Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

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Pearl Harbor.

Chances are you've heard of it – and no, I'm not talking about the 2001 movie starring Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett.

I'm talking about the real, physical Pearl Harbor; the Hawaiian naval base that was the site of a Japanese air attack on December 7, 1941, that catapulted the United States into World War II.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
A view of Pearl Harbor

For many, a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii, is not complete without visiting Pearl Harbor. In fact, this site is easily Hawaii's top tourist destination, with millions of people visiting each and every year to soak in a bit of history and pay their respects at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial

If you're thinking of adding Pearl Harbor to your Hawaii itinerary, here's an idea of what to expect, as well as a few travel tips that might make your visit run more smoothly.

This post is aimed at people who want to visit Pearl Harbor independently. But if you're looking for a tour to Pearl Harbor that will allow you to skip the lines and see all the highlights, check out this USS Missouri, Arizona Memorial, and Pearl Harbor Tour.

(Find more suggested tours at the end of this post!)

Pearl Harbor quick facts

Here are some things to know about Pearl Harbor before your visit:

  • Located a handful of miles west of the city of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor serves as the home of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.
  • When the Japanese attacked on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning in early December 1941, they caught the base completely off-guard.
  • The attack – which came in two waves beginning just before 8 a.m. local time – lasted approximately two hours.
  • Over 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded that morning, including 1,177 who went down to watery graves when the USS Arizona exploded and then sank in the shallow harbor.
  • 350 aircraft were destroyed or damaged, but luckily the aircraft carriers that were based at Pearl Harbor were not around that morning, and therefore suffered no damage.
  • 21 vessels were sunk or badly damaged, including all 8 battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The USS Arizona and USS Utah still sit at the bottom of the harbor.
Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Visiting Pearl Harbor

Tips for visiting Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor makes for a great day trip out of Honolulu, but there are certain things you should know and be aware of before you go, especially if you're traveling there independent of a tour.

Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor

1. Know that visiting is free – mostly

Pearl Harbor is actually the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, now managed and operated by the National Park Service. The grounds, visitor center, museums, and memorials are all free to visit – but you do need a timed ticket to go out to the USS Arizona Memorial.

Other things to see at Pearl Harbor do come with admission fees (more on this later), but there's no general fee to enter the site.

2. Go to Pearl Harbor early

Seriously. Pearl Harbor can be crowded, especially on weekends and nice-weather days. If you want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial (which, you definitely do) and don't already have a ticket, try to get there as early as possible.

Tours out to the USS Arizona begin at 8 a.m. and run every 15 minutes until 3 p.m., though you can start getting tickets at 7 a.m. There are 1,300 free walk-in tickets available daily for the USS Arizona, but they are given out on a first come, first served basis.*

The walk-in tickets available each day are often fully allocated by mid-morning. For example, when I went to Pearl Harbor, I arrived at about 10:45 a.m., and the earliest I could go out to the Arizona was 1:15 p.m.

*Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the walk-up first-come, first-served ticket program has been discontinued. Tours out to the USS Arizona are operating every 30 minutes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with 50 people allowed on each boat. You CAN reserve tickets ahead of time online here.

3. Don't take a purse or backpack

In order to enter the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, you have to go through security. No bags of any sort are allowed through. You are permitted to take in a wallet, camera, and water bottle, but you have to carry them all.

If you do bring a bag with you, you'll have to store it in a locker and pay a per-bag rate. My advice? Wear something with pockets! I failed to plan ahead for this, and ended up paying for a locker, and then buying some postcards at the Visitor Center gift shop so I could get a plastic bag to put my things in.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial

4. Bring sunscreen

This tip is applicable for anything you do in Hawaii. When the sun shines here, it SHINES. A lot of the Pearl Harbor attractions will have you outside for at least part of the time, so be sure you're prepared.

It's best to put the sunscreen on BEFORE you arrive, even if it's cloudy. Hawaiian weather can change rapidly, so a cloudy morning could easily turn into a beautifully sunny afternoon.

5. Leave the bikini at home

While there is no formal dress code at Pearl Harbor, visitors should remember that it is a memorial – in some cases, a graveyard – for those lost during the 1941 attacks. Be respectful when choosing your outfit for the day.

Things to see at Pearl Harbor

*Note: All info/prices updated April 2021.

While Pearl Harbor still operates as a U.S. naval base, the base itself was recognized on January 29, 1964, as a National Historic Landmark district. Visitors to Pearl Harbor don't actually enter the working areas of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, but instead visit the landmarks and memorials that have been erected in the decades since the attack.

When you arrive at Pearl Harbor, you will enter near the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center off Kamehameha Highway. Here, you can decide what you want to see and do.

Like I mentioned above, the Pearl Harbor visitor center, museums, and memorials are managed by the National Park Service and are free to visit. But other sites are “Pearl Harbor Historic Partners,” which are separate and independent sites not managed by the NPS.

1. USS Arizona Memorial

The destruction of the USS Arizona battleship and the immense loss of life associated with her sinking came to symbolize the reason the U.S. was fighting in WWII in the months and years following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, the USS Arizona Memorial, operated by the National Park Service, easily sees the most visitors each year.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial

The memorial is free to visit, but you must have a ticket to do so. You can pre-book tickets and tours, or try to get one of the 1,300 daily walk-in tickets. Tickets are on a first come, first served basis, and programs run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

If you're visiting Pearl Harbor on a group tour, your ticket will be included in your tour package. If you're just visiting on your own, you'll have to go up to the ticket counter when you arrive and get an assigned time to visit the Arizona Memorial. The earlier you arrive, the better the chance you'll have of getting a ticket.

The USS Arizona Memorial program lasts roughly 75 minutes, and includes a 23-minute video, and then a boat ride to visit the Memorial itself, which sits out in the harbor, suspended above the wreckage of the Arizona. Audio tours are also available.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial
Boat heading out to the USS Arizona Memorial

Tours gather roughly every 15 minutes outside the memorial theater, and you're asked to line up there 5 minutes prior to your program's starting time.

The ride out to the Memorial is on a covered shuttle boat operated by the U.S. Navy, and you're given plenty of time at the Memorial itself.

Be aware that the Memorial is just that – a site erected in memory of the 1,177 sailors who lost their lives when the Arizona blew up, and then sank. Most of them are interred in the water beneath you, so be respectful.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial
At the USS Arizona Memorial

The Memorial itself is not large, but it's large enough to accommodate everyone on your tour. The rusty hulk of the Arizona can be seen just below the water's surface, and, if you watch long enough, you can still see droplets of oil leaking out of the ship and bubbling up to the surface.

Oil on the surface above the sunken USS Arizona
Oil on the surface above the sunken USS Arizona

At the back of the Memorial is a room in which the names of all those lost on the USS Arizona are engraved on a wall of memory.

It is a somber, yet beautiful place.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial wall

2. USS Bowfin submarine

Right next to the Visitor Center sits the USS Bowfin submarine. This sub, dubbed “the Pearl Harbor Avenger,” was launched on December 7, 1942, a year to the date after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

The Bowfin would go on to sink 44 enemy ships during the course of her nine war patrols.

Boarding the USS Bowfin submarine at Pearl Harbor
Boarding the USS Bowfin

A ticket to tour the USS Bowfin can be purchased at the Visitor Center (or online before your trip), and will cost you $20. Your ticket gets you onto the sub, and comes complete with an audio tour.

There is no assigned time for Bowfin tours, so you can go any time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and work through at your own pace.

Allow roughly an hour to tour the submarine, adjoining Bowfin Park, and the Waterfront Memorial, which stands in silent tribute to the 52 American submarines and the more than 3,500 subs worldwide lost in WWII.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Bowfin, submarine
Waterfront memorial at Bowfin Park

Be aware that the Bowfin is just as narrow and confining on the inside as it looks on the outside. If you are prone to claustrophobia, you might want to think twice about this one.

That being said, however, it's pretty fascinating to get inside a submarine and learn about how sailors live.

3. Battleship Missouri Memorial

The USS Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944, and went on to participate in operations in the final months of WWII. The ship was the site of the formal signing of the “Instrument of Surrender” on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay by representatives of both Japan and the Allied Nations, thus officially ending WWII.

You can purchase a ticket to tour the Missouri at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, and then catch a shuttle bus over to Ford Island, where the entrance to the battleship is located. The Missouri is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and shuttles operate until 5:15 p.m.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Missouri, battleship
USS Missouri

A $30 general admission ticket will get you a shuttle ride over to Ford Island, and your choice of tour – a 35-minute guided tour, or a self-guided walking tour.

It's recommended that you allow at least 2 hours on-site to explore the USS Missouri, including the 30-minute round-trip shuttle ride to and from Ford Island.

4. USS Oklahoma Memorial

While you're on Ford Island, stop to see the USS Oklahoma Memorial, which recognizes the 429 Marines and sailors who lost their lives on the battleship during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Oklahoma Memorial is operated by the National Park Service and is free to visit, but requires a shuttle ticket to get to Ford Island.

5. Pacific Aviation Museum

Also located on Ford Island is the Pacific Aviation Museum, which is a must-visit for any aviation buff. Inside are many exhibits and over 50 aircraft to see.

Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Center (or online), and will cost $25, with a shuttle ride to Ford Island included. It's recommended to allow at least 2 hours to explore to museum.

6. Pearl Harbor Visitor Center museums

If you don't feel like paying for any of the other tours, but still have some time to spend at Pearl Harbor before your USS Arizona tour, don't worry – there's still plenty to do.

Take a walk along the waterfront, where a memorial walkway has been erected with facts, photos and diagrams about the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Be sure to also allow some time to explore the free museums at the Visitor Center. While small, these two museums are chock full of interesting facts, maps, artifacts, and videos about the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the vessels and people affected there.

A video about the attacks that plays in the second museum easily rivals the 23-minute film you'll watch before the boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial. There are also some interactive (and incredibly moving) video displays here where you can hear stories from both civilians and veterans who survived the December 7 attacks.

I wish someone had told me about these museum exhibits beforehand, because I didn't allow nearly enough time here.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor Passport

If you plan to visit quite a few of the attractions at Pearl Harbor, consider looking into the Passport to Pearl Harbor, which covers admission to the USS Missouri, the Pacific Aviation Museum, certain tours, and more. The passport is $80 for adults

In order to see everything included, at least 7 hours is recommended, if not more.

Getting to Pearl Harbor

You can book one of a number of guided tours from Honolulu, which will pick you up from your hotel and drop you off at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

The cheaper tours will include a ticket for a specified time for you to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, while the all-inclusive day tours will include tickets to many of the Pearl Harbor sites, including the Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri, and the USS Bowfin.

Some tours I'd recommend include:

If, however, you want to go to Pearl Harbor on your own, it's incredibly easy – and you don't need to take a cab or rent a car. You can easily get to Pearl Harbor using a Honolulu city bus.

Routes 20 and 42 will take you from downtown Honolulu or Waikiki to Pearl Harbor, though the service is not direct. The ride will take roughly an hour each way, but will only cost a couple dollars per ride. (For some tips on using TheBus in Honolulu, check out this post.)

Where to stay to visit Pearl Harbor

Staying in Honolulu is easiest for visiting Pearl Harbor. Many people like hotels near Waikiki Beach, but there are plenty of others to choose from, too.

READ NEXT: Paying My Respects at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Have you been to Pearl Harbor before? If so, tell me about it! If not, is it somewhere you ever plan to visit?

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Tips for visiting Pearl Harbor

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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83 Comments on “Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

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  1. Hey there, I’m a tour guide that goes to Pearl Harbor. There are things you need to update about your list that’s currently happening but eventually will go back to normal by the end of the year… I’m hoping it does.

    -Arizona Tickets are not always guaranteed. Tickets online literally disappear is seconds. They have been very difficult to get which is a long story for both the public and tour companies. I’ve taken people to Pearl Harbor with no tickets.
    -The program is every 30 minutes now and they only have 1 boat running
    -There is a standby line for people with no tickets.
    -Also, fun fact, the weekends are slower than the week days.
    -Add a link to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial website. Information about Pearl Harbor and visiting is all there plus more info they’d need to know.
    -As for the bag policy, I generally tell people, unless the bag is completely see through, don’t bring one AT ALL and wear something with pockets. NO backpacks, tote bags, purses, Fanny packs, camera bags, diaper bags, etc. People bring their whole house with them and I don’t understand that. You don’t need a bag, you really don’t. If you have medical items that require to be chilled, you must get that bag approved by security.

    Honestly, a lot of the information is out there but people don’t do their own research and then they get upset. Do your own research, I highly encourage it. Also, wear a hat, wear sunscreen and bring water. Most of the park is open air with the exception of the main exhibits.

    I didn’t read everything but these are the things that stuck out to me. Mahalo

    Wow thank you Amanda ! Such a fast response! Your information helped us out greatly. Much appreciated!

    Hello and thank you for this very informative website! My wife and I will be traveling to Pearl Harbor in Oct 2020 for our anniversary. We will be staying on the island of Maui and flying to the Pearl Harbor. I was curious if you know how long the flight is from Maui to Pearl Harbor, how long of a ride it is from the airport to the Memorial and lastly I saw that its best to pre book tickets . We are planning to do self guided tours so can we purchase tickets in advance or do we just plan on getting there early? Really appreciate your help and thank you again !

      Hi Jason! According to Google, the flight from Maui to Honolulu is only about half an hour long. Getting to Pearl Harbor from the airport should only take about 10 minutes – there’s a shuttle, I believe, or you could take a taxi. So overall not too tricky to get to! October shouldn’t be high season, so depending on when you’re going you should be able to get walk-up tickets for the USS Arizona (it’s the only thing you need a timed ticket for). They start handing out timed tickets when they open at 7 a.m. and they’re first-come, first-served. If you’re worried about getting tickets, you can book up to 60 days in advance here: https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/233338

    Will the Go Oahu card cover the costs of Pearl Harbor ? All of them or just a few?

      As long as you get one of the “all-inclusive” Go Cards, it will cover the Bowfin, the Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum, along with a narrated tour at the Arizona (the USS Arizona is free to visit). Though please note that the USS Arizona Memorial is closed until fall 2019 for restoration.

    I have been diagnosed with a bowel problem. Are there plenty of restroom facilities.

      Yes, there are restrooms at most of the major sites, with the exception of the USS Arizona Memorial; there are no restrooms there that I know of.

    This post is THE most helpful one I have come across on how to visit Pearl harbour.
    Thank you for taking the time to write it

    Thank you! As others have mentioned, your “Visiting Pearl Harbor” article has simplified what was otherwise becoming a very confusing venture. My husband and I will be visiting Honolulu the last week of November, and Pearl Harbor is at the top of our “Must See” list; thanks to your article we are confident we can easily plan and navigate through all the points of interest at our own pace. Mahalo!

      So happy to hear it, Valerie! Have a great trip!

    My dad was a Pearl Harbor Survivor. This is my first visit. We have already booked our tour. There are 4 of us and were concerned about the amount of walking. Can you help me?

      It’s been a few years since I was there, and the amount of walking will definitely depend on your tour and what’s included – that might be a better question for your tour operator! If you’re just doing the Arizona memorial and visitor’s center, there’s not a ton of walking if I remember correctly. But if you’re also visiting the Missouri or Bowfin or any other sites, you’ll be walking more.

    Seeing Pearl Harbor is my #2 bucket list item. We’ll be there next month! Your article has a lot of great information. So glad I found it!

      Happy to be able to help, Kelli! I hope you enjoy Hawaii!

    HI Amanda
    Just got back from O’ahu completed my dream trip to Pearl Harbor from UK ,Up date as promised..Tour by coach was Ok but as I thought was to short wanted more time , Tour was good for USS Arizona as you said no queues it was so sad and the oil still coming to the surface . I went back and found that a shuttle bus was best round trip in comfort for 18$ , USS Missouri was good paid 20$ more for Guided Tour all over down inside her . USS Bowfin so good with head phones , and loved the Aviation Museum . Thank’s you for your tips . I went on the Island tour and found it was money well spent a good day out .
    Will be trying to find out more world war two Ships and more Museum’s in the United States .

      So great to hear that you had a good trip, David! I’m glad I was able to help. 🙂

    I was there the first time in November of 1991, it happened to be the start of the 50th anniversary events. I was fortunate to get an early ticket to the Arizona memorial.

    Even though I had no relatives or could have known any one on the Arizona (I wasn’t born yet) it was still a very moving, emotional experience. Too look at the wall of names and not have the tears start would take someone more callus than I.

    If you are in Hawaii, on Oahu, take the circle Island tour. Allow the best part of a day for it, If you have a tour guide as good as the one I had, called “Cousin Eddy”, it will be very entertaining and informative. Yes, I bought a lot of genuine 100% Kona Coffee. I should have bought more – a lot more. 🙂

      It is a very moving place indeed.

      And I agree on the Circle Island tour – definitely a must on Oahu!

    Thanks for helping me clear up some frustration after many hours of research. I wasn’t interested in the city tours..just the Pearl Harbor (Military Sites). I couldn’t locate a tour that did just that. I will be arriving in Oahu on June 5th and picking up a rental car, I will be staying with friends that are locals. I will just plan on getting to Pearl Harbor as soon as it opens and take it from there! I am a novice photographer and can’t wait to get some good pics. I am also a WWII history buff, so excited to see such a historical site.

      Glad to be able to help! If you have a rental car, you shouldn’t have a problem at all doing it on your own!

    Thank you for your help the trip will mean a lot to for me . Will update on my return .

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