6 Best Snorkeling Spots in O’ahu, HI
O’ahu is the third largest island in Hawaii, home to the capital city of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving spots in the world. Hawaii has more than 85% of the coral reefs in America and is part of the largest marine conservation area globally. While visiting, remember that this is an incredibly special and sacred ground for many natives, so be kind and respectful and soak it all in because this is truly a life-changing experience.
- Ka’ena Point State Park
- Hanauma Bay
- Shark’s Cove
- Kuilima Cove
- Electric Beach
- Kaneohe Bay
Read all the way through for Pro Destination Tips.
1. Ka’ena Point State Park
This park is only accessible by a stunning one-to-three hour 3.5-mile hike dripping in fascinating Hawaiian folklore. It is believed that this northwestern tip of the island, home to the lava shoreline, is where Hawaiian souls leap off into the spirit world.
Because it is remote, it’s generally uncrowded and peaceful. Winters bring massive waves for daring surfers, but the waters are warm and peaceful the rest of the year, perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving near the shore. Marine life is always abundant here. Visiting during winter means you will likely see whales just off the island’s coast.
The shores perfectly combine clean sands and rocky, jagged shorelines. You can learn more about the area and the hike from the trusted Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources page. All in all, it feels like untouched wild beauty. If hiking isn’t your thing, you should consider renting a boat for easier access and minimal walking required.
2. Hanauma Bay
On the southeast coast, you’ll find the beautiful Hanauma Bay. This bay is one of the most popular beaches on the island of Oahu. The beach is cozy and intimate in its horseshoe shape, and the water is turquoise, transparent (less so in winter), warm, and filled with diverse marine life. Researchers estimate that around three hundred different Hawaiian fish species reside here.
It is more difficult to snorkel in the winter due to harsher, choppier waves and reduced visibility, but still a fantastic location to explore, no matter what time of year you visit.
Pro Tip: Fish species you may swim by when snorkeling in Oahu are Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo (also called Ono), Yellowfin Tuna (also called Ahi), and Sharks (most prominent are Hammerheads, Blacktips, Whitetips, Tigers, Cookiecutters, Sandbars, and Nurse Sharks).
And speaking of sharks…
3. Shark’s Cove
Dubbed as one of the best shore dives in the world by Scuba Diving Magazine, Shark’s Cove is THE HOT spot for snorkelers.
Pro Tip: Only fifteen minutes away from Kuilima Cove (see below), Shark’s Cove is an ideal destination for a full-day trip with loads of fun.
This cove sits between Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay, two spots known for their excellent surfing thanks to the big waves. If you plan to visit here, go on a day with fewer big swells; remember that October to April is the “surf season.” The best time of year to boat around Shark’s Cove is summertime!
4. Kuilima Cove
Kuilima Cove is hands down the best spot for beginner snorkelers on Oahu Island. It has soft white sandy beaches and clear water. The area is clean and, best of all, it’s well protected from waves. A large natural rock barrier surrounds it, which is why the waves are so small and manageable.
The depth is only chest to neck deep, too, so it’s safe for most adults. There is a diverse fish population here, so while you snorkel, you will see lots of vibrant colors and interesting marine faces looking back at you. This is definitely the best place for novices and children alike.
5. Electric Beach
This beach park is called Electric Beach because of its proximity to a power plant. Don’t worry; it emits a lot of nice warm, clean water constantly, attracting tons of fish and corals to the area. This area is also several degrees warmer.
You’ll find this cool snorkeling spot on the west side of Oahu, not far from Kuilima Cove.
The water starts very shallow on the beach but gets deep quickly. The shore’s waters are also cloudy but don’t give up on this spot just yet. As you move away from the shore, the water clears up. You’ll begin to see fantastic views of exotic marine life like Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.
Pro Tip: Coral/reef creatures you may see are Antler Coral (Pocillopora Eydouxi), Mushroom Coral, Blue Rice Coral (Montiporta Flabellata), Tan and Purple Rice Coral (Montipora Patula), and more!
6. Kaneohe Bay
In the middle of Kaneohe Bay, sandbars naturally form, ebb, and flow with the ocean daily. They can be found a mile offshore (about a 15-minute boat ride). The main sandbar is called Kaneohe Sandbar.
If you show up in the morning, the tide will be lower, more sandbars will be exposed, and the water will be gentler, making it much easier (and likely more enjoyable) to snorkel and swim in the area. The drop-off surrounding the main sandbar is pretty deep, so be aware. Be on the lookout for flounders here, too; they burrow into the sand on the sandbar. Surrounding the sandbar near the drop-off, you may spot a few baby Hammerhead sharks.
Did we mention that “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” was filmed here?
Still, researching Hawaiian destinations? We can help!
- Top Adventures to Try While Vacationing in Oahu, Hawaii
- Honolulu, Hawaii Fishing Guide
- Plan Your Hawaiian Getaway – The Maui Travel Guide
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