Snorkeling on Oahu's North Shore

by CaliCase Team on September 07, 2023

Oahu's North Shore, an enchanting stretch of coastline on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, is renowned worldwide for its towering surf, pristine beaches, such as Waimanalo Beach, and breathtaking natural beauty. While this fabled coastline is a surfer's dream, it holds an equally captivating secret beneath its azure waters—an underwater world teeming with vibrant marine life, colorful coral formations, and hidden treasures for beginners and advanced snorkelers. In this article, we invite you to embark on a journey of discovery as we delve into the mesmerizing realm of snorkeling at Oahu's North Shore. From the iconic Shark's Cove to hidden gems like Three Tables Beach, Waimea Bay, and Kuilima Cove, prepare to be enchanted by the diverse and captivating wonders that await beneath the surface of these crystalline waters. Whether you're an experienced snorkeler or a first-time explorer, Oahu's North Shore promises an aquatic adventure like no other, where every moment below the waves is a testament to the island's natural splendor and marine marvels. If you would like to dive deeper, we made a complete guide about the best places to snorkel in the USA. 


Shark's Cove: A Snorkeler's Dream

Shark's Cove

Source: Hawaii Guide, Shark's Cove

Shark’s Cove is one of Hawaii’s best snorkeling places, and don't worry if you’re afraid of running into real sharks. This cove got its name from its reef’s shape, which looks like a shark when seen from above.


The underwater world in Shark's Cove

Snorkeling at Shark's Cove in Oahu is like entering a vibrant underwater wonderland. As you glide into the crystalline waters, you'll find yourself surrounded by a breathtaking display of natural beauty. Sunlight dances through the clear depths, illuminating the kaleidoscope of colors that adorn the coral formations. The rugged volcanic rock formations and crevices create a dramatic backdrop, one of the most unique features of the cove, making it an interesting and picturesque place to explore. Snorkeling at Shark's Cove is an immersion into the artistry of nature, where every glimpse beneath the surface reveals a masterpiece of aquatic life and an unparalleled celebration of the ocean's beauty.


Are there Sharks at Shark's Cove?

The cove is not home to sharks, as its name suggests, but it possess a diverse range of marine life worth visiting, offering a captivating encounter with a thriving marine ecosystem. Beneath the waves, you'll discover a rich tapestry of life. Don't be surprised if you come across schools of yellow tangs, butterflyfish, and parrotfish, all displaying their vibrant colors among the coral gardens, creating a living palette of underwater artistry. And if fortune smiles upon you, you might even have the privilege of glimpsing the majestic Hawaiian green sea turtles as they gracefully glide by.


Shark's Cove Parking and Entrance

The cove is approximately a scenic 1-hour drive from Honolulu Airport. Be prepared, though, as Shark's Cove's popularity can quickly fill up the parking lot. Make sure to arrive around 9 or 10 AM or even earlier to secure a coveted parking spot. If the lot is full, visitors and locals often find roadside parking nearby. From your parking spot, it would take you around a leisurely three-minute stroll to the cove's entrance. Conveniently, there are public restrooms and showers awaiting at the parking lot, though remember that there's no lifeguard on duty. Right across the street from the parking area, there are some charming shops where you can grab a bite to eat and quench your thirst with sustenance and refreshments before or after your amazing snorkeling escapade to explore the aquatic splendors.


Three Tables Beach: A Hidden Gem

Three Tabels Beach

Source: Michael Grimley, BeachSeacher

Snorkeling at Three Tables Beach offers an enchanting underwater experience along Oahu's North Shore. Named after three flat reef formations that resemble dining tables, this spot is a hidden gem for those seeking a unique aquatic adventure. The beach is easily accessible, with parking available nearby. However, like many popular snorkeling spots in Hawaii, it's advisable to arrive early, as parking can fill up quickly.

With its rocky outcrops and coral formations, this underwater haven teems with a diverse array of sea life, including vibrant tropical fish, sea turtles, and eels. During the summer, when conditions are calm, this spot welcomes snorkelers of all levels, from beginners to kids, as the clear 15-foot-deep (4.6 meters deep) turquoise waters reveal an enchanting realm of underwater lava tubes, ledges, and arches. Moreover, the beach has a very unique texture of sand, as mentioned by AStriefer on Advisor: 'This beach has the most amazing isn't your normal type of is more grainy like rice, which is a lot of fun to play with. It does stick to you, but it is just fun to play with.'

As you explore the gently sloping seabed, you'll experience the serene beauty of this aquatic paradise, making Three Tables Beach a must-visit for snorkeling enthusiasts and nature admirers. Remember to check weather and surf reports before embarking on your adventure, as conditions can vary with the seasons.


Waimea Bay: From Surf to Snorkel

Waimea Bay

Source: Waimea Bay, GoHawaii

Waimea Bay in Hawaii offers a thrilling underwater adventure on Oahu's North Shore. While famous for its winter surf, the bay transforms into a fantastic snorkeling destination in the summer. The clear waters provide excellent visibility to explore a hidden world filled with vibrant coral formations and diverse marine life. Rocky reefs along the bay's edge create a shelter for various species, offering captivating opportunities to observe the underwater ecosystem. As you snorkel, you'll encounter colorful tropical fish like butterflyfish, surgeonfish, and parrotfish, gracefully navigating the coral gardens.

For those seeking a unique thrill, Waimea Bay also features a large underwater cavern known as "Waimea Rock" and lava tube formations. Brave snorkelers can dive down and explore this fascinating feature to feel a sense of wonder as they navigate through these dark and mysterious passages, occasionally illuminated by shafts of sunlight filtering through.


Snorkeling at Kuilima Cove: the Best Place in Oahu to See Turtles

If you want to go to the best place in Oahu to see turtles, Kuilima Cove is the spot to go. The cove's most cherished attractions is its resident population of Hawaiian green sea turtles that known as one of the Turtles Beaches in Hawaii. These magnificent creatures frequent the cove, offering snorkelers the chance to witness their graceful movements and occasional visits to the surface for a breath of air. To ensure the turtles' well-being, maintain a respectful distance and refrain from touching or disturbing them in any way. The surrounding area is part of the hotel property, so it is very well-kept. Kuilima is one of the lesser-known beaches, so you don't have to worry about the crowd. If it's not Kuilima Cove, the nickname "Turtle Beach" is most commonly associated with Laniakea Beach, another nearby destination on the North Shore.

You can find the parking area at Kuilima Cove within the Turtle Bay Resort. Simply enter through the main gates, and you'll spot the Kuilima Cove parking lot on the right-hand side, close to the tennis courts. Kuilima Cove also offers convenient amenities, such as showers and restrooms, which make it a comfortable place to prepare for and unwind after your snorkeling adventure. Additionally, its proximity to Turtle Bay Resort means you can easily find refreshments and equipment rentals nearby.


In conclusion, Oahu's North Shore offers an array of snorkeling destinations, each with its own allure and beauty. Whether you're a seasoned snorkeler or a first-time explorer, these underwater paradises invite you to immerse yourself in the island's natural splendor and marine marvels. Every moment spent below the waves is a testament to the magic of Oahu's North Shore—a place where the ocean's beauty and its secrets converge in a symphony of natural wonder.