Pearl Harbor is the location of the surprise attack on the United States by Japan on December 7, 1941. Today, it remains an active military base but it is also a collection of four historical sites. You can visit the USS Arizona Memorial, tour Battleship Missouri, visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and go aboard the USS Bowfin submarine. In this guide, learn how to visit Pearl Harbor, with tips to have the best experience.
Overview of Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, at 7:48 am Hawaiian time, the Japanese launched a surprise military strike on Pearl Harbor. 353 Japanese airplanes attacked the US ships and that were anchored in Pearl Harbor. The attack lasted less than 2 hours.
During the attack, over 2,300 Americans were killed and over 1,100 were wounded. The majority of the fatalities were due to the explosion and sinking of the USS Arizona.
Of the eight US battleships in Pearl Harbor, all of them were damaged and four were sunk. A total of 21 ships were damaged in the attack, but since the water was so shallow, many of the ships could be repaired, so all but 3 were put back into service.
The USS Arizona, the USS Oklahoma, and the USS Utah could not be salvaged. The Arizona and the Utah remain underwater in Pearl Harbor.
In addition to attacking Pearl Harbor, within 7 hours, the Japanese also launched military strikes on other US bases in Guam and the Philippines.
On December 8, the US formally declared war on Japan.
World War II officially came to an end on September 2 aboard the Battleship Missouri. The USS Missouri is one of four historical sites that you can visit in Pearl Harbor.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial draws almost 2 million visitors every year, making it one of Hawaii’s most popular tourist attractions.
Best Things to Do in Pearl Harbor
There are four main things to do on a visit to Pearl Harbor: visit the USS Arizona Memorial, tour the Battleship Missouri, tour the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
The USS Arizona Memorial is what brings most visitors to Pearl Harbor. This memorial is part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which is operated by the National Park Service, and it is free to visit.
The other three sites are not operated by the National Park Service and they have entrance fees. These sites round out the visit for those who want to learn more about the events that took place not only at Pearl Harbor, but in subsequent battles in WWII and beyond.
Next, I cover each of these four historical sites in more detail.
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Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is run by the National Park Service. It includes the USS Arizona Memorial Program, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the Utah Memorial, Battleship Row, as well as a visitor center, museum exhibits, a theater, and a bookstore.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is free to visit. The USS Arizona Memorial Program is also free but tickets need to be reserved in advance.
View of the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri from the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
USS Arizona Memorial Program
During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona was bombed by the Japanese. Munitions on the USS Arizona exploded and then caused the ship to sink. 1,177 sailors and Marines lost their lives.
The USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of those killed on the battleship.
The USS Arizona still sits on the floor of the harbor. A small building has been erected over the sunken ship. The only way to get here is by boat and tours are run every 15 minutes by the National Park Service.
How to Visit the USS Arizona Memorial
During normal park operations, the USS Arizona Memorial Program includes the 23-minute film in the theater followed by a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. To get to the memorial, a US Navy ship shuttles visitors back and forth from the visitor center. The entire visit takes about 75 minutes.
Currently, due to COVID-19, the USS Arizona Memorial Program only includes the boat ride out and back to the USS Arizona Memorial. You get to spend about 15 minutes at the memorial. The entire visit now takes 45 minutes. You can watch the film on your own, before or after the visit to the memorial, so that you get the full experience.
How to Get Tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial
In order to visit the USS Arizona, you need to have a reservation.
All reservations are made online, in advance, through recreation.gov. There are two reservation releases for each date.
First Release: Tickets are available 8 weeks (56 days) in advance at 3 pm HST. On May 3, tickets become available for June 28. On May 4, tickets become available for June 29. And so on. The majority of tickets are released on this first date so you have a better chance of getting a reservation now, rather than waiting for the second release.
Second Release: Additional tickets are available one day in advance at 3 HST. This is how we got our tickets. Tim logged in to recreation.gov right at 3 pm and was able to reserve our four tickets. After making his reservation, he logged in again, curious if tickets were still available, but within 5 minutes, the remaining tickets were sold out.
It is free to visit the USS Arizona, but recreation.gov charges a $1 processing fee. Click here to learn more about the reservation process on the National Park Service website. Here is the link to make your reservation on recreation.gov.
At the time of this most recent update, the first tour is offered at 8 am and the last tour is offered at 3:30 pm. For the best experience, book one of the first tours of the day. This gives you plenty of time to visit the other historical sites.
What If You Do Not Have a Reservation?
If you were not able to make a reservation in advance, you can still visit the USS Arizona Memorial, if you don’t mind waiting in line.
Each tour accommodates 145 people. There are usually no-shows. You can wait in the stand-by line for one of these no-show spaces.
There is no guarantee that you will be able to get on a tour, and you might have to wait in line for quite some time (I have read reports of people waiting in line for 2 to 3 hours), but it is in an option to consider. The staff at Pearl Harbor told us that those who get in line early in the day (before 9 am) usually make it on a tour.
Here is the line of people waiting for a stand-by ticket to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Just be aware that you will be standing out in the sun, and maybe in the rain, for several hours (the weather conditions alternated between sun and rain on our visit). So, make sure you are wearing sunblock. Since bags are not permitted on the site, you cannot have anything with you while you wait, other than a bottle of water.
If you were unable to get a reservation, you can avoid waiting in line by joining a tour of Pearl Harbor. This tour includes the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri, and sightseeing in Honolulu with a guide. It also includes your transportation.
Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial
Ten minutes before your tour time, you will assemble with the rest of the group in a covered area near the theater. During normal operations, you will watch the 23-minute film about the attack on Pearl Harbor and then ride the shuttle to the memorial. Currently, because of renovation of the theater, you skip the film and go right to the memorial. However, the film is still aired on an open air lanai behind the education center. Get updates here.
By shuttle, it takes about 7 minutes to ride out to the memorial.
Once you are at the USS Arizona Memorial, you are free to walk around and look out of windows to the sunken ship. The memorial was built so that it sits perpendicular to the ship without touching it. The sunken hull of the USS Arizona stretches out from either side of the memorial.
If you look closely, you can still see oil leaking from the ship. On a sunny day, it’s easier to see the hull of the ship. We were here when it was cloudy and you can just barely see the ship in our photos.
At the far end of the memorial is the shrine. On the wall are the names of those killed on the USS Arizona. The small marble box on the floor is engraved with the names of the survivors of the attack who were later interred with their shipmates.
Since you are visiting a memorial, please be respectful. Talk in a low voice and dress modestly.
Other Sites in the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
These sites are also operated by the National Park Service and are free to visit.
Battleship Row is where the battleships were docked during the attack on Pearl Harbor. What remains are the mooring quays. You can see Battleship Row from the visitor center, the USS Arizona Memorial, and Ford Island.
View of Battleship Row, the Battleship Missouri, and the hull of the USS Arizona from the USS Arizona Memorial.
Pearl Harbor Exhibit Galleries
Located next to the visitor center are exhibit galleries. Called “The Road to War” and “Attack,” these are well worth your time since they discuss the events that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
There is an audio tour, narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, that takes you through the museums and includes narration during the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. These can be rented at the visitor center for $7.99.
USS Oklahoma Memorial
The USS Oklahoma Memorial honors the 429 crewmen killed on the battleship Oklahoma. It is located on Ford Island and you can take the free shuttle from the visitor center to get here. It is located near the USS Missouri so you can combine these together into one visit.
USS Utah Memorial
The USS Utah Memorial marks where the battleship sunk and 58 men lost their lives. The USS Utah Memorial can only be visited with military clearance.
Battleship Missouri Memorial
The USS Missouri has a long, fascinating history. It was the last US battleship to be built and the last to be decommissioned. Construction began in 1941 and she was commissioned in June 1944.
On April 11, 1945, the USS Missouri was struck by a Japanese kamikaze. You can see the dent the airplane made, and it’s a rather insignificant mark, which shows just how tough these ships are. If you want to see it, just ask one of the guides on board the USS Missouri.
On September 2, 1945, World War II came to an end when Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers aboard the USS Missouri.
Since WWII, the Battleship Missouri also participated in the Korean War and Operation Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf. In 1992, the ship was decommissioned for the final time. In 1999, the Battleship Missouri Memorial opened to the public.
“When the USS Missouri was decommissioned for the final time on March 31, 1992, she was the last active battleship of any nation in the world, her officers, sailors and Marines the last battleship sailors, and the end of an era.”
– Sign on the wall inside of the USS Missouri
Out of all of the historical sites in Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri was the highlight for me. This ship served so many important roles, one of the most notable being the official end to WWII.
On both the USS Missouri (and the USS Bowfin submarine), you really get to see what it is like to live on these ships. The tiny bunks, the close living quarters, the mess halls…hats off to those who have served, and continue to serve, on ships like this. I am not claustrophobic, but these living spaces are tight, stuffy, and crowded, with no view of the outside.
How to Visit the USS Missouri
Hours: 8 am to 4 pm
General Admission: $34.99 adults, $17.49 children 4 to 12
With a general admission ticket, you can explore the ship on your own or take a 35-minute guided tour with a tour guide.
Heart of the Missouri Tour: for an additional $25 for adults and $12 for children ages 10 to 12, you can also visit the engine rooms, gun turret #1, Broadway, and several other rooms on board the battleship.
Tickets can be purchases on site at the Battleship Missouri or at the Pearl Harbor visitor center.
To get here, ride the free shuttle from the Pearl Harbor visitor center (about a 10-minute ride).
Just outside of the Battleship Missouri are a few food trucks. This is a great place to grab a bite to eat if it’s getting near lunch time.
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Two aircraft hangars contain exhibits on the history of Pearl Harbor and beyond, as well as aircraft that span many decades of service.
In Hangar 37, learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events that unfolded afterwards.
In Hanger 79, you can see more than fifty aircraft. Some date back to World War II and some are modern aircraft that are still being used today. On the walls of this hangar, you can see bullet holes left by the December 7, 1941 attack.
How to Visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm daily
General Admission: $25.99 adults, $14.99 children 4 to 12
Legends of Pearl Harbor: $35 adults, $12 children 4 to 12. This one hour tour includes your general admission and it also includes the chance to board a C-47 Transport plane and enter Lt. Ted Shealy’s Restoration shop.
Tickets can be purchased on site or at the Pearl Harbor visitor center.
There are also Fighter Ace 360 Flight Simulators.
To get here, ride the free shuttle from the Pearl Harbor visitor center. The shuttle stops at the Battleship Missouri before going to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum includes the USS Bowfin submarine, a museum, and the Waterfront Memorial.
The USS Bowfin went on nine war patrols during World War II. Her commanding officers believe that she sank 34 large vessels and damaged many more.
You can walk the length of the submarine, squeeze through the tight passageways, and check out the torpedoes in the torpedo rooms.
Your admission ticket also includes a visit to adjacent museum and a visit to the Waterfront Memorial, which honors the 3,500 American submariners and 52 submarines lost during World War II.
Inside the submarine
View from the USS Bowfin. In the distance you can see Ford Island and the USS Arizona Memorial.
How to Visit the USS Bowfin Submarine and Museum
Hours: 7 am to 5 pm
Admission: $21.99 adults, $12.99 children 4 to 12
Children under the age of 4 years are not allowed to tour the USS Bowfin.
Tickets can be purchased on site or at the Pearl Harbor visitor center. The USS Bowfin and Museum is located next to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
At the Lanai Food Court, you can get nachos, hot dogs, and other food for lunch.
How to Get to Pearl Harbor
If you have a rental car, it is about a 45-minute drive to get here from Waikiki. Traffic is common so make sure you give yourself enough time. To get directions on Google, enter “Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.” If you just enter “Pearl Harbor,” you will get directions to the active military base, and this is not what you want.
It’s easy to find a parking space early in the day (before 10 am). Midday, parking gets to be challenging, so plan to get here by 10 am, if possible.
If you don’t have a car, you can take the public bus (#20 and #42) from Waikiki. Learn more here.
There are also numerous tours to Pearl Harbor. These are worthwhile because they include your transportation and your visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. Many of these tours also include sightseeing in Honolulu, so make sure you read the fine print to know what you are getting.
How to Get Around Pearl Harbor
Everything at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial (the exhibits, the visitor center, the theater, and the shuttle to the USS Arizona Memorial) are all clustered together and within walking distance of the parking lot.
The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum (the USS Bowfin submarine) sits next to the Pearl Harbor visitor center.
Between the visitor center and the parking lot is the free shuttle. This shuttle takes visitors to the sites on Ford Island: the Battleship Missouri and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
The shuttles are large, relatively new, air-conditioned buses. As soon as one shuttle was full, another one was pulling up. We never had to wait longer than 5 minutes to get on a shuttle.
The shuttle runs a loop: visitor center → Battleship Missouri → Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum → back to the visitor center. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the Battleship Missouri, 5 minutes to get to the Aviation Museum, and 10 minutes to get back to the visitor center.
IMPORTANT: The only way to get to Ford Island is to take the shuttle. Only authorized vehicles and drivers are permitted to drive across the Admiral Clarey Bridge to Ford Island. So, you cannot drive to the Battleship Missouri or the Aviation Museum on your own (unless you have clearance).
Purchasing Your Tickets
Here are the prices, for adults, for each of the historical sites:
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial & USS Arizona Memorial: free (+ $1 reservation fee on recreation.gov)
- Battleship Missouri Memorial: $34.99
- Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum: $25.99
- Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum: $21.99
Grand Total: $82.97
Tickets for each site can be purchased at the Pearl Harbor visitor center. They are also available at each site.
Passport to Pearl Harbor
This ticket costs $89.99. It includes everything listed above, as well as the audio tour of the USS Arizona and the Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center. It does not include the reservation to visit the USS Arizona Memorial (this needs to be reserved on recreation.gov).
What We Did: We purchased each ticket on site. For example, once we got to the Battleship Missouri, we purchased our ticket here. We never had to wait in line at any of the sites.
Are the Pearl Harbor Sites Worth It?
$83 per person is a lot to spend, and it really adds up if you are a family traveling with kids over the age of 12. So, is everything worth it?
The USS Arizona Memorial is absolutely worth it. This is the main attraction in Pearl Harbor, and it is free to visit, so this is not to be missed.
The Battleship Missouri has the biggest ticket price but I also think that it is worth it. To stand at the spot where WWII came to an end, to tour the ship and gaze up at the massive gun turrets, and learn what life is like aboard a ship like this is a memorable, eye-opening experience.
In my opinion, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is probably not worth it for everyone. It’s worth it for those who want the full experience, have an interest with WWII history, and are interested in airplanes.
Tim is an Aerospace Engineer, and when we visited Pearl Harbor, Tyler was one month away from starting college, with plans to major in Aerospace Engineering, so the Aviation Museum was worth the visit for our family. But for most people, this is the site that I recommend skipping, if you want to save money and/or time.
The USS Bowfin is small and quick to visit. It’s also located next to the visitor center so you don’t have to ride the shuttle to get here. I think it is worth it, but if you only want to tour one ship, the Battleship Missouri gets my vote.
How to Plan Your Visit to Pearl Harbor
8 weeks in advance, make your reservation for the USS Arizona Memorial. If you were unable to get tickets, make your reservation at 3 pm the day before your visit. Be ready right at 3 pm!
I recommend making your reservation for one of the first time slots. We toured the memorial at 9 am and still had plenty of time in the day to visit the other historical sites. Plus, it can be challenging to get parking midday, so an early morning visit avoids this problem.
Below is how we recommend visiting the four sites during your visit, based on crowd levels and the shuttle route:
The National Park Service recommends getting to the visitor center an hour before your tour. We got here about 45 minutes before our tour (at 8:15). We spent 30 minutes in the exhibit galleries before getting in line for the USS Arizona Memorial Program.
Visit the USS Arizona Memorial.
Visit the other historical sites. Ride the shuttle to the Battleship Missouri. While at the battleship, you can walk to the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
Ride the shuttle to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Ride the shuttle back to the visitor center. Visit the USS Bowfin submarine.
Visit any exhibits at the Pearl Harbor Memorial that you did not get to earlier today.
Outdoor exhibits at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
How Long Does a Visit to Pearl Harbor Last?
Our entire visit lasted 6 hours, but we moved fast through some of the sites.
The National Park Service recommends setting aside 7 to 8 hours, if you plan to visit all four historical sites.
If you only plan to visit the USS Arizona Memorial and the free exhibits, plan on spending 2 to 3 hours here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Visit Pearl Harbor without a Tour?
Yes, there are sites you can visit at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial without taking a tour. This includes the exhibit galleries, the outdoor exhibits, and the 23-minute movie about Pearl Harbor. You can also visit the paid sites (the Battleship Missouri, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin submarine) without taking a tour.
The only way to visit the USS Arizona Memorial is on tour. In order to do this, you need to make a reservation in advance or wait in line for a stand-by ticket.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Pearl Harbor?
It is free to visit the Pearl Harbor visitor center and the USS Arizona Memorial.
It costs $83 if you want to visit all of the paid historical sites (the Battleship Missouri, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin submarine). Tickets can be purchased at the Pearl Harbor visitor center or at each individual site.
How Long Does a Visit to Pearl Harbor Take?
If you only plan to visit the USS Arizona Memorial and the free exhibits, plan on spending 2 to 3 hours here.
The National Park Service recommends setting aside 7 to 8 hours, if you plan to visit all four historical sites.
Is there a Dress Code to Visit Pearl Harbor?
There is no dress code for visiting Pearl Harbor, but since you will be visiting a memorial, I recommend dressing conservatively.
Are Bags Permitted?
No, you are not allowed to bring bags into the park. Any bag larger than 1.5 x2.25 x 5.5 inches is not allowed. Leave your bag in your car or you can store it at the baggage storage facility near the entrance.
You can carry a water bottle. Water is permitted in the museums and theaters. There are water fountains throughout the site where you can refill your water bottle.
Tours of Pearl Harbor
If you were unable to get a reservation to the USS Arizona Memorial, or if you don’t have transportation to Pearl Harbor, here are several tours to consider.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu. This hotel is located right on Waikiki Beach and it has been recently renovated. It’s a massive hotel with many room types. We stayed in a deluxe oceanfront king with a Diamond Head view and we chose this hotel just to get this view. The room we had was modern, roomy, and everything looked brand new. We were very pleased with our experience here.
View from our hotel room
If you have any questions about how to visit Pearl Harbor, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Hawaii
OAHU: While on Oahu, you can also hike the Diamond Head Summit Trail for spectacular views of the island.
KAUAI: Plan your visit to Kauai with our guide to the Best Things to Do in Kauai. Learn about how to take a doors off helicopter ride, how to hike the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, and how to hike the Nu’alolo and Awa’awapuhi Trails in Kokee State Park.
USA TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in the United States, check out our article Best USA Road Trips, which has 18 sample itineraries for your next big adventure. You can also see more travel itineraries on our Travel Itineraries page and our National Park Itineraries.
Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.
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