Stunning Shark's Cove, one of the world's best snorkeling and shore diving spots

Shark’s Cove, Oahu, HI: Snorkeling & Complete 2024 Visitor Guide

Shark’s Cove, North Shore of Oahu! Definitely one of the best snorkeling experiences we’ve had!

What we loved about Shark’s Cove was the multiple options it provided for our larger group.

Beginning snorkelers and younger kids had shallow tide pools teeming with colorful tropical reef fish to explore.

Our teenage kids, more experienced snorkelers and better swimmers, had still protected, but deeper coral reefs to explore.

Snorkelers enjoying crystal clear, calm, summer waters at Shark's Cove, North Shore of Oahu
Snorkelers enjoying crystal clear, calm, summer waters at Shark’s Cove, North Shore of Oahu

A varied underwater seascape with lava tubes and fissures that hid bigger fish and more varied species like eels, rays, and Hawaiian green sea turtles.

We went early morning on a sunny, summer weekday, and Shark’s Cove, Pupukea, was virtually empty.

A picture-perfect postcard, lake-like calm setting with crystal-clear, intense blue waters: the exact tropical paradise we had been promised in Hawaii!

With food trucks close by, and neighboring sandy beaches like the Three Tables Beach within the same Pupukea Beach Park, we made it a family beach day, one of our best vacation days on the picturesque North Shore Oahu beaches!

Read on to plan your perfect snorkeling experience at Shark’s Cove, and cross one more item of your Oahu bucket list!

Planning your trip to Oahu? Check out our 2024 guide to the most popular tours and excursions in Oahu!

Dense school of bait fish at Sharks Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii
Dense school of bait fish at Sharks Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii

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Directions to Shark’s Cove, Pupukea, North Shore of Oahu

Shark’s Cove is located in Pupukea, a sleepy town on the North Shore of Oahu, a few miles from Haleiwa.

Directions from Waikiki are straightforward: take freeways H1 West to H2 North. Continue on the Kamehameha Highway, Highway 99, to Haleiwa, where it merges into Highway 83.

Scenic Kamehameha Highway on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
Scenic Kamehameha Highway on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii

Highway 83 will take you past Laniakea Beach, where we stopped to view Hawaiian green sea turtles on our way back.

The next landmark is Waimea Bay Beach, a great sheltered beach that we visited after snorkeling.

Past Waimea Bay, you will enter Pupukea, and keep your eye out for the Pupukea Beach Park parking on your left.

Use “shark’s cove haleiwa hi 96712” or “shark’s cove pupukea hi” on your GPS or Google maps.

Welcome sign at Shark's Cove with information on marine life found here
Welcome sign at Shark’s Cove with information on marine life found here

Parking for Shark’s Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, Oahu

We visited Shark’s Cove early morning on a weekday, and easily found a spot at the Pupukea Beach Park lot, which has roughly 40-50 spots (expand the Shark’s Cove map below).

Don’t see an empty spot? Continue further on Highway 83, and look for oceanside parking along the road.

Shark's Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, Oahu, along Kamehameha Highway
Shark’s Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, Oahu, along Kamehameha Highway

Oahu Island Tours that Stop at Shark’s Cove

If you don’t want to drive or if you prefer a more structured exploration of the North Shore of Oahu, then consider a tour.

While many North Shore Oahu tours pass by Shark’s Cove, most won’t work out if you’re planning to snorkel here.

We took this Circle Island North Shore Adventure Tour + Snorkeling tour and highly recommend it!

Apart from the convenient pickup points from Waikiki, the tour includes an option to spend about 2 hours on the North Shore snorkeling at Shark’s Cove, if you so choose.

Camouflaged fish in Shark's Cove, one of my favorite Oahu snorkeling places
Camouflaged fish in Shark’s Cove, one of my favorite Oahu snorkeling places

This worked perfect for us, and some of us chose to snorkel at Shark’s Cove while others opted to explore the Waimea Valley Botanical Garden and the beautiful Waimea Valley falls.

>> Check pricing and availability on the popular, 5-star rated Circle Island North Shore Adventure Tour + Snorkeling tour now!

Another option, and one that we preferred when vacationing as a family, was the 8 Hour Circle Island Jeep Tour, which offered the flexibility we needed of hotel pickup and the ability to personalize the stops, and how long at each stop.

>> Check pricing and availability on the 5-star rated 8 Hour Circle Island Jeep Tour now!

Here are the two 5-star rated North Shore of Oahu tours again:

Shark’s Cove Map

The Shark’s Cove map below shows the location of Shark’s Cove, and the main attractions nearby. Please expand the map for driving directions and parking.

Shark’s Cove Access

We parked at the Pupukea Beach Park lot and that’s right next to Shark’s Cove. We had to walk a few minutes north (right facing the ocean) to get to the shallow tidepools.

If you parked oceanside on the Kamehameha Highway, you may actually be much closer to the snorkeling area, depending on where you found a spot.

Expand the Shark’s Cove map to get a better sense of the snorkeling layout.

Shark’s Cove Reservations

Unlike Hanauma Bay, another popular snorkeling destination on Oahu, Shark’s Cove doesn’t need reservations or permits, and has no entry fee!

Shark’s Cove (Pupukea Beach Park) Amenities / Facilities

Location: Shark’s Cove, Haleiwa, HI 96712
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, grass areas, basketball & volleyball courts
Food Nearby: Food trucks, Pupukea restaurants
Parking: Free public Pupukea Beach Park lot or along the Kamehameha Highway
Directions: 83E from Haleiwa, past Waimea Bay Beach

No lifeguards on duty here, so enter the water at your own risk. Restrooms and outdoor showers are available next to the Kamehameha Highway.

The coral reefs and tidepools at Shark’s Cove are rocky, with often sharp, jagged points and edges. Water shoes are a must, even when snorkeling!

We use the Merrell Hydro Moc rubber shoes (men’s, women’s), great for slippery rocks. If you prefer sandals, we recommend the Keen Newport H2 Closed Toe Water Sandals (men’s, women’s).

Sharp and jagged lava rocks all along Shark's Cove, wear water shoes to protect your feet
Sharp and jagged lava rocks all along Shark’s Cove, wear water shoes to protect your feet

Foodland Pupukea, a large local grocery store, is just across the highway, and you can pick up snacks, drinks and sandwiches here.

Other food options include the North Shore Shrimp Truck, Pupukea Grill, Seven Brothers Shark’s Cove Hamburger, all just across the highway.

We had fish tacos and spiced pineapple at the food trucks, yummy! There was a shave ice truck next to it as well (North Shore Shaved Ice).

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!

Best Things to Do at Shark’s Cove, Oahu

Apparently, when viewed from above, aerially, the cove resembles a shark’s outline, hence the name, Shark’s Cove. Frankly, despite scrutinizing aerial photos (expand the Shark’s Cove map above), I didn’t quite see the resemblance.

Despite the name, Shark’s Cove is a family-friendly snorkeling spot, and you’re quite unlikely to encounter a shark here. We certainly didn’t see any sharks while snorkeling here.

Convict tangs and other colorful tropical reef fish at Shark's Cove, Pupukea, North Shore of Oahu
Convict tangs and other colorful tropical reef fish at Shark’s Cove, Pupukea, North Shore of Oahu

In summertime, the waters at Shark’s Cove are almost lake-like calm, crystal clear and intense blue.

Natural lava rock reefs form a protective wall around shallow tidepools along the southern stretch of Shark’s Cove, while the northern section is open to the ocean waters.

In winters, as with other Oahu North Shore beaches, the waves are rough, and during high surf quite often crash over the barriers, making entering the waters, even in the tidepools risky and dangerous.

Towering winter waves crashing over the lava rock wall surrounding Shark's Cove tide pools
Towering winter waves crashing over the lava rock wall surrounding Shark’s Cove tide pools

Sandy beaches are somewhat limited at Shark’s Cove, but the neighboring Three Tables (south) and Keiki (north) beaches, part of the Pupukea Beach Park, are just a leisurely stroll away.

1. Shark’s Cove Snorkeling

In summer time, snorkeling is all the rage at Shark’s Cove, commonly rated as one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu, if not the world.

Shark’s Cove is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, and as part of the protection, the fish here are much more abundant and grow much larger, making for exciting snorkeling!

In summer, the waters are calm and clear, with remarkable underwater visibility.

Clear, calm waters with excellent underwater visibility at Shark's Cove, North Shore of Oahu
Clear, calm waters with excellent underwater visibility at Shark’s Cove, North Shore of Oahu

Snorkeling here in winter is a no-no, the waves come crashing over the lava walls and into the tidepools, and treacherous rip currents form all along Shark’s Cove.

The snorkeling area is quite large, with extensive underwater coral reefs, and can be broken up into two main sections.

Snorkeling area in Shark's Cove divided into shallower southern tidepools and deeper coral reefs in the north
Snorkeling area in Shark’s Cove divided into shallower southern tidepools and deeper coral reefs in the north

Snorkel Pupukea Tidepools

The southern part (left side as you face the ocean) is protected by an exposed, natural lava rock reef running parallel to the shore, forming sheltered tidepools, often called Pupukea Tidepools.

The waters closer to the shore are shallow, and you can often just stand in the water and see colorful, tropical fish swimming around your legs!

Snorkelers standing in shallow waters at Shark's Cove, observing tropical fish swimming around their legs
Snorkelers standing in shallow waters at Shark’s Cove, observing tropical fish swimming around their legs
Teeming tropical fish in Shark's Cove that swim around your feet as you stand in the tidepools
Teeming tropical fish in Shark’s Cove that swim around your feet as you stand in the tidepools

Waters closer to the lava rock wall facing the open ocean are deeper, and depending on the tides, can be up to 10 feet.

Deeper and richer snorkeling at the lava rock barriers at Shark's Cove, North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
Deeper and richer snorkeling at the lava rock barriers at Shark’s Cove, North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii

Snorkel the Open Cove of Shark’s Cove

The open mouth of Shark’s Cove is still fairly sheltered, and the reefs on the inner side of the mouth are where we saw moray eels, manta rays, Hawaiian green sea turtles and larger fish.

The depth varies depending on the tide, but we conservatively estimated it to be around 20 feet along the inner walls.

Though the waters were calm on the summer day we went, we chose to use snorkeling fins and flotation devices.

We didn’t venture out of the cove or towards the open mouth, and some locals we chatted with mentioned the depth outside was around 40 – 50 feet.

Shark's Cove opens to the deeper ocean waters on the north end of the cove
Shark’s Cove opens to the deeper ocean waters on the north end of the cove

There are no lifeguards at Shark’s Cove, so be conservative and enter the water and deeper areas at your own risk.

Our teenagers, experienced snorkelers, had great fun exploring lava tubes, fissures and cracks, caves and caverns, and the extensive coral reef.

Apart from the colorful yellow tangs and convict tangs, we saw some exciting and beautiful butterflyfish, triggerfish and parrotfish.

To recognize and identify these beautiful reef fish, check out our detailed Hawaiian Fish Snorkeling Guide.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!

2. Shark’s Cove Scuba Diving

Scuba diver vacationing on Oahu in summer? Shark’s Cove is an incredible shore dive location, probably one of the world’s best spots, and on the top 10 list of popular scuba diving magazines!

Not only can you see stunning tropical fish, you can also explore the underwater remnants of the island’s violent origins: lava tubes, caves, caverns, large fissures and other interesting rock and coral formations!

Apart from the beautiful reef fish that you can probably see while snorkeling as well, scuba divers often see Hawaiian green sea turtles, octopi and small reef sharks, typically the white-tipped sharks, that feed on reef fish.

Entering the ocean from the Three Tables Beach is more convenient with easier water access. Else, a small path next to the public restrooms at Shark’s Cove leads into the open cove area, but the water entrance is rocky.

3. Stay Back for Spectacular Sunsets at Shark’s Cove

While neighboring Sunset Beach is renowned for some of the most spectacular sunsets on Oahu, Shark’s Cove is no slouch either.

Nature photographer? You’ll love the setting at Shark’s Cove.

As the glowing sun sets in the Pacific Ocean waters and warm shades of orange, red and pink fill the tropical skies, their reflections on the tidepools at Shark’s Cove is a stunning, mesmerizing effect!

Stunning sunset colors fill the skies and are reflected in the calm waters of Shark's Cove tidepools
Stunning sunset colors fill the skies and are reflected in the calm waters of Shark’s Cove tidepools

Enjoying amazing tropical sunsets at Shark’s Cove is one of the most romantic things to do on Oahu!

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!

4. Stroll Down to Three Tables Beach

Tired of snorkeling and the water, and just want to laze on the sands? Unfortunately, the sandy area around Shark’s Cove is quite limited, and likely to be crowded.

However, neighboring Three Tables Beach, part of the Pupukea Beach Park, is but a leisurely stroll away!

Shaded coastal walkway to Three Tables Beach, Pupukea Beach Park, North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
Shaded coastal walkway to Three Tables Beach, Pupukea Beach Park, North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii

We spent the morning snorkeling, had a bite to eat at the food trucks across the street, and the kids cooled off with some Hawaiian shave ice.

Then all of us walked along a convenient coastal path, down to the Three Tables Beach, so named for three flattish exposed coral reefs.

Three Tables Beach is a sandy beach, a stroll away from Shark's Cove, Hawaii
Three Tables Beach is a sandy beach, a stroll away from Shark’s Cove, Hawaii

5. Sunbathe or Relax with a Book at Three Tables Beach

Three Tables Beach is a beautiful, small stretch of finely powdered, white sands, and relatively uncrowded compared to the popular Shark’s Cove.

Our younger kids built a sand castle, while the older kids continued to snorkel, exploring the coral reefs at Three Tables.

Flat exposed coral reefs and white sandy beach at Three Tables Beach next to Shark's Cove
Flat exposed coral reefs and white sandy beach at Three Tables Beach next to Shark’s Cove

The rest of us just lay in the sand, sunbathing or relaxing with a book.

Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear Checklist

Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).

Water shoes are a must at Shark's Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, Oahu
Water shoes are a must at Shark’s Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, Oahu

Ocean Safety Tips

Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.

Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:

  • ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
  • Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
  • Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
  • Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
  • If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
  • Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
  • Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
  • Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
Use fins and floatation devices for safety at Shark's Cove, Hawaii
Use fins and floatation devices for safety at Shark’s Cove, Hawaii

Best Oahu Tours

Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?

Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!

The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.

Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!

Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.

A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu adventure for your bucket list.

We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.

Renting a Car in Oahu

If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu on your vacation, you should get a rental car.

Oahu’s popular attractions are spread over the island: the windward coast, the North Shore, and Ko Olina are great places to explore beyond Waikiki (or the greater Honolulu area).

While Oahu does have public transport options that are better than the other islands, a car offers a lot more flexibility and time savings.

We always use Discover Cars to book Oahu car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Oahu car rentals now!

Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle

If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!

This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Oahu now!

Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!

Where to Stay in Oahu

Honolulu (Waikiki in particular) offers a large number of hotels and resorts, along with shopping and dining options. Most visitors to Oahu choose to base in Honolulu at least for a part of their stay.

While many of the large chains have a presence if you are looking to use your memberships, Honolulu also has several unique boutiques to consider.

Our faves include Halekulani for a splurge stay, the Lotus Honolulu for views of Diamond Head, and The Laylow for its awesome location.

Want more room to spread out or looking to stay elsewhere on Oahu? You will find VRBO listings all over the island!

On previous trips to Oahu, we have stayed in VRBO rentals in Waikiki as well as on the North Shore and the east coast and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for an Oahu vacation rental on VRBO now!

Stunning visibility in the calm summer waters at Shark's Cove, Hawaii
Stunning visibility in the calm summer waters at Shark’s Cove, Hawaii

More Oahu Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!

Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.

If you ar planning a short first visit to the island, we have the perfect day-by-day 3 days in Oahu itinerary for you!

Of course you’ll want to learn about all the exciting things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital, and Waikiki, the touristic core of Oahu. We also have an article on the best places to eat in Waikiki!

Check out our guide to the best beaches in Oahu, and a round-up of the best beaches on the north shore of Oahu. Also read about must-visit Oahu waterfalls and botanical gardens in Oahu you have to visit.

Oahu is home to so many must-visit landmarks! Check out our in-depth article on how to visit Pearl Harbor, and our guides on the beautiful Waimea Valley in Oahu and the spectacular Byodo-In Temple.

Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!

Discover the top places to go snorkeling in west Oahu, where you will find a long coastline with lovely beaches, and tips for snorkeling Kaneohe Sandbar on the island’s east coast as well as the super popular Hanauma Bay.

And if you love marine life, also check out our complete guide to (respectfully!) see and swim with dolphins in Oahu, and the best spots to snorkel with turtles in Oahu.

For hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, we have a round-up of the best Oahu hikes, and if you are looking to exclude the harder Oahu trails, a guide to the best easy Oahu hikes.

Find out how to do the iconic (and VERY popular) Diamond Head Hike near Waikiki for exceptional views. We also have a guide to the very popular Manoa Falls Trail in Honolulu.

More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.

Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.

We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!

If you are a garden enthusiast, check out our detailed guide to the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, our article on the unique Koko Crater Botanical Garden, and our guide to Foster Botanical Garden!

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Discover the complete guide to Shark's Cove at Pupukea Beach Park on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii!

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