Freediving Hawaii

A Guide to Snorkeling on Oahu

The ocean is my favourite place to be in the entire world. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that from the dozens of photos I posted from my most recent trip to Oahu where I spent more time under the sea than I did on land. (Just call me the little mermaid. 😉 )

I’ve done a lot of snorkeling in Oahu on my previous trips, but just before this trip my boyfriend and I got PADI certified, so we were able to scuba dive as well and experience some of the most stunning reefs in the world up close and personal.

You can read more about my experience getting PADI certified HERE.

Today I wanted to talk about snorkeling on Oahu and give my readers a quick guide to some of my favourite spots and where to see the best marine life! I’ll be publishing another post I the upcoming weeks talking all about my scuba diving experience on Oahu, so keep an eye out for that as well!

I’ve organized this post by the different places I’ve snorkelled and included a quick little visual “snorkel score card” to hit the main points of each spot.

Before we get into that though, I want to talk about some general guidelines and tips to keep in mind when snorkelling on Oahu.

Tips for Snorkelling Oahu

  • If you have your own gear, bring it! You’ll save a ton by bringing your stuff and be able to snorkel at more secluded spots that don’t have places to rent gear nearby. Logan and I brought our masks and snorkels with us and rented fins at the snorkel spots with stronger current.
  • Be aware. Always be aware of where you are in the water and also what’s around you. The ocean moves and can pull you far out from shore if you’re not paying attention. Also always make sure to keep your head on a swivel so no large marine animals or boats sneak up on you.
  • Don’t go alone. This one is pretty much common sense. There’s strength in numbers in the unpredictable ocean, so make sure you snorkel with a buddy and if you’re travelling alone try joining a snorkel tour.
  • Don’t touch the sea turtles! As a general rule you should never touch any animals in the ocean as it can be harmful to the animal, the environment, and yourself. However, sea turtles in Hawaii are federally protected and you can receive a huge fine if you’re caught touching them.

Hanauma Bay (1 of 1)

Hanauma Bay

Difficulty  Easy
Visibility 10-30 ft
What You’ll See Tons of fish, some bright coral, sea turtles
Equipment available for rent at site Yes

Of course Hanauma Bay tops this list; it’s the most well known and visited snorkeling sites on the island. This beach is the perfect snorkel spot for beginners because of the calm, shallow water and tame fish population. However, if you’re looking for a quiet and secluded snorkeling experience you won’t find it at Hanauma Bay. The bay is allowed 3000 visitors a day and is almost always crowded with tourists.

The bay is also very shallow and because of the many tourists passing through who may not be familiar snorkeling, there is a lot of dead coral right off the shore due to people accidentally stepping on it. However, if you swim further out, the outer reef is home to some of the brightest coral on the island. You won’t find much marine life here other than fish and sea turtles, that being said, I do think it’s a place everyone should experience at least once. There is a $5 per person entrance fee that is waived to those under and residents of Hawaii.

Note: because Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve they are closed on Tuesday’s to help minimize the impact on the ecosystem, so plan accordingly!


Sharks Cove

Difficulty Easy
Visibility 10-30 ft
What You’ll See Tons of fish, sea turtles
Equipment available for rent at site Yes (across the street)

Sharks Cove is also a popular tourist spot. Logan and I actually stayed just down the road from it while we were in Oahu and were trying to wait for the crowds to die down before we went over, but it never seemed to get less crowded. Despite all the people, snorkeling at Sharks Cove was pretty awesome. There are a ton of colourful fish in the water and a handful of turtles too; Logan even spotted an eel while we were here!Sharks Cove is another very popular spot to snorkel on the island, in fact it’s been rated by Scuba Magazine as one of the top twelve shore dives in the world. Sharks Cove is especially unique because you can only dive there a few months out of the year. Because Sharks Cove is located between Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline (two famous big wave surf spots), the swells are often too large in the winter for safe snorkeling or scuba diving here. May to September is considered prime time for snorkelling and diving at Sharks Cove, however it’s still recommended to check the forecast before you head over. If there are waves forecasted the current can be strong, making it unsuitable for less confident swimmers.

It’s also important to note that Sharks Cove is not a beach; there is no sandy area to walk out and into the water from. The shoreline is made up of sharp rocks and because there is usually a bit of current, small kids should be very careful when entering the water as a lot of the rocks can be sharp.


Electric Beach

Difficulty Medium
Visibility 20-60 ft
What You’ll See Turtles, eagle rays, lots of fish, sharks, dolphins
Equipment available for rent at site No

Electric beach gets its name from the electric plant nearby. What makes this site such a hotspot for marine life is the huge, submerged exhaust water tubes from the electric plant. These tubes spew out warm water, which attracts fish, and as a result a lot of other, larger marine life. We went early in the morning and heard dolphins nearby, but unfortunately couldn’t catch a glimpse of them. There a couple of snorkel and dive tour boats in this area as well, which does attract more fish, but just be sure you’re popping your head up every once in a while and keep in mind where the boats are.Electric Beach is the hidden gem of snorkeling in Oahu! Dan from Circle Island Tour in 24 took Logan and I to this spot and it has now become my favourite snorkel spot on the island! There was not a single person in sight when we arrived at 7 in the morning, and still very few showed up after. This spot is not as well known as some of the other spots, and is a little bit hidden, so if you want to check it out be sure to get in contact with Dan from Circle Island Tour in 24 so he can show you some of the best snorkeling in Oahu.


Logan and I are already planning to take our scuba diving gear out here next time to get a closer look at some of the amazing life down there! The visibility is better than anywhere else I’ve ever snorkeled on the island!


Kuilima Cove

Difficulty Easy
Visibility 1-5ft
What You’ll See Fish
Equipment available for rent at site Yes

Kuilima Cove is one of the best places for snorkeling beginners on the island because it’s sheltered and very calm. This spot is located next to the world famous Turtle Bay resort, right in the heart of the North Shore. Kuilima Cove is also very shallow, it only goes to about neck deep and the water clarity is excellent. Although this is a great spot for beginners because of the calm and shallow water, it may not be the best spot for more advanced snorkelers looking to see a variety of marine life. There isn’t much life at Kuilima Cove aside from fish, and even then there aren’t hundreds of colourful fish like you’ll find down the road at Sharks Cove.

Fish (1 of 1)

Three Tables

Difficulty Medium
Visibility 5-10ft
What You’ll See Fish, eels, squid
Equipment available for rent at site Yes (up by Sharks Cove)

Three tables is best suited for intermediate to advanced snorkelers as it’s not protected by a bay so there can be strong currents and sudden surge even on seemingly calm days. This small, sandy beach is located just south of Sharks Cove and like any spot on the North Shore it’s best snorkeled in the summer. Three Tables is also part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District which prohibits at this beach, resulting in good fish populations for snorkeling. When snorkeling here try to stay between the tables and the beach to be in the safest position from any current or surge that might sneak up on you.


Here are some other notable spots in Oahu that make for good snorkeling:

  • Waimea BayMy favourite beach on the North Shore. Most popular for the Waimea Cliff Jump, but in the mornings dolphins often pass through here. Get there early for a chance to swim with the pod!
  • Ko Olina Lagoons I’ve snorkelled here when staying at the Disney Aulani resort. There isn’t much in terms of sea life; just a few fish and the occasional sea turtle, but the lagoons are calm year round which makes it a great spot for beginners and small kids
  • Sunset Beach In the winter this is the place for surfing, but in the summer you can snorkel here and spot some incredible sea life

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  • Reply Hannah Rheaume August 12, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I love the ocean too 🙂 All of these locations are so dreamy. I just went snorkeling for the first time in Puerto Rico. Safe to say I now need to go to Hawaii! xx Hannah

    • Reply August 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      Ou, that is amazing! I’ve never been to Puerto Rico! I’ll have to add it to my list now! 😉

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