Hanauma Bay offers protected, calm, crystal clear waters that are abundant with sea life and perfect for all ages and experiences of snorkelers.
We chose Hanauma Bay to take our 4 year old son snorkeling for the first time and it was so perfect we brought our 3 year old daughter to join the next weekend. Even in the rougher winter months the water stays relatively calm and clear. There always beautiful fish to see close to shore and we always felt safe with the ever watchful lifeguards on duty. While the Bay offers superb snorkeling opportunity for All ages and Levels there are a few things you’ll want to know before you go.
You will want to come early as the park only has 300 parking stalls and will ONLY allow that many in at a time. The parking lot does charge $1 for parking. You will find the incredible views start right away as you park on the top of the bowl that forms the Bay.
When you get to the entrance there is a snack shop and restrooms. You will have access to more restrooms down by the beach but this is the only food stand. I would suggest bringing your own snacks and water as a bottle of water here starts at $6. The park only allows Small Coolers so don’t try to pack too much.
Nuts, Fruit, and Water in a small carry bag are great options for a snack!
Once you get inside you will have to watch a short 9 minute introductory video that tells about the history of the bay, what you can expect to see, and the do’s and don’ts while at the park. Make sure to sign your name if you plan to visit again within a year so you won’t have to watch the video again.
The walk down to the bay is short but it is somewhat steep. The kids didn’t mind and we liked slowly walking down seeing the views. We hung back a minute to give the crowd a chance to go ahead so we could enjoy the walk down and snap some pictures. You also have the option of taking the tram down for $1.
Once we finally hit the sand we were amazed! The water is so clear and even though the place stays pretty full it doesn’t feel too packed since they keep it to a limited number of people per day. I believe only 3000 visitors a day is all they will let in now vs 10,000 any given day a few years past!
The reef keeps the water from getting too choppy but there are spots you want to watch out for. You will see them clearly marked by buoys and they go over them in the video. Though that is where my husband spent most of his time snorkeling we stayed clear of those areas when we had the kids.
We had our own masks and snorkels but we rented one for our son. It was by far the only hard part of the experience and I would fully recommend getting a full face mask for any young first timers. He complained it pulled his hair and it was tricky getting it positioned on his little face well. But after 10 minutes of Calm, Patient urging we finally got him in the water.
Staying completely calm and patient without giving in or giving up your gentle coaxing is key for nervous, excitable children
My husband and I had to actually take turns. When one of us would start to get impatient or too stern we would take a moment to go snorkel and calm down then come back and tell of all the amazing things we saw. It worked like a charm and in about 10 minutes of this and a gentle shove He Did It!
Our 4 year old took to it amazingly easy once he just did it. It was an incredible experience getting to hold him hand-in-hand with my husband while we slowly investigated the bay.
The great thing is you see fish almost immediately. I am a bit nervous under the water but with my sons hand in mine I was fully able to enjoy seeing damsels, trigger fish, wrasse, tang, moorish idols, parrot fish, eels, and so much more!
When my 3 yr old daughter came the next weekend we spent most of the time on the sand. She enjoyed the water but she is more of a sun baby and we still had a great time. A walk on the beach is perfect and the views never get old. There is also a booth you can visit to learn more about the conservation and history of the bay.
If you want to get the full experience you can also do Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike. An easy, but long uphill hike that takes you along the ridge. It is paved asphalt but offers no shade and drop offs.
What to do in the area
This side of the island is one of my favorites and offers lots to see and do. There are a number of lookouts from the road to stop by and plenty of fun activities to fill the rest of your day.
Before we spent the day at Hanauma Bay we woke up insanely early and hiked Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail for sunrise. It was a great experience and we left just in time to make it early enough to the bay before the crowds hit. It is a paved hike that left us feeling full of excitement and adrenaline for snorkeling.
This is at the entrance to the trail right next to the entrance of the trail. Surprisingly I have done the trail twice and drove by numerous times and have yet to see for myself. Apparently there is a parking lot and a paved walkway that leads to an area that overlooks Makapu’u Beach Park, the sea cliffs, as well as Rabbit island (also known as Manana Island) and Kaohikaipu Island.
My favorite lookout of the main ones in the area. It has a large easy parking lot and great views of sandy beach. It also has its own little pocket beach nestled into the cliffs. You can climb down the side of the cliff to access this popular spot made famous by the movie From Here To Eternity. Hence the nickname Eternity Beach.
Activities and Beaches
Sea Life Park
We walked through it one evening to get to the Chiefs Luau when it was here and it looked so cool that we bought annual passes on Black Friday. On their website they boast that “Sea Life Park is Hawaii’s best wild life and wild animal park, offering fun and educational family experiences for the entire family. With a focus on education and conservation, our shows, exhibits and interactive programs offer once-in-a-lifetime thrilling up-close encounters, like swimming with dolphins, petting sharks, and more! And I whole-heartedly agree!
In Hawaii Kai about 10 minutes from the lighthouse in Koko Marina is Hawaii Water sports Center, which offers a plethora of water activities. The center has it all from parasailing, jet skiing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and water skiing to banana boat and bumper tube rides.
Holy Moly I love this place! Pronounced Bio Bowls this place is the ultimate modern eatery for the health conscious people of Hawaii. The food is locally sourced and presented in such a beautiful way its almost a shame to eat. The portions are HUGE so its a perfect place to share an Acai bowl or Poke Bowl. The spicy poke bowl from here is The Spiciest Poke on the island. Insane spice and Sooo Good!
This is a chill spot for the typical bar food that is actually delicious and lots of Kona Beer on tap. The wait can be long but even the managers will be running the floor with a smile on their face to get you your drinks and food on time. Right on the water with lots of activities near by this is a great lunch spot.