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Unless you plan on holing yourself up in your resort room and not exploring outside of Waikiki, you may just find it hard to not see a sea turtle or two while you’re out and about in Oahu. Sea turtles are quite common in recent days and with so many laws in place to protect them, they can often be spotted even on crowded beaches.
Please Read: Respect all of Hawaii’s wildlife and do not touch turtles – it’s illegal and they can get sick and die just from sharing physical contact with us. Turtles are culturally important and any harassment or interaction with them is considered taboo.
Where To Find Turtles In North Shore, Oahu
Most visitors see turtles on the North Shore because it’s probably the easiest place to spot them in Oahu. There is plenty of reef and coral in the area and the churning waters keep the shores filled with sea life. Hot and sunny days are common on this side of the island, which makes the beaches here ideal for these cold-blooded creatures.
Common spots for sea turtles – from west (Kaena Point) heading north (Kawela Bay):
- Snorkeling at Aweoweo Beach Park – My favorite small beach park for family parties. This is a great beach for those who already live here, want a potluck style beach day, and have access to a beach tent.
- Haleiwa Alii Beach Park – Drive past the Haleiwa Harbor parking and park at the 2nd parking lot (closest to the public restroom). My Dad would take us shrimping here and at sunset we’d watch the turtles pull themselves up onto the sand for bedtime.
- Haleiwa Harbor – Walk out along the long rock wall (you’ll know it when you see it) and sit on the ocean side of the wall. Turtles will swim by to graze and check under rocks for food. I recommend a hat and a simple picnic of fingerfoods and cold drinks. Note: this is where my brother and I learned how to fish – it’s a great place for kids and parents to fish together if you have the gear. You might see me there!
- Paddleboard up Anahulu River – The turtles love to rest in this river and you’ll see them everywhere as you paddle up and down. This is a great option especially if you have kids or beginners with you. The turtles are pretty much guaranteed and everyone will have a blast. If you’re interested in kayaking, check out this rental company for glass-bottom kayaks.
- Papailoa Beach – Hidden on a small residential street is a tiny beach access path that leads directly out to Papailoa Beach. Stand on the edge of the rocky shore and watch the turtles swim by one after another. Sometimes they’ll even pull themselves up onto the sand. I visited this beach on an Oahu Photography Tour if you’d like to learn more.
- Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach) – Not be confused with Turtle Bay Resort (it’s unlikely that you’ll find turtles here), Laniakea if often packed with tourists. You’ll know you’re near when you see a large dirt parking lot on the roadside and traffic stopping every other second for people crossing the street. Turtles are known to rest on the sand here and volunteers are able to identify each turtle and tell you each one’s history. If you don’t see any turtles on the sand, look along the rocky shore – you’ll often see turtles right in the surf.
- Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove – The turtles here hug the far opposite wall from where you enter to snorkel. If you’re unsure, ask the snorkel rental shop (across the street next to the food truck) and they’ll tell you exactly where to look for them.
These are the most successful turtle viewing spots in Oahu’s North Shore in my experience. However, take extra precaution during our winters – particularly December and January – as the waves will be rough. This time of the year is when Oahu’s North Shore surfing tournaments are being held.
Finding Turtles In Honolulu And The South Shore
I’m always going to suggest the North Shore for someone who asks where they can see turtles. They love the area because there’s plenty of food and sandy beaches for them to rest at. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t find turtles on the South Shore aka Honolulu. This area may be a tourist hub, but the turtles that pop up here are pretty used to seeing us land creatures.
- Waikiki – Believe it or not, you can see turtles in Waikiki, but you have to know where to look. They tend to avoid the middle where it’s sandy and crowded. But keep a lookout as you head toward either end. The Diamond Head side of Waikiki is a lot less crowded. On the opposite end of Waikiki, take a walk at Magic Island, which is right across Ala Moana Center. Walk out on the stone wall and look for them as they pop their heads up above water.
- Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay – Many beginner snorkelers head to Hanauma Bay for their first underwater experience in Hawaii. In addition to fish, octopi, eels and shellfish, turtles can also be spotted.
- Snorkeling at Turtle Canyon – For those in Waikiki, consider visiting Turtle Canyon on a snorkel cruise. This is great for any age and everyone will have a lot of fun. Plus, turtle sightings at Turtle Canyon are pretty much guaranteed as it’s basically like a pit stop for traveling turtles to rest and get their shells cleaned from friendly neighborhood fish.
- Pearl Harbor – This is probably the last place you’d expect to see turtles, but they’re there! Because visitors are so busy looking at the museums, exhibits, signs, Memorials, displays and brochures, they hardly spend any time looking out at the surrounding harbor. Turtles are actually easier to spot here because the water is relatively flat.
- Spitting Caves – A neat lookout hidden behind a classy residential area with panoramic views. This is a great spot for enjoying the sunset or a mini picnic, but take a look down into the ocean and you may see a turtle taking a breath every so often. I usually see at least 1 – 2 every visit just floating along with the waves.
Where Else Can You Find Turtles In Oahu?
Whenever I’m at the beach I’m always keeping a lookout for turtles. They’re cool to see no matter how many times I see them and the large ones are impressive up close. Here are a few more options that come to mind where turtles in Oahu are common:
- Snorkeling at Electric Beach (Kahe Point Beach Park) – Practically right next door to the Ko Olina Resorts, this spot is well known because of the Hawaiian Spinner dolphins that like to hang out here. But turtles love it here, too! I recommend this spot only for adults and strong swimmers because it can be difficult to get in and out of the water due to the strong currents. If you’re determined, I recommend a snorkel tour on the Kai Oli Oli – it’s both a cruise and a quick snorkel session with supervision and safety in mind.
- Shoreline Cruises – There’s an endless list of cruises all over Oahu: sunset cruises, sailing cruises, outrigger experiences, kayaking excursions and even booze cruises. It’s pretty common to float past sea turtles as you explore the shore, so this is a great option for those who don’t want to get wet. I prefer smaller vessels for turtle viewing because you’re physically closer to the water and the turtle. Plus, smaller vessels will usually stop to let you watch the turtle for a bit before you continue your ride.
Local Tip: While the Windward Coast is known for it’s gorgeous sandy beaches, I find I see turtles less here. With the long stretches of white powdery sand that’s common to the Windward side of the island, there’s less food and fish around for the turtles.