Pupukea Tide Pool: Perfect North Shore Snorkeling Spot For Kids

Pupukea Tide Pool

Up on Oahu’s world famous North Shore, there is an amazing tide pool (right next to Shark’s Cove) that is the perfect spot for family-friendly snorkeling with the kids.  This tide pool is huge — nearly the size of a football field, and it is only like 1-5 feet deep in most spots.  If you venture further out toward the opening, the water can reach 6 feet or more, but non-swimmers have lots of room to explore in safety.  And since the tide pool is enclosed (more or less), you can go there even if the waves are fairly big.  But watch carefully and stay away if the BIG waves are pounding that day.

Where Is Shark’s Cove?

Moorish idol at pupukea tide pool

Moorish idol

Shark’s Cove is located across the street and about 100 yards down from the Foodland supermarket at Sunset Beach.  There is a little turnout and a short, one-way road that parallels the main highway (Kamehameha or “Kam” Hwy), where everybody parks along the little stone wall, and there are public restrooms and showers.

This is a fairly popular tourist spot, but if you get there before 10am on a weekday, you will pretty much have the whole place to yourself for awhile til the crowds show up.

The highway and parking strip are up high, overlooking the cove and tidepools.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to climb down along the right hand side where you enter on the one-way road.  There are a couple little trails there, but they are not kid-friendly, and those lava rocks are sharp!

Instead, just park and walk down past the restrooms to the sandy beach area, so you can avoid climbing down all those sharp rocks.

What To Bring With You?

butterfly fish

Butterfly fish

Now, there are still lots of lava rocks that you’ll have to walk on to get into the tide pools, and there are sharp rocks down in the water here and there as well.  So you’ll want everyone in your party to wear tabi water shoes or Aqua Socks.  If you don’t bring your own from home, then you can pick some up at a local Wal-Mart or Longs Drugs.

Other than that, all you need is a mask and snorkel and waterproof sunscreen.  Don’t bother with swim fins, though.  You’ll be much better off with the tabis.

Be sure to bring your keys, wallets and valuables with you in an airtight/watertight container, or just have a designated sitter to plunk down in the sand and watch your stuff while you go snorkeling.  Leaving valuables in your car while enjoying the beach is not a good idea at ANY beach in Hawaii.  Sorry, but that is the sad truth.

What Can You See At Shark’s Cove?

Humuhumuukuukuapuaa (triggerfish)

Poor humu…


Lots of them.

First you’ve got all those little “mudskippers” that dart back and forth in the shallow pockets of water on the rocks along the shore.  There are also thousands of hermit crabs and a few larger a’ama crabs along those rocks too.  The a’amas seem to be pretty shy, but if you sit patiently and keep your eyes open, you’ll spot one here and there.

Once you get out into the water, there are lots of fish all around, and lots of baby fish too.  So this is a pretty fun opportunity to see the little baby versions instead of the usual larger adults out in the open water.

On our last trip there, we saw several varieties of butterfly fish and some baby humuhumu’s.  The “triggerfish” (Hawaiian:  Humuhumunukunukuapua’a) was formerly the official state fish of Hawaii.  But I dunno.  Somebody changed it a few years ago.  Poor little humu.  🙁

underwater photo at tide poolThere are also my favorites:  the dark blue and yellow striped Moorish idol fish, with their long plume trailing off the tops of their heads.

The common striped manini (silver with vertical black stripes) are everywhere in Hawaii waters.  Here too.  You’ll even see some larger fish further out, but they don’t like to let you get close enough to get a good look.  Honestly, I don’t even know what they are, because we never got a good look haha.

Watch out for those spiny sea urchins (Hawaiian:  Vana) that cling to the rocks down at the bottom.  Getting jabbed in the ankle by one of those long, poisonous spines will ruin your day real quick.

Sorry, no sharks though.

Where To Eat Afterwards?

Eh, you sure ask plenty questions, ah?  😉

Where to eat after the beach all depends on which direction you’re headed.  But whichever direction you go, awesome food is only about 10-15 minutes away…

pizza bobs linguini

Pizza Bob’s

If you’re going to go back to town along the windward (east) side of the island, then you’ll want to stop in Kahuku at either Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck (get the scampi; the spicy shrimp are only for people who want their face to melt off) or maybe chow down on a massive burger at Kahuku Grill.  I lived here for 20 years before finally eating there, and now I crave those burgers all the time.  Best burgers in Hawaii, if you ask me.

If you’re headed the opposite way, then you can stop in Haleiwa town, which has tons of great choices.  Luibuenos has some really good Mexican food.  I would skip Cholos.  Sorry…Luibuenos is better.  Or there’s Pizza Bob’s right next to Luibuenos.  The pizza is pricey but really good.  Their burgers are okay, but their marinara sauce is super good with linguini.  And their homemade garlic bread is unique and awesome.  Fairly thick, but light and flaky…not dense.  I dunno how to describe it, but it’s ONO!

Haleiwa also has Matsumoto’s Shave Ice…the best on the island.  What is shave ice?  Well, if the baby angels in heaven eat snow cones…that is what shave ice is like.  Don’t pass it up!  🙂

Aloha, Chris

Some stuff you NEED TO BRING when you come to the beach…

Photos by Kim and Chris Desatoff

Chris Desatoff is a cartoonist and blogger living in Hawaii for the past 21 years.

Check out his blog at www.chrisdesatoff.com

the author in Hawaii