for snorkeling

Buckle up because I’m spilling the beans and all of the deets for your next Oahu snorkeling adventure!

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How to Get Around Oahu

Before we jump into the best places for snorkeling in Oahu, let’s touch on the best ways to get around the island. There are several transportation options available, such as Uber, taxis, and even a bus transit system.

However, to be able to access all of these snorkeling places affordably in Oahu with ease and flexibility, it’s best to rent a car. For all of the details, including the best type of car to rent, see my complete write-up sharing everything you need to know about renting a car in Hawaii.

Best Places for Snorkeling in Oahu

Here are the overall best places for snorkeling in Oahu based on my own personal experience and research. Keep reading for more detailed information on each location.

1. Shark’s Cove

One of the best places for snorkeling in oahu is sharks cove.

Shark’s Cove is the best ‘unkept’ snorkeling secret in Oahu, and for good reason. The large rock formations create a barrier for calm, shallow waters, usually about four feet, making it perfect for first-timers and families.

This protected cove on the north shore can be accessed year-round and is teeming with tropical marine life. We’ve spotted turtles, eels, and too many different types of tropical fish to even count.

It’s best to go during high tide since the water can get too shallow to swim. and I strongly suggest bringing reef shoes since the volcanic rock can be very sharp.

Restrooms and showers are available onsite, and many different food options are available nearby.

Also, don’t forget the reef-safe sunscreen to help preserve and protect this magical snorkeling spot for years to come.

  • Restrooms/Showers: Yes/Yes
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes
  • Best time to go: High tide
  • Snorkeling gear rental: Not available
  • Cost: Free

2. Hanauma Bay

Hanauma bay is a top oahu snorkeling spot. Clear and calm water with loads of tropical fish.

If you can only choose one place to snorkel on Oahu, then Hanauma Bay should be it. This underwater wonderland boasts a diverse marine ecosystem, including over 450 species of fish.

It’s no surprise that Hanauma Bay is often called the best snorkeling spot in Oahu. Its verticle crater walls and protective outer reef make an ideal marine habitat while keeping the waters calm and clear for spectators.

oahu snorkeling with turtles

However, due to its popularity, some restrictions and a fee structure are in place to help protect the delicate coral reef and magnificent marine life.

When planning your Hanauma snorkeling adventure, make sure to check out the most up-to-date details and processes at Hanauma Bay State Park.

  • Restrooms/Showers: Yes/Yes
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes
  • Best time to go: High tide
  • Snorkel gear rental: Yes, $20 per day
  • Cost: $25 admission fee. Military, locals, and kids under 12 are free.

3. Electric Beach

Oahu electric beach snorkeling.

If you’re staying on the west side of the island and/or want to experience the most unique snorkeling spot on Oahu, then look no further than Electric Beach.

Located where a nearby power plant discharges warm water, this spot is nicknamed ‘Electric Beach’ for its electrifying marine life encounters. The warm water attracts pods of dolphins and sea turtles.

It’s also known as Kahe Point Beach Park and can be accessed by taking the road just before the power plant off the Farrington Highway. You can swim out towards the buoys where the dolphins are often spotted, but beware of the strong current.

  • Restrooms/Showers: Yes/Yes
  • Beginner-friendly: Not recommended due to strong currents
  • Best time to go: Mornings for dolphin sightings
  • Snorkel gear rental: Not available
  • Cost: Free

4. Waimea Bay

Snorkeling at waimea bay.

My all-time favorite Oahu beach, Waimea, is well known for its long stretch of white sand, crystal-clear water, jump rock, and stunning landscapes. But, many are unaware of the epic underwater scenes.

Grab your snorkel and head back behind ‘Jump Rock’ toward the rocks for an unforgettable snorkeling adventure. The waters are relatively shallow and calm, making it perfect for beginners.

Waimea is one of the best places to snorkel in Oahu.

In the summer months, you may even spot a few Hawaiian sea turtles resting on the ocean floor. Just be respectful and keep your distance from all marine life to help preserve their natural habitat.

Waimea is an ideal spot to spend the day since there is something for everyone, and it is also on our list of the best places on Oahu to catch a sunset.

  • Restrooms/Showers: Yes/Yes
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes
  • Best time to go: Summer months for turtle sightings
  • Snorkel gear rental: Not available
  • Cost: Free

5. Lanikai Beach

Snorkeling Lanikai Beach on Oahu.

Up next is the postcard-worthy Lanikai Beach. It’s a bit of a hassle to get there and find a spot to park, but the reward is an off-the-chart snorkeling experience.

Lanikai also has Oahu’s signature bright white sand and blue water but is also home to numerous coral balls that are teeming with marine life. The protective reef keeps the water calm and clear.

However, the beach area is somewhat small, and the water can get a little crowded.

If you’re looking for a more secluded spot, head to the left side of the beach towards ‘The Mokes.’ You’ll have to swim out a bit further, but it’s worth it for an unforgettable snorkeling adventure.

  • Restrooms/Showers: No/No
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes, for the right side of the beach
  • Best time to go: High tide
  • Snorkel gear rental: Not available
  • Cost: Free

6. Kuilima Cove

Snorkeling Kuilima Cove in Oahu.

The last spot on the north shore, but not least, is the stunning Kuilima Cove located on the Turtle Bay Resort property. It’s a public beach, so you don’t need to be staying at the resort to access this snorkeling spot.

Kuilima Cove is relatively shallow, making it perfect for beginners or those who prefer calmer waters. You can rent gear directly from the rental stand on the beach or bring your own. You won’t see the most fish here, but it’s good, and the swimming, beach, views, and ease of access put it on the list.

It’s also an excellent spot for sunset snorkeling, and there is a good chance you may spot some Hawaiian green sea turtles hanging out near the rocks. Just be sure to keep a safe distance from these protected creatures.

  • Restrooms/Showers: Yes/Yes
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes
  • Best time to go: Sunset for turtle sightings
  • Snorkel gear rental: Yes, $20 per day
  • Cost: Free to the public. Parking fees may apply if you are not staying at Turtle Bay Resort.

7. Ko’olina Lagoons

Snorkeling Ko'olina in Oahu, Hawaii.

If you’re looking for a spot for young kids to break their new snorkeling sets in, then the Ko’olina Lagoons are your place. Located on the west side, these manmade lagoons encompass 642 acres and are protected by natural rock barriers, which keep the waters calm and shallow.

You’ll find many tropical fish species here, but the real highlight is swimming alongside sea turtles. The lagoons also make for a great spot to lounge on the beach or go stand-up paddleboarding.

Heads up. It’s normal for there to be a lineup to find a parking spot. Lagoon number 4 has the most spaces which is why it is the most crowded. I suggest parking there and walking to one of the other lagoons.

  • Restrooms/Showers: Yes/Yes
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes. Perfect for young children.
  • Best time to go: High tide
  • Snorkel gear rental: Not available
  • Cost: Free, but parking fees may apply.

8. Kaneohe Bay Sand Bar

Kaneohe sandbar snorkeling in Oahu.

Are you up for a snorkeling adventure? The Kaneohe Bay Sandbar is a one-mile stretch of sand that sits in the middle of the bay.

This unique snorkeling experience requires you to either kayak or take a boat to the sandbar. The protective reef keeps the big Pacific waves from crashing in, allowing for calm, clear snorkeling conditions.

You will see loads of colorful tropical fish, beautiful coral reefs, and sometimes even turtles and baby hammerhead sharks.

Kaneohe sandbar snorkeling.

The water is always shallow at the sandbar. High tide is about waist deep for adults, and low tide is about ankle deep, which makes it a great option for kids. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and plenty of water, as there are no facilities or shade on the sandbar.

  • Restrooms/Showers: No/No
  • Beginner-friendly: Yes
  • Best time to go: High tide
  • Snorkel gear rental: Available at nearby Kailua Beach Adventures for $20 per day. Or bring your own.
  • Cost: Free, but boat or kayak rental fees may apply.

Best Places to Snorkel in Oahu for Beginners

The best beginner place to snorkel on Oahu is Hanauma Bay. This one-of-a-kind snorkel hotspot consistently delivers an exceptional experience for all skill levels but is most certainly ideal for first-timers.

The protected waters are chock full of brightly colored fish and sea turtles, making it a paradise for underwater newbies.

It is fee-based, and the number of people allowed in is limited, so make sure to plan ahead and check the latest entry processes.

If you are unable to get reservations or just want to stick with the free snorkeling experiences, then Shark’s Cove is a solid option for beginners and is high on our list of things to do on Oahu with families.

Where is the Best Place to Snorkel with Turtles Oahu?

It is possible to see turtles while snorkeling in any of the waters in Oahu. But the best place to snorkel with turtles on Oahu is Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach.

snorkel with turtles at laniakea beach on oahu

This turtle haven is located on the North Shore near Haleiwa and offers the best shot to see them in action. It is also common for them to come right up on the beach for a snooze. Make sure to keep your distance and respect their habitat.

If you want almost to guarantee snorkeling with turtles then I highly recommend that you book this Turtle Canyon Tour that leaves out of Waikiki. You won’t be disappointed!

What to Bring Snorkeling in Oahu

Oahu does offer snorkeling gear rental options. However, the rental cost per day is $20-25, and the quality and functionality is a gamble.

I recommend bringing a full set of snorkeling gear with you, including fins. We like this travel snorkel set with short fins for adults and this snorkel gear for kids.

Additionally, I advise bringing a reef-safe sunscreen, a waterproof bag to store your belongings, and plenty of water. Don’t forget to also pack some snacks and a towel for afterward. It’s always better to be prepared!

Other important items to bring while snorkeling in Oahu include a rash guard or wetsuit for added warmth and protection from the sun, a waterproof camera or GoPro to capture the beautiful underwater scenery and marine life, and cash for entrance fees and parking fees if applicable.

Following these tips and recommendations will ensure an enjoyable and memorable snorkeling experience in Oahu. Enjoy exploring the stunning underwater world of Hawaii’s beloved island!

Best Snorkeling Tours in Oahu

There are so many incredible free snorkeling experiences in Oahu, but if you want to take it up a notch, consider booking a snorkeling tour. These tours provide all the necessary gear and take you to some of the best snorkel spots on the island.

Also, having a guide to help identify and educate you about the local marine life can prove invaluable and will enhance your snorkeling adventure.

snorkeling with turtles tour in oahu

One highly recommended tour is Turtle Canyon Snorkel Excursion, which takes you to Turtle Canyon, a popular spot for snorkeling with sea turtles.

Another great option is the North Shore Snorkel Adventure, which takes you to three different snorkel locations on the North Shore, including a chance to swim with sharks in their natural environment.

FAQ: Best Places for Snorkeling in Oahu

Which side of Oahu is best for snorkeling?

You can find great snorkeling on all sides of Oahu. However, the two most popular snorkeling spots are Hanauma Bay on the south shore and Shark’s Cove on the north shore.

Can you go snorkeling on your own in Oahu?

Yes, you totally can. It’s best to do your research to find the safest spots and understand the currents based on the specific time you are going. But if this is your first time, I highly recommend a tour.

What is the safest beach to snorkel in Oahu?

Hanauma Bay is the safest beach to snorkel in Oahu. The waters are protected from big waves and strong currents, plus lifeguards are on active duty.

Where is the best beach to snorkel with turtles in Oahu?

Laniakea, also known as ‘Turtle Beach’, is hands down the best place to snorkel with turtles in Oahu.

Where is the best place to snorkel in Oahu for free?

Shark’s Cove and Electric Beach are the top two places to snorkel for free in Oahu. Both are very different and provide a unique snorkeling experience.

Wrapping Up: Best Places for Snorkeling in Oahu

To sum up, Oahu presents a diverse array of snorkeling spots, each unique and offering its own thrilling underwater adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeler or a beginner testing the waters, there’s a location for you. From the turtle-rich Laniakea Beach to the calm, child-friendly Ko’olina Lagoons, the opportunities to explore are endless. Remember to respect the marine life and their habitats, pack essential equipment, and apply reef-safe sunscreen. So, dive in, immerse yourself in the aquatic wonderland, and make unforgettable memories in the heart of Hawaii. Discover the magic that lies beneath the surface of Oahu’s tantalizing turquoise waters.

snorkeling in oahu hawaii