Our kids are little fish and they like to swim with fish but sometimes it can be a challenge to find places where a three-year old and five-year old can safely channel their inner Nemo. On a recent trip to Maui we explored all parts of the island, in all types of weather, looking for the best places to snorkel with our small fry.
*A side note: although I’m describing these as “kid friendly” spots these are great for all ages. My parents and sister who are experienced snorkelers had a great time at these places too!
5 Best Beaches for Beginner Snorkelers:
- Baby Beach In Paia: Protected from waves by a rock wall, this is basically a big salty beach pond. It’s mostly sandy but there are a few rocks and some fish that hang out near the rocks. Don’t expect to see spectacular ocean life, however this is the perfect place for young children and first time snorkelers to get the hang of snorkeling. Pros: Calm, gentle swimming spot. Adjacent to stunning Baldwin Beach. Cons: Limited fish/ marine life. No bathrooms/showers
- Kamaole Beach Park 3: I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to see in the water off this popular beach park. You don’t have to swim very far out to see fish and if you swim towards the right (when you’re facing the ocean) there are some large rocks with coral and schools of fish. I wouldn’t describe this as a premier snorkeling destination but if you’re looking for a beach with bathrooms, showers, a big grassy picnic area, a swing set, lifeguards, and gentle boogie board waves that also happens to have some fairly good snorkeling, this is your place. It can get windy/choppy so this is best for beginners on a sunny, calm morning. Pros: Enough amenities to keep everyone busy all day. Close to restaurants. Cons: Can get windy
- Kapalua Beach: This protected cove is sheltered from the wind and the calm waters make it ideal for snorkeling. We were here on a rainy, windy day and the ocean in this small bay was still smooth. Head to either the left or right side of the bay for the best fish and coral viewing. With the Kapaula Trail, SUP rental shop, great snorkeling, and bathrooms/showers, this is definitely a beach that can make all your Hawaiian vacation fantasies come true. Pros: Stunning beach. Lots of exciting marine life. Access to Kapalua trail. SUP rental stand on the beach. Cons: Limited parking
- Ulua Beach: This is the Wailua area equivalent of Kapalua Beach. A pretty little beach sandwiched among posh resorts, this is another great option for people who want to do a little snorkeling and also have a pleasant beach to hang out on. The rocky section on the right side of the beach (if you’re looking at the ocean) has a rock shelf and some coral that hosts a nice little assortment of fish. It was a short swim for my three-year old and my family went a little further out and spotted a few sea turtles and a couple of eels. An added bonus is there is a 1.5 mile paved pedestrian path that goes along the coast if you need a place to stretch out your legs. Pros: Short snorkel swim. Beach pathway. Cons: Limited parking.
- Black Rock at Kannapali Beach: On the far end of the Kaanapali Beach, Black Rock is popular with families staying in Kannapali. The name pretty much sums it up, a big black rock at the end of the beach that has tons of fish and turtles. If you’re having to drive, parking can be a hassle since aside from a few spots at the Sheraton there aren’t many public parking spaces. Another option is to park at Whalers Village and walk down the beach to Black Rock. After you get your fish fix hang out on the golden sands, take a walk down the long beach, or grab lunch at Whalers Village. Pros: Easy for families in the Kaanapali area. Lots of fish. Big beach. Cons: Can get very crowded. Limited parking.
Tips/Advice for Snorkeling With Young Children
- A boogie board is your best friend. Have your child put on either snorkel goggles or regular swim goggles and lay on top of the boogie board. You will need fins and goggles, I like to leave my breathing tube on the beach because it can get in the way. Use the leash on the boogie board to pull your aspiring scuba diver out to a location with lots of fish. When you get to your aquatic utopia have your child either put their face in the water for fish viewing or let them hop off and swim around. The boogie board will give you and your mer-child something floaty to hold onto when you need to rest or adjust equipment.
- Goggles. Love them or hate them or love them and hate them, they are essential fish viewing gear. I’ve found that for my youngest son he’s more comfortable with simple, familiar swim goggles. So rather than battle a toddler over putting on a large snorkel mask you might want to have a pair of swim goggles in your beach bag.
- Snorkel prep. Before hitting the beach practice using the mask/breathing tube in a bathtub, hot tub, or local pool. You can at least familiarize them with the mouth piece/breathing before adding in waves, wind, and a large body of water. A few simple YouTube videos of coral reefs and divers can also help inspire first time ocean explorers.
- A wetsuit. This sounds absolutely ridiculous because the main allure of going to Hawaii is the warm tropical ocean and the bright sunny days. However, despite what Instagram shows you, it’s not always perfect clear days and warm seas. If your child has a spring wetsuit or a wetsuit top it can help keep your little snorkeler toasty and happy on an overcast or windy day.