Into the Blue: Four of Oahu’s Best Snorkel Sites

Shoreside locations around the island where clear water, calm seas and plentiful fish life come together.


The island of Oahu is washed by some of the clearest ocean waters in the world. When they meet the shore, waves sometimes pound with relentless fury. But in other places, the boundary between sea and land is more serene, creating an opportunity to don snorkel gear and see what lies below. But there are other things to consider as well. Some sites may be too distant, others may require challenging climbs down rocky cliffs to reach the water, and many more lack nearby shore facilities. Oahu’s best snorkel sites have not only interesting underwater landscapes and plentiful fish life, but also easy access, nearby parking and a chance to shower off afterward. Here are four of our top picks:

Hanauma Bay

The reefs at Oahu's Haunama Bay are the state's most popular, attracting a million visitors a year.

The reefs at Oahu’s Haunama Bay are the state’s most popular, attracting a million visitors a year. Photo: iStock

Hanauma Bay is undoubtedly Hawaii’s most popular snorkeling destination. Nearly a million visitors a year enjoy this scenic stretch of sand, which is within easy range of Honolulu. The Bay is sheltered from prevailing winds, and provides beachside showers, bathrooms and even a tram for those who lose ambition for hiking back up to the parking lot. You certainly won’t have the beach to yourself, but everything runs smoothly. A mandatory orientation briefing for first-timers is held at the Education Center, which is worth visiting in and of itself. Daily updates on water conditions are posted, and snorkeling equipment is available for renting beachside. The coral formations show evidence of snorkeler traffic, but the underwater life is the focal point. Feeding is no longer allowed, but the fish are plentiful and seem inured to human presence.

Sharks Cove

Shark Cove, Oahu's best snorkel sites

When sea conditions are favorable, Oahu’s Shark Cove is suitable for intermediate to advanced snorkelers. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Sharks Cove offers a slightly wilder take on snorkeling. Located on Oahu’s North Shore near some of the island’s most famous surf breaks, this site is often washed by high surf during winter months, but frequently calms from spring till fall. Parking, public bathrooms and showers are nearby within Pupukea State Park, and a snorkel rental concession sits right across the road. Bring water shoes to aid entry across the rocky shoreline, and snorkel only when there is no sigh of surf or strong surge. Once submerged, you will be treated to clear blue water filled with a variety of fish, turtles, and possibly a sighting of the white-tipped reef sharks that give this site its name. It’s OK; they’re not dangerous to humans.

San Souci Beach

Oahu, Hawaii, Woman Snorkeling

Honolulu’s San Souci Beach provides shallow reefs close to shore and adjacent showers and changing facilities. Photo: iStock

If you are near Waikiki Beach and want to get in a bit of fish watching, the best place to slip on mask and fins is San Souci Beach. This stretch draws fewer crowds than Waikiki to the north, and the coral formations begin in shallow water, close to shore. This topography brings fish life close to the surface, but also means the site is less suitable when there is a swell running. The majority of the time, conditions are favorable for beach entry and a swim over the reef. The best fish population can be found near the rock jetty at the south end of the beach. Afterward, public showers provide a refreshing rinse.

Ko Olina Lagoons

Ko Olina Lagoon Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu’s Ko Olina lagoons are manmade with rock-covered borders ideal for young or novice snorkelers. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

To ensure visitors could always enjoy calm waters and sandy beaches, the developers of the Ko Olina resort complex carved a series of four sheltered lagoons into the coastline of west-central Oahu. These sculpted bodies of water provide an easy, safe way for anyone to ease into snorkeling. And although there are no natural coral formations to admire, you’ll have no problem finding fish life, and turtles sometimes visit the lagoons as well. Because the lagoons are situated in a resort area, there’s ample parking and a full range of amenities nearby.