Visit Pearl Harbor Without A Tour? (10 Awesome Things to Do at Pearl Harbor!)
Want to visit Pearl Harbor? Are you thinking about booking a tour or wondering if you can visit Pearl Harbor without a tour? Awesome, I can help you plan your visit to Pearl Harbor.
I am excited to give you some tips for visiting Pearl Harbor that will help you make the best decision on how to visit Pearl Harbor.
On our first trip to Hawaii, I was very confused about visiting Pearl Harbor. Everything I searched on the internet led me to believe I had to book a $70+ tour. That is not the case!
In this post, we are going to give you tips for visiting Pearl Harbor. This will include the best way to get Pearl Harbor tickets, historical information, and all the tourist attractions at Pearl Harbor visitors center.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a must-see as you plan your Hawaii itinerary. Hopefully, this post will answer all the questions that you may have when planning a trip to Pearl Harbor.
Let’s plan the best way to visit Pearl Harbor!
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History of Pearl Harbor
Let’s start with a little history lesson!
Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The attack was a preemptive military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the United States (a neutral country at the time) during WWII.
Japan wanted to eliminate any threats to its plan of invading southeast Asia. Japan thought by attacking the United States it would weaken its Navy forces and keep them out of the war. Little did they know that it would be their greatest mistake to mess with the United States.
Lives Lost at Pearl Harbor
2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Battleships Damaged or Destroyed at Pearl Harbor
- Arizona: hit by four armor-piercing bombs, exploded; 1,177 dead.
- Oklahoma: hit by five torpedoes, capsized; 429 dead.
- West Virginia: hit by two bombs, seven torpedoes, sunk; 106 dead; returned to service July 1944.
- California: hit by two bombs, two torpedoes, sunk; 100 dead; returned to service January 1944.
- Nevada: hit by six bombs, one torpedo, beached;60 dead returned to service October 1942.
- Pennsylvania: hit by one bomb and debris from USS Cassin; 9 dead remained in service.
- Tennessee: hit by two bombs; 5dead; returned to service February 1942.
- Maryland: hit by two bombs; 4 dead; returned to service February 1942.
- Utah: Training battleship; hit by two torpedoes, capsized; 64 dead.
All eight battleships were damaged and four were sunk. (All historical information above was from Wikipedia) I loved researching and finding all these facts on Pearl Harbor. Remember I am a travel blogger, not a historian!
The attack led to the United States’ formal entry into WWII the next day.
Okay, now you know a little more history about what happened on that horrific day.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said December 7th is “a date that will live in infamy”.
After the United States ended the war, the USS Missouri remained at Pearl Harbor.
The USS Arizona, which remains in the harbor represents the start of the war, and the USS Missouri was a part of the last battle that ended the war. They are both at Pearl Harbor Memorial to honor those who served.
Plan Your Pearl Harbor Visit
Before we jump into the best way on how to visit Pearl Harbor, we are going to answer some questions you might have.
All of these Pearl Harbor tips are important and will help you plan your visit to Pearl Harbor.
What is the Best Time to Visit Pearl Harbor?
Honestly, visiting Pearl Harbor any time of the year is a good idea. We have been in both the summer and fall.
During the summer months, you will need to make sure to book your tickets ahead of time. During the fall it is less busy and a little bit easier to get tickets. Holidays will always be busy as well as December 7th.
The best day to visit Pearl Harbor is Tuesday and Thursday. There are fewer crowds during those days. Wednesdays many school groups come.
Morning is the best time to visit if you want to stay the recommended 5-10 hours touring around. We went in the afternoon and I felt like we had plenty of time to see everything.
Is Visiting Pearl Harbor with Kids a Good Idea?
Yes, I took my 4 kids ages 6-14. I think it is extremely important to talk about the reverence and respect we show to those who have sacrificed their lives for our country.
In fact, my little kids loved visiting the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. It is a hand’s on interactive museum. It was so much fun. I would consider it one of the best things to do in Oahu with kids! (This does cost extra.)
Is There a Dress Code for Pearl Harbor?
There is not an official dress code for Pearl Harbor. However, swimsuits and inappropriate T-shirts are not allowed.h
Pearl Harbor Tickets
You will want to plan ahead when getting your Pearl Harbor tickets.
How to Get Pearl Harbor Tickets
I highly recommend you get your tickets ahead of time (you can do so up to 60 days in advance) because slots can fill up fast!
Internet searches may give you an array of options and prices, so I recommend going to recreation.gov or to the official Pearl Harbor site (which will take you to recreation.gov).
Pearl Harbor National Memorial Tour
You do have to pay a $1 per person reservation fee, but admission is otherwise free for general access, which includes the “Road to War” museum, the “Attack Gallery” museum, exhibits along the harbor, and a boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial.
Pearl Harbor National Bus Tour
A free 90 minute bus tour is will talk you to see the USS Utah and Oklahoma memorials on Fords Island. You have to reserve these tickets in advance.
For $7.99, you can get a headset. When you get a general admission ticket, you pick a specific time. This time relates to when you enter into the theater in preparation to board the boat that takes you to the USS Arizona Memorial.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial Passport
If you pay $89.99 per person ($44 for ages 4-12), you can also see the Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. This is an all-access pass.
If tickets are gone for when you want to go, additional tickets are released 24 hours beforehand at the government website.
All of these options are perfect if you want to visit Pearl Harbor without a tour guide. They are booked direct with the national park services.
Are Reservations Required for Pearl Harbor?
No, there are a few walk-up tickets available each day. This might mean that you get there at 9:00 am and have a boat ride at 2:00 pm. It makes more sense to go on the government website and secure your ticket and make a reservation in advance.
Can You Visit Pearl Harbor Without a Tour?
The answer is absolutely YES! You can visit Pearl Harbor without a tour. My husband and I decided not to do a tour and it was easy peasy!
There are some considerations on whether a tour is right for you or not. Let’s explore your options so you can decide if you want a tour or not.
Transportation to Pearl Harbor
We rented a car so transportation was not an issue. If you do not want to rent a car and still want to visit Pearl Harbor, you will either NEED TO book a tour (tours generally provide transportation to the site from your hotel) or use a ride-sharing service to get to the site.
Booking a tour takes the hard work of reserving tickets. They will do it for you.
Pearl Harbor Tickets
With a purchased tour you will automatically have tickets. No worries!
When you choose Pearl Harbor without a tour you will have to purchase the Pearl Harbor free tickets on your own, through the government website. As long as you purchase your tickets well in advance then there shouldn’t be a problem.
Pearl Harbor Tour Guide
The benefits of a tour obviously include the tour guide. Having a person who has a vast amount of knowledge to share about all the historical facts of Pearl Harbor can enhance your experience.
Because we did not do a guided tour we opted for the $7.50 headset that informed us all about the museum. It was very interesting and I felt like I learned a lot.
Lines at Pearl Harbor
During our visit to Pearl Harbor in July, which is high tourist season. We did not experience lines.
We reserved our tickets, went straight to the queue, picked them up, and did not encounter any lines. A lot of tours suggest that you get to “skip the line”. Skipping the line is a perk of a tour, but for us, there was no line when we arrived to skip.
Tour or Pearl Harbor without a Tour?
Hopefully, at this point you are getting an idea about how to visit Pearl Harbor on your own.
I know figuring out how to plan Pearl Harbor was super stressful to me. Just knowing that I didn’t absolutely have to book a Pearl Harbor tour was comforting.
Now, if you do need to book a tour, don’t feel bad. Millions of people every year book tours to Pearl Harbor. I will give you a few options at the bottom of this post.
Getting to Pearl Harbor
If you decided to rent a car, driving to Pearl Harbor is pretty easy. Pearl Harbor is located near the HNL Airport. It is about 7 minute’s drive.
Most people stay in Honolulu at Waikiki Beach. Plan on just over a 20-minute drive from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor. Many of the tours will actually pick you up from your hotel or have a central meeting place near Waikiki Beach.
If you do not want to rent a car Waikiki is the best place to stay on Oahu to have easy access to a tour that will take you to Pearl Harbor. You could also take public transportation. There is a Waikiki to Pearl Harbor bus.
We stayed at Disney’s Aulani on our last trip. From Aulani to Pearl Harbor it is about 26 minutes.
From the North Shore to Pearl Harbor it is about 30+ minutes.
You can easily grab directions to Pearl Harbor on Google maps.
If you want to visit from other islands such as Maui to Pearl Harbor, Kona to Pearl Harbor, or Kauai to Pearl Harbor, you will need to book an interisland flight to Oahu.
Things to do at Pearl Harbor
The museums (“Attack Gallery” and the “Road to War”), theater, and boat to the USS Arizona are located near the main entrance area. (This is the free area.) The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum are located in the main area as well. (Accessed at an additional cost.)
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is another ship that you can tour but you will need to board the boat to the USS Arizona and the boat will have a stop specifically for the USS Missouri. (This is also an additional cost.)
1. Exhibits and Free Pearl Harbor Museums
As you arrive you will be given a ticket with a certain time to board the boat. This “time” is when you will view the video presentation in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater, and immediately following you will board the boat that takes you out to the USS Arizona Memorial.
If you have time before your departure use it to explore the museums. There are two museums that are free with your entry ticket.
The museums are adjacent to the theater, and so if you want to play it safe, the museums are probably a better option of how to spend your time while you wait than attractions that are further away.
Inside these museums, there are numbers associated with each exhibit that you can enter into the headsets (If you rented one.) This will give you a pretty good narrative of the history and historical significance of the different items within the museums.
2. USS Arizona Anchor Memorial
This anchor is one of the three from the USS Arizona. As the anchor of the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the attack, this memorial represents the entry of the United States into WWII. It is located between the museum and the Bowfin Submarine.
3. USS Bowfin Submarine Museum
If you have quite a bit of time before your ticket time, then you may want to start with the USS Bowfin Museum and submarine. The submarine tour takes about 30 minutes to explore. On average people spend about an hour inside the museum.
This submarine is credited with sinking 16 Japanese vessels.
My kids absolutely loved this! We toured the submarine and then headed into the museum. Headsets are provided with admission. We were able to listen to lots of really neat historical reenactments.
We spend about an hour total but wished we had more time to explore. It was really cool!
There is a cost of $21.99 per adult and $12.99 for children.
A self-guided tour is included with your admission.
4. Waterfront Memorial
The Waterfront Memorial commemorates the 52 American submarines that were sunk during WWII and the 3500 crew members that were killed.
The stones represent each submarine. The writing on the stones are to honor the members of the crew who died.
5. Video Presentation of Pearl Harbor
There is a specific time on your ticket that instructs you when to meet at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater. You will wait in line and then head into a small theater.
There is about a 24-minute video presentation that explains events leading up to the attack as well as the actual attack on Pearl Harbor.
6.Boat Ride to the USS Arizona
Once you have viewed the video you will be led outside to the boat. This boat is a transportation shuttle that will lead you to three spots. First, the USS Arizona Memorial. Second, the USS Missouri. Lastly, to Ford Island where the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials are located.
The Memorial at the USS Arizona
The USS Arizona was completely sunk; 1,177 sailors and Marines died. Unfortunately, this ship still lies at the bottom of the harbor. A memorial was built on top of the ship. In the observation deck, you will be able to look below at the watery grave of many young lives.
This is really the highlight of your day at Pearl Harbor. The memorial is a special place. The names of those who lost their lives are posted along the walls of the memorial. I really enjoyed visiting Pearl Harbor and honoring those men and women.
7. USS Oklahoma and USS Utah
One of the stops you will make while on the boat is an access point to Ford Island.
You will be able to view the memorials for both the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma battleships. It is a great place to honor those who lost their lives during the Pearl Harbor attack.
8. USS Battleship Missouri
The USS Missouri represents the ending of the war with Japan. Japan’s final surrender was taken onboard on September 2nd, 1945. The ship represents the end of he war.
This War ship went on to serve during three wars WWII, Korean, and Desert Storm. It is now retired and available to tour. It does cost an additional amount to board and tour.
9. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
There is also an aviation museum located on Fords Island. If you love planes, especially WWII area planes, you can hop on over and check it out.
This museum does cost extra. There is a nice 1940s café, flight simulators, historical aircraft, and historical videos you can view. This is a fun activity for those who love planes and history!
10. Gift Shop and Ranger Station at Pearl Harbor
The gift shop at Pearl Harbor is pretty small. There may be a Hawaiian souvenir that you have. For the most part, the gift shop has some essentials and a few souvenirs.
The ranger station and ticket office is located as you walk in. It is across from the gift shop. You will want to check in if you want to become a junior ranger or get a headset for the museums.
Pearl Harbor Tour Options
All the Pearl Harbor tours will include transportation. Be careful before you book. What I noticed is some tours only included the basic stuff that is free. That means you are paying around $80 for a ride to Pearl Harbor.
I have found a few tours that I would book below. The first one is just transportation and tickets to the basic. It is the cheapest option.
The next one is a guided tour which adds a lot of value to your experience. The last one offers a different option.
1. Transportation and Basic Tickets to Pearl Harbor
The Ride to Pearl Harbor Tour is a great option. This option is primarily a transportation option to and from Pearl Harbor.
If you have been on a tour bus, this is similar. On your way back to your hotel, you will drive by a number of sites on Oahu, which the driver will point out to you and tell you about. But your Pearl Harbor experience will still be on your own.
This tour includes tickets for Pearl Harbor (without the added attractions) with a 5-hour time frame to explore. The cost is about $50.
2. Pearl Harbor Remembered Tour
If you want a tour with a guide the Pearl Harbor remember tour is for you. The guide will give you. This tour gives you access to the USS Missouri but not the USS Bowfin.
3. Pearl Harbor with US Bowfin
If you would rather have the basic admission and the US Bowfin booking this tour is a better option.
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor and Going to Pearl Harbor Without a Tour
I have a few more tips for visiting Pearl Harbor. If you have any more questions be sure to ask in the Facebook group!
What Can I Take into Pearl Harbor?
Bags are not allowed at Pearl Harbor. There is a cloakroom where you can store your belongings for a $5 fee. Small items that fit in your pockets and camera cases are permitted.
How Long Will I Need to Explore Pearl Harbor?
We did the free portion of Pearl Harbor and we spent about 2-3 hours exploring the area. If you purchase the complete ticket you will probably want to dedicate your entire day to the memorial.
Pearl Harbor opens at 7:00 am and the boats to the USS Arizona run until 3:00 pm. The Battleship Missouri closes at 4:00 pm. The Aviation Museum and USS Bowfin close at 5:00 pm.
How Early Should I Arrive at Pearl Harbor?
It is recommended that you arrive 1 hour before your scheduled time. This will give you enough time to explore the free museums.
Is Pearl Harbor a Lot of Walking?
Yes and No. You will walk to see the monuments but you will be walking slow and taking time viewing the exhibits.
Food Options at Pearl Harbor
There is a snack shop in the main area, as well as hot food at both the USS Bowfin and USS Missouri.
Discounts for Pearl Harbor
So do you need a discount for Pearl Harbor? Well, you now know that tickets are free for the USS Arizona. But the USS Bowfin Submarine does cost extra. The Oahu Go Card can save you money if you want to tour it.
Oahu Go Card
If your plan is to do Pearl Harbor without a tour, I recommend that you look into the Go Oahu Card After doing a lot of research, it seems to be a really great price.
The card includes most tourist attractions on Oahu. At Pearl Harbor, it includes the USS Arizona entry as well as the USS Bowfin Submarine and Museum (But does not include the USS Missouri).
Pearl Harbor: With or Without a Tour?
Now you know what to expect if you are considering going to Pearl Harbor without a tour. But if you think you might enjoy being with a tour group that is totally okay as well!
Pearl Harbor Here We Come!
Hopefully, you have enough information to make a good decision that works for you! Hawaii is a great vacation.
With all the beautiful hikes in Oahu and the amazing Snorkeling in Oahu, you are sure to have a blast. Don’t forget to grab your Dole Whip in Hawaii as well as hit up the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Jurassic Park Adventure when you head to the North Shore. Good Luck and start packing for Hawaii!
If you have any questions be sure to join my Facebook Travel Community. This great community can help answer any questions you may have about your upcoming trips. Plus, I try to add any great deals or promotions that companies send me!
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I would love to visit Pearl Harbor – when we get to Hawaii it will absolutely be on our list of must-do’s.
It is a must see place!
My husband and I honeymooned in Hawaii, but we only went to Maui. We hope to return one day and see pearl harbor!
I know I want to return to go to more islands!
It’s sounds like you can do it without a tour. Are there any benefits to doing a tour?
I think the biggest would to have ride to Pearl Harbor if you did not rent a car and the other is would be to have a tour guide leading you place to place.
We also did Pear Harbor without a tour, and we loved it! It was super crowded the day we went, but we explored the museum while we waited to go out to the Arizona.
That is awesome! It wasn’t really crowded the day we went!
Really nice article on a very special place that everyone should see.
I’d love to see Pearl Harbor someday! Looks like there’s lots to see! Thank you for the info!
We didn’t do a tour when we went and we were lucky that there were no crowds. It was an awesome few hours that we spent there, so much history!
Thanks for sharing awareness about visiting Pearl Harbor.
Good to know this could be done without a tour. I usually opt for private tours to get any interesting info or secrets and quick access rather than wait around in crowds. Even without crowds I’d prolly blow through the exhibits & miss a lot without a guide
I agree that Pearl Harbor is a must-see experience. As always, you provide such great information when planning an itinerary.
This is such a helpful post…thank you for all of the details!
Loved my time on the Big Island in Hawaii. When I go back to Hawaii Pearl Harbor is a must see.
I can’t wait to go to Big Island!
Pearl Harbor is definitely at the top of my bucket list, and you’ve provided all the important details of visiting with or without a tour. Thanks!
Thanks for sharing your insight. We are usually 50/50 on whether or not we take a tour when we visit places. Sometimes we are short on time, so we prefer to explore the locations on our own. Other times we enjoy the added benefit of the tour guide and the valuable information you can learn from them. I don’t think we’ve ever been disappointed when deciding to take a tour with a guide, but there are times where we’ve chosen the self-guided route and wished we had done the tour instead.
Yes, when my kids are with me a tour does not sound like a great idea because I’m worried they will be naughty!
I visited the memorial in high school with a school group so we were on a tour but as an adult, I think I would love to go by myself. I still remember the hair on my arms stood up when I stepped onto the memorial. It’s such a powerful memorial. Certainly, one that everyone should visit.
I love history and remembering why we have our freedom! It is humbling!
Hawaii is my dream! And I know I would 100% be visiting Pearl Harbor when I go. Can’t wait to make it happen.
Hawaii is a dream. It is worth planning a trip you will not regret it.
Such an important place to visit. My grandfather was a Marine during WWII. He was in Guam so there is a special place in my heart for that time period from listening to his stories.
Me too! My mom loved history she would make us read lots of books about WWII
I hope to go to Hawaii one day, and Pearl Harbor is certainly on my list. I’m glad you have such detailed information. I will definitely re-read this when we plan a trip!
Oh good! I should just have a Hawaii section to make it easier!
My girlfriends and I went without a tour. I purchased the entrance tickets exactly 60 days in advance, even when I went online at the time it opened for purchase, I still wasn’t able to get the preferred time that we want to go visit. That’s how fast ticket sells.
I might opt for tour next time.
Good to know! We must have went on a day that wasn’t busy because they offered us a few times once we got there.
We like private tours or tours that we can take on our own. That way we can go at our own pace.
Great information since I thought a tour was necessary. Good to know that it isn’t!
It is hard to figure out online! I thought we would be spending a lot more money.
Pearl Harbor is high on my list. I look forward to going and this will be extremely helpful.
Oh good! It is a must see forsure!
Looks great! I am not much of a tour person so I would opt for the headset and set off on my own for sure. Great info!
We like to do things at our own pace too!
We were just talking about Pearl Harbor and the monument in Hawaii. My oldest son is really into WW history and he’d love to visit here. Thanks for the information!
We skipped the Pearl Harbor tour last time we were in Hawaii because our kids were like…no thanks. BUT, we will be going next time.
I get it! I think my little one would like to go on the ship but my older kids might not appreciate it as much.
We absolutely loved visiting Pearl Harbor and will do it again on our next visit! It is so sad how many lives were lost, but love the memorial is in place so we never forget.
For sure! It is a great memorial~
This is definitely a trip that I think my husband would love to see. Thank you for all of this information – I am definitely going to add it to my travel list!
Oh good! Hope it helps!
I love audio tours. They can be a great option. I like having a live guide too so I can ask questions.
It is hard to choose. I usually just get a head set!
Thanks for being so detailed! This is really helpful! I’ve visited Pearl Harbor before, but our kids haven’t so I look forward to using this when we plan to take them.
No problem! I can’t wait to take my kids as well!
Great Post! I would love to visit this place some day! I love history and traveling as well as HAWAII!!
Perfect combination for sure! You get it all in Oahu!
Such good info. This really is a must visit place. I feel like we have traveled to so many of the same places 😁
We must have the same taste in travel destinations!
Your post is full of information. We have been to Maui and the Big Island, but we never made it to Pearl Harbor. Looks like a must-do!
For sure! You need to go to Oahu!
After living on Oahu…I get asked a lot of questions, and this is a big one and I never reccomend a tour, the headsets work and you can take your time, and spend the time you want!
For sure! It is so confusing when you look online. It appears that you need one!
We were on the big Island in July and would’ve loved to find the time to make it to Pearl Harbor. Next time.
We island hopped which was awesome!
I can’t wait to revisit this incredible place, this time with my kids!
Me too. I can’t wait to return!
What an informative post Lisa! Your post brought back amazing memories. The place is very poignant, sad and tragic. What a great tribute for the fallen heroes.
Yes, I love learning and enjoying historical sites when traveling!
I can only imagine how emotional this tour must be. Thank you for your insights & suggestions on visiting it.
I’m a big fan of DIY tours for saving money and flexibility! This was great!
Me too. I always love to save money when I travel!
We are planning to go next year, thanks for the great advice.
Awesome! you will have so much fun!
My boys have researched Pearl Harbor and would love to show them this one day.
I think it is good to know the history going into it!
We loved visiting Pearl Harbor. It was to only way I could get my hubby to go to Hawaii. Once there he loved it. Some day we will go back and hang out all day at the Missouri. That was our favorite tour. This is a great information and tips! Thanks for sharing.
Once you go to Hawaii you want to go back! It is such a dream!
Great info !
Great info! I definitely want to visit someday with my hubby and son.
I want to take my kids as well.
Our trip to Pearl Harbor was so moving. There is so much to take in and it’s something that every person should see.
For sure! It is a must see.
I hope to visit Pearl Harbor someday, soon!
It is an important site for sure.
I have always wanted to see Pearl Harbor. What a great time!
It is such a moving part of American history!
I also toured Pearl Harbour on my own, it allowed me to see and experience it all on my own terms. I personally don’t think this is one of those experiences where you need to be herded along!
When I get to visit a Hawaii Pearl Harbour will definitely be on my list of places to tour!
I think it is a must see for sure!
This is on my list. I’m fascinated with war history and this is such a sad story. My dad was six years old when it happened and had just come in from helping grandpa with farm chores when they heard.
I really love history and enjoy visiting historical sites when we travel.
This is at the top of my list for when we visit Hawaii!
It is a really great experience!
Great information! My kids Dad worked for a private company that did personalized tours and their most popular tour was the Pearl Harbor tours. I took my kids one day without reservations and didn’t even know about the head sets. lol We did our own reading walking through the museum area. It was a lot of fun and educational even without the headsets. I really should take them again to see the movie and go out to the memorial. 🙂 Great job!
Going to these kind of historical landmarks are overwhelming to me. The stories are so moving and impressive, that I leave in awe. Battlefields, so to speak, are so poignant that I think its amazing to be walking the same ground. I had an instructor who lost her fiancee in the initial battle and never married. I was always moved by that. I also appreciate your comments about the tour and time commitment. Thanks for your post.
I love visiting historical places and I knew Pearl Harbor was a must see when we went to Hawaii.