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On December 7th of the year 1941, the naval base Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii would never be the same again. That day, which “is a day that will live in infamy” Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Navy Air Service early in the morning.
The Pearl Harbor attack killed over 2,400 people, injured 1,000 (including civilians), and destroyed over 20 American Navy vessels located on the base. These vessels had 8 battleships and over 300 airplanes on them. After the gruesome event at Pearl Harbor, war was declared on Japan.
Because of the significance of the attack, Pearl Harbor is a highly visited site for tourists and locals alike in Honolulu. Let’s review a little bit more about Pearl Harbor for context then dive into the 10 essential tips for visiting Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.
About Pearl Harbor: an Overview
Pearl Harbor is located basically in the center of the Pacific Ocean. It’s approximately 2,000 miles from mainland United States (lower 48 contiguous) and about 4,000 miles from Japan.
The base at Pearl Harbor, when attacked was relatively undefended as no one believed that the Japanese would attack here. The Japanese attack plan was simple, to destroy the Pacific Fleet so the Americans couldn’t fight back.
Over the course of the two hour attack, the plan was successful. All battleships except the USS Arizona and USS Utah were salvaged and repaired from the attack. However, the United States was able to rebound quickly as all of the aircraft carriers were away from the base at the time of the attack and the onshore resources (oil storage, repair shops, shipyards, and submarine docks) were all intact.
December 8th, the day after the attack the United States Congress approved the declaration of war on Japan. Three days later, Japan’s allies Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. Two years after the World War II conflict had begun, the United States entered the conflict. Pearl Harbor was significant as it was the catalyst for the involvement in the war.
Things to do at Pearl Harbor
Before visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial site, I will cover what to know in the subsequent tips I share to hopefully have you feel prepared prior to your visit.
Pearl Harbor is denoted as a National Historic Monument and is managed by the NPS (National Park Service). Be sure to bring your National Park Passport to stamp it! Once you arrive at Pearl Harbor in the Aloha Court area you can receive more information there but it’s always better to be prepared!
There are many different Pearl Harbor attractions and things you can do while visiting Pearl Harbor so let’s review the many different things to help plan your Pearl Harbor Itinerary!
USS Arizona Memorial
To get to the memorial you will have to take a boat ride. The boats are operated by the United States Navy. If wind and wave conditions become unsafe, they have the authority to suspend, modify, or cancel regular operations.
Regular operations or the USS Arizona Memorial Program run at 45 minute intervals if you don’t make a reservation, but the time slots for reservations are at 15 minute intervals. Both include a boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial, 15 minutes to spend in the memorial, and a boat ride back to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
If you book your time spot in advance, it is advised to show up an hour prior to your time slot. You can book these USS Arizona Memorial Tickets (or rather guaranteed time slot) online in advance.
Visiting the memorial, and the exhibit galleries explained below as well as the memorial theater show is free of charge. Donations are always accepted.
Review Exhibit Galleries
There are two exhibit galleries available, “Road to War” and “Attack”. These two immersive exhibits give visitors to Pearl Harbor a better idea of the sights, sounds, and specific events before the attack and then the aftermath. There is historic memorabilia, battle artifacts, and much more to experience.
Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater
The memorial theater adds additional context to the exhibit galleries of the before and after events of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This is also a free attraction in addition to visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.
As you get off of the boat after visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, the wayside exhibit snakes around the waterfront area. There is signage and additional information on landmarks that are before you and their significance. This is aimed at connecting the past, and its events, with the present.
Near the wayside exhibit but farther inland front the water is the remembrance circle monument. This is a monument recognizing and remembering those who were killed in the December 7, 1941 attacks at Pearl Harbor. There are men, women, and children’s names inscribed recognized as lives lost both military and civilian at Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
Additional Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are NOT managed by the NPS (National Park Service.) These include the Battleship USS Missouri Memorial (USS bowfin submarine), the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, Pearl Harbor Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Oklahoma Memorial which is located on Ford Island. Another additional charge is for an audio tour.
All of these have additional costs but are perfect for WWII history buffs or those interested in the United States military.
Bookstore & Shop
On your way out, check out the bookstore and shop for something to bring home with you to remember your visit. There are many different things to choose from. However, they do not have a specific sticker for your National Parks Passport. (I looked!) This is near the entry and exit to the other items listed above.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Get there early
With a few exceptions, (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day) Pearl Harbor is open to visit all other days of the year from 7 AM to 5 PM.
Getting there early as close to opening time as possible (especially in high tourist season) will result in the best visit with the least amount of people. We arrived around 8:30 AM in late September and it was already getting very busy.
Keep in mind that tour buses and groups also come closer to mid day and afternoon.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Book in Advance?
You aren’t required to book in advance. But keep in mind that Pearl Harbor is one of the top three visited locations on the island of Oahu. However, especially during times of peak traffic, the National Park Service recommends it.
There isn’t really a time of year that’s “slow” at Pearl Habor, but booking in advance is essential if you plan to visit during the summer, winter holidays, and spring break.
During times of high traffic, standby and on-demand availability could be limited or not available at all.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Transportation & Parking
Parking in the lot is a $7 fee. You can pay it at the kiosk in the Aloha Court area upon entering.
However, you can easily navigate to Pearl Harbor using public transportation. There is a bus stop right out front. Here’s a Pearl Harbor Map to acquaint yourself with where everything is for planning.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Be Bag Conscious
Bags are not allowed inside. It’s best to leave it safely concealed and out of sight in your vehicle or leave it at home. If you don’t feel comfortable doing either of those options, there is a bag storage option near the parking lot that you can use for a fee.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Tickets and tours
Depending on when you plan to visit, booking a time slot for the USS Arizona Memorial is a great idea! You don’t have to visit with a tour, but if you’re in Honolulu without a car a tour is a great way to explore and visit Pearl Harbor, have reliable transportation, and possibly explore other attractions on Oahu beyond Pearl Harbor. Check out some of the best tours to explore Oahu without a car!
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Know Your Plan
Ensure you have a rough idea of everything you want to see while visiting Pearl Harbor. Ensure you have plenty of time to see them. And secure any admissions and timeslots in advance to be certain you’re able to see them.
Most visitors want to see the USS Arizona Memorial and experience the free exhibits, Remembrance Monument, and the Wayside exhibit. This will take roughly three hours, but anything additional adds on more time.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Sun Protection
Hawaii is a sunny and warm destination year round. No matter what time of year you visit, be sure you bring a hat, sunglasses, and apply sunscreen as well as bring additional sunscreen with you.
Pearl Harbor has a lot of direct sunlight, not much shade, plus is near water so the intensity of sun exposure is higher. Plan accordingly!
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor: Be Respectful!
Pearl Harbor is still an active military base.
Listen, learn, observe, be thoughtful and quiet. Especially when visiting the USS Arizona Memorial as it’s a site where many brave Americans lost their lives.
Pearl Harbor aims to ensure the dignity and respect of those Americans whose lives were lost as well as their families who have lost loved ones here. Please keep this in mind when visiting!
FAQ’s: Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor
Where is Pearl Harbor located?
Pearl Harbor’s location is on the Hawaiian island of Oahu near the Honolulu International Airport west of downtown Honolulu and the famous Waikiki Beach area. It is about a 45 minute drive from Waikiki area hotels. The address for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is 1 Arizona Memorial Place; Honolulu, Hawaii 96818.
What is the best day of the week to visit Pearl Harbor?
During the week and offseason, it’s generally quieter to visit Pearl Harbor. I would avoid weekends if you can. Summer, winter break, and spring break are typically the busiest times regardless of the day of the week. Outside of those time periods, early to mid week Monday-Wednesday are on average less busy.
Can you visit Pearl Harbor without a tour?
Yes, you can visit Pearl Harbor independently. However, for many people booking a tour from their accommodation to Pearl Harbor and back is the most convenient option for them. You will also receive additional context from a local guide’s perspective. Check out some of my recommended tours if you don’t have a car for your time on Oahu.
Can I bring a water bottle to Pearl Harbor?
Yes! It is recommended to bring your own water bottle. There are facilities where you can fill it up. Help to create a sustainable earth by using reusable water bottles whenever possible! Pearl Harbor can be warm since it isn’t well-shaded, so you will definitely need water during your visit.
How much time do you need at Pearl Harbor?
At least three hours. Three hours will allow you the time to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, see the exhibits, view the memorial video, and take a walk around the grounds to see the wayside exhibit and Remembrance Circle. If you choose to do any additional tours or experiences, add more time.
Do you need a tour to visit Pearl Harbor?
No. You can visit Pearl Harbor on your own. However, for many people booking a tour from their accommodation to Pearl Harbor and back is the most convenient option for them. Check out some of my recommended tours if you don’t have a car for your time on Oahu. You can also get to Pearl Harbor using public transportation.
Do you need tickets to visit Pearl Harbor?
Yes and No. You do not need to purchase tickets in advance. However, if you’re visiting during summer (June-August) it’s best to secure them in advance. There is a processing fee for the timeslot for the USS Arizona Memorial, but the experience is otherwise free. Especially if you’re visiting at peak times this will ensure your spot in line.
What to wear to a Pearl Harbor tour?
There is no official dress code, but it is a memorial so dress with respect. Do not wear swimwear flip flops. It’s also in a lot of direct sunlight so ensuring you’re covered for sun exposure is important as well. It’s not strict where you will be denied admission but just be mindful of your clothing decisions.
Do you need reservations to see Pearl Harbor?
Not always. During peak travel periods (summer, winter vacations, and spring break) they are highly advised so you won’t spend the majority of your time waiting in line. It’s also not guaranteed that there will be standby availability. It’s best to make a reservation to ensure you’re able to experience it.
Final Thoughts: Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor
When visiting the island of Oahu, be sure to make time to pay your respects and visit Pearl Harbor. It can be daunting to plan but with these 10 visiting Pearl Harbor tips and an overview of what to expect I hope it helps and makes you feel much more prepared.
As you’re planning, for more Oahu inspiration and planning, check out Things to do for four days on Oahu and Oahu Craft Beer Guide. Thank you for reading and enjoy your trip to the Hawaiian islands. Mahalo!