Snorkeling Oahu - Guide to Snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii

Snorkeling Oahu can be as relaxing as floating on the surface in just a few feet of water while wearing a snorkel vest or as exhilarating and holding your breath and swimming down to sea floor deep below.

This guide will help you find the best snorkeling in Oahu suited for your skill level and desires.

Read on to find information covering Oahu snorkeling spots from Hanauma Bay Snorkeling on the South-East shore all the way to the opposite side of the island for snorkeling Shark's Cove on the Oahu's North Shore.

palm trees at hanauma bay in oahu, hawaiicrystal clear water at hanauma bay in oahu hawaiihanauma bay scuba diving coursebutterfly fish seen while scuba diving in hanauma bayschool of reef fish seen in hanauma bay oahu, hawaii

Best Snorkeling in Oahu

These Oahu snorkeling spots are some of the best and most easily accessible snorkeling spots on Oahu.

  • Hanauma Bay Snorkeling - Easy for beginners, lots of fun on the outer reef for advanced snorkelers. The most colorful coral reef easily accessible for snorkeling on the island.
  • Electric Beach - Great visibility but deep water makes this a more challenging Oahu snorkeling spot.
  • Sharks Cove - Snorkeling the North Shore of Oahu - only accessible during the summer months
  • Waimea Bay - Great summer snorkeling - Site of big wave surfing in the winter
scuba diving at Hanauma Bay with a sea turtle

Hanauma Bay Scuba Diving Tours - No Experience Required

  • Discover Scuba Diving with no experience required at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
  • You will get a safety lesson from an experienced scuba instructor before heading out to deeper water and explore Hanauma Bay's beautiful reef and marine life
  • Small groups of no more than 4 participants per group, maximum depth of 40ft (12 meters)
  • Includes Hanauma Bay entrance fee
hanauma bay nature preserve on oahu

Hanauma Bay Snorkeling Tour

  • Guided snorkeling tour of the best reef areas at Hanauma Bay
  • Sanitary snorkeling equipment, safety snorkeling vests, beach mats, bottled water, snacks and lock box.
  • Bring a waterproof camera to get amazing photos of Hanauma Bay above and below the surface!
  • Does not include Hanauma Bay entrance fee of $7.50

Snorkeling Oahu's Coral Reefs

Marine Animals

Approximately 25% of the species that you will see while snorkeling in Oahu are endemic - meaning that they are found no where else in the world. Hawaii's geographic isolation has let to character changes in some of the reef fish that make them unique and found only here in the water surrounding our beautiful islands.

The slower that you swim the more that you see! Observing the fish and other animals living on our coral reefs is the best part of snorkeling. Make sure that you bring a camera along to photograph the experience. These fish are fast so the best chance that you have to see a lot is to just take it easy and let them come to you.

three sea turtles seen in hawaii while scuba diving

Snorkeling with Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles - Honu

Turtles (honu in Hawaiian) are seen frequently while snorkeling Oahu. Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles can weigh over 400 pounds (180kg) and hold their breath for many hours.

When snorkeling Oahu with our amazing green sea turtles try not to get too close. If you keep your distance they will most likely hang around and pose for some underwater pictures. If you get right on top of them they will be scared and swim away.

Contrary to popular belief sea turtles are not slow! They can swim over 25 mph and dive to depths of over 400 feet.

Turtles are protected here in Hawaii and although they have made an amazing recovery it is still in violation of federal law to touch or harass a sea turtle. Please help us protect these amazing animals (and avoid a large fine) by keeping your distance while enjoying these amazing sea creatures.

Hawaii's Tropical Reef Fish

butterfly fish at hanaumba bay
Wedge-tail Triggerfish - Humuhumunukunukuapua'a

Hawaii's most famous reef fish (try learning the Hawaiian name by the end of your vacation). Humuhumu is the prefix for all triggerfish in the Hawaiian language and this one was voted the state fish in 1984. It is likely that you will see many triggerfish while snorkeling in Oahu but the wedge-tail triggerfish is pretty shy and very difficult to approach. On the other hand Humuhumu'ele'ele or the Black Triggerfish form large schools near the surface and are beautiful to observe.

Butterfly Fish

There are about 20 different species of butterfly fish that live in the main Hawaiian Islands. These are the most typical (and arguably beautiful) fish to be seen on the reef. The are brightly colored and swim in pairs and larger schools. Our favorite is the Pennant Butterflyfish with its beautiful white pennant fluttering above it while it swims.

two moorish idols seen while scuba diving in hanauma bay, oahu, hawaii
Moorish Idol - kihikihi

These fish are a classic reef fish commonly seen while snorkeling. The have a filament running off of the top fin making them look somewhat similar to the Pennant Butterflyfish. Moorish Idols are normally seen in groups of 2 or 3 and regularly spotting while snorkeling Hanauma Bay and other sites around Oahu.

Enjoy and Protect Oahu's Fragile Coral Reefs

The coral that we get to see while snorkeling Oahu is beautiful, delicate and the home of many tropical reef fish. We want to make sure that it is still there for the next generation that visits Oahu. Standing on or touching the reef (including rocks that do not appear to be part of the living reef) can cause long term damage, killing the coral. If you remain floating on the surface with your feet off of the bottom you will protect yourself from cuts and scrapes and save our reefs for the generations to come.

Although feeding is common and brings large numbers of tropical fish swimming around you it is discouraged because of the damage that it causes to the fishes ecosystem. Please let the fish eat their natural foods and enjoy observing them in their natural habitat.

Water Safety While Snorkeling Oahu

Before jumping into the water at any of these beaches consider the ocean conditions, your swimming abilities and the proximity to an open Lifeguard station. Having the right snorkeling equipment, especially a solution to keep your mast from fogging, is very important to making your Oahu snorkeling experience fun and safe. Although the weather in Oahu is normally beautiful conditions can become dangerous. If you are at all in doubt you can always talk to one of the Honolulu City and County Lifeguards.