By Kent Coules, Publisher
O‘ahu is known for its amazing beaches, and probably boasts more beaches per linear mile than any other island. Some, like Waimea Bay and Sandy’s, are known for their waves. Others are known for their snorkeling. Here are my personal favorites, for different reasons.
Three Tables, North Shore:
Three Tables has a wide variety of fish due to the vary depths of the water. The beach slopes at a steep angle into the ocean so you’ll encounter fish almost immediately. “Three Tables” refers to rock formations that protect the cove and provide a tranquil home to a wide variety of fish. Chances of seeing a honu (sea turtle) are high here. One note of caution: Winter waves can overwhelm the protective reefs so this is not a year-round option.
Haunauma Bay, Hawaii Kai:
The most popular snorkel spot in all of Hawai‘i, Haunauma Bay has some significant pros and cons.
Formed within a volcanic cone, Haunauma Bay offers a pristine marine ecosystem. The “Curved Bay” provides the perfect protection for an amazing variety of sea life.
On the downside, Haunauma hosts 3,000 visitors a day. The parking lot fills up quickly, there’s an entrance fee, and first-time visitors must watch a 15-minute video before making their way down to the beach. If crowds aren’t your thing, then you might want to check out the other, less crowded options. Note: Haunauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays.
Lanikai Beach, Kailua:
Lanikai used to be one of O‘ahu’s best-kept secrets. It wasn’t even that popular with the locals. But no more. Consistently rated by list makers as one of the best beaches in the world, it is known for great snorkeling, fine white powder sand, and no real waves. “The Mokes” (short for Nā Mokulua, which means “the two islands”) sit three-quarters of a mile from the shore, bookending a stunning 360-degree view of the mountains behind the beach that sandwich in a small, upscale residential neighborhood.
The cons? Parking can be challenging and is altogether prohibited on many weekends and holidays from 10 am-3 pm. Oh, and there are no public restrooms.
Kailua Beach Park, Kailua:
Located right next to Lanikai is Kailua Beach Park. Kailua Beach Park enjoys public parking (good luck on weekends and holidays, though!), large, grassy areas and a world-class beach. The great snorkeling however, is confined to the area adjacent to the boat ramp and Flat Island, which sits one-quarter of a mile offshore. The grassy areas, restrooms, showers, barbeques and sheltered areas all make for Kailua Beach Park being one of the most popular gathering areas for local gatherings.
Kaimana Beach, Waikīkī:
At the very end of Waikīkī on the Diamond Head side lies Kaimana Beach. The beach is wider than most of Waikīkī and is sandwiched by the War Memorial Natatorium and the New Otani Hotel. Behind it lies Queen Kapiolani Park.
Snorkeling here is in a finite area but is superior to the rest of Waikīkī. The beach is protected by sea walls a hundred yards out on the right and there is a large opening to go further out into the sea and explore.
This is not the best snorkeling beach on O‘ahu—by far—but it is the best snorkeling spot in the Waikīkī area. There are lifeguards, showers and restrooms in the Natatorium.
If you’re looking for snorkel gear, you can’t go wrong with Snorkel Bob. They design and engineer their own gear, and offer 24-hour interisland return for your convenience.
CLICK HERE to read our pick’s for some of the best snorkeling spots on Maui!
If a fear of sharks prevents you from snorkeling, CLICK HERE to read some shark facts from a local perspective.