While it might not compare with Hawaii’s blockbuster snorkeling destinations like Maui and the Big Island, Oahu offers up some sparkling snorkeling opportunities. Most of the best snorkeling spots pepper the south and west coasts of the island where the waters are more sheltered, though there are a handful of good spots along the north shore. Generally speaking though, the beaches along the north coast are best enjoyed by surfers during the winter, when the swells are at their biggest. The best time of year to snorkel in Oahu is during the summer, when the waters are calm and you can spot green turtles, spinner dolphins and the most exciting marine life. From secret coves to iconic beaches, we’ve selected seven of the best places to snorkel in Oahu.
Where are the best places to snorkel in Oahu, Hawaii?
1. Electric Beach
Widely regarded as the best snorkeling spot in the whole of Oahu, Electric Beach is named after the electric power plant nearby. While it might sound offputting, the electricity actually attracts a myriad of marine life. Two cooling pipes pour warm water into the ocean, which makes it popular with reef fish, eagle ray and schools of tropical fish. It’s one of the best places to spot sea turtles and spinner dolphins too. You’ll also find butterflyfish, suregeonfish, parrotfish, damselfish and moray eels darting across the waters.
Getting into the water is a challenge due to the crashing waves and strong current here. It’s best suited to more advanced snorkelers and swimming in the waters here is best avoided when the surf is strong.
2. Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove is less scary than it sounds – you’re unlikely to spot a share here. What you will spot is huge shoals of surgeonfish, red mullets and huge schools of tang. It’s also popular with boxfish, butterflyfish, needlefish and bluespine unicornfish. Unlike most underwater scenes in this part of the world, you won’t find much coral. Instead, the practically translucent cove offers up an unusual craggy rock landscape.
Located on Oahu’s world-famous North Shore, this rocky bay is part of the wider Pupukea Beach Park.
3. Turtle Bay
The aptly-named Turtle Bay is one of the best places on the island to see green turtles. The small, shallow bay is sheltered from waves and is perfectly suited to beginners. Waters only reach a few feet but the cove stretches across around 100 metres. The cove is enclosed too, which makes it popular with families. You can rent snorkel gear from the nearby Sand Bar too.
4. Waimea Bay
This bay is famous for its surf scene, but it’s an excellent snorkeling spot too. It’s part of the impressive Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District, which restricts fishing and protects local marine life. You can only snorkel here during the summer months due to high swells in the winter but, timed right, it offers pristine snorkeling conditions. It’s one of the best places to see the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins that rest in the bay during the daytime. There aren’t any snorkel rentals in the area, so make sure you bring your own gear.
In the summer months it’s a popular spot for cliff jumping from the surrounding rocks too, though local authorities advise against it due to the slippery rocks.
5. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. Just a few minutes from Honolulu, Hanauma Bay offers crystal clear turquoise waters and pretty perfect snorkeling conditions. As well as a natural sheltered curve for sunbathing on the pristine sand, the water is home to a staggering variety of marine life. There are a few different areas to explore. The lagoon, which sits in an ancient volcano crater, is perfect for beginners, while the natural pools between the beach and the reef are relatively shallow too. More experienced snorkelers will want to swim to channel to explore the wildlife-rich channel. Highlights include parrotfish, surgeonfish and triggerfish. If you’re lucky, you might spot some green sea turtles too.
While it might be one of the world’s most famous beaches, no round-up of Hawaii’s best snorkelling spots would be complete without Waikiki. It’s been a holiday hotspot since the early 20th century but really came into its own in the ’50s when the first skyrise hotels began to appear. The crescent-shaped stretch of sand is actually home to six different beach districts, each just a few steps from the town’s many luxury hotels connected by boardwalks. Beyond the beach, the bustling boulevard is a popular meeting point for visitors thanks to its world-class dining, boutiques and entertainment.
7. Lanikai Beach
Nestled in the sleepy beach town of Kailua on Oahu’s Windward Side, the beach offers year-round pristine swimming conditions. Snorkelling on the east side of the island can be challenging, but Lanikai is relatively well sheltered. Hop in a kayak – or if you’re fit you can swim – to make the mile-long journey out to two offshore islands, home to a staggering variety of birds. The snorkelling is excellent here too and it’s one of the few beaches in Oahu without shore-breaking waves, making it perfect for families too.
You don’t need to swim far to see live coral patch reefs and colourful tropical fish, though you’ll need to wait for high tide to swim over the top of the reef. Highlights include butterflyfish, sergeant fish, surgeonfish, wrasse and tang. Healthy live corals include blue rice, lobe and mound.