Snorkeling Lanikai Beach is our only recommended location on the east side of Oahu. The exposure to the very common trade-winds on this side of the island makes snorkeling challenging. And though there is a protective reef and live coral at this location, the visibility is often low making it less than ideal. On the plus side the fine white sand beach is beautiful and the waters are a nice depth for snorkeling. The beach also has a postcard worthy view of two small islands known as Na Mokulua.
This is not a park. Lanikai Beach fronts a high-end residential neighborhood, which makes the parking difficult at busy times. It is best to get here early both for ease of finding parking and also because sometimes the wind is calmer in the mornings.
The best area to snorkel is closest to the public beach accesses on Mokulua Drive at the intersections with Mokumanu Drive, and Kaiolena Drive. Another snorkeling Lanikai Beach area with less dense reef can be accessed from the intersections of Haokea Drive and Kuailima Drive.
You should be able to see the patch reef areas from the beach. Some of them come really close to the beach. Choose your entrance in an area where the sand goes out into the water a little ways. Walk out barefoot in the sand holding your fins and when the water is deep enough slip your fins on.
The snorkeling Lanikai Beach area with the most dense reef is located between the public accesses at Mokumanu Drive and Kaiolena Drive. After entering in a sandy area, swim toward the reef. It goes offshore about 600 feet, where the color of the water goes from turquoise to deep blue and the waves are breaking. You do not need to swim out far though to see the colorful live coral patch reefs and the many small fish here. If the tide is low, it may be difficult to swim over the top of the reef. If this is the case, please swim around and don't touch the coral.
There is another bit of reef you can check out further down the beach to the right (southeast). It can be accessed from Haokea Drive or Kuailima Drive, though Kuailima is better. Try swimming straight out from the Kuailima access and then to the right to check out the reef here.
Both areas have depths between about 3 and 6 feet. The visibility for snorkeling Lanikai Beach is generally not great, sometimes downright miserable.
You may be lucky enough to see a turtle here, but we have not. There are a good number of fish to see here, though most are small and immature. Here is what we saw:
There are some healthy live corals here, which is not really that common on Oahu. Here are the corals we could identify:
If you plan to snorkel more than one Hawaiian Island, our Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook is the resource for getting to all the best locations. This Oahu information is included plus maps, more pictures and rankings.
1. Get on Kalakaua Avenue (the one way beach-front main drag). You will be heading southeast.
2. Turn left on Kapahulu Avenue and keep on it and you will go under H-1.
3. Veer to the left on Waialae Avenue and shortly on the right you will see an on ramp for H-1 West. Take it.
4. Follow H-1 west until you reach the turnoff for Hwy 61 (Pali Hwy) and take it.
5. This will take you over the Ko’olau Mountains into Kailua. When you reach the intersection with Oneawa Street and Kuulei Road in the town of Kailua, continue straight on Kuulei Road. Follow that to Kalaheo Avenue and turn right.
6. Follow this (it becomes Lihiwai Road and then Kawailoa Road) and when you come to Alala Road turn left.
7. This will become Mokulua Drive and then split into two one-way roads Aalapapa Drive the one you are heading southeast on and Mokulua Drive is the one you will head back on going northwest. Turn left on the road you intend to use the public beach access from (see above) and look for parking. Once you reach Mokulua Drive again you must turn left again.
Follow one of the public paths to the beach (see picture at right).
None. Restrooms and showers are available up the road at Kailua Beach Park.