Snorkeling Waimea Bay is a seasonal undertaking. Waimea Bay is a very famous surfing beach, and in the winter there can be 20-40 foot waves pounding this shore. The snorkeling is decent around the rocks on either side of the bay, though a bit exposed. When the Waimea River is flowing into the right side of the bay strongly, the visibility suffers.
It is hard to even imagine getting in the water to snorkel here if you have seen it when the waves are up. But in the summer it is utterly transformed into a gorgeous turquoise bay and a huge beach perfect for lounging in the sun and swimming or just floating in the water.
The bay is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, which limits fishing in the bay which probably helps with the populations you can see when snorkeling.
Sometimes the spinner dolphins frequent this bay to rest in the summer and you may be lucky enough to be here when they are. It is illegal to harass them and the lifeguards sometimes will warn people over the loud speaker about it.
Jumping or diving from the tall rock on the left end of the beach is very popular here. There are warning signs on the rock, so it is not without risk.
Waimea Bay Beach Park is very busy and the relatively small parking lot fills up early. So if you want to get a spot, arrive before 9 a.m.
Snorkeling Waimea Bay is primarily from either end of the beach. The center has a sandy bottom that is about 30 feet deep, so the only reason to snorkel there would be if the dolphins are around.
Walk to the end of the beach you intend to snorkel and enter in bare feet. Slip your fins on when you are deep enough to swim. This beach is often very steep, so once you enter the water watch for a quick drop off.
We were lucky enough to encounter a pod of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins once when we were snorkeling Waimea Bay. It was a great experience. We swam straight out from the center of the beach a good distance over the sandy bottom. Then we just hung out and watched small groups of dolphins swim by us. We could clearly hear their clicking and squeaking communication sounds, and there were babies nursing.
Besides the dolphins, there is a bit of reef on the left side of the bay around the islands and rocks there to explore. Enter the water near the jumping rock and head left to check out the interesting bottom topography with a small amount of live coral and a decent number of fish.
We found that this area had a lot of surge and currents through it and the currents got very strong past the furthest island, so stay inside of it and be aware. Turn around and swim back to the beach before you get tired. The depths through this area were 10-20 feet and the visibility was decent, but variable.
Walk to the right side to snorkel it. The swim across the bay is long with a deep sandy bottom and can have currents. The right edge of the bay drops off to deep water much quicker, so it is best to stay near the rock wall. Unfortunately, this is difficult much of the time because if there are waves, they tend to crash into this wall with force. Also, if the river is flowing into the bay, the fresh water causes lower visibility on this side.
But, if the conditions are right, there are some fish to see, and there is a little bit of interesting topography and coral to see, especially the closer to the point you get. Watch yourself around or past the point though because the currents get very strong here, so don't push it. It is a little deeper on this side 15-25 feet and the visibility is only okay. Again, swim back to the beach before you are tired.
Find the best snorkeling on all the main islands in our Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook. The Oahu information has more pictures, rankings and maps.
1. You can choose to drive up the east side of the island or up the middle of the island to reach the north shore. To reach Hwy 83 on the east side heading north, you need to get on Hwy H-1 westbound then take one of the highways that crosses the Ko’olau Mountains, Hwy 61 (Pali Hwy), Hwy 63 (Likelike Hwy), or Hwy H-3. When you come to the intersection with Hwy 83 (Kahekili Hwy), turn left, heading north.
2. Alternately, to reach Hwy H-2 that leads to Hwy 99 up through the middle of the island, get on Hwy H-1 heading westbound until you reach the intersection with Hwy H-2 and head north. Hwy H-2 will turn into Hwy 99 that you follow until it comes to Hwy 83 again near Hale’iwa.
3. Waimea Bay Beach Park is on Hwy 83 northeast of Hale’iwa; the road clearly turns inland to go around the bay. Heading northeast, the park entrance is before you cross the river emptying into the ocean and the right turn up Waimea Valley Road.
Waimea Bay has full facilities including restrooms, showers, drinking water, lifeguards, picnic tables, and shade near the parking behind the beach.