Hanauma Bay is the famous bay for snorkeling on Oahu, and there is an expensive entry fee.
So you want to go to snorkeling as part of your Oahu itinerary!
Which are the best beaches on Oahu for snorkeling?!
Is snorkeling free in Oahu?
Yes, it’s possible to go snorkeling in Oahu for free. So snorkeling is one of the free things to do on Oahu!
Although you need to pay to go to the most popular Oahu snorkeling spot, there are also free snorkeling spots in Oahu!
🐠 Amazing Oahu snorkeling tour you need to consider:
- Waikiki cruise + turtle canyons snorkeling tour
- Beyond snorkeling: Waikiki scuba diving for beginners (it’s best not to fly for 24 hours after scuba diving so don’t do this the day before your flight out of Honolulu)
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.
There are affiliate links on this page.
3 best snorkeling spots in Oahu
1. Hanauma Bay
Cost: $25 per person
Go to Hanauma Bay for possibly the most popular snorkeling spot on Oahu. There is an entry fee to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. You need to make reservations for Hanauma Bay before you go, or you can try for (limited!) walk-in tickets. Another option is the shuttle to Hanauma Bay. While you don’t need to make reservations before you go, for this you need to bring the entry fee of $25 in cash with you as it’s not included in the shuttle fee.
👆 Explore the map of this Oahu snorkeling spot. If you don’t mind walking, then you can get to Hanauma Bay by bus. When playing around with the map for bus routes, be sure to change the departure time to get a better idea of what bus routes are available when you plan on going. If you’ll be going by car, explore things to do on the east side of Oahu! You can do these things by bus too, but it might be a bit much to do on the same day as Hanauma Bay if you’ll be going by bus!
2. Shark’s Cove
Go to Sharks Cove for possibly the best snorkeling spot on the North Shore… when the waters are calm! Snorkeling on the North Shore is free which makes it one of the best things to do on the North Shore!
👆 Explore the map of this Oahu snorkeling spot. The best snorkeling spot on the North Shore is at Sharks Cove because that is where the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District is located! Many people will say it’s not reasonable to go to Sharks Cove by bus. But if you manage your expectations (aka long time in transit!), then you can get to Sharks Cove by bus. You can make a day of it with a trip to the North Shore. Explore the North Shore Oahu tourist map. Explore things to do on the North Shore!
Go to Queen’s Beach for possibly the best snorkeling spot in Waikiki… when the waters are calm! Snorkeling in Waikiki is free which makes it one of the best things to do in Waikiki! See more Waikiki Beach snorkeling spots.
👆 Explore the map of this Oahu snorkeling spot. The best snorkeling spot in Waikiki is the southern end of Waikiki because that is where the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District is located! Explore the Waikiki tourist map. Explore things to do in Waikiki!
Marine life conservation districts on Oahu
So among the best Oahu snorkeling spots are Hanauma Bay, Sharks Cove, and Queens Beach, because… they are part of marine life conservation districts!
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:
- Hanauma Bay marine life conservation district
- Pupukea marine life conservation district
- Waikiki marine life conservation district
Within these districts are the beaches of Hanauma Bay, and Shark’s Cove (Pupukea), Queen’s Beach (Waikiki), 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.
More marine life in Hawaii
If you’re interested in snorkeling in Oahu, you may also be interested in these marine life in Hawaii:
- Waikiki turtles
- Laniakea Beach turtles on the North Shore of Oahu
- Hookipa Beach turtles in Maui
- Punaluu black sand beach turtles on the Big Island
- Hookipa Beach seals in Maui
- Sharks attacks in Hawaii
Know before you go! Know what it is when you see it!
- humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaii state fish… it’s not as hard to pronounce as you might think!)
- Hawaiian white-spotted toby (cute little Hawaiian pufferfish!)
More below about snorkeling in Oahu on your own!
- The best way to swim with turtles in Waikiki: Turtle Canyons snorkeling
There are affiliate links on this page.
A little more about the top Oahu snorkeling spots from the beach!
Best Oahu snorkeling spots for beginners
- Hanauma Bay snorkeling
- Best North Shore snorkeling spot: Sharks Cove
- Best Waikiki snorkeling spot: Queens Beach
1. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay marine life conservation district
Hanauma Bay is a short 20 minute or so drive from Waikiki.
There used to be a direct bus to Hanauma Bay.
You can still get from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay by bus if you don’t mind a lot of walking with your beach gear. It’s a 20 minute walk from the bus stop to Hanauma Bay.
But there’s local food near the bus stop to make up for your effort!
The bus stop you’ll get off for Hanauma Bay is near Koko Marina Center, which is where you can find local food like malasadas at the Leonard’s Bakery food truck or a Hawaiian plate lunch at Fatboy’s. (map)
See more about taking the bus to Hanauma Bay from Waikiki.
Google Maps is a reliable way for taking the bus around Oahu. Just look for the public transportation option!
See more about taking the Oahu bus.
As a proper beach park, Hanauma Bay has convenient beach facilities.
There’s also a lifeguard on duty here too.
You will want to make a $25 per person reservation before you go to Hanauma Bay.
Here is the official Hanauma Bay reservation website.
You can only buy tickets 2 days before, and they go quick. (If you look at recent tickets that have been sold, it tells you when they sold out.)
Hanauma Bay is closed Monday and Tuesday.
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 the Oahu 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.
2. 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 Oahu 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!
Ehukai Pillbox Hike
Do this hike for amazing views of the North Shore coast.
Beaches near Shark’s Cove
3. Queen’s Beach
Waikiki marine life conservation district
This is located at the far south end of Waikiki.
It’s also right near the beachside of Kapiolani 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!
Do this hike for the famous views of Waikiki and Honolulu.
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!
And plan more of your trip to Oahu!
More snorkeling in the US: Best snorkeling in Florida
HAPPY SNORKELING ON OAHU!
See the list:
There are affiliate links on this page. Among other partners, as an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from this.
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!
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.
More for your Oahu packing list
- How a cheapo waterproof phone case works
- Why wear water shoes for the beach
- Why a personal swim buoy is an essential for snorkeling and swimming in the ocean
- Essentials to pack for Hawaii
- Best shoes for Hawaii
There are affiliate links on this page. Among others, as an Amazon Associate I may earn from purchases.