Green sea turtles are such peaceful, graceful and gentle creatures. Spending time in close proximity to them is as exciting as it is calming. If you’ve always wanted to lounge on the beach or swim with them, then you’ve come to the right place.
The Honu (green sea turtle) has always held a special meaning for Hawaiians, symbolizing wisdom, good luck, endurance and a long life. They were also sometimes perceived to be an “Aumakua” (powerful spirit), often a deified ancestor that takes the form of an animal and acts a personal guardian of each individual and their family. The turtle symbolizes a navigator who can always find his way home. Hawaiian legends say the honu were the first to guide the Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands.
Please treat our turtle friends with Aloha!
If you're lucky enough to spot a turtle, remember that they are an endangered species and protected by law. You must keep your distance. It’s illegal to come too close to the sea turtles, touch, or harass them in any way. The law says you can’t do anything that even has just the potential to disturb their natural behavioral patterns.
The recommended safe distance is about 20 feet, which really isn’t that bad. You can get some GREAT pictures from 20 feet.
Fair warning: The fines are pretty stiff, and you risk becoming “Internet Famous” and publicly shamed if someone (including yourself) posts a picture of you getting too close to a turtle on social media.
What to look for and how to spot the turtles
(Wait for them to come up for air)
Whenever you’re in a spot that’s known to be popular with the turtles, do your best to sit still, focus your eyes on a patch of water, and look for a turtle-head to eventually pop up for a few seconds as it takes a quick breath. They can stay underwater for hours when resting but typically come up for air about every four of five minutes when they’re feeding. Just stay focused on the water, make yourself comfortable, relax, enjoy some coffee, and enjoy the view while you wait.
I’ve found that if there is one turtle in the area, there are typically a couple of others in the same area as well. They aren’t known to be social creatures but they are attracted to areas with a lot of seagrasses and algae to eat. Several might be in the same area to eat from the same food source.
Swimming with sea turtles
If you’re lucky enough to spot sea turtles basking on the beach, it typically means they have a few friends out in the water nearby.
The best way to enjoy a sea turtle encounter is to keep your distance, float motionless where you are, and quietly observe (pretend to be another turtle). Don’t hover over the turtles or create a situation where you block the turtle from coming up for air. Don’t try to chase or follow the turtles. They might be frightened and trying to escape. They can swim a LOT farther than you, so it’s best to let them go rather than put yourself in danger by following it out to sea or into dangerous currents.
In general, the more peaceful and non-threatening you are, the more likely it will be that you won’t scare them away, and the longer you’ll be able to enjoy spending some quality turtle-time with them.
Where to spot green sea turtles per island
Green sea turtles can be seen all over Hawaii, but some places are better than others.
They’re most easily spotted near coral reefs, rocks and protected inlets in shallow waters. These areas provide lots of seagrasses and Limu (algae) for them to eat and provide protection from deep sea predators and large waves.
Please do further research on each location you plan to visit. Some locations are more kid-friendly than others, and some are a lot better for swimming due to a lack of rocks, waves and strong currents.
When in doubt, don’t go out.
Waikiki - Grays Beach Seawall
Yes! Even Waikiki. There are way too many people on the beach, so you almost never see them up on the sand. But if you know where to look, you can spot them pretty easily from shore. The most common place to spot them in Waikiki is a place called “Grays Beach”, which is the area between the Halekulani and Sheraton Hotels. The sand has eroded away, and there is now a sea-wall with a walkway instead of a beach. No beach = almost no people. If there are turtles in the area, a small group of people will typically gather along the walkway to watch. Or be the first to make a sighting! Keep your eyes focused on a patch of water, and wait for one to come up for air. Here’s a link, in case you’re not familiar with the spot.
Kahe Point - AKA “Electric Beach”
Address: 92-301 Farrington Hwy, Kapolei, HI 96707
It's nicknamed Electric Beach because of the nearby electric power plant. The power plant circulates water to cool itself off, and the clean but warm water is piped back into the ocean, which attracts a lot of sea life. The warmer water creates an almost ideal growing condition for seagrasses and algae, which attracts the turtles.
Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park - North Shore Oahu
Address: 66 Haleiwa Rd, Haleiwa, HI 96712
There are sandy spots to swim at, but the majority of this beach has a rocky bottom where the turtles love to hang out and graze on the seagrasses and algae. You can often see them basking along the shoreline.
Waimea Bay Beach Park
Address: 61-31 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712
There is a large rock that people like to jump off of. Near the big rock are coral heads sticking out of the water like tiny islands. It’s pretty common to spot them swimming around those areas. Any area that has a lot of coral or large rocks has a good potential for turtle sightings. Be careful trying to swim here in the wintertime, as the waves get dangerously big.
Laniakea Beach - AKA “Turtle Beach” (Not to be confused with the Turtle Bay Resort)
Address: 574, 61-574 Pohaku Loa Way, Haleiwa, HI 96712
You can see them while snorkeling and on the beach. It’s kind of a tourist attraction because of the abundance of turtles, but there isn’t much parking along the highway. Please do not park illegally, and be careful when crossing the road to get to the beach. Sometimes conservationists and wildlife volunteers act like lifeguards for the turtles to keep the public from getting too close or harassing them.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
This is an incredibly popular tourist attraction. You won’t see turtles basking on the beach because of all the people, but they can sometimes be spotted swimming in areas that are less crowded.
Shark’s Cove (No sharks, but lots of happy little fish)
Address: 59-711 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712
This rocky bay is a Marine Life Conservation District. Marine life flourishes here, which makes it a great place to snorkel and explore tidepools during the summer months. Turtles like it here as well, because rocky coves like this provide lots of seagrasses and algae for them to eat and provide protection from deep sea predators and large waves.
Turtle Bay Resort
Halona Beach Cove - AKA “Cockroach Cove” - AKA “From Here to Eternity Beach”
Address: 8483 HI-72, Honolulu, HI 96825
This is a small beach cove near the Halona Blowhole. The movie From Here to Eternity, filmed it’s most iconic scene here in 1953. The ocean is typically rough, but when it's flat you can often see turtles grazing on the rocks. It’s also known to have strong currents farther out, so stay close to shore and away from the rocks. When in doubt, don’t go out.
“Turtle Town” (Maluaka Beach - Makena Landing)
Address: 5330 Makena Alanui, Kihei, HI 96753
This is the general area between Makena’s Oneuli Black Sand Beach and Nahuna Point (best place to snorkel in the area). As the name suggests, this place is famous for swimming with green sea turtles. Turtle sightings are all but guaranteed. It’s a really popular spot for tour operators with boats. If you’re unfamiliar with the area and starting from the parking lot, it’s difficult to find the spot where the turtles are. There aren’t any signs pointing you to where the turtles are. Your best bet might be to book a snorkeling tour and have the professionals drop you off in the perfect spot. Or you can ask people at the nearby Maui Prince Hotel for directions.
Olowalu “Turtle Reef”
Address: 800 Olowalu Village Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761
This spot is on the west-side of Maui, four miles south of Lahaina. The reef where all the turtles are isn’t easily accessible from the beach. It’s best accessed by boat or kayak. Like the previously mentioned Turtle Town, it might be best to book a snorkeling tour and have the professionals drop you off in the sweet spot. Or you can rent a kayak from Kayak Olowalu, and they might be able to provide directions to specific part of the reef.
Address: Honoapiilani Hwy, Wailuku, HI 96793
This spot is located just south of Olowalu, near the coastline, along the Pali Highway Mountain Pass. This is another excellent spot for snorkeling and swimming with sea turtles and manta rays, but it’s also a spot that’s best reached by boat.
Address: 179 Hana Hwy, Paia, HI 96779
Turtles can frequently be spotted basking along the white sand shoreline. You might not see too many people swimming due to all the rocks, but that’s exactly what attracts all the turtles, which typically are found beyond the shallow margins of the shoreline.
Black Rock Beach - Kaanapali Beach Park
Address: Resort area off Hwy 30, Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761
Kaanapali Beach is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the entire world. “Black Rock Beach” is located on the north end of Kaanapali Beach. This is the part of the beach best known for snorkeling and cliff diving. The same rock formation that people dive from also attracts lots of green sea turtles. The Sheraton Maui Resort is the resort closest to the Black Rock area. Free public parking is available, but you might need to get there early for that. Otherwise, there is plenty of paid parking at any one of the many hotels.
Most of the rocky shoreline on the South Shore provides feeding habitat for turtles.
Address: 1935 Hoone Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
This beach is a mostly rocky area located near the eastern end of Poipu Beach Park. There is a small sandy section flanked by rocky areas that have shallow patches of coral on both sides, where turtles can often be found. It’s also a great place to go body surfing.
Address: 2641 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
This is a rocky overlook near the Koloa Landing Resort. It’s a dangerous place for people to swim, but the turtles love it. You can safely view the turtles from the rocks overlooking the water.
Address: 5017 Lawai Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
Lawai Beach is a small strip of rocky beach fronting the Lawai Beach Resort. It’s a great spot for snorkeling with lots of fish, easy access to the beach, and a reef where the turtles like to graze.
Address: 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr, Waikoloa Beach, HI 96738
This is a crescent shaped beach with calm waters located in front of the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort. You can rent a kayak and other equipment on the beach. Turtles can typically be found near the rocky coves along the beach. I’m sure you can ask any of the locals renting beach equipment where the turtles are typically found, and I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Kahaluu Beach Park
Address: 786702 Ali'i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
This beach park is located in the town of Kailua-Kona. It’s a great place for snorkeling because of the shallow and calm waters with abundant fish that don’t seem to be afraid of people at all. Turtles love this place as well, because it’s a great place for them to graze on seagrasses and algae.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Address: 53-378 HI-83, Hauula, HI 96717
Turtles are frequently spotted basking on the black sand. Sometimes they’re hard to spot, and the black sand acts as perfect camouflage. Be careful swimming here, because it’s known to have some strong currents. The best place for swimming is the protected cove at the north-eastern side of the beach. Hawaiian mythology tells the story of a green sea turtle named “Kauila”, who could transform herself into a girl, so that she could play with and watch over the children playing on Punaluu Beach.