Pearl Harbor is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Hawaiian islands, receiving more than 1.8 million visitors every year.
This is due to the amount of history surrounding the location and people wanting to pay respect to those who died in the tragedy at this location in 1941.
Visiting Pearl Harbor has more to it than you would expect, practically and historically.
Practically, there are lots of considerations that should be made to make sure you are using your time efficiently.
And historically there is lots to consider to ensure you have a good context for where you are visiting and ensuring that you respect everything that took place in this location.
If you are planning to visit Pearl Harbor when you are in Hawai’i, or you are just interested in the history that surrounds this important location, keep reading!
What You Need To Know About Visiting Pearl Harbor
While you will usually hear people referring to Pearl Harbor like it is a single location, this is actually a misconception and Pearl Harbor is an umbrella term for all of the destinations and activities that are in this part of Hawai’i.
In Pearl Harbor there is a good mix of both paid and free activities, so no matter what budget you are working with, you should be able to fill your time well.
These free and paid amenities include; museums, historical sites, ship tours, and much more that give insight into this historical location.
If you do not know where to start with Pearl Harbor, the best thing to do is to visit the visitor center as this will give you directions on everything that is available as well as being a hub for information on the area.
This center also includes some free attractions, as well as counters to buy tickets for other attractions, and shopping areas.
Before going into the Pearl Harbor visitor center, be careful to consider the strict bag policy.
The visitor center at Pearl Harbor does not allow bags on site, and there is instead a bag storage area where you can store bags if you bring them for $5.
If you want to skip this policy, make sure to not bring a bag with you!
This can also waste time in your day since the lines for the bag claim can be pretty long, so if you are running on a strict schedule, take this into consideration.
It is recommended to only bring essentials that you can carry like wallet, phone, water etc. and to just leave the rest wherever you are staying.
The only exceptions to the bag rule are for people who are disabled and families using baby strollers.
One of the most important factors to keep in mind is etiquette and public behavior.
This is a memorial site for a large number of people who lost their lives.
While some people just visit for an educational or historical purpose, a lot of others are visiting for the sake of remembrance and respecting those who died.
No matter what reason you are visiting, make sure to be respectful and peaceful.
Pearl Harbor is not just an attraction, but it is also a memorial, so act as such.
It is recommended to dress appropriately for the environment and to not bring children who you know will not be able to behave.
After you feel like you are done at the visitor center, there are 5 main sites that are worth visiting that we will go over now.
If you are working on a tight schedule or a budget you may not be able to visit all of these, so read over the next sections, so you can assess what you think you will be able to visit!
USS Arizona Memorial (WWII Valor In The Pacific)
This is seen as one of the main attractions to visit when going to Pearl Harbor.
The USS Arizona Memorial pays tribute to the 1177 people who died when this ship was bombed and subsequently sank.
Visiting this memorial, you will have a guided experience where you will watch a 25-minute movie that goes into detail on the US involvement in the Second World War as well as their growing tensions with Japan.
After you have finished the movie you will take a boat ride to the actual memorial which is a platform that was built above the remains of the USS Arizona where you will be for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Luckily, if you are on a tight budget, visiting this memorial is free with no cost for either the movie or the boat ride to the platform.
However, you can not just show up, and you will need a reservation to be able to appreciate this memorial.
You can make these reservations online and the tour goes in 15 minute intervals between 7.30am until 3pm.
If you have reserved to see this memorial, you will need to pick up your tickets an hour beforehand at the ticket counter inside the visitor center.
If you are unsure where to do this, there are information points inside to know where you are going.
You can book your tour here and getting a ticket is done at 1 of 2 timeframes.
You can either book well in advance 8 weeks beforehand, or you can risk doing it a day before.
For both windows, the slots are released at 3pm local time. If you are doing it the day before, being on the website exactly at 3pm will get you the best results.
If you miss making a reservation, there is a chance that you can get a ticket on the day.
Every day 1300 tickets are given out first-come first-served. To get these tickets, you will want to be at the visitor center at 7am when the gates first open.
If you miss all these opportunities, or you want a more personal experience, you can also book a paid private guided tour.
Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial will take around 90 minutes for the whole experience, but make sure to factor in any potential wait times.
Available Audio Tours And Museums Associated To The USS Arizona Memorial
If you want more context on the USS Arizona Memorial, before or after (before will give you the best experience) it is recommended to get an audio tour as well visit the 2 free museums that will help you get the best understanding of the whole experience.
Both of these free museums are located inside the visitor center. The first is the Road To War Museum and the other is the Attack Museum.
The first will show you the road map to how Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The Attack Museum goes into specific detail on the morning the planes arrived at O’ahu.
Going to both of these will give you a deeper understanding and context of the tragedy, as well as what happened to the USS Arizona.
Both of these museums also have an audio tour which will narrate the exhibits and information in the museum as well as the contents of the memorial itself.
If you like audio tours, this will help add more detail to what you are seeing in a more effortless way that will keep you engaged.
The tour is only $7.50, and you can control its pace, so you do not have to worry about having to speed up or slow down.
The Battleship Missouri is found on Ford Island that is nearby to Pearl Harbor and is a good, uplifting place to visit after a more pensive visit to Pearl Harbor.
The deck of this ship was where Japan surrendered and in doing so ended World War 2 in the September of 1945. Because of this, it is a very historically significant site and is well worth visiting.
As well as this relevance, it is also a very impressive ship to admire, measuring at almost 900ft.
To visit the USS Missouri, the tickets begin at $29.99 and can be bought either online or at the visitor center in Pearl Harbor. If you want a guided tour of the ship, these tend to cost an extra $25.
USS Missouri is located on Ford Island, which is still an active military base, meaning that no private vehicles are allowed on it.
However, there are buses that take tourist between the visitor center, to Ford Island, and to the USS Missouri. Luckily, this bus ride cost is included in your ticket.
USS Bowfin Submarine
As well as the other sites, there is the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. This is also located at the visitor center for Pearl Harbor.
The Bowfin was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” because it was first launched one year after the initial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
If you visit this submarine, you are able to walk through it and learn about what life was like in this smaller underwater submarine. Doing this, you also learn a lot about how it aimed to avenge the Pearl Harbor attacks.
To get into the USS Bowfin you will need to buy a $15 Ticket which you can buy online or on the site of the visitor center.
These tickets also include an audio tour at no extra cost, making this a much more interactive and detailed experience for a cheaper price.
The tour around this submarine is self-guided with the audio tour, and a lot of spaces inside it are quite tight and potentially claustrophobic. If this sounds like it could cause issues, it is maybe worth skipping.
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
This museum is also found on Ford Island and is perfect for those who are interested in vintage military aircraft.
This museum has an impressive collection of some of the aircraft that were used in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attacks, giving a tactile insight into the event. At the museum there are other activities like audio tours, short films, and even simulators.
To get in, you need to buy a $25 ticket that is available online.
If you are willing to pay an extra $10 you can get the ‘Legends Tour’ that will give you the opportunity to get in a C-47 transport plane as well as go into Lt. Ted Shealy’s Restoration shop.
USS Oklahoma Memorial
When the Pearl Harbor attacks happened in 1941, the USS Oklahoma was hit and capsized by torpedoes within 12 minutes, and not even a third of its crew managed to survive.
The memorial for this is in honor of the members of the crew as well as Marines who were on board the Oklahoma. The site for this memorial is one of the newer additions, only opening i 2007.
You do not need to have a ticket to get in, so if you do not want to put too much planning into your trip, this is a good choice.
This is another one of the memorials that is on Ford Island and like the others can be accessed by shuttle bus.
Tickets for this shuttle can be bought at the counter for the USS Bowfin memorial and with a ticket you can get to the Missouri Memorial, The Pacific Aviation Memorial as well as the USS Oklahoma.
Getting A Package Ticket Or Tour
If you know that you want to see all the historical sites that Pearl Harbor has to offer, you will need to dedicate at least a full day, but if you do not want to rush, 2 or 3 days will be a much more pleasant and less overwhelming experience.
If you know that you want to see everything the best idea is to get a ‘passport package’ that costs $72 that will cover the cost of; the USS Arizona Memorial and audio tour, The USS Missouri and Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
If you know you want to fully appreciate all of these places, this is the best purchase you can make to save money and time.
There are lots of companies that will offer organized tours for visiting the sites at Pearl Harbor, and if you want to take some of the planning out of the equation, this is a great choice.
There is a massive variety of quality, choice, and price, but make sure they include the standard hotel pickup and drop off, as well as well-trained guidance and narration.
Some tours include and exclude specific museums and sites, so make sure to choose one that includes the areas you want to visit.
Getting To Pearl Harbor
If you are driving, there is free parking for the Visitor Center, but there can be limited spots based on the time of day and the season. Make sure you are driving to the visitor center and not the military base.
If you are taking the bus, you can take the 20 or 42 from Waikīkī which will take you all the way to the visitor center.
The History Of Pearl Harbor Since 1875
Beginning in 1875 the US bought Pearl Harbor long before Hawai’i’s statehood in a deal called the Reciprocity Treaty.
This was when Hawai’i was one of the top sugar cane producers, so they gave them the base for the right to sell sugar cane duty free in the US.
The base set up was initially just used for coal and as a repair station.
Once Hawai’i was a US territory in 1898 the military slowly grew in presence on Pearl Harbor and there were changes made like dredging the entrance to make accommodating the fleet easier.
By the time of the attacks in 1941 Hawai’i was still not a state and would not be until 1959.
While visiting Pearl Harbor will give you insight into the historical and military impact, the impact on the people of Hawai’i is also covered.
So this is all you need to know when visiting Pearl Harbor. All of the historical sites are worth visiting, and the Visitor Center is a great hub for working out what you want to see most.
Keep in mind to stay respectful and to behave appropriately when visiting the area.