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5 Best Places to Snorkel on Oahu

Updated on July 23, 2014

Snorkeling on Oahu for Beginners, Intermediates and Experts

There are some really great spots to do some snorkeling if you're visiting or living on Oahu. While there are a bunch of great spots, you need to know that all snorkeling spots on the island are created equal. Some snorkeling spots are great for beginners while others require a little more experience or swimming skill.

snorkeling on oahu
snorkeling on oahu

One of the most enjoyable things to do on a Hawaiian vacation is to snorkel. Hawaii has some of the nicest and clearest water in the world. Couple that with beautiful and plentiful reef and you’re bound to have some great snorkeling spots.

Oahu is ripe for snorkeling and diving opportunities. The tourist industry is huge on Oahu, as you might imagine and there are plenty of hotels that offer snorkel tours and guides. There are also separate tourist companies that offer day and half day snorkel tours that are phenomenal.

However, if you move to Hawaii are just here on a vacation you don’t really need to go on a snorkel tour or have anyone show you the best spots to do some great snorkeling. All you need to do is read an article like this, get to know the island of Oahu a little bit, grab some snorkel gear and go, go go!

Kuilima Cove/Ken Muise
Kuilima Cove/Ken Muise

Beginning Snorkeling on Oahu

Kuilima Cove

While there aren’t as many fish in Kuilima Cove as there are in Hanauma Bay, the atmosphere and serenity of this coved beach area is perfect for beginner snorkelers and especially children.

On average the depth of the water is only up to around a man’s neck on average, so keeping children shallow and in sight is still a good idea.

What makes Kuilima Cove perfect for beginner snorkeling? Clear water and the cove is protected by a natural rock barrier. There are plenty of fish in the cove as well. Reef triggerfish, wrasse, parrot fish, butterfly fish, porcupine fish as well as crustaceans and invertebrate. I have never seen a turtle of moray eel at Kuilima.

Ken Muise
Ken Muise

Hanauma Bay

This is probably the most touristy of all the snorkel spots on Oahu. Besides being a nature preserve and having onsite educational boards so that you can know which fish you’re actually seeing, Hanauma Bay is great for beginners and almost as good for children as Kuilima Cove.

There is a lot more reef and a lot more fish at Hanauma Bay then in Kuilima Cove. In fact, there are probably more fish in Hanauma Bay than any other snorkeling spot on Oahu. I have seen both moray and green sea turtles at Hanauma Bay.

Intermediate Snorkeling on Oahu

Sharks Cove

Sharks Cove can get a little bit rough at times. It’s on the north shore and is between Waimea and the Banzai Pipeline, so only snorkel or dive Sharks Cove on calm days.

Sharks Cove was voted as one of the best shore dives in the world by Diving Magazine, so you can get a good idea of how great this place is.

It, like Hanauma Bay, can get crowded because it is so popular of a dive and snorkel area. Get there early and don’t bring small children. The cove is deep, however, and the water can be between 8 and 15 feet deep and only get deeper as you move outward.

Kaena

Kaena Point State Park is one of those places that you see in postcards or pictures of Hawaii beaches. It’s one of those places that truly is exactly what you think of when you think “Hawaii”. It’s a mile long, white line of fine sand and blue water.

You can easily sunbathe and snorkel in the same day. The only reason that Kaena gets an “intermediate” ranking here is because of the surf. I wouldn’t allow children to swim at Kaena without constant supervision when the surf is up.

When you do snorkel Kaena, though, you’ll see what makes it so special. The ocean floor is white sand and flat coral which makes underwater image taking and fish sighting awesome. I have seen turtles but no moray eel at Kaena.

electric beach, oahu
electric beach, oahu

Advanced Snorkeling on Oahu

The Kahe Point Beach Park

Okay, there is no rough water and no really strong currents. The only reason I’ve chosen to give Kahe Point State Park an “advanced” rating is because the swim to the spot where all the fish are can be challenging for those not really good at swimming.

Kahe Point Beach Park is nicknamed “electric beach” because a nearby electric power plant has an outlflow pipe of water that is used to cool machinery in the plant that empties right into the area. This spot of warm water attracts all sorts of fish and marine life.

And here’s the kicker for electric beach and why you need to get there on your trip to Hawaii; Spinner dolphins love the area and if you’re lucky you’ll have a chance of a couple of pictures.

Bonus Snorkeling Location on Oahu

Ko'Olina Lagoons

Ko'Olina is a beginning spot on the west side of Oahu. They are man-made, gentle lagoons that are surrounded by beach and beach front property.

That being said, its real easy to snorkel around the lagoons. I've seen enough fish to keep me going back to Ko'Olina, but I've also seen green sea turtles and monk seals in the lagoons.

Some Snorkeling Trips on Oahu

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Snorkeling selfies.Posing before the snorkeling.Snorkeling at Hanauma BayMy daughters hamming it up.Love this shot.Colorful, right?I love shots of the surface, the coral and a fish.Green sea turtle at Ko'Olina lagoonsGreen sea turtle on Oahu.Green Sea turtle at Hanauma.Turtle feeding on coral at Shark's  CoveMoray eel.  Ugly.Not good looking, right?
Snorkeling selfies.
Snorkeling selfies.
Posing before the snorkeling.
Posing before the snorkeling.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
My daughters hamming it up.
My daughters hamming it up.
Love this shot.
Love this shot.
Colorful, right?
Colorful, right?
I love shots of the surface, the coral and a fish.
I love shots of the surface, the coral and a fish.
Green sea turtle at Ko'Olina lagoons
Green sea turtle at Ko'Olina lagoons
Green sea turtle on Oahu.
Green sea turtle on Oahu.
Green Sea turtle at Hanauma.
Green Sea turtle at Hanauma.
Turtle feeding on coral at Shark's  Cove
Turtle feeding on coral at Shark's Cove
Moray eel.  Ugly.
Moray eel. Ugly.
Not good looking, right?
Not good looking, right?

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