Oahu snorkeling can be great fun. It was here that Galen first fell in love with snorkeling at a young age, at Oahu's world famous Hanauma Bay.
For sure, Oahu snorkeling does not compare to the Big Island or Maui. It has fewer locations and the health of the sea life is not as magnificent. But that does not really matter. Enjoy it for what it is. If you pay attention, there are endless opportunities to see beautiful fish and even swim with turtles and dolphins.
Below you can explore all of our favorite Oahu snorkeling spots, with detailed descriptions and pictures, above and below water.
Click on each location below, for full details and pictures. And read down the page for more of what to expect from snorkeling Oahu.
Queens Beach & Sans Souci Beach - Just off the beautiful Kapiolani Park, on the very south end of Waikiki Beach, these are the closest decent snorkeling beaches to Waikiki.
Hanauma Bay - This is one of the most popular snorkeling bays in the world and is great for getting up close and personal with fish. You could hang out all day at this neat place.
Lanikai Beach - This extremely photogenic white sand beach has some small coral patch heads, and small fish, but the underwater visibility can be low.
Ko Olina Lagoons - Go here if you want a resort feel, and excellent facilities. There are four man made lagoons that are relatively protected, and you can see many fish and often turtles in shallow waters.
Kahe Point - The entrance can be challenging here, but you are rewarded with some live corals and large schools of fish.
Makaha Beach Park - When the waves are calm, a long swim here gives you a good chance of seeing turtles and some coral formations.
Waimea Bay - This famous surfing beach has some OK snorkeling, particularly if the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are in the area.
Three Tables - Potentially one of the best Oahu snorkel opportunities, if it is calm. There are some very nice corals and lots of fish in perfect depths.
Shark's Cove - This unique little cove is a must snorkel, and is very popular. It is a rocky cove with tons of fish and interesting topography.
Sunset Beach Park - This gorgeous beach has some mediocre snorkeling when it is calm.
Turtle Bay Resort - A popular north shore resort, this cove has a protected beach, and some OK snorkeling, with a high chance of seeing turtles.
Because Oahu is so popular, it offers a ton of activities and attractions besides snorkeling. If you are planning on being very busy and booking lots of activities, you can save yourself some money by getting a Go Oahu Card. We have read lots of reviews about it on TripAdvisor and other forums, and they were very positive, saving people money who are very active. People commented that it also helps to plan what to do, narrowing down their options. We are so busy snorkeling from beaches that we don’t tend to book many activities, so we have not used the card ourselves.
1. Many Free Snorkeling Opportunities At Fantastic Beaches
We really like the freedom of going snorkeling on our own schedule from beaches, at no cost. And Oahu does not disappoint this way. Yes, you do have to pay to get into Hanauma Bay, but nearly every other location is free.
2. Get Personal With Fish
There are a number of places on Oahu where you can see a lot of fish. Some of these are protected from fishing, which always makes the fish very friendly. You can get lots of great close-up pictures of your favorite tropical fish.
3. It's A Beautiful Island
Relax, you are in Hawaii after all, and it is easy to bliss out here, watching a sunset with someone you love. The landscape and seascapes on Oahu are fantastic, from the steep tree covered mountain passes, to some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Even if you are driven nuts by cities and traffic, you can find a serene hangout on Oahu.
Oahu has snorkel spots all around the island (see map below). There are few on the east side of the island because it is exposed to the common trade wind direction. And the snorkeling on the north and south shores is fairly seasonal. While it is certainly possible to snorkel in Oahu in the winter, your chances of being able to snorkel some of the better locations on the north shore are much greater in the summer. You've heard of the north shore surfing scene, right?
In the summer, there can be a south swell making the south shore beaches dicey for snorkeling, too. Read our When To Snorkel Hawaii page for more on planning your trip for the best snorkeling.
Some Oahu Snorkeling Has Open Ocean Exposure
About half of the beaches we describe are openly exposed to ocean currents and swell and a few more are partially exposed. That means you need to be a good reader of the sea and be a strong swimmer if you go into those exposed areas.
Get Out Of The
Nearly all the hotels and resorts on Oahu are in Waikiki, but unfortunately the snorkeling close to Waikiki is poor. So our top Oahu snorkeling tip is to get out of dodge. Either rent a car and drive to the better areas, or book tours that pick you up in Waikiki and take you to different locations. Our Snorkeling Honolulu page has more information on this.
Finding places to stay outside of Waikiki or Honolulu might be a challenge, but our Oahu snorkeling accommodations page aims to help you figure that out.
Expect Crowds & Expand Your Snorkeling Options
Oahu has six times the population of the next most populated island and receives twice as many visitors as the next most visited island. This has done a good bit of damage to the health of the sea life.
So if you really love snorkeling, and have not yet planned all of your trip, do yourself a favor and take an inter-island flight to either the Big Island or Maui, and explore some of the fantastic snorkeling those locations offer.
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