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Let’s take you around the Gathering Place to the best snorkeling spots on Oahu. From Electric Beach to Turtle Bay, we know the best and safest snorkel spots for your Hawaii vacation.
The 5 Best Snorkeling Spots on Oahu are the following:
- Electric Beach (West Oahu)
- Hanauma Bay (East Oahu)
- Shark’s Cove (North Shore)
- Kuilima Cove (North Shore)
- Queen’s Beach (Waikiki)
Wherever you are staying in Oahu, we have a place near you for the best snorkeling from shore. No snorkel tour boat is required. Plus, we do share Hawaii snorkeling tips to keep you safe.
While we love DIY snorkeling, sometimes it’s a better idea to go out with a guide. Check out our favorite Turtle Canyon (Waikiki) snorkeling tours for a fun day out on the water. Jumpstart your vacation planning:Check out our Oahu Travel Guide for a deep dive on the islandDecide what part of the island you want to stay on for your tripIn addition to snorkeling we also have a list of 40 Things to Do on Oahu
Video: 5 Best Snorkeling Spots on Oahu
As Hawaii YouTube videos are our thing, we like to show you what the fish, coral reef, and beach look like at these great snorkel spots before you hop in your rental car or Uber on Oahu.
Just like the Oahu snorkeling video, these best of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu were selected based on the following criteria.
- Ease of access (safety)
- Parking availability
- Facilities (showers/restrooms)
- Great snorkeling (obviously)
For reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreen recommendations and travel-sized snorkel gear, see our Hawaii Travel Gear. Our Hawaii Packing List will also help you bring the right beach stuff for your trip. The beach packing section shares tips on how to keep your stuff safe on the beach!
No matter how many days you’re staying on Oahu, make time to go snorkeling.
1. Electric Beach Snorkeling (West Oahu)
Our #1 spot is also our most dangerous. This snorkel spot is for moderate to advanced snorkelers and a snorkel buddy is a must. With that said, the snorkeling here is amazing.
Fish congregate at the warm water pipe outlet of the local electric plant. The artificial reef created by the warm water has hundreds of fish swimming around the snorkelers. Here is how to get out to the pipe outlet.
Electric Beach is located in West Oahu, on the way out to Waianae, just past Ko Olina Resorts. Park at Kahe Point Beach Park. Warning, car break-ins are common here so don’t leave anything in your car.
Behind the pavilion is a small beach. Enter here but check ocean conditions. Strong currents and waves are common at this beach and there are no lifeguards on duty. If the conditions don’t look good, don’t enter the water. If in doubt, don’t go out.
The pipe enters the ocean at the beach. Follow the pipe from shore to get to the outlet. The swim is about 100 yards out from shore. See the graphic below for Electric Beach.
Once you are out there snorkeling with your buddy, you can hang at the surface to see all the fish or dive down 15 to 20 feet to be close to the pipe outlet.
Electric Beach Snorkeling Amenities:
- No lifeguard on duty
- Large parking lot
- Sandy beach access
- Restroom and shower facilities
Google Directions: Kahe Point Beach Park 92-301 Farrington Hwy, Kapolei, HI 96707
Another way to access this snorkeling area of Waianae is with a snorkel tour on a catamaran. Our favorite Oahu snorkeling tour leaves Ko Olina Marina. If you’re staying in Waikiki (transportation is available) or Ko Olina, then head out on a snorkel tour.
2. Hanauma Bay: Oahu’s Famous Snorkel Spot
Hanauma Bay gets a bad rap due to the reservation system and the crowds. But, we can’t help but make this our #2 snorkel spot on Oahu due to the ease of snorkeling and the large, abundant, and colorful marine life here.
Located 25-minutes east of Waikiki, plan to spend the day here snorkeling and playing on the beach. The beach is one of the best on Oahu!
With lifeguards on duty, snorkel rental available at the beach, and a large reef to protect the kids from the waves, you can play all day here under the sun. Hanauma Bay is a great place to teach the kids how to snorkel as there is no shore break, the water is shallow, and the fish are curious. See our 22 other things to do on Oahu with kids.
With no fishing in the bay, the fish are large and not scared of the snorkelers.
Hanauma Bay Snorkeling Amenities:
- Lifeguards on duty
- Sandy beach access
- Restroom and shower facilities
- Snorkel rental at the beach
- Snack shop available at the visitor center
Reservations are required. Note, this is the official site for Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve. It is not a state park so be wary of the other website.
Check snorkel conditions at Hanauma Bay.
Google Directions: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Public Parking Lot
We give tips on how to get reservations in our Oahu Wayfinder Itinerary. Plus so much more to finish all your planning for Oahu. Our itinerary has things to do, excursion days, restaurants, and a where-to-stay guide. Learn more below!
3. Shark’s Cove Snorkeling During the Summer
Shark’s Cove is a gem on Oahu’s North Shore. From May to September, the waves settle down for some epic snorkeling in the lava rock-protected cove.
Pupukea Beach Park has a large cove that is about 5 to 10 feet deep. Fish enter the cove and have a hard time getting out. That is good news for beginner snorkelers. Enter from the sandy beach, there are some rocks but mostly sand, to snorkel around the cove.
Shark’s Cove Snorkeling Amenities:
- No lifeguards on duty
- Restrooms and showers
- Picnic tables
- Snorkel rental shop across the street
- Food trucks across the street
We like Shark’s Cove for the clear water and the protected lagoon. Make sure the conditions are good for snorkeling before you go out by checking lifeguard flags and conditions. Rescues here are frequent during the winter and early spring but lifeguards come when responding to 911 calls. See other snorkel beaches for lifeguards on duty.
Grab our favorite reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreens before you head into the water.
Check snorkel conditions near Pupukea Beach Park.
Google Directions: Shark’s Cove at Pupukea Beach Park, Oahu
Bonus Oahu Snorkel Spot: Three Tables
At Pupukea Beach Park and just south of Shark’s Cove is Three Tables. Named for three table-like coral formations just offshore, Three Tables is another good spot for snorkeling during calm conditions.
As Three Tables and Shark’s Cove is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District (no fishing from shore), the fish populations are large. For where to snorkel, float over the three tables for the best snorkeling. They are easily spotted at low tide, only about 25 yards from shore.
Want to snorkel with sea turtles and see Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins? Our favorite snorkel tour on Oahu leaves out of Ko Olina Marina.Learn more here.
Shark’s Cove is one of seven of our favorite things to do on Oahu. If you’re going to drive to North Shore Oahu, see our list to keep you busy.
4. Kuilima Cove Snorkeling at the Legendary Turtle Bay Resort
All beaches in Hawaii are public so this best of the best snorkel spot on Oahu is available for all. Kuilima Cove is a large cove next to Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. The large reef and rocks keep the water clarity excellent even when there are large North Shore waves.
With a large beach and protected lava-rock walls, the cove is an excellent place for snorkeling. Water depth is 5 to 15 feet deep. You will find a coral reef and rocks to explore for fish and sea turtles.
Kuilima Cove is a great place to find Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles eating seaweed (limu in Hawaiian) from the rocks and reef. Stay a respectful 10 feet away and never touch the endangered animal as it is illegal.
Caution, stay away from the lifeguard buoys as they mark the channel out of the cove. You will find strong currents that might suck you out to sea so stay clear of the buoys.
Kuilima Cove Snorkeling Amenities:
- No lifeguard on duty
- Restroom and showers are available
- Food is available at Turtle Bay Resort or Beach House by Roy Yamaguchi
- Public parking is limited but available in the Turtle Bay Resort parking lot
Online snorkeling conditions are not available for Kuilima Cove. Check flags at the beach!
Google Directions: 57-35 Kuilima Dr, Kahuku, HI 96731
Oahu trip planning resources:
- Ultimate Oahu Travel Guide
- 7 Best Kid-Friendly Resorts on Oahu
- 4 Best Oahu Luaus: Our Honest Review
5. Queens Beach in Waikiki
We can’t have the best snorkeling spots on Oahu without including one location in Waikiki. Waikiki is the most visited and famous place to stay in all of Oahu. While Waikiki Beach is best known for surfing (see our favorite surf school here), there is one snorkel spot worth visiting.
Queens Beach is located on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki, near Kapiolani Regional Park. Being on the far side of Waikiki Beach, you will find fewer beachgoers over here.
The best snorkeling is located near the beach wall or jetty. Walk from the sandy beach and swim along the jetty. The best snorkeling is located about 25 yards past the jetty.
Queens Beach Snorkeling Amenities:
- Lifeguard on duty
- Restrooms and showers available
- Food nearby in Waikiki
- Parking available at the Honolulu Zoo (paid)
Snorkeling Conditions at Waikiki – Queens
Google Directions: Queens Beach in Waikiki
Not all great snorkel spots around Oahu are accessible by land, so check out the 7 Best Snorkeling Tours on Oahu to get the most out of snorkeling around the island.
Safety at the Best Snorkeling Spots on Oahu
We want you to have a safe vacation in Oahu, Hawaii. Snorkeling is the number one cause of death for visitors to Hawaii.
Be it your first-time to Hawaii or your eleventh, a snorkeling refresher is always a smart idea. We always recommend snorkeling visitors read up on snorkel safety tips for Hawaii.
The City and County of Honolulu Ocean Safety Division have excellent lifeguards located at 29 beaches on Oahu. While having a lifeguard on duty is comforting, it is up to you to understand the lifeguard flags and know your limits before you venture into the mighty Pacific Ocean.
Here are a few Oahu snorkel safety tips for beginners:
- Always snorkel with a buddy
- Go snorkeling in the morning for the best visibility and usually better ocean conditions
- Prepare your equipment – wear quality, well-fitting equipment and apply anti-fog to your mask before you enter the water
- Always be aware of ocean activity – never turn your back on the ocean and understand the currents where you’re snorkeling
- Relax and focus on floating – use a flotation device and float to conserve energy. Kick to move around but heavy kicking isn’t necessary.
Wait a few days after you land on Oahu
There is a common misconception that snorkel drownings and near misses are caused by inexperience on the part of the swimmer. A three-year study by the Hawaii Department of Health found that tourist snorkeling deaths are largely the result of low oxygen levels in body tissues prompted by excess fluid buildup in the lungs.
The condition is known as hypoxia induced by rapid onset pulmonary edema, or ROPE.
Long-distance air travel may be the cause of hypoxia, leading to a disproportionate number of visitor snorkel drownings. The act of breathing through a snorkel may trigger a respiratory impairment. The victim doesn’t inhale water but the respiratory system shuts down.
Wait a few days after you land on Oahu before you drive to one of these snorkeling spots.
When in doubt, don’t go out!
Hawaii Snorkel Guide Video
Erica and I love to go snorkeling when we travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Watch our Hawaii snorkeling guide video for more tips on snorkeling in Hawaii.
The biggest question we get asked is where to rent or buy snorkel equipment. We cover that in the video below!
Shark Safety When Snorkeling
If sharks are scaring you away from snorkeling on Oahu, keep this in mind: Hawaii has more than 9 million visitors each year. The odds are in your favor that you’ll be able to swim and snorkel safely in Hawaii.
If you want to do your best to snorkel safely and reduce your chances of meeting a shark while out enjoying the water, see these shark safety guidelines.
- Don’t go off alone. Swim and snorkel with other people.
- Avoid murky water, harbor entrances, stream mouths, channels, or steep dropoffs. Sharks like to hang out in places like this.
- Avoid swimming at dawn or dusk.
- Don’t enter the water if you’re bleeding — even a little bit. They can detect the smallest amount of blood and will come to investigate.
- Don’t wear high-contrast clothing or jewelry. This will get their attention and draw them in.
- Don’t splash excessively. The splashing could attract sharks.
- Don’t go in the water if a shark has been spotted (obviously).
- If fish or turtles begin acting erratically, it’s best to leave the water. They might feel the presence of a shark nearby.
- Be cautious if there are dolphins present — some larger sharks view them as food.
- Don’t swim near people who are fishing. Why swim near shark bait?
- When in doubt, stick to beaches with lifeguards and follow their instructions.
For more things to do on Oahu plus our favorite restaurants and places to stay, see our Oahu Wayfinder Itinerary below.