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Kuilima Cove, also known as Turtle Bay, is a small, shallow bay on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.  While this area is sheltered from the waves, the seabed is quite poor in the bay. It is just sand, rock and a small coral patches. Even so, it is relatively easy to see green turtles and a good variety of fish in just a few feet of water.

Green sea turtle in Kuilima Cove/Turtle Bay Resort
Green sea turtles pay regular visits to the small, shallow bay.

How to get to the Turtle Bay/Kuilima Cove snorkeling spot

Kuilima Cove is on the northern coast of the island of Oahu. This is the famous “North Shore”, known internationally for its surfing spots. Access is free from the beach of the Turtle Bay Resort, a large hotel complex with two golf courses, among other amenities.

From Honolulu International Airport, it takes a little over an hour (40mi/60km) to reach the spot by taking the H1 west, the H2, and then the Kamehameha Highway. You can follow the signs to Haleiwa/North Shore. After reaching the coast at Haleiwa, continue east, past Pupukea, and continue for about 6 miles (10km) You will then see the Turtle Bay Resort entrance on your left.

The hotel has free parking and public access for visitors (follow the signs). Arrive early, since it fills up quickly. From there, it’s just a minute’s walk to the beach, which is to the right of the main building.

Kuilima Cove/Turtle Bay Resort snorkeling map
Kuilima Cove/Turtle Bay Resort snorkeling map.

Water entrance for snorkeling Turtle Bay/Kuilima Cove

You enter the water from the sandy beach of the hotel. You should opt for the area to the right as you are looking out to sea, near the bar of black rocks, where the water is the calmest. Watch out for the many sea urchins living in the rock crevices.

Turtle Bay/Kuilima Cove snorkeling tips

The snorkeling area covers the inner part of the small cove facing the beach (↕3-10ft/1-3m). It is bordered to the right by a bar of black rocks and to the left by a line of buoys. Be aware that beyond the line of buoys, relatively strong currents occur. From the beach, you are less than 150 yards from the rocks closing the cove.

Coral at Turtle Bay Resort, Oahu
Small, often unhealthy coral heads are found in the cove.

The seabed at Kuilima Cove is very poor with almost no coral. In the rocky areas (↕2-5ft/0.5-1.5m), particularly along the rocks to your right, you will come across several species of butterflyfish, parrotfish, and wrasse. In the deepest sandy areas, at the center of the cove (↕7-10ft/2-3m), you are likely to encounter green sea turtles.

Hawaii filefish in Oahu
The fantail filefish, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, is quite common in the bay.

When the sea is rough, visibility can be relatively poor due to swirling sand, but does not affect safety. Just remember to keep your distance from the line of buoys.

Several signs have been set up on the beach with safety instructions. Make sure you read them before entering the water. Although the beach is partly occupied by the hotel complex, there is never any lifeguards.

Millet butterflyfish in Kuilima Cove.
The millet butterflyfish is one of the many butterflyfish species found at this location.

Restaurants & accommodation nearby

Kuilima Cove is part of the Turtle Bay Resort hotel complex, which features restaurants and accommodations. The area to explore is quite small, so we don’t recommend staying the whole day on the site. An hour or two is enough.


  • Level required Beginner
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersUsual precautions
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

Sea turtle watching in Hawaii


Sea turtles are a very familiar sight on many snorkeling spots in Hawaii, including Turtle Bay. In order to be a responsible snorkeler, be sure to respect the following rules when observing them:

  1. Do not attempt to touch or ride sea turtles.
  2. Stay at a distance (15 ft) from sea turtles.
  3. Do not chase a turtle swimming away.
  4. Avoid sudden movement and allow sea turtles plenty of space when they come up to the surface to breathe.

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.