So you’ve finally booked that dream trip to the Hawaiian islands, what’s next? You need to plan out your itinerary, including things to do and places to see. Enjoying Hawaii’s amazing beaches has to be at the top of your list of things to do. There’s no better way to do this than by snorkeling in Hawaii.
Is it safe to snorkel in Hawaii? 100% yes! Hawaii offers some of the best snorkeling spots in the entire world. The diverse underwater world is full of tropical fish, Hawaiian Green sea turtles, eagle rays, manta rays, sea cucumbers, coral reefs, and more. You might even see moray eels or reef sharks, but they can be pretty elusive.
The Hawaiian islands are located right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where the water is warm, allowing tropical fish and other marine life to flourish.
All the Hawaiian islands offer wonderful beaches to enjoy the sea life. So pack up your snorkel gear and flip-flops because we’re about to explore Hawaii’s best places to snorkel!
Best Snorkeling Spots in Hawaii
1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Hanauma Bay is one of Hawaii’s most well-known snorkel spots on Oahu’s southern coastline. The bay is a flooded extinct volcanic crater and features a vast fringing reef that spans most of the length of the bay. This is the best place to snorkel in Hawaii if you’re staying in Waikiki, as it’s just 20 minutes away.
In Hanauma Bay, you will be swimming amongst over 450 species of tropical fish. You might even see Hawaii’s state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa. Try saying that five times fast.
Hawaiian Green sea turtles are also frequent visitors to the bay but don’t get too close, they are protected under Hawaiian law, and you could get hit with a hefty fine if you touch or disturb them.
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is all about marine life conservation. The bay is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays to allow the water to filter through so bacteria levels don’t get to dangerous levels.
You can help preserve the marine life in Hanauma Bay by wearing reef-safe sunscreen, not taking any coral reef or other living marine life out of the bay, and not stepping or kicking the coral reef.
The entry fee for non-residents is $25 per person plus $3 per car. Children under 12 are free. If you don’t want to rent a car just to let it sit in the parking lot all day, check out this Hanauma Bay snorkeling tour.
This tour includes round-trip transportation between Waikiki and Hanauma Bay and snorkel gear. You can also avoid the stress of driving and possibly having to wait for a spot in the limited parking area.
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2. Molokini Crater
Just off the coast of Maui, you will find Molokini Crater, a crescent-shaped volcanic crater surrounded by an outer reef. The reef and clear, warm water attract hundreds of thousands of colorful reef fish, making it a perfect spot for scuba diving and snorkeling in Hawaii.
It is the best place for snorkeling in Hawaii if you’re looking to see the most variety of fish and aren’t afraid of deep water. Due to the clarity of the water here, you can also see scuba divers diving all the way down to the ocean floor.
Molokini Crater is only accessible by boat and is four miles away from Maui. Therefore, boat tours are the best and most economical way to enjoy snorkeling at Molokini. There are two great tour options I recommend to visit Molokini.
This Molokini snorkel tour includes a stop at Turtle Town and lunch. Turtle Town is another fantastic snorkel spot located near Maluaka Beach. Of course, Turtle Town is known for the beautiful Hawaiian Green sea turtles that often visit the spot to feed.
This highly-rated Molokini tour leaves Maalea Harbor and gives guests the option of visiting Maui’s Coral Gardens if it’s too windy to safely make it to Molokini.
Coral Gardens is a great biodiverse reef in west Maui where you can often spot Green sea turtles, interesting sea urchins, and colorful tropical fish.
3. Ke’e Beach
If you’re looking for a calm beach park with shallow waters to snorkel, check out Ke’e beach. This Hawaii snorkeling spot is located at the beginning of the world-renowned Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s north shore.
I personally think Kauai is the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling because it’s just so much less built up than the other main islands and the water here is impeccably clear.
The beautiful beach is surrounded by a coral reef, making the bay super calm and protected from big waves. During the summer, the water is super calm and crystal clear. It also makes a wonderful spot to watch the sunset.
It is one of the best places to snorkel on Kauai because of its ideal location of being on the Na Pali Coast. Most of the Na Pali Coast is only accessible by boat and is not built up or polluted, so it’s a fantastic spot to enjoy the beautiful scenery and marine life.
Ke’e Beach makes for a great snorkel beach if you’re a beginner or visiting with young kids. There are only 100 parking stalls near the beach, so if you don’t plan on going first thing in the morning, consider taking the Kauai North Shore Shuttle.
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4. Hulopoe Bay
On the luxury island of Lanai, you will find some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii at Hulopoe Bay. The bay sits just in front of the ultra-high-end Four Seasons Resort Lanai.
The beach is public, but Lanai is a tough Hawaiian island to get to, so you’ll only be able to get there if you’re staying at the Four Seasons or if you take the ferry from Maui.
On the end of Hulopoe Bay, opposite the resort, you’ll find tide pools, which are easily accessible using a wooden staircase. The tide pools are home to a ton of juvenile marine life, starfish, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins.
The water is super clear, so it’s super easy to spot all these fun sea creatures! Watch your step on the rocks, as they can become super slippery. Hawaiian Spinner dolphins are frequent visitors to the bay, and the hotel will put out signs letting everyone know that they’re there and to not disturb the dolphins.
It’s really a magical experience to see them frolicking through the waves. In the winter months, you can sometimes see Humpback whales out in the distance. The bay is a great spot for snorkeling because the waters are pretty calm, and there are a ton of rocks and coral that fish can call home.
You can find native fish species in the bay, along with other colorful tropical fish.
5. Honolua Bay
On the west shore of Maui lies the beautiful Honolua Bay. It’s a sheltered bay filled with diverse marine life that will make any nature lover’s heart happy. It’s one of the best snorkeling spots in Maui. To access the water, you must either go by boat or trek the Honolua Bay Access Trail.
The trail is less than a mile long and is pretty easy. It goes through a lush forest, giving visitors amazing views throughout the journey. There’s no sandy beach at the end, so prepare to climb a few lava rocks to get in and out of the water.
If hiking isn’t your speed, I recommend taking a fun boat tour to enjoy a relaxing day in Honolua Bay. This sailing tour takes guests on a luxury sailing catamaran along the Kaanapali coast from Lahaina to Honolua Bay.
Along the way, you’ll enjoy some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. Snorkel gear, breakfast, lunch, and floatation devices are all included in the tour.
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6. Kuilima Cove
If you’re looking for a calm snorkeling spot on the North Shore of Oahu, Kuilima Cove is the spot for you. This snorkeling spot is a small bay located right next to the Turtle Bay Resort. It’s great for beginner snorkeling and kids.
You can find a ton of small tropical fish zipping in and out of the shallow reef that surrounds the cove. The North Shore is home to a lot of Green sea turtles, so don’t be surprised if you see one lifting its head out of the water for a breath of fresh air!
The Turtle Bay Resort is also a great place to base yourself, especially if you’re looking to be away from the crowds in Waikiki. Seven beaches are within walking distance of the hotel, and most are great for snorkeling.
7. Kealakekua Bay
Island: Big Island
Kealakekua Bay is located on the Kona coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. It’s one of the state’s most historic bays and is a known hangout spot for Hawaiian Spinner dolphins. Kealakekua Bay is the site where the first westerner, Captain James Cook, landed in the Hawaiian islands.
Kealakekua Bay is a Marine Life Conservation District, so it’s perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, and water sports of all kinds. I recommend joining this South Kona Coast snorkel tour to maximize your time and have the best experience in Kealakekua Bay.
Included in this tour are snorkel gear, lunch, and snacks. It’s a small group tour, so you don’t have to worry about the water or the boat being overcrowded cruising around the Big Island!
It’s also a morning cruise, so you don’t have to worry about the hot afternoon sun beating down directly on you while you’re in the water.
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8. Poipu Beach Park
Located on Kauai’s south shore, you’ll find the golden sands of Poipu Beach. It is one of my personal favorite snorkeling spots on Kauai. The water is calm and easy here, so it’s perfect for snorkelers of all levels, plus kiddos.
You may even catch a glimpse of a Hawaiian monk seal taking an afternoon snooze on this golden sandy beach. Off in the distance, you’ll often see locals surfing and fishing out in the deeper water.
The water in the lagoon of Poipu Beach is usually around a wading level, so it’s perfectly safe for snorkeling. The rocks and coral are treasure troves for pretty shells, hermit crabs, and lots of colorful baby fish.
The lagoon is surrounded and protected by lava rocks, so it’s suitable for families with young children. There are also snorkel and stand-up paddleboard rentals available near the beach park, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own gear.
9. Shark’s Cove
The North Shore of Oahu is someplace near and dear to my heart. Being born and raised on Oahu, I’ve spent a lot of time on the North Shore, and I can tell you that Shark’s Cove is one of the best spots to snorkel on this side of the island. And don’t worry, sharks don’t actually live here.
The shallow waters of the cove are surrounded by lava rocks and coral reefs. Within this tidepool-like area, you’ll find a ton of juvenile fish, sea cucumbers, and shells. Towards the end of the cove, usually in the deeper water, you can often spot sea turtles taking a snack break along the reef.
The area is rocky and slippery, and you should also beware of sea urchins. If you have sensitive feet like me, I highly recommend coming prepared with water shoes. I promise you’ll thank me later.
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10. Kahaluu Beach Park
Island: Big Island
If you’re searching for the best snorkeling in Hawaii Island (nicknamed the Big Island), check out Kahaluu Beach Park. It’s one of the most popular snorkel spots on the island for many reasons.
The beach is protected by the reef, so the water is generally calm year-round. It’s also close to Kailua-Kona, the main resort town on the Big Island. Kahaluu Beach Park is a popular spot for snorkeling on the Big Island because it’s one of the best snorkel areas that doesn’t require a boat tour.
Like most other beaches in the islands that are surrounded by lava rocks, it’s highly recommended to wear water shoes to protect your feet. Be cautious, as these rocks can be slippery, and you sometimes won’t be able to see the black sea urchins that blend in.
Also note that this beach closes one week a year, usually in May, to allow for coral spawning.
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11. Tunnels Beach & Haena Beach Park
Looking for a prime beach for snorkeling and shell hunting on Kauai? Tunnels Beach and Haena Beach Park will give you both! Once you get to the Haena Beach Park parking lot, you’ll have Haena Beach to your left and Tunnels Beach to your right.
Both beaches are great, so go with whichever side is less crowded at the time you get there. The beach is just east of the famed Na Pali Coast, so you’re guaranteed to see a whole lot of marine life while enjoying the warm waters of this beach.
Mount Makana as a backdrop also makes for gorgeous photos. The scenic beach was also the main filming location for the movie South Pacific (1957). Since the beach is on Kauai’s north shore, make sure to check the weather conditions if you plan to visit in the winter.
The ocean can get rough at this time of year on this part of the island, so you’ll probably want to avoid going in. I recommend visiting in the spring and summer if you want to really enjoy snorkeling here.
If you’d like to enjoy more of the Na Pali Coast, I recommend going on a boat tour. Most of this part of the island is only accessible by boat and is home to some of the most stunning sea life.
When I went on a snorkel tour here, we were even lucky enough to have some Hawaiian spinner dolphins gliding through the water along our boat!
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12. Kapalua Bay
If you’re looking for a serene and quiet place to relax and snorkel on Maui, head over to Kapalua Bay. The bay sits in front of the luxurious Montage Kapalua Bay in West Maui. Dr. Beach even ranked it as America’s Best Beach in 2018!
The bay’s gentle waters make it a great place for the whole family to snorkel and enjoy a day of fun in the sun. There are often sightings of Hawaiian Green sea turtles in the bay, way out by the reef. Moray eels have also been known to frequent Kapalua Bay, but don’t worry; as long as you keep your distance, they won’t bother you.
The west shore of Maui can be enjoyed year-round, as large waves here are rare, even in the winter months. However, it’s always a good idea to check the wave and tide conditions before you head out.
13. Maluaka Beach
Maluaka Beach is a beautiful stretch of golden sand along Maui’s southern coastline. A few yards out from the shore, you’ll find Turtle Town, one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. It offers some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.
Maluaka’s location on the south shore gives it protection from large waves. The water is generally calm year-round, so it’s perfect for snorkeling and other relaxing water activities. The sandy bottom protects your feet and the water is deep enough that you won’t have to step on the few large lava rocks that are here.
If you are looking to spot some sea turtles, head down to the end of the beach, where the shore is more rockier and less sandy. Turtles love to hang out on this part of the beach to enjoy the seaweed.
Remember to keep your distance from these beautiful creatures, as sea turtles are a protected species in Hawaii. If you touch them or get too close, you could end up paying a fine.
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14. Anini Beach
Anini Beach is the perfect place to enjoy Kauai’s diverse fringing reef. The water is pretty shallow a long way out, so it’s a great spot for kids to snorkel on the island. The depth of the water maintains a level of around four feet all the way out to the reef, making it easy to get to the best snorkeling spots.
Throughout the reef, you will find an array of colorful fish, including triggerfish, yellow tang, and parrotfish. The reef is one of the longest in all the Hawaiian islands. I recommend planning to spend a whole day here since the shallow waters make a fantastic spot for swimming and paddle boarding as well.
Anini Beach is less popular than Poipu Beach and Tunnels Beach, so it’s a great place to beat the heat and the crowds. If this beautiful beach has caught your eye, camping permits can also be reserved in advance to maximize your time in this breathtaking part of the island.
Beyond the reef, the current can get pretty strong, especially during the winter months. If you’re visiting with young kids, I would recommend not venturing out beyond the reef. It might be difficult to get back to shore.
15. Makena Beach
Makena Beach has several names, including Oneloa Beach (long sand beach) and Big Beach. It is a large stretch of stunning golden sands that goes on for as far as the eye can see. You can also enjoy lovely views of Molokini Crater and the uninhabited island of Kahoolawe.
This family-friendly beach park is ideal if you’d like to spend an entire day lounging around on the sand and enjoying breathtaking views of the underwater world. You can really spend all day here enjoying the warm waters through snorkeling, swimming, tubing, and stand-up paddle boarding.
It’s a great option if you’re tired of being surrounded by fancy resorts and are looking for more untouched natural beauty. Try not to venture too far though, or you’ll end up at Little Beach, a known nudist beach.
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