When you visit Oahu, snorkeling on the North Shore coast is one of the best things to do. The North Shore has some of the best beaches to see marine life, including several species of tropical fish, sea turtles, sea urchins, octopuses, and much more. Since every beach in Oahu and Hawaii is public, you can snorkel for free by yourself or with family and friends any time you want.
We recently spent quite some time exploring the North Shore and we’re able to snorkel in the many of its stunning beaches, bays, and coves. These are the best places for snorkeling on the North Shore of Oahu.
Shark’s Cove is located along the highway of Kamehameha. It has a beach area, tide pools, and a rocky cove on the right side facing the ocean where you can snorkel. All types of amenities, from showers and public restrooms, are available on site. You should visit Shark’s Cove early in the morning since parking spots are limited on the street.
The water is calm at the beach and cove area. It’s rocky as you enter the water, and there are many rocks farther in, so bring water shoes. Bring your snorkeling gear and mask to see many different species of colored parrot fish, butterfly fish, and surgeon fish.
While swimming towards the middle of the cove, we saw several schools of fish. There was even a Cyanea Octopus on top of a rock about 10 minutes into our snorkeling adventure at Shark’s Cove. The octopus was making its way into the rock by camouflaging itself and it ended up releasing ink.
Make your way further back into the cove to find a deep tide pool where you can swim down to see fish. Beware of the sea urchins embedded into the rocks with sharp spines called tube feet.
Once you get to the edge of the cove, you can climb up and walk on top of rocks to see the view of the ocean. Right across the street from Shark’s Cove, there are food trucks that offer burgers, shrimp, tacos, smoothies, acai bowls, and sandwiches. It’s a great way to regain your energy after a fun time snorkeling. Shark’s Cove had the best snorkeling on the North Shore for us and despite its name, there are no sharks to worry about over here.
Waimea Bay is right by Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site along the Northeast side. There are bathrooms and showers available to use. This was one of our favorite places to visit because the beach had fluffy tan sand to walk and lay on.
The ocean was calm, bright blue, and had a very clear sandy bottom. You can easily swim and see the bottom of the ocean floor. You don’t need water shoes, but bringing goggles is a good idea if you want to see underwater.
Waimea Bay is more of a beach rather than a snorkeling site. We snorkeled a bit further out, where it was deeper and saw a school of bigeye (ula lau au in Hawaiian) fish swimming past us. The beach is very popular, and it’s large in size to fit enough people and give everyone space.
Apart from snorkeling, another popular activity is cliff jumping from the small rocky cliffs into the deep water. There is no distinct entrance to get on the rock, and many people just climb the rock at any side to get to the top.
Once you get to the top, you get a nice view of the whole bay on the right side, and on the left side, you can see a more rocky area. Bring shoes to climb up the rocky structure to have a better grip while on the rock. It’s easy to see where to jump into the water since it’s so clear, but I’d avoid it unless you’re a very good swimmer.
Turtle Beach (Kuiliama Cove)
Turtle Beach is found in the Turtle Bay Resort in Kawela Bay. This place, which is also referred to as Kuiliama Cove, is known for its green sea turtles, but we didn’t get to see any during our time at the beach. The resort has a huge parking lot for guests and the public to park.
We did not spend a lot of time at Turtle Bay since we couldn’t find sea turtles, and the water was slightly cloudy. As you go farther into the ocean, you can see a few small fish swimming and the water becomes clearer.
The lack of snorkeling opportunities might have been due to the time of day, and other months or times of the day might have been better. For reference, the turtle season in Hawaii is from May to October.
It’s a great place to relax and hang out by the calm water. It’s very convenient if you’re staying at the Turtle Bay Resort, which is certainly one of the best resorts in Oahu. You can get drinks by the pool deck area and wash off in their showers.
You can find Sunset Beach in Pupukea and along the coastline off Kamehameha Highway. Sunset Beach is known for its name on Oahu’s North Shore as a place to go swimming during the day and in the evening to see the marvelous sunset in the distance.
You can see fish when snorkeling at Sunset Beach, but there is not as much other marine life compared to other snorkeling spots. Towards the right side, while facing the beach, you can find a small coral reef where many fish hang around. I saw some Moorish Idol, various Butterfly Fish, and Surgeonfish.
The sun sets around 6:45 to 7:00 p.m. in Oahu, and you can see the bright orange sky in the distance. There is a cute coconut hut that sells fruit smoothies, fresh-cut fruits, and coconut water. The watermelon we had was very fresh and juicy. Restrooms are located across the street.
Mokuleia Beach Park
Mokuleia Beach Park is located more along the northwest side of the island. It’s a recreational beach park with many picnic tables and free parking along with bathrooms.
One thing to note about this area is that the waters aren’t as calm as other places. When there aren’t that many waves, it’s a good place to snorkel, but when the sea is rough you should avoid it. The strong waves make it a popular area for windsurfing, boogie boarding, and surfing.
The snorkeling is good when the water isn’t as choppy. You can find sea turtles towards the right end of the beach and close to shore. Here, you can also find shallow reefs where reef fish hang around.
The Old Waialua Sugar Mill is about 10 minutes away from Mokuleia Beach Park. The Sugar Mill offers gifts, coffee, and snacks. You can learn a little bit about the history of the Old Waialua Sugar Mill during our visit.