Oahu Snorkeling – The Complete Guide

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. We have since snorkeled it all.

Where are the best snorkeling spots on Oahu? They are spread out all over the island (see map below). If you are staying in Waikiki you can take some boat tours from there. But we recommend you also rent a car to snorkel some great areas on the north and west shores.

Oahu Snorkeling - Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay

Oahu Snorkeling Spots

Click on each location below, for full details and pictures. And read down the page for more of what to expect from snorkeling Oahu.

Sandy Oahu snorkeling beach with footprints.

Waikiki Area

Queens Beach and Sans Souci Beach – The closest beach snorkeling to Waikiki that is decent.

Hanauma Bay – Swim with fish at this famous snorkel spot.

East Shore

Lanikai Beach – A stunning east shore beach with fair snorkeling.

West Shore

Ko Olina Lagoons – View fish and turtles in one of these enclosed resort bays with beautiful beaches.

Kahe Point – You can see both fish and live coral by boat tour or shore access.

Makaha Beach Park – Swim with turtles at this large west shore beach.

North Shore

Waimea Bay – Find decent summer snorkeling at this famous surfing beach.

Three Tables – One of the best places to snorkel on Oahu.

Sharks Cove – This popular little cove is terrific for swimming with fish.

Sunset Beach Park – This winter surf beach has okay snorkeling in the summer.

Turtle Bay Resort – You can see fish and turtles in this resort’s small cove.

Visiting Other Hawaiian Islands?

Our Hawaii Snorkeling Guide is a great resource if you plan to snorkel more islands than Oahu. In this eBook you also get more Oahu information like maps, rankings, suggested itineraries, and many more pictures.

Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook Cover

Hawaii Requires Reef Safe Sunscreen

We suggest buying this reef safe sunscreen, that we have tested, before you go. Or better yet, limit how much you use by wearing rash guards instead.

What’s Oahu Snorkeling Like?

Many Free Snorkeling Opportunities at Fantastic Beaches
We really like the freedom of going snorkeling on our own schedule from beaches. And Oahu does not disappoint this way. Yes, you do have to pay for a reservation to snorkel Hanauma Bay, but nearly every other location is free.

By the way, if you love snorkeling like us, you will also love our free monthly snorkeling newsletter.

Snorkelers in beautiful turquoise water and a pink sandy beach on Oahu.

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.

Large school of different tropical fish seen while snorkeling on Oahu.

Expect Crowds and Okay Snorkeling, Not Great
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.

For sure, Oahu snorkeling does not compare to Maui or the Big Island; it has fewer locations and the health of the sea life is not as magnificent. So consider adding one of those islands to your trip for better snorkeling.

Two snorkelers enjoying Oahu.

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.

Beautiful coastline with green mountains, on Oahu.

Oahu Snorkeling Safety and Travel Tips

Snorkeling Seasons
Oahu has snorkel spots all around the island (see map below). Although there are few on the east side because it is exposed to the common trade wind direction. The snorkeling on the north and south shores is fairly seasonal. While it is certainly possible to snorkel in the winter, your chances at 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.

Oahu Snorkeling Map

Some Oahu Snorkeling Has Open Ocean Exposure
About half 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 a strong swimmer if you go into those exposed areas.

Waikiki seen from Diamond Head Oahu

Where to Stay for the Best Oahu Snorkeling?
Nearly all the hotels and resorts on Oahu are in Waikiki, but unfortunately the snorkeling close to Waikiki is poor. 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.


More Hawaii Snorkeling Tips