See the Fishes at Hanauma Bay in the Hawaii Kai Area
About Today’s Plan
Today’s plan is to head over to the Hawaii Kai area and snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Although there are many other places to snorkel, the facilities here make it the most convenient and friendliest place to snorkel on Oahu. There are also a handful of amazing outdoor activities here.
Just a short drive away from Hanauma Bay is Koko Marina Center, a place where you can eat dinner and watch a movie.
A Local's Advice
Hawaii Kai is a really nice area. Hawaii Kai is what we locals know as the area where millionaires live. There are many gorgeous beach-front homes, gated communities, and private boats here.
First, be sure to check the weather, and bacteria levels. I find that when there’s rain days before, that might mean murky water or there might be some sewage overflow, leading to higher bacteria levels in the ocean.
Next, if you plan to snorkel, you will need gear! I recommend Rachel at Snorkelfest Hawaii.
• $17.95 – $29.95/person
• hotel pickup times: 7:30am, 9:00am, 10:20am, 11:50am
• bring your own memory card for underwater cameras (digital)
- I recommend getting a travel package to Hanauma Bay that includes use of snorkel equipment, transportation from Waikiki, and use of their underwater cameras. Snorkelfest Hawaii is a good service for this.
- Consider getting an underwater camera, like the small, lightweight, waterproof, GoPro. You will probably also want an extension to take photos, because you need don’t want to get too close to the fish (some scare easily).
- Check the weather report and don’t go to Hanauma Bay after heavy rain. Heavy rain during the week may make the water murky and limit underwater visibility.
- Early morning is the best time to go, because the sand settles overnight.
- Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays and state holidays.
- Bring a lot of food and water so that you can relax at the beach after snorkeling. There is no food vendor here.
- If you plan to go to Chief’s Luau (mentioned later in this article), be sure to make reservations ahead of time. Chief’s Luau is held on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
• 6455 Kalanianaole Hwy
• 6am – 6pm (daily, but closed Tuesdays)
• adult entry fee = $7.50
• child (up to 12) = free
• Hawaii resident = free
• parking = $1
• gear rental = $12
• locker use = $7
• trolley = $1/$1.25
There are a variety of fish here. Fish like to hang out near the reef, so stay near the reef. Fish are also more active in the mornings, so I suggest coming here early (it opens at 6am!). You may also see a turtle slowly swimming through the area.
After you finish snorkeling, you can relax at the beach here. It’s amazingly clean and the water is very tame because of the cove shape. Hanauma Bay does get crowded around 10:30am. There are no food vendors here, so I suggest bringing food and drinks if you plan to stay here for an extended amount of time.
Note: Hanauma Bay is a major tourist attraction, but there are authorities which monitor bacteria levels and can close the beaches down if bacteria levels are too high. Be sure to look at Hawaii Beach Safety to check the reports.
Practice emptying water from your snorkel tube. Safety is important, so before you go into the deeper water, practice this technique by submerging the top of your snorkel under water and then blowing water out. If you have a purge valve, the water will easily blow out through the bottom. If you have a simple snorkel, you will have to blow hard to get the water out through the top.
Understand “dry snorkels.” Dry snorkels are snorkels whose top will close if the top goes under water. This means that you won’t need to blow water out and no water will get in your tube if you dive deep with the snorkel on.
Snorkeling should be easy. Don’t breathe heavily and don’t swim hard. You should be a floating body when you snorkel. Conserve your energy and enjoy the sights.
Fins are very useful. Fins turn you into a big fish. You can move effortlessly through water with them on. Don’t buy cheap, plastic fins from the grocery store.
De-fog your snorkel mask. If you jump out and jump back in the water, your snorkel mask will fog up. To de-fog it, you can use commercial de-fogger or you can rub a thin layer of baby shampoo or toothpaste on the inside of your mask. If you have none of the above, saliva also works (but it’s a little gross :-?).
Handling rip currents/rip tides. Rip currents are currents that pull you away from the shore. Rip currents are dangerous if you try to swim back to shore, because you will slowly be pulled out to sea, tire out, and panic. What you should do if you find yourself in a rip current is swim parallel or diagonally to the shore. The current may pull you backwards a little, but you will eventually swim out of the rip current. Click here for more info on rip currents. Hanauma Bay is a cove, so it’s unlikely you will encounter a rip current, but this is a good thing to be aware of in general.
Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail (Easy Hike)
If you want an easy hike with view of the ocean, you can hike to the Makapuu Lighthouse (detailed guide here). It’s located further along Kalanianole Highway, east of Hanauma Bay, and at the eastern point of Oahu. This entire hiking path is paved, so it’s great for kids or casual hikers. I’ve even seen people taking their dogs walking here. It’s an open view the whole way (no bushes in your face!) and there is a view of the lighthouse and the ocean at the end.
It’s not just a hike! Other activities located here are:
- going up the neighboring Makapuu Lookout
- walking to a beach and seeing “Pele’s Chair”
- going down to the tide pools to get splashed by waves, enjoy a shallow pool, and see small marine life
- walking up to the lighthouse
Koko Head Stairs (Hard Hike)
If you want a challenging hike with 1000+ stairs, I highly recommend Koko Head! Detailed guide here.
Sea Life Park
Sea Life Park
• 41-202 Kalanianaole Hwy
• 10-30am – 5pm
• adult = $29.99, child = $19.99
• on-site restaurant
• dolphin swims available for purchase
Something else that you can consider doing is going to Hawaii’s junior version of Sea World: Sea Life Park. There are 5 main shows throughout the day. The rest of the time, you will be feeding animals or walking around. For an additional fee, you can also swim with dolphins, sharks, or sea lions. These additional fees are quite expensive though. The “Dolphin Swim Adventure” for example, is $184.99 (includes park admission).
The reason Sea Life Park is not a featured attraction in the plan is that there is a large time commitment involved. Unlike the Honolulu Zoo, Sea Life Park revolves around shows, which are at set times through the day. Outside of these shows, there is not much to do, except look at fishes and sea lions. You can swim with a dolphin, but you must pay a lot of money for it. The admission is $30 for adults and there’s nothing next to it, so a trip to Sea Life Park means spending most of your day here, with a lot of time spent idle. I feel that Sea Life Park is not big enough to keep people entertained for a full day.
Update: Chief’s Luau is now relocated and is in Kapolei at Wet’N’Wild Hawaii. It’s still a good luau, but is now considered more of a West Side activity, since it’s about a 30 minute drive from the main part of Honolulu.
Food and Entertainment
If you decide to stay in this area for dinner, you should head down to the Koko Marina Center, just a short drive along Kalanianaole Highway, west of Hanauma Bay. As far as shopping centers go, this one is the one of the nicest on Oahu. If you’re driving to Hanauma Bay, you can also stop here to pick up snacks or a Jamba Juice.
What to eat?
There a loads of things to eat here. They even have a movie theater and Taekwondo school. Here are some of the things I like:
Casual dining: Zippy’s. This is a plate-lunch chain in Hawaii. Some of their food is really unhealthy (the Surfpac for example, has spam, fried chicken, and teriyaki beef), but they have a large menu. There are 2 sides to the restaurant: one for casual orders and the other is a sit-down restaurant. They are also open 24/7.
Good beer, good food: Kona Brewing Company. This is a great restaurant for the older people out there. It’s a restaurant with a very mellow atmosphere. Last time I went, there was a live band playing old, Hawaiian melodies. The Hawaiian decor is very nice too. Kona Brewing Company also sells their own beer in stores. Their beers are very delicious, especially if you like darker, flavorful beers.
Italian food: Assagio’s. If you want a fancier meal, go to this Italian restaurant. The pasta portions are okay, but may not be enough if you’re a big eater.
Dessert: Bubbies. Locals love Bubbies’ mochi ice cream. They have other ice cream too, but their mochi ice cream is unparalleled.
Entertainment. You can watch a movie at the movie theater here. This theater is never crowded, unlike most theaters in downtown Honolulu.