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Sea turtles have captivated people’s imagination for ages. If you’re visiting Hawaii and hoping to catch a glimpse of these gentle giants, you’ve come to the right place. Hawaii’s warm tropical waters provide ideal habitat for green and hawksbill sea turtles.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the north shore of Oahu, Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s south shore, and Ho’okipa Beach Park on Maui’s north shore are among the best places to spot sea turtles in Hawaii.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the best places to see sea turtles in Hawaii. You’ll learn about key nesting and feeding grounds, the best times of year for sightings, and tips from local experts on how to responsibly observe these amazing creatures.

Sea Turtle Species in Hawaii

Green Sea Turtles

The iconic green sea turtle is the most common species spotted around Hawaii. An estimated 90-95% of sea turtles seen here are greens (source). They can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds. Green sea turtles are named for the green color of their fat, not their shells.

They are herbivores that mainly feed on sea grasses and algae.

According to Save Our Seas Foundation, there are an estimated 58,000-72,000 green sea turtles swimming in Hawaiian waters (source). The protected beaches of French Frigate Shoals and Laysan Island have some of the largest nesting colonies.

But greens can also be seen basking on beaches across the Hawaiian Islands. Some of the best places for sightings are Laniakea Beach on Oahu and Punaluʻu Beach on the Big Island.

Hawksbill Sea Turtles

The beautifully patterned hawksbill sea turtle is more elusive around Hawaii but still present year-round. As their name suggests, hawksbills have narrow, hawk-like beaks suited for getting food from coral crevices.

They grow around 3 feet long on average and eat sponges, jellyfish, and other small invertebrates (source).

Hawksbill numbers are much lower than greens, with just dozens to a few hundred estimated in Hawaii (source). They nest primarily on remote small islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But determined snorkelers may catch sight of a hawksbill’s colorful shell and graceful swimming at certain spots like Kealakekua Bay or Wailea Beach on Maui.

When to See Sea Turtles in Hawaii

Nesting Season

The best time to spot sea turtles hauling themselves onshore to lay eggs is during peak nesting season from early spring through summer in Hawaii. Most nesting occurs between the months of March and August, with activity varying slightly by island and species.

Green sea turtles tend to nest earlier, from March to June, while hawksbill sea turtle nesting peaks in July and August.

During this period, female turtles lumber onto Hawaii’s beaches under the cover of darkness to dig nests and deposit around 100 eggs per clutch. Popular nesting beaches include Poipu Beach on Kauai, Punaluʻu Beach on the Big Island, and Laniakea Beach on Oahu.

Nesting season brings the rare chance to possibly catch a glimpse of the ancient mariners making their way back to their ocean home by morning light.

Year-Round Feeding Grounds

Although nesting season brings the best opportunity to spot sea turtles on shore, Hawaii’s waters provide year-round feeding grounds and shelter for the reptiles. Green sea turtles especially reside in Hawaii throughout the year, favoring shallow, coastal waters with abundant sea grass and algae.

On Oahu, Turtle Canyon off Waikiki and Shark’s Cove on the North Shore both deliver frequent sea turtle sightings. Snorkelers in Hanauma Bay and at Ko Olina Lagoons on Oahu commonly swim alongside the gentle giants. The protected coves of Molokini Crater off Maui also harbor several resident turtles.

No matter when you visit Hawaii, a sea turtle encounter always remains a distinct possibility while exploring reefs from shore or on a snorkel cruise. Keeping a respectful distance from the threatened species allows visitors to delight in Hawaii’s special underwater citizens at their seaside home.

Where to See Sea Turtles on Oahu

North Shore

The North Shore of Oahu is renowned for its epic waves and sandy beaches, but it also offers exceptional sea turtle watching opportunities. Places like Laniakea Beach, also known as “Turtle Beach,” afford great land-based viewing as the green sea turtles bask on the shore.

Patient observers may catch a glimpse of these gentle giants swimming just offshore as well. According to the non-profit group Mālama Honua, over 150 green sea turtles call the nearshore waters of the North Shore home.

In addition to Laniakea, beaches like Haleiwa and Waimea Bay also allow visitors to potentially spot sea turtles either swimming by or coming onto the beaches. Early mornings and evenings tend to be the best times to try your luck.

Speaking of luck, you can also try a turtle watching cruise that heads just offshore. Capt. Steve’s Rafting Excursions offers a Sea Turtle Snorkel Adventure that combines time viewing turtles from their raft with the chance to snorkel alongside them.

South Shore

While less famous for turtles than the North Shore, Oahu’s popular South Shore also presents ample viewing opportunities to catch sight of these amazing creatures. One great land-based lookout is Sandy Beach Park. Swimmers here occasionally spot turtles feeding very close to shore.

Early mornings tend to be best before the beach gets busy.

For great odds of an in-water turtle encounter, you can also book a turtle snorkel tour departing from Waikīkī. Wild Side Tours offers a Sea Turtle Adventure cruise that takes guests to a turtle cleaning station reef off the coast of Waikīkī.

Led by a marine biologist guide, this 3-hour tour lets snorkelers observe turtles being cleaned by fish up close.

West Side

The West Side of Oahu offers phenomenal opportunities for turtle watching at spots like Turtle Bay and Electric Beach. These more remote beaches provide critical turtle nesting habitats. Volunteers from organizations like Pacific Sea Turtles monitor turtle nesting activity and help protect vulnerable hatchlings trying to make it to the ocean.

Besides nesting turtles, the West Side also affords terrific in-water sightings on reefs and nearshore waters, especially for guests staying at Turtle Bay Resort. Kayak and snorkel eco-tours led by staff naturalists depart daily from the resort, allowing participants to snorkel with sea turtles in their natural environment.

September through November offers prime turtle viewing season on the serene West Side.

Where to See Sea Turtles on Maui

West Maui

West Maui is home to numerous beaches and snorkeling spots where sea turtles are frequently spotted. One of the best places is Honolua Bay, a marine preserve that offers great snorkeling right from shore. Green sea turtles are often seen munching on the lush seagrass beds here.

Further south, turtles can also be spotted at beaches like Kapalua Bay, Napili Bay, and Ka’anapali Beach.

At Ka’anapali Beach, keep an eye out for turtles popping their heads up between the waves. Napili Bay is a turtle cleaning station, where the gentle waves allow algae to grow on the rocks near shore. Sea turtles will swim over to munch on the tasty algae and get a nice shell scrubbing.

We highly recommend snorkeling at Napili Bay in the early morning when visibility is best.

According to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, West Maui waters are home to around 60 green sea turtles that frequent cleaning stations and foraging sites along the coast. Seeing these gentle giants in their natural environment is an incredible experience.

South Maui

Several beaches along South Maui also offer great sea turtle sightings. One excellent spot is Maluaka Beach inside Makena State Park, where green sea turtles nest onshore and can be spotted swimming offshore as well.

We highly recommend an early morning snorkel here for your best chance of a turtle encounter.

Further north, turtles are frequently seen at beaches like Wailea Beach, Kamaole III Beach, and Charley Young Beach during nesting season in the summer months. At these beaches, give nesting sea turtles ample space if you spot them coming ashore at night to lay eggs.

An incredible experience for sure, but be mindful to not disturb their nesting process.

According to recent statistics from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, around 50-60 green sea turtles nest on Maui’s beaches each year. So your chances of spotting one are quite good, especially if you know the right spots!

Sea Turtle Viewing Etiquette and Guidelines

When encountering sea turtles in their natural habitat in Hawaii, it is crucial to follow proper etiquette and guidelines to ensure their safety and well-being. Here are some key reminders for respectful sea turtle viewing:

Keep Your Distance

Sea turtles need ample space, so it’s vital to keep a respectful distance of at least 10 feet at all times. Getting too close can frighten or stress the turtles. Allow them to carry on their natural behaviors without interference.

Avoid Using Flash Photography

The bright, sudden flash from cameras can startling sea turtles. To avoid disturbing them, refrain from using flash photography. If you want photos, use natural light instead. Baby sea turtles are especially sensitive to bright lights.

Be Respectful of Nesting Turtles

You may encounter sea turtles coming ashore at night to lay their eggs. This is an extremely strenuous process for them. If you spot a nesting turtle, maintain a quiet, calm presence and keep back at least 50 feet. Never disturb or interfere with turtles laying eggs.

Lingering too long near nests can also attract predators to feed on turtle eggs once the mother returns to sea.

Following these conscientious sea turtle viewing guidelines shows respect for Hawaii’s special native wildlife. Give these ancient mariners the space they need to nest, rest, and feed undisturbed as they have for millions of years.


Seeing a sea turtle in the wild is an unforgettable experience. By heading to Hawaii’s most popular turtle spotting beaches during peak nesting and foraging seasons and following responsible wildlife viewing guidelines, you have an excellent chance of crossing paths with these ancient mariners of the sea.

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