So you want to go to snorkeling as part of your time on Oahu!
Which are the best beaches on Oahu for snorkeling?!
First, the quick list of the top 3 beaches on Oahu to know about when you want to go snorkeling on Oahu.
Then, a bit more about each of the Oahu beaches, including some nearby places you might want to go when you’re in the area… aka how to make it a perfect day on Oahu with hiking in the morning and snorkeling in the afternoon!
And then, a note on snorkeling alone on Oahu and a quick list of what to pack for snorkeling on Oahu.
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3 best snorkeling spots in Oahu
…listed in order of convenience if you’ll be staying in Waikiki!
1. Queen’s Beach
Go here for possibly the best snorkeling spot in Waikiki.
2. Hanauma Bay
Go here for possibly the most popular snorkeling spot on Oahu.
3. Shark’s Cove
Go here for possibly the best snorkeling spot on the North Shore.
So what makes these beaches among the top snorkeling spots on Oahu?!
Marine life conservation districts on Oahu
In Hawaii, there are what’s called marine life conservation districts.
This means that these areas just off the coast are more protected for marine life.
This can make them good snorkeling spots.
On Oahu, there are 3 marine life conservation districts:
- Waikiki marine life conservation district
- Hanauma Bay marine life conservation district
- Pupukea marine life conservation district
Within these districts are the beaches of Queen’s Beach (Waikiki), Hanauma Bay, and Shark’s Cove (Pupukea), all of which can make a good base for snorkeling.
But these 3 beaches aren’t the only snorkeling spots on Oahu.
But when you need to narrow down your list of choices, it’s a good way to pick your beaches when snorkeling is on the list of things to do when you’re on Oahu! A bit more on each of the snorkeling spots and surrounding areas below.
Oahu snorkeling tour or snorkel Oahu on your own?!
There are many snorkeling spots in Oahu that you can access on your own from shore. So it’s possible to snorkel off the beach in Oahu. (Including the snorkeling beaches that were mentioned!)
So, if you want to go snorkeling in Oahu, you don’t NEED to go on a snorkeling tour to do so.
Aside from snorkeling, a snorkeling tour can also be about being able to get a Hawaii experience to remember with a day out on the water sailing the ocean! There are many snorkeling tours that will take you by boat to a prime snorkeling spot off the shores of Oahu. Also it’s important to note for any snorkeling tour you choose, check for whether or not snorkeling gear is included.
Best Oahu snorkeling tours
Have a look at some of the best snorkeling tours on Oahu, and be sure to see the reviews:
- Morning sailboat tour with snorkeling along Waikiki Beach
- Dolphin watching and snorkeling excursion from Waianae (This is West Oahu, a side of the island that far fewer tourists visit! You’ll want a car to get here as it’s a bit of a ways from Waikiki.)
- Hidden gems of Oahu circle island tour from Waikiki, with North Shore snorkeling and swimming with turtles (For snorkeling this is better as a summer tour, the North Shore in winter has rougher seas.)
- Plus go deeper into the water: Oahu discovery scuba diving for beginners (If you have a history of ear troubles, it may be better to skip this though.)
More below about snorkeling in Oahu on your own!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
PLUS... Oahu tour, or on your own: Can you visit Pearl Harbor without a tour?
A little more about the top Oahu snorkeling spots from the beach!
…aka the best things to do on Oahu!
1. Queen’s Beach
Waikiki marine life conservation district
If you’re staying in Waikiki and don’t want to go far, then the Queen’s Beach area can be a good place to go for snorkeling.
This is located at the far south end of Waikiki.
It’s also right near Sans Souci park which is a nice grassy area that you can set up your base too.
There are beach facilities around here with bathrooms and showers so that can make it convenient too.
There’s also a small snack bar nearby.
For reference, you can look for the lifeguard stand 2F, and try snorkeling somewhere around there.
All beaches in Waikiki are free, so there’s no fee for snorkeling at Queen’s Beach.
Read more from the state of Hawaii about the Waikiki marine life conservation district.
Hiking near Queen’s Beach
Make it an amazing day on Oahu by doing a hike in the morning that will keep you pretty near Waikiki.
Then, after you’ve gotten in a good workout that comes with some amazing views, you can go for a recovery swim that includes some snorkeling in Waikiki!
Diamond Head Hike
Do this hike for the famous views of Waikiki and Honolulu.
2. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay marine life conservation district
Hanauma Bay is a short 20 minute or so drive from Waikiki.
Or it’s an easy bus ride from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay as well. Google Maps is a reliable way for taking the bus around Oahu. Just look for the public transportation option.
As a proper beach park, Hanauma Bay has convenient beach facilities.
There’s also a lifeguard on duty here too.
There is a fee to enter Hanauma Bay, and… IMPORTANT!!! The cost to visit Hanauma Bay has gone up recently so be sure you are getting the most accurate cost info before you go. Check current entry fees from the County of Honolulu.
Starting July 2021, the Hanauma Bay entry fee is $25 per person, age 13 and older.
Alternative to Hanauma Bay: If you are will to pay for snorkeling (because it’s HAWAII and you’re willing to pay for amazing experiences!), then also consider going for one of the best Oahu snorkeling tours from Waikiki! That will get you a boat ride on the ocean too!
And if you’re staying in Waikiki, you don’t have to think much about how to get there if you book a tour that starts in Waikiki. You can make it a beach walk with ocean views to get to your tour! (With Hanauma Bay, you need to take the Oahu bus, you need a car, or you need to book a shuttle.)
Read more from the state of Hawaii about the Hanauma Bay marine life conservation district.
Hiking near Hanauma Bay
Make it an amazing day on the east side of Oahu by doing a hike in the morning near Hanauma Bay.
Then, after you’ve gotten in a good workout that comes with some amazing views, you can go for a recovery swim that includes some snorkeling at Hanauma Bay!
Koko Head Hike
Do this hike for a strenuous workout that’s right across the street from Hanauma Bay.
Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
Do this hike for a slightly easier workout on a paved trail. It would be more convenient if you have a car, but there is also a bus that runs to near Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. The nearest bus stop is a 15 minute walk, and it does require walking on a busy road.
Beaches near Hanauma Bay
Or, if you want to make it a beach hopping kind of day, see more of the best beaches on the east side of Oahu.
3. Shark’s Cove
Pupukea marine life conservation district
Shark’s Cove is located on the North Shore.
Because the North Shore is a bit of a distance from Waikiki, you can make this a day trip from Waikiki by adding in some more things to do on the North Shore along with the snorkeling.
It will be about a 1 hour drive.
It’s also possible to take the bus to the North Shore from Waikiki, as long as you have time and patience! The bus might take 2 hours one way and also might require a transfer. Once again, you can consult Google Maps!
Read more from the state of Hawaii about the Pupukea marine life conservation district.
This may not make such a great snorkeling spot in winter though.
In winter, the North Shore waves can be rough. Bad for snorkeling, but this can be good for surfing! The North Shore is internationally known as one of the best surfing spots in the world. If you will be on Oahu in winter, you might test your luck to see if you can check out a surf competition.
For a snorkeling spot on the North Shore in winter as an alternative, you might check the conditions at Kuilima Cove. This is another beginner-friendly snorkeling spot on Oahu.
Hiking near Shark’s Cove
Make it an amazing day on the North Shore of Oahu by doing a hike in the morning on the North Shore.
Then, after you’ve gotten in a good workout that comes with some amazing views, you can go for a recovery swim that includes some snorkeling at Shark’s Cove!
Do this hike for amazing views of the North Shore coast.
Beaches near Shark’s Cove
And there you have it!
Some of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu to consider making a part of your trip to Hawaii!
Snorkeling alone in Oahu
While it is best to not snorkel alone on Oahu (or anywhere), if you are traveling to Hawaii alone, these listed snorkeling spots I would generally say would be fine if you are a solo snorkeler on Oahu, for the reason that there will likely be many people around.
This at least gives you more of a chance that someone sees you if you get into trouble in the water.
There are also lifeguards near Queen’s Beach and at Hanauma Bay. There is no lifeguard at Shark’s Cove.
Whether you are snorkeling alone or you have a snorkeling buddy, be sure that you take care when snorkeling, always! The ocean is beautiful, but it’s also powerful and can be dangerous!
What to pack for snorkeling on Oahu
1. Waterproof phone case
Pack a waterproof phone pouch for snorkeling for a CHEAP way to waterproof your phone so you can capture some underwater memories!
2. Water shoes
Pack this if you won’t be wearing fins when you snorkel.
Water shoes can help to protect your feet from hidden rocks on the beach and if you accidentally hit coral reef.
Coral reef is sharp!
I was swimming at Hanauma Bay barefoot and accidentally kicked the reef below me. It didn’t really hurt, but when I got out of the water, I noticed my foot was bleeding! And then started freaking out the rest of the day about a possible coral reef infection. 😉 Better to not go snorkeling on Oahu barefoot!
3. Sunscreen that’s not a part of the Hawaii sunscreen ban
The type of sunscreen that you wear is kind of a big deal for locals in Hawaii.
There is now a ban in sales in Hawaii of sunscreen that contain certain chemicals.
Now, you could buy any sunscreen you like back home and then bring it to Hawaii.
But… it would likely be very appreciated if you wear a type of reef-safe sunscreen that locals prefer!
Best sunscreen for Oahu: See more about how to know if your sunscreen is the good type for snorkeling on Oahu.
4. Snorkeling set
Pack this to have your own snorkeling gear for your future snorkeling trips too!
It is possible to rent snorkeling gear on Oahu, and you can also find some basic snorkel sets sold in convenience stores in Waikiki too.
But it can be convenient to not have to spend time shopping for this when you don’t have a lot of time during your Hawaii vacation!
See more of snorkeling essentials for Hawaii, including why to wear a rash guard when snorkeling!
Also see more of the best Oahu beaches.
Headed to another island in Hawaii? See more snorkeling spots on other Hawaiian islands!
- Best snorkeling spots on Maui
- Best snorkeling spots on the Big Island
- You can camp near the snorkeling beach on Lanai
And plan more of your trip to Oahu!
HAPPY SNORKELING ON OAHU!
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
Possibly among the best Oahu maps for tourists!The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip to Honolulu!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of these amazing tours on the Oahu:
- Sailing the ocean on a Hawaiian canoe to a small island
- Hidden gems of Oahu circle island tour + North Shore snorkeling
- Kayaking the ocean to a small island
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight: Oahu waterfalls, mountains, and valleys including the North Shore and Sacred Falls
- Sunset cruise on the ocean