All types of seals are charismatic and peaceful creatures. But monk seals are special; they grow up to 7 feet long and can amass 600 pounds of mostly fat. They are also endangered and endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and thus seeing them with your own eyes should be on your bucket list for your next Hawaii trip. Oahu has plenty of rocky shores where monk seals like to sunbathe and rest, but the following five are the most easily accessible, most reliably dotted with monk seals of all shapes and sizes, and also feature picturesque backdrops.
As you can see from our map, the best places to see monk seals are conveniently distributed along the shores of Oahu. If you’re in Honolulu right now, Kaimana Beach is probably your best bet.
1. Ka’ena Point State Park (most seals overall)
Ka’ena Point State Park is situated on Oahu’s northwestern point, just an hour from Honolulu. It is a wild coastline park that features various hiking and tide pools worth exploring. The entire hike takes around 5 miles. The trail is flat but can be steep in some areas, and the rocks can also be a little slick when wet, so make sure you wear proper shoes.
Along the way, you will likely spot monk seals multiple times! They are typically found sunning on the beach or swimming in shallow tide pools. If lucky, you may also see nesting Albatross and the occasional whales (depending on the season).
2. Kaimana Beach (closest to Honolulu, plenty of pups)
Kaimana Beach is a small family-friendly beach in Waikiki featuring shallow waters, snorkeling reefs, and surfing spots. It is the place where monk seals give birth and raise their pups for several weeks. You will see some seals sleeping on the beach, sunbathing offshore, or swimming underwater. In addition, you may encounter sea turtles in the water.
Lifeguards on duty keep an eye on the animals and block the surrounding area. Make sure to come early. As the beach is situated just 20 minutes from Downtown Honolulu, it gets crowded during peak hours.
3. Hanauma Bay (tide pools with seals in them)
Hanauma Bay is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations on Oahu. Located only 25 minutes away from the city of Honolulu, the beach is surrounded by coral reefs teeming with marine life. When snorkeling, you may encounter tropical fish, sea turtles and seals. Some seals are often found resting or sunbathing on the beach.
Hanauma Bay is also famous for its unique tide pools. Make sure to wear swimming shoes when exploring it as the rocks are slippery and there are sea urchins in the water.
4. Laniakea Beach (also has turtles)
Located on Oahu’s north shore, around 40 minutes drive from Honolulu, Laniakea Beach is better known by locals as Turtle Beach. Green sea turtles are oftentimes seen basking in the sun or swimming on the beach. Most people don’t make it past the first 30 yards where the turtles are, but continue to walk down, and you may find some Hawaiian monk seals!
Unfortunately, this beach is not the best for casual swimmers. The water is rough, and the surf is high, making it more suitable for surfing! Snorkeling is great only when the water is calm. Bring swimming shoes and goggles.
5. Pokai Bay Beach Park (snorkel next to seals)
Pokai Bay Beach is a popular local destination located between the small boat harbor on Oahu’s west coast. The waters here are exceptionally calm, as the jetty protects the bay from the high surf. Therefore, it is perfect for young swimmers, snorkelers and first-time surfers.
Many people reported seeing monk seals while snorkeling on this beach. Seeing them swim underneath the water is a special experience, but if you’re not as lucky or visit on a day with bad underwater visibility, you may see them resting on the sand. Also look out for the occasional pod of dolphins.