A photo of Hanauma Bay in Oa'hu.

Hanauma Bay, a premiere site for snorkeling in Oa’hu. Photo © Janine, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Head to the right locales and you’ll find that O‘ahu’s reefs teem with marine life: reef fish, green sea turtles, corals, rays, sharks, octopus, and many other endangered and endemic sea creatures only found in Hawaiian waters. Diving the wrecks, ledges, lava tubes, and deepwater rock formations only add to the diversity of ocean life. Remember, snorkeling and diving are contingent on the right ocean conditions–namely calm, clear water. If one side of the island has waves or is windy, the other side might be calm and flat, just right to get in the water and explore.

Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District

This marine protected area located along Queen’s Surf Beach offers the best snorkeling in Waikiki. Because the reef-covered area is protected, sealife thrives there, so you’re sure to see an abundance of fish. It’s also a favorite area for the famed humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, so keep an eye out.

Three Tables

Part of the Pupukea-Waimea Marine Life Conservation District, this area consists of three flat reef outcroppings that barely break the water’s surface just 50 feet off the beach, and is a destination that snorkelers delight in exploring. The area teems with endemic marine life like puffer fish and reef squid.

Fish in Hanauma Bay in Oa'hu, Hawai'i.

Snorkeling is a great way to view Hawai‘i’s unique marine life. Photo © David Saddler, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Sharks Cove

The premier shore diving area on the North Shore, Sharks Cove has interesting underwater topography like lava tubes, caverns, and walls. Since it is part of the Pupukea-Waimea Marine Life Conservation District, marine life is abundant here, and you’re sure to see creatures like the spotted eagle ray, wrasse, and unicorn fish.

Waimea Bay

During summer when the waves are flat, Waimea Bay has perfect conditions for snorkeling. Rock outcroppings at both ends of the bay attract marine life and pods of spinner dolphins frequent these waters.


With a mix of sand, rock, and reef bottom as a great backdrop for marine life, the shallow and beautiful waters along windward Waimanalo beckon snorkelers to simply pull off the road and get in the water.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

This popular marine conservation area on the southeastern corner of the island is set in an arid cinder cone, creating a protected environment where hundreds of marine species thrive. Snorkel beyond the inner fingers of reef to escape the crowd.

China Walls

A vertical wall dropping 75 feet off the southern side of Koko Head offers caves and ledges for divers to explore, and is a favorite area for endangered Hawaiian monk seals. During whale season, whale song can be heard echoing off the wall.

West Side Wrecks

In the lee of the wind, the waters off the west side offer the most consistently ideal conditions for diving. In addition to ledges, arches, and rock formations, there are several wrecks to explore: a plane fuselage, a landing craft unit, an airplane, and a mine-sweeping vessel.

Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon O’ahu.

Map of O‘ahu Snorkeling

O‘ahu Snorkeling