With almost a hundred thousand miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that America has a reputation for boasting some of the top snorkeling spots in the world. With such an assortment of breathtaking scenes, it seems impossible to decide where to head for your next beach holiday. Here are the best snorkeling spots in the USA to make your choice easier.
The USA has a diverse collection of terrains that lead to plenty of beautiful snorkel spots. Hawaii and Florida are popular snorkel states, with several locations that offer world-class ocean experiences. However, less expected snorkel spots, such as Texas, boast magnificent snorkel scenes.
The 20 Best Places to Snorkel in The USA
From San Diego’s sea caves to Florida’s mangroves, you’re spoiled for choice with prime snorkeling spots, where you’ll swim alongside tropical fish, forests of giant kelp, and wild dolphin pods. If you’re thinking about taking a snorkeling vacation, these 20 stunning locations are a great place to start.
1. Key West, Florida
Key West is one of the best snorkeling destinations in the Florida Keys, boasting the world’s third-largest coral barrier reef system. Home to sea turtles, stingrays, and manatees, the diverse ecosystem makes it hassle-free to marry a snorkeling vacation with other ventures, exploring everything from marine ecosystems to mangrove forests.
Take a sailboat out to the coral reef and look for wild dolphins along the way or take a walk through the mangroves before diving in with a mask and snorkel.
2. South Padre Island, Texas
The Laguna Madre Estuary on South Padre Island is a breathtaking snorkeling spot, with three- to six-foot-deep waters suitable for all ages and abilities. A snorkeling tour is one of the best ways to see it all. Tours on South Padre Island will take you to several idyllic snorkeling locations all at once.
The summer months have the clearest waters on South Padre Island. While it may not be mistaken for the Caribbean, this Texas getaway is ideal for families with children looking for a more relaxed snorkeling experience.
3. Panama City Beach, Florida
Shell Island, a picture-perfect uninhabited island, is home to some of Panama City Beach’s best snorkeling spots. Book a shuttle to the island for a day of sun and snorkeling: look for seashells in the grass, watch hermit crabs scurry across the sandy bottom, and keep an eye out for dolphins playing in the waves of the shallow coastal waters.
Shell Island is a famed stop on this Panama City Beach dolphin and snorkeling tour. Tourists can snorkel alongside Florida’s wild dolphins to catch a closer glimpse at these majestic creatures.
4. La Jolla, California
The La Jolla coastline ranges from 300-foot sea cliffs to rocky reefs, secluded coves, and wide golden sandy beaches. Although portions of the coast are inaccessible due to La Jolla’s picturesque coastal landscape, the views are breathtaking as waves and whitewater break onto rocky outcroppings, and seals and sea lions gracefully navigate safe landings onto their protected cove.
Opt for snorkeling and kayaking for a close-up view of the sea caves that line the coast. Whatever your group’s skill level, La Jolla has a snorkeling adventure for you.
5. Captain Cook, Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, also known as Captain Cook Bay, is one of the best snorkeling spots in the Hawaiian Islands, protected by high green cliffs. Taking a boat tour from the rocky beach gets you to many of the Bay’s breathtaking snorkeling locations, where you can swim with wild dolphins and hundreds of other underwater animals.
Because a calm ocean surrounds the Bay, it’s a great place to explore by kayak, skimming over the waves, and see straight into the crystal blue waters.
6. Hatteras Island, North Carolina
Hatteras Island’s calm and shallow water make it ideal for a family snorkeling vacation. Pamlico Sound’s sandy bottom provides a habitat for a variety of fish, and you can swim to the shipwrecks scattered around the Outer Banks. Choose a family-friendly tour that takes you to the best snorkeling and swimming spots to add clamming and exploring to your day of snorkeling.
The historic USS Huron wreck is only 250 yards away from the beach. Buoys may mark her bow and stern during the summer. Explore the abundance of sea life and remaining wreckage, including boilers, propellers, rudders, and cannonball storage racks.
7. Kapolei, Hawaii
With warm weather conditions practically every month of the year, it’s virtually effortless to plan a snorkeling vacation to Oahu. Kapo Point Beach may offer some of the best snorkeling in Kapolei. This tropical haven is rich in marine life that basks in the balmy currents caused by the power plant that siphons warm water into the ocean.
Alternatively, the sheltered water at the artificial Ko Olina Lagoons, home to colorful wrasse and tang fish, is ideal for first-time snorkelers.
8. Key Largo, Florida
Key Largo is easily accessible from Miami and is home to the spectacular John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s first undersea park. On the way to the best snorkeling spots in the area, you’ll pass through mangrove forests and seagrass beds.
Keep an eye out for the dramatic Christ of the Deep, a bronze statue that was submerged in 1965 and has since become a home for coral and fish. Explore Florida’s famous coastline by boarding a snorkeling charter.
9. Poipu, Hawaii
This crescent-shaped beach is popular with both visitors and locals, and it features crystal-clear waters and the occasional appearance of a Hawaiian monk seal. It’s also an excellent place for a family beach day, with lifeguards, picnic areas, showers, and a natural wading pool for young swimmers.
With calm water and a healthy reef, this is one of the best snorkeling vacations for beginners, with a sandy bottom entrance. Some snorkeling tours take tourists further away from the coast, where dolphins play in the wake of passing boats to take your snorkeling to the next level.
10. Catalina Island, California
Just twenty-two miles off the coast of Southern California, Santa Catalina Island stands out as a pretty-much-perfect island getaway with its swaying palms, white-sand beaches, warmest water in summer, and melt-your-heart sunsets.
The island is surrounded by crystal clear water, ideal for snorkeling. Giant kelp forests sway just below the surface, serving as a haven for all kinds of marine animals. Guided snorkel tours can take you even further afield, but a wetsuit is required in the chilly offshore water.
11. Big Pine Key, Florida
Picturesque ocean waves lap the coral and artificial reefs surrounding Big Pine Key, including a 210-foot cargo freighter sunk in 1998 to provide a home for schools of tropical fish. The best snorkeling spots in Big Pine Key require you to book a boat ride from the coast, so it’s worth joining a snorkeling tour to one of the reefs, which includes the opportunity to see mangrove forests along the way.
12. Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu, a modern city with a unique blend of cultures that serves as the state capital and a gateway to the Hawaiian Islands, is rooted in authentic Hawaiian tradition and home to a melting pot of ethnicities. The white sands of Waikiki Beach will draw you into this tropical paradise, and the calm waters are ideal for snorkeling. Many hotels and beach kiosks will provide equipment and lessons of varying lengths.
Swim into Turtle Canyon to snorkel with green sea turtles, passing Diamond Head and Waikiki along the way. You don’t need a boat to go snorkeling in Honolulu because Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve has a coral reef you can swim to right from the beach, a perfect swath of sand with a stunning backdrop of coastal hills.
13. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
A barrier reef surrounds the island of St. Croix, which is teeming with vibrant and diverse marine life, and some of the best snorkeling spots are right off the island’s beautiful beaches. Keep an eye out for sea turtles among the swaying seagrass at Cane Bay or Chenay Bay Beach, then swim alongside schools of colorful reef fish as you explore the coral reef.
Join a snorkeling tour or splash out on a luxurious private charter to get to the spectacular Buck Island Reef National Monument. This island and its surrounding coral reef ecosystem are home to a diverse range of native flora and fauna, including several endangered and threatened species.
14. Lahaina, Hawaii
Lahaina is regarded as one of the best snorkeling vacation destinations in Maui. You can avoid complications of arranging snorkeling tours because Kapalua Beach allows you to snorkel off the beach. A picturesque coral reef parallels the coast, providing habitat for sea turtles, eels, and a rainbow of tropical fish.
However, it is well worth joining a whale watching and snorkeling tour to see migrating humpback whales. A variety of whale-watching tours are available in Lahaina Harbor. During the height of whale watching season, between January and early April, the kiosks lining Lahaina Harbor reveal a variety of options, from charter boats to passenger rafts.
15. Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River’s sparkling springs, palm-tree-lined riverbanks, biking and hiking trails, and abundant fishing is a haven for adventure lovers. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge boasts the largest concentration of manatees in the state, thanks to the spring-fed waterways in the area that are an ideal home for these gentle creatures.
These majestic, slow-moving mammals graze on the native seagrass beds. Snorkel alongside the gentle herbivores as they enjoy the freshwater springs that bubble up along the Crystal River. Many of the area’s guides have been trained to make the experience enjoyable and educational for visitors while also treating this endangered species with care and respect.
16. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park is the most secluded National Park in the United States and one of the country’s southernmost points. This is a popular destination for those who enjoy the backcountry as well as the vibrant underwater world. This is a true haven for travelers with a taste for adventure as it is exclusively accessible by ferry and offers only primitive camping.
Since approximately one percent of the Dry Tortugas is above water, you will be surrounded by an underwater world once you put on your snorkel. There are plenty of manmade infrastructures that’s become a haven for sea life and a fun place to start your underwater adventure, from old pier pilings to the ruins of past military fortifications.
17. Cinnamon Bay, US Virgin Islands
Cinnamon Bay is one of the best places to snorkel in the United States or the Caribbean. You don’t need a charter boat to access habitat for beautiful tropical fish because the waters are so shallow that the challenge is avoiding bumping into the reef. And, because the entire Cay is surrounded by reef, there’s plenty to see and do underwater.
18. Anacapa Island, California
California is well-known for its surfing, but it is less renowned for its snorkeling. That’s a shame, especially with places like Anacapa Island, whose wild kelp forests make it one of the best places on the west coast to snorkel.
While Anacapa is lonely, remote, and inhabited mainly by seabirds, the tidepools and surrounding ocean are teeming with seeing-bright sea stars, spiny sea urchins, and Day-Glo orange Garibaldi. Channel Islands Live, a broadcast put on by the National Parks Service from diving rangers sharing updates from this unique marine sanctuary, can even give you a preview of the scenery.
19. Bahia Honda State Park, Florida
It should come as no surprise that Florida has so many of the best snorkeling spots. Bahia Honda is popular with snorkelers and scuba divers, sea kayakers, and anyone looking to enjoy the Florida Keys.
The incredibly shallow waters on the Atlantic side are ideal for snorkeling for beginners, and you’ll have the opportunity to see hawksbill sea turtles, octopuses, sponges, seahorses, and queen conch. Looe Reef, which is nearby, is another popular snorkeling spot in the area.
20. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi
Like Texas and California, Mississippi is a state that does not immediately spring to mind when considering the best places to snorkel. However, the Gulf Islands National Seashore has much to offer, from seagrass beds teeming with tropical fish to sunken shipwrecks.
Santa Rosa Island’s Bayside is one of the best places in the Gulf Islands to snorkel, with clouds of pinfish, pipefish, and seahorses hiding among the underwater vegetation. Divers can also see a drowned tugboat on the bayside, and the remains of the USS Massachusetts battleship can be found one and a half miles outside Pensacola Pass.
With nearly 100,000 miles of coastline and a diverse landscape, it’s no surprise that America is known for having some of the best snorkeling spots in the world. From Mississippi’s sunken shipwrecks to Florida’s mangroves, you are spoiled for the choice of breathtaking ocean scenes, where you can swim alongside tropical fish, forests of giant kelp, and wild dolphin pods.