When you think of Hawaii, almost all of us envisage a fantastic vacation in tropical paradise. Obviously Hawaii’s plethora of lush beaches, sky-high palm trees, crystal blue waters and velvety soft coastline form its unparalleled and absolutely accurate reputation as one of the best places to travel to, but one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that there is another factor that contributes to Hawaii’s heavenly image – tide pools. Tide pools are perhaps the main reason why we see Hawaii as we do: a destination straight out of our dreams that could very easily become a reality.
Oahu – the third largest island in Hawaii – has it all: beauty, vibes and even unofficial nude beaches. It also happens to be home to a big number of tide pools. This, teamed up with the fact that the capital of Hawaii is also housed on this particular island, is what makes this destination a haven for tourists.
These tide pool destinations are no secret for locals and seasoned travelers, but if you’re a first timer and don’t know where to start, we got you. Here’s a comprehensive guide to tide pools on Oahu Island, Hawaii. Let’s go through each of them one by one, learn something new and see the wonders of this island from a more unique lens.
What Is A Tide Pool?
If you’re one of the folk who doesn’t live near the seaside you may not know what a tide pool even is, but stick with us and we’ll tell you all about it.
A tide pool is a small and isolated lagoon (or lagoons) of seawater found in an intertidal zone – an area where the land and the ocean water are merged in between high and low tides.
Tide pools only emerge beneath the sea when tides are low and the water is flat and during that period of time can become a hideout for many types of sea life, whether it’s animals, common fish and plants or unique coral reefs. It’s one of the reasons why tide pools are some of the most sought-out destinations all over the world, along with the fact that they have an absolutely unique and stunning appearance of all things marine and tropical.
Despite being visible only during flat waters, visitors still need to practice caution which brings us to the next important point of this article.
Before we get into exploring tide pools, it’s vital that readers – and first timer travelers – are informed of the dangers that visiting them anywhere in the world can entail, and that they’re aware that individual research is needed during the preparation for your trip.
Here are some general and essential tips to think about:
- Always wear proper footwear when you visit tide pools. Our personal suggestion would be to be prepared with both hiking and water shoes to avoid injuries.
- Always have your phone with you and be prepared with offline maps if need be. Taking a power bank along can be a big plus.
- Never hike to one alone and never go into the tide pool on your own. Bring a friend or an acquaintance (or even another visitor) to watch over you when you’re in.
- Watch out for rip currents, waves, and tides.
- Don’t walk on lava rocks barefoot.
- If you bring kids along, make sure they’re wearing rash vests and follow all safety tips.
- Use reef-safe products.
- If you’re not a good swimmer, stay close to the shore. Especially when you’re in Oahu because the waves there can get really dangerous really fast.
- There are no lifeguard services at most of these destinations so in case of an emergency – either yours or someone else’s – be prepared to call 911.
This absolute stunner can be found on the north shores of Oahu island – huddled between Pūpūkea Beach Park and Three Tables Beach, located only an hour’s drive from Honolulu.
Shark’s Cove is often referred to as a snorkeler’s dream with its clear waters of different shades of blue and the massive range of flora and fauna that it houses underwater. The selection includes reefs, a large variety of fish (some that are only native to Hawaii), and sometimes even sea turtles. If you’re lucky enough and the conditions are right, you’ll be able to greet these little fellas up close and admire them. However, be sure to not disturb their natural habitat and use reef-safe products while you’re there.
Shark’s Cove is actually divided into two sections: the tide pool and the cove itself. The tide pool is where you’ll find most guests doing their thing and enjoying themselves, but if you swim to the cove, you’ll have a bigger chance of encountering wildlife and an opportunity to explore some of the underwater caves.
Note that there’s a tiny beach along Shark’s Cove and that the path to get to these attractions is pretty rough despite being short. There are lava rocks in and outside the water. They’re slippery and extremely sharp, increasing the chance of cutting yourself, so wearing sturdy water shoes is an absolute must!
Make sure that your kids are wearing rash vests.
You’ll find a few basic amenities onsite and a small food court on the other side of the street.
Even though this destination is considered family-friendly – meaning that people of all ages can enjoy these reefs and waters if they follow all safety measures – there’s still a big group of people that would beg to differ and suggest Three Tables Beach as a safer choice for visitors traveling with underage kids, where you can get almost the exact same snorkeling experience without having to worry that much about safety issues. Either way, visit when the water is still. Otherwise, it can get really dangerous.
The parking lot is pretty small so if you want to park your car without any complications, it’s recommended to arrive before 8am when the area isn’t crowded. Once you’ve enjoyed yourself in the tide pool and explored all it has to offer, make sure you stick around till late evening and witness the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen in your life.
Paradise Cove Beach
Now that we’ve already explored Shark’s Cove, it’s only fair to take a look at Paradise Cove.
Paradise Cove is located less than an hour’s drive from Honolulu and is considered to be a well-kept secret among locals and seriously hidden treasure for visitors.
Despite not being as well-known as the other picks on this list, Paradise Cove still delivers all that you’re looking for and more: it’s a great snorkeling destination, has a bigger beach than Shark’s Cove, boasts a big variety of underwater flora and fauna, has several small tide pools and is a lot more family-friendly. Most importantly, it is a great alternative to other popular and crowded destinations, making it an ideal spot for spending quality time with your loved ones while enjoying solitude and breathtaking scenery.
Safety tips are the same here:
- Wear sturdy shoes
- Don’t go into the water if it isn’t flat.
- There are no lifeguards on duty so definitely don’t be bold and go when there’s a high tide (and there are high tides on many occasions).
- Use reef-safe products
- Make sure your kids wear rash vests.
Much to visitors’ pleasure, Paradise Cove Beach is located right behind Paradise Cove Luau, which means that you can enjoy the luau to your heart’s content whenever you feel like it.
The tide pools of Makapu’u Beach are no secret to anyone. They’re probably the most popular tide pool destination on this list and with good reason: the scenery that you’ll be greeted with there is something out of a fairytale consisting of mountainous views, waters of different hues of blue and a lighthouse overlooking the shores.
Once you hike through the Lighthouse Trail (which is pretty steep and slippery and takes around 60 minutes to complete), you’ll reach several big and breathtaking tide pools blended with the Pacific ocean. The marine life of this area is vast and if you get lucky, you’ll even meet some sea turtles.
Makapu’u is a popular snorkeling and surfing destination and are just some of the activities that you can enjoy. However, the main reason regular folk like us love to frequent this place is to watch the stunning sunrise over the beach. So the earlier suggestion to visit your preferred destinations as early as possible to avoid crowds won’t fly here.
Keep in mind that tides on this particular beach can get very high and the waters at some point will get pretty rogue, so be sure to do research of your own before heading out.
It’s also important to have proper footwear for when you’re both in and outside of the water. One pair for your hike and another to avoid any injuries caused by lava rocks.
Due to the many reasons mentioned above, you’d be correct to assume that tide pools on Makapu’u Beach aren’t kid-friendly, so if you’d like to have a good time with your family, we suggest you opt for an alternative on this list.
As one of the more remote spots on this list, following safety guidelines is extra important. Don’t forget that there are no lifeguards here either.
Be sure to book tours with local guides to elevate your experience and get an insider’s perspective on the wonder that is Makapu’u Beach tide pools.
Sandy Beach shares many of the same qualities as its neighbors. It’s a beach of velvety sand, turquoise waters, a surfer’s dream and generally a place of sheer beauty, but it’s also one of the most dangerous beaches not only on this list but in Hawaii as a whole, due to it’s enormous rip currents and high risk of injury.
Naturally, the marine flora and fauna that you’ll find in the tidepools is just as impressive as the selection you’ll find at other destinations, but unless you’re an experienced surfer or a hardcore nature lover on top of being an excellent swimmer, then it’s highly discouraged to get into the waters of Sandy Beach, seeing that it has the highest spinal and neck incident rate in the world. These tides aren’t to be messed with. So stick to the inland activities will ya?! It’ll be just as entertaining and fulfilling, but if you still decide to take a look at the tidepools, put on proper footwear, bring a friend and follow all safety precautions.
Located 12.2 miles from Honolulu and around 3 miles from Sandy Beach, Hanauma Bay is another sunset destination housing stunning tide pools, sea urchins and a lot of tourists.
Despite being one of the busiest tourist attractions on the island, it’s still a must-see destination if you want your trip to Oahu to feel complete.
Due to its abundant underwater flora and fauna and crystal clear ocean water, it’s one of the most sought out snorkeling and scuba diving destinations in the state. Seeing as it’s shielded from big waves and deceptive currents, it’s an ideal kid-friendly destination which is one of the reasons it gets so crowded. Don’t be surprised if you stumble upon people getting married here. This stunning coastline very quickly turned into a preferred wedding destination for lovebirds, and we totally get it.
Ka’ena Point State Park
Ka’ena Point is a favorite hideaway for majestic Hawaiian seals which, as a result, makes it one of the most frequented places for visitors and locals alike.
Aside from this unique underwater dweller, Ka’ena Point also boasts absolutely breathtaking scenery and a peaceful ambiance that you won’t find in many places. It’s all rugged cliffs and beautiful mountain views in the distance.
When the tides are high it can get quite dangerous, but when the water recedes and becomes still, it creates numerous tide pools situated along the shores and the further you walk down the coastline the more beautiful the tide pools get.
Even though you need to hike to get to this destination — via Ka’ena Point Trail — the path is considered relatively easy and moderately long, but despite not being bumpy it’s still really slippery. Make sure you put on proper footwear and ideally bring two pairs of them: one for the hike and another for conquering the lava rocks around the beach and the pools.
Don’t forget to familiarize yourself with all the necessary safety guidelines before you head out.
A trip to the island sounds really tempting right about now, doesn’t it? As you can see, tide pools definitely help uphold the heavenly image of Hawaii and contributes to the main thing that attracts people to it this much. Tide pools on Oahu are some of the most sought-out destinations in the entire state, and with good reason.
But keep in mind that the beauty and charm comes with a price, so always make sure you do individual research and familiarize yourself with the safety guidelines before you head out.
Know your limits, though. Exploring tide pools in such rogue waters is not for everyone so skip it if necessary. It doesn’t mean that time spent there will be any less memorable for you.
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the latest information about tourist destinations, sometimes life happens, weather happens, property owners happen, etc. We always recommend you go to the official web page and/or the relevant state authority page of your destination to check conditions, times and prices (where relevant) before you head out. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!