Visiting Pearl Harbor: Helpful Information for Your Visit

Visiting Pearl Harbor

HELPFUL INFORMATION FOR YOUR VISIT

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.  It was a surprise attack, with the Japanese planning to cripple the American fleet.  The attack came in the early hours of the morning and lasted just under two hours.  When the attack was over, 19 US warships were destroyed or damaged with the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma permanently sunk in the harbor.  Over 2400 servicemen lives were lost.  This attack catapulted the United States into World War II. 

After nearly four years of war, on September 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the United States.  On board the Battleship Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, who was representing the Emperor of Japan, signed the surrender along with General Douglas MacArthur of the United States.  World War II was now over, ending where it started with the United States, four years prior.

Today, visitors can pay their respects at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.  Knowing the catastrophic loss of lives and how this changed the course of history for the United States, a visit here is most impactful. 

“Upon this sacred spot, we honor the specific heroes who surrendered their lives…so that we could have our full share of tomorrows.” – Olin E. Teague

Know Before You Go

Reservations:  Pearl Harbor grounds and museums are open to the public.  You can visit the museums and watch the movie in the theatre as well as visit various exhibits throughout the grounds for free and without a reservation.  To visit the USS Arizona Memorial, you can take your chances in the stand-by line, but it is not guaranteed you will get to see it as those with reservations get priority.  Because of this, advanced reservations are highly recommended.  To see the Battleship Missouri, Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, or Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum you will need to purchase tickets.  

Identification:  The website says every visitor must have identification.  My kids and I had our driver’s licenses and I had my 12-year-old nephew’s passport.  We were never asked to show identification to enter Pearl Harbor, visit the museums, or visit the USS Arizona Memorial.  However, follow what the website instructs just in case.

Bag Policy:  The bag policy also explicitly states that only clear bags or wallets are allowed.  Cameras are allowed but not camera bags.  Purses are not allowed.  Backpacks and luggage are not allowed.  Basically, the website states that no bags are allowed.  I brought a wallet that is a wristlet as I had our IDs, my nephews passport, plus two of the kids have life-threatening allergies so we always have oral allergy medication as well as an EpiPen on hand.  I brought this one from Lululemon.  It was big enough to hold all our IDs, the passport, credit cards, and the medication.  I figured if I had to I could check it into the baggage check on-site.  When we entered Pearl Harbor, my wristlet was held up to the sample allowable size and it was the exact size.  So if you want to have a bag of a sort, this one was allowed into Pearl Harbor and is perfect for carrying the smallest of essentials. 

What to bring:  Sun protection, sunglasses, and water are a must as you will be mostly outdoors.  Clear water is allowed to be taken to the USS Arizona Memorial.  And of course ID or passports. 

Orientation to Pearl Harbor

The main sites to visit at Pearl Harbor with corresponding markers on the map are:

  • Pearl Harbor National Memorial (visitor’s center, museums, bookstore) – red 
  • USS Arizona Memorial ferry – gray
  • USS Arizona Memorial – orange
  • Battleship Missouri – purple
  • USS Bowfin Submarine & Museum – yellow
  • Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum – blue

USS Arizona Memorial:  The most famous site and must see is the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits directly above the sunken USS Arizona.  To get here, you take a ferry shuttle operated by the US Navy.  When you are done with your visit, you take the ferry shuttle back.

USS Arizona Memorial

Museums:  There are two museums featuring exhibits and artifacts.  The “Road to War”  features memorabilia and photographs from the time period leading up to the attack.  The “Attack” displays artifacts from the attack and the aftermath and also shows the 23 minute documentary, USS Arizona Memorial Documentary.

The USS Missouri Memorial:   The USS Missouri Memorial is not run by the US National Park Service and you must purchase a ticket to visit.  Click here to visit the website.  

Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum:  Located adjacent to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the submarine museum features the USS Bowfin, a decommissioned submarine from WWII, a museum and exhibits.  This is also run independent from the US National Park Service and tickets must be purchased.  Click here to purchase tickets on the website.  

USS Bowfin Submarine & Museum

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum:  This museum showcases the fleet that rose up to defend against the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  This is also run independent from the US National Park Service and tickets must be purchased.  Click here to purchase tickets on website.

If you plan to visit all of the sites, you can purchase the Passport to Pearl Harbor for $89.99 adults/$49.99 children (4-12).  You can do so here.  

About Our Visit

Entrance to Pearl Harbor

We arrived about 1.5 hours before our reservation time slot to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.  We started our visit by watching the film in the theatre, The USS Arizona Memorial Documentary.  After the movie, we checked out both museums and took our time viewing the artifacts and memorabilia.  This set the tone for our visit to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I recommended watching the movie and visiting the museums before visiting the memorial and other sites because it brings the story of the attack to life.

Artifacts from the attack on Pearl Harbor

At this point we had about 45 minutes to wait for our reservation time slot for visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.   We decided to try the stand by line to get to the memorial early.  It was successful!  We hopped on open seats on the ferry and took the short, 5 minute ride to the memorial.

Boarding the ferry to visit the USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial is a beautiful way to honor those lives lost.  Quiet voices are a must as it is truly a cemetery you are visiting. 

Arriving at the USS Arizona Memorial

Several survivors of the USS Arizona chose to be interred with their shipmates upon their death later.  The most recent one was interred in 2012.  Surviving such an atrocity stayed with them for their whole lives and choosing to return to their brothers who did not survive upon their own death was very moving.

The wall of names listing those who lost their lives on board the USS Arizona 

You can see parts of the USS Arizona peeking up from the water as well as through an open area to view below. 

Visible parts of the USS Arizona below the memorial

Occasionally, you can see oil floating on the surface.  To this day, oil still seeps from the USS Arizona and it is estimated to continue spilling for another 500 years.  

USS Arizona Memorial

After our time at the memorial, we took the ferry back and explored a few more areas.

Displays on the grounds of Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center

How We Got Here:

We pre-arranged a taxi from the Aulani Rresort.  Aulani is about 18 miles from Pearl Harbor and it took us about 30 minutes to get here.

If you are self-driving, there is a parking lot on-site.  As of April 2023, the National Park Service is implementing a $7/day parking fee to be paid via mobile app or at the on-site kiosk at the Visitor’s Center complex.

Read more!

A visit to Pearl Harbor is a must during a visit to Oahu.  We also have an article on a fabulous North Shore itinerary, One Perfect Day on Oahu’s North Shore.

As Oahu’s most visited site, hiking Diamond Head is a bucket list experience.  You’ll get incredible views of Honolulu and beyond from the top!  Read all about the experience here, where we also share logistics and planning info, All About Hiking Diamond Head Crater in Oahu, Hawaii.

For our full, one-week itinerary (perfect for first-timers!), check out One Week in Oahu – Daily Itinerary and Guide.  

Check out our full review of Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa, in this article.

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