Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

Last updated on:
Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission. Read the full disclosure policy here.

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?

Pin it for later:

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

Join the ADB Community!
Sign up here to get exclusive travel tips, deals, and other inspiring goodies delivered to your inbox.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. You did an exquisite job giving a digital tour of the sites of Pearl Harbor.

    I will definitely agree that Bowfin is worth the visit… also, that even though it is a “tourist site” it really isn’t… it is a place of homage and remembrance to many that have passed on. Thank you for your post, it was really well put together.

      Thank you so much, Suzy. I’m really happy with how this post turned out, and hope that it will help others plan their trips to Pearl Harbor, and realize that there’s much more to it than just the Arizona.

        We are headed to Pearl Harbor in a couple of weeks and the information from your blog has really helped – Thanks!

          Great to hear it, Steve! Always happy to help!

    We just returned home from our Hawaiian trip–8 days on Kauai. We took a day trip to Oahu, arriving via Hawaiian Air around 7 in the morning. We decided that since we had a full day on Oahu, with our return flight not leaving until 7:30 in the evening, we would rent a car. Everything worked really well–picked up the car at the airport around 7:30 and were in the Pearl Harbor parking lot (recently reopened after construction closures) before 8. There appeared to be plenty of parking We encountered no lines and our Arizona tour was scheduled for 9:15. We also bought the all inclusive tickets for the submarine tour, the Missouri tour, and the air museum tour.
    As per the ticket seller’s suggestion we toured the sub while waiting for our Arizona tour to begin. Following our Arizona visit we had lunch in the area between the submarine and its museum–very reasonably priced and quite tasty hot dogs with the works. A Navel retirement ceremony was in progress nearby and we enjoyed listening to the Navy band preform for the ceremony. After lunch we rode the shuttle to the Missouri and then the air museum. Enjoyed all of it thoroughly.
    We left the Pearl Harbor area around three and drove to the east coast (I bellieve it was on route 61)–beautiful drive! We then drove down the coast towards Diamond Head, making numerous stops to view the gorgeous and dramatic coastline. We probably could have had an early dinner somewhere along the coast but weren’t sure about traffic conditions in Honolulu, so returned to the airport by 6 and ate dinner there before flying back to Kauai.

      Sounds like you had a great day on Oahu! And you definitely made the right decision by going to Pearl Harbor as early as possible to avoid the crowds. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your time there!

      Where did you buy your all inclusive tickets?

        The “all-inclusive” kind she’s talking about can be purchased at the Visitor’s Center at Pearl Harbor. You don’t need to book ahead of time or anything — just show up early in the morning. The tickets to see the video and go out to the USS Arizona Memorial are free. But to go out to Ford Island to tour the USS Missouri, or to tour the USS Bowfin submarine, there is an admission charge. However, those tickets can be bought on the day you’re visiting right at the Visitor’s Center ticket counter.

    Hello, My parents are planning a Hawaiian cruise (a surprise for my dad’s 70th birthday). I would like to offer them this tour as a gift. Any suggestions as to how to book the tour ahead of time? Any tour companies to suggest? Will the fact that they are on a cruise be a problem? Also, my mother is somewhat limited in her walking capabilities (can walk without assistance but for short distances only). Can this also be a problem? So many questions…
    Your help is greatly appreciated.

      Hi there! If you are going on a cruise and want Pearl Harbor to be as easy as possible, my advice would be to book it as a shore excursion through your cruise line. As long as you are having a port call in Honolulu, I guarantee that there will be shore excursion options to Pearl Harbor. This will make it the easiest for you. You’ll probably get picked up right off the ship and taken right to Pearl Harbor, and, since it’s a planned shore excursion, you won’t have to worry about making it back on time on your own.

      As for you mom’s limited walking ability, she should be okay at Pearl Harbor; there’s not a ton of walking to be done.

    We would like to fly into Oahu from Kauai for a day trip in three weeks. Flights arrive very early in the morning and return after 5. What is the best way to get to Pearl Harbor from the airport? Are there any no frills tours or shuttles from the airport that would assure us of an Arizona ticket but allow us to spend most of the day browsing at Pearl Harbor? We really don’t care about any other sight seeing on Oahu. Thanks for all the above info–most informative site I’ve found so far.

      If you really want to visit Pearl Harbor and not have any time contraints on you, I’d suggest not going with a tour group. Most Pearl Harbor tours that include an Arizona ticket only allow you a couple of hours on-site, which isn’t really enough time if you want to see everything, and often include a city tour of Honolulu, which it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in. If your flight is set to arrive early in the morning, you shouldn’t have any problem finding a shuttle or taxi to Pearl Harbor, and then getting a ticket out to the Arizona.

      Although, make sure you double check before your visit that the Arizona is even open to visitors. Currently, with the heightened security in the U.S. after the death of Osama bin Laden, I’ve heard that they’re currently not running boat tours out to the Arizona Memorial. But I have no clue how long that will last. Hopefully not long!

    Thanks for all this great information Amanda, have saved it for our upcoming visit. 🙂

      You’re welcome! Definitely head out to Pearl Harbor while you’re there – it’s totally worth it, and totally deserves its status as Hawaii’s top tourist attraction.

    I have been to Pearl Harbor 3 times and it never fails to move me when you are in such a beautiful, tropical place. The expanding aviation museum on Ford island really is interesting to see for aviation lovers.

      I would definitely visit again if given the chance. My dad would love that aviation museum. My family went to the Museum of Flight in Seattle lsat year, and he was like a kid in a candy store.

    I’ve not been. But it’s somewhere I really want to go. My mother has been and like you attested to the fact it’s a wonderful – if somber – place. This is so comprehensive and the tips are so great. I’m also really impressed with the photographs. They are among the best you have ever taken!!

      You are too kind, Kirsten! Pearl Harbor was the first place I put on my list when I decided I was going to go to Hawaii. I love learning about history, and our role in war has always been interesting to me.

      I really had no idea that there was SO MUCH to see and do at Pearl Harbor, though. Had I known, I probably would have gone earlier and planned to stay later. I think I would have liked to get over to the Missouri on Ford Island.

      And thanks for the compliment on my photos! I bought a new camera before this trip, and I’m really, really happy with the quality of shots that I got! Hopefully it serves me well next month in NZ, too!

    Nice work on this travel guide. I haven’t been to Pearl Harbor yet, but when we make it, this will be my go to guide!

      That’s great to hear, Randy! I know some of the Hawaii stuff I’ve written (like this post, and the post on how to use the bus in Honolulu) doesn’t apply to very many travelers. But I hope that it’s helpful to the handful of people that it DOES apply to!

      Thanks for reading, and I hope you guys do make it to Hawaii sometime!

    Great tips and it does look really peaceful. We haven’t been but it’s definitely on our list.

      If you ever have the chance to go, do it! It’s a very somber place, but well worth a visit. They’ve done a great job of making it appeal to a lot of different people, whether you’re a veteran, a kid, or somewhere in between.

    […] Travel Guide: Visiting Pearl Harbor » A Dangerous Business Description : 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 … http://www.dangerous-business. .. […]

    Wonderful information! My family and I will be visiting there in another 2 weeks and this will help us plan our day there.

      Thanks! Glad you found this useful. Pearl Harbor is a great place to visit with the family. Have fun!

    Read the facts. Very beautiful post and very nice pictures…

    Great information on Pearl Harbor. I have never been but didn’t realize there was so much to see and do. I thought it was only the memorial above the sunken ship. Thanks for all of the information on this tragic piece of American history.

      Thank you, Jeremy! I didn’t realize there was so much to see, either (or that some of it was free) until I started doing a bit of research before I went to Hawaii. It’s really a great place to visit for the whole family, and I would highly recommend it for anyone going to Honolulu.

As Seen On

As Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen On