Best Snorkeling Spots in Oahu
Snorkeling off the Hawaiian island of Oahu is one of the most awe-inspiring activities any ocean lover could imagine. With so much aquatic life in one of the most pristine settings in the world, it's easy to see why so many people continue to flock to Oahu each year to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Snorkeling appeals to people from all walks of life, and since Hawaii is the dream vacation destination for so many of us, the combination is irresistible.
Snorkeling can be traced back thousands of years, with divers using hollow reeds as snorkels and little else in the early days. Divers would submerge and look for the natural sponge in order to trade and make a living. Through the centuries, technology has improved to the point that today’s snorkelers can explore the water around Oahu with maximum comfort, efficiency, and safety. It’s possible to satisfy all of your underwater curiosities while doing something you love.
Snorkeling in Oahu is a great form of exercise, boosting your cardio health, flexibility and overall fitness level. It's also a stress reliever, taking you into an entirely different world far removed from your daily life. If you are visiting for the very first time or have been here before, keep reading to discover the best snorkeling locations in Oahu.
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Kaena Point State Park
Ka’ena means “the heat” in Hawaiian, and the beach is located on the northwestern tip of Oahu, in Ka'ena Point State Park. This is a remote spot that is only accessible by hiking and is surrounded by Hawaiian folklore. Legend has it that the lava shoreline on the western tip is where the souls of Hawaiians would jump off into the spirit world to go meet their ancestors. Ka’ena Point is located about an hour from Honolulu airport, at the end of Farrington Highway. The beach is not usually crowded, but surfers do come from around the world in winter to experience some massive waves. And the rest of the time is ideal for snorkeling as waters are generally calm and you can take your time and explore. There is a wide range of marine life to explore, including Hawaii’s state fish, called the humuhumunukunukuapuaa.
Shark's Cove was named because a reef outside the cove resembled the shape of a shark, so you shouldn’t have to worry about encountering any real ones as you snorkel. Shark's Cove is known for diverse marine life and rock formations under the surface, which makes it one of the absolute best and most interesting snorkeling locations in Oahu. Scuba Diving Magazine even gave it the distinction of being one of the twelve best shore dives in the world. On the south side of this cove, the Pupukea tide pools are a fascinating place for divers to explore.
Some of the rocks in the cove can be sharp, so wearing reef shoes or fins is recommended. The waves and currents are strong in winter from November to February, so the best snorkeling is during the summer months. Sharks Cove is located on the northern coast of Oahu on the Kamehameha Highway.
Kahe Point Beach Park - Electric Beach
Kahe Point Beach Park, often referred to as ‘Electric Beach’ is a great place for the more adventurous snorkelers out there. The best coral and breathtaking schools of fish often require swimming through strong currents, so having a snorkel buddy with you makes sense. The water around Kahe Point is warm from a nearby power plant, which draws a plethora of exciting aquatic life to the area. Some of the fish you might be lucky enough to see include the blue spine, unicornfish, parrotfish, and bullethead; and some snorkelers claimed to have seen rays, dolphins, and even turtles gathering here. Kahe Point Beach Park is situated on the southwest corner of Farrington Highway on the west shore.
*This photo was provided by Jenifer Delemont
For a serene and sheltered kind of snorkeling experience in Oahu, Kuilima Cove may be the ideal spot. It is located on the famous North Shore of Oahu, and it is enclosed by a natural rock barrier that will protect you from the waves as you explore. The sand is white, and the water is clear, which makes Kuilima Cove ideal for both beginners and experienced snorkelers alike. Coral flats make up much of the bottom, with large rocks scattered around and a multitude of different fish species. Kuilima Cove is just over an hour drive from Honolulu airport, on the Kamehameha Highway. It is located next to the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu.
Hanauma Bay can be found on the southeast coast of Oahu in the East Honolulu neighborhood of Hawaii Kai on Hanauma Bay Road. This is one of the most popular beaches and the best snorkeling locations in Oahu because of the amazing array of aquatic life beneath the surface. Dynamite was used to clear away parts of the reef in 1956 so telephone cables could be added to link Hawaii with the mainland.
There is a marine life nature preserve that allows snorkelers to see up to 300 different Hawaiian fish species in the Hanauma Bay area. It is also at the bottom of a volcanic crater, making for some spectacular scenery and a cool story to tell your friends. Underwater visibility may be affected in the winter months when the waves are more prevalent, but the rest of the year should feature ideal conditions.
If you are looking for the best snorkeling locations in Oahu, you’re bound to find one from this list that appeals to your experience level and your tastes. The beaches are beautiful, and the water is clear and calling you. It’s obvious that the winter months produce bigger waves and choppier water that may not always be perfect for beginning snorkelers, but with such a treasure trove of underwater life and experiences, you’d be missing out if you don’t include Oahu on your bucket list of snorkeling destinations.