There are some really great spots for snorkeling in Oahu, but you'll have to venture beyond the famed Waikiki Beach to find them. You'll be rewarded with amazing underwater sights, from a sea turtle "cleaning station" to playful spinner dolphins to colorful coral formations.
When planning for your Hawaii vacation, remember to pack sunscreen that will not harm the coral reefs or the magnificent sea creatures you interact with while you're snorkeling. Look for something without oxybenzone and octinoxate. Here are 15 reef-safe sunscreens to try.
Also, be aware that waves in Hawaii can get fairly big on the north shore in the winter months and in the south in the summer months. Be alert to conditions before going out in the ocean.
Hands down the most popular spot for snorkeling in Oahu, Hanauma Bay State Park is a protected wildlife park. The area is also sheltered from ocean waves, which means it's teeming with marine life including porcupine fish, trumpet fish and damsel fish.
As a part of the education initiative at the park, first-time visitors are required to watch a nine-minute video that describes the fragile eco-system of the bay. Parking is limited so your best bet is a shuttle available from many Waikiki hotels. Also note the park is closed on Tuesdays.
On Oahu's west shore, there's an area off this beach where sea turtles come to take a bath. Algae-eating fish like tangs and wrasse hang out here, waiting to eat the barnacles off the shells. Turtles congregate and wait patiently during their cleaning, a necessary step to keep them swimming quickly and efficiently.
To ensure you get a front-row viewing of this amazing spectacle of nature, book a snorkeling tour with Sail Hawaii. Join their highly educated marine biologists on the Best of the West tour, and you may also pilot whales.
Located near Turtle Bay Beach Resort on the north shore, this sheltered little cove is ideal for children and beginning snorkelers.
In addition to lots of colorful fish, you'll see some pristine coral in these clear waters. Keep an eye out for the humuhumunukunukuapuaa, the state fish of Hawaii.
The parking lot is on the grounds of Turtle Bay Beach Resort. Remember, all Hawaii beaches are open to the public, so enjoy.
Located on the north shore, Shark's Cove is an interesting snorkeling spot not only for the tropical fish and marine life, but also for the fabulous underwater rock formations.
Despite what the name suggests, there's very little chance that you'll encounter a shark here. High surf season is October through April, so be alert for heavy waves in this rocky cove.
If you enjoy coral, you'll love this spot on the north shore, a part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District. Right away, you'll see three large, flat coral formations in the water that look like three tables (hence the name).
The beach is sandy, but very quickly becomes covered in coral as you enter the water. Snorkel near the "tables" to see the best sights. Plan your visit during the summer months, when the swimming conditions are calmer. It's also important to be alert to waves and surges — this is not necessarily a good spot for inexperienced swimmers.
Waimea Bay might be better known as a top surfing destination in the winter months. But this spot on the north shore offers some of the best snorkeling in Oahu during the summer months because of the perfect turquoise waters.
You know who else likes Waimea Bay? Spinner dolphins. They feed at night and come here in the day to rest. Get here early for a good parking spot.
You may not find the best snorkeling in Oahu on the east side of the island, thanks to trade winds and waves stirring up the sand and ruining the visibility.
But if you get to Lanikai Beach in the morning, you'll see lots of live coral and a variety of fish when snorkeling conditions are good. When not, just relax and enjoy a fabulous white-sand beach — Lanikai translates as "heavenly sea," and for good reason.
Kahe Point Beach Park
The locals call this Electric Beach because of the nearby energy plant. The outflow of warm water from the cooling mechanism of the plant attracts marine life to the area. Spinner dolphins love this area on Oahu's west side north of the Ko Olina resorts.
Kaena Point State Park
Get away from the crowds at this beach on Oahu's west side. The beach is so postcard perfect that you may forget about snorkeling, but don't.
Although you might not see as many fish here as in other Hawaii snorkeling spots, you won't find clearer water anywhere around the islands.
Queens Beach and San Souci Beach
While Waikiki Beach may not be known for the best snorkeling in Oahu, the two areas where you'll find plenty of fish are Queens Beach and San Souci Beach.
This is a marine life conservation area, so there are a lot of fish, although the visibility is not always great. The beaches are located across from the Honolulu Zoo, south of many of the hotels.