Pearl Harbor without a tour
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Can You Visit Pearl Harbor Without A Tour? Let’s Plan Your Trip!

Can you visit Pearl Harbor without a tour or is it better to book a tour? That is probably what you are considering as you plan your visit to Pearl Harbor.

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.

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History of Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor Attack

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) 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.

Can You Visit Pearl Harbor Without a Tour

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.

Tickets for Pearl Harbor

With a purchased tour you will automatically have tickets.  No worries!  Below we will talk about tickets and your options.  When you choose Pearl Harbor without a tour you will have to purchase your own tickets. As long as you purchase your tickets well in advance then there shouldn’t be a problem.

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 

We visited 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 not line when we arrived to skip.

Visit Pearl Harbor Pearl Harbor without a tour

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).

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.

For $7.50, 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.

If you pay $72 per person ($35 for ages 4-12), you can also see the Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

If tickets are gone for when you want to go, additional tickets are released 24 hours beforehand at the government website.
 

Where to Start Your Pearl Harbor Adventure

Pearl Harbor Museums

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 and 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.)

Exhibits and Museums

Exhibits at Pearl Harbor

As you arrive you will be given a ticket with a certain time.  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.

USS Bowfin

USS Bowfin Pearl Harbor

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.

Admission

There is a cost of $8 per adult

A self-guided tour is included with your admission.

USS Arizona Anchor Memorial 

USS Arizona Memorial Pearl Harbor

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.

Video Presentation Before You Board Boat To See The USS Arizona 

Pearl Harbor without a tour

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.

Boat Ride to the USS Arizona 

USS Arizona boat

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.

USS Arizona and Ford Island

USS-Oklahoma-Memorial-wall

Image Courtesy of nps.org

This ship 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.

USS Utah Memorial and USS Oklahoma Memorial

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.

Other Information that You Should Know When Going to Pearl Harbor Without a TourPearl Harbor without a tour

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 only 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.

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.

Oahu Go Card

Go Oahu 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?

Pearl Harbor 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!  One option for you is a transportation tour.

Transportation 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 $52.  You can pay $102 per person and gain access to the USS Missouri Ship with an upgraded tour of Pearl Harbor.

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 when you head to the North Shore.  Good Luck in all your planning!

Facebook Group

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!

Bonus

Top Restaurants in Oahu

Be sure to get a copy of the Top 20 restaurants in Oahu!  I will email you a copy!

 

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101 Comments

  1. I would love to visit Pearl Harbor – when we get to Hawaii it will absolutely be on our list of must-do’s.

    1. My husband and I honeymooned in Hawaii, but we only went to Maui. We hope to return one day and see pearl harbor!

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. I agree that Pearl Harbor is a must-see experience. As always, you provide such great information when planning an itinerary.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

    1. Yes, when my kids are with me a tour does not sound like a great idea because I’m worried they will be naughty!

  8. 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.

  9. Hawaii is my dream! And I know I would 100% be visiting Pearl Harbor when I go. Can’t wait to make it happen.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. Pearl Harbor is high on my list. I look forward to going and this will be extremely helpful.

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

    1. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. I love audio tours. They can be a great option. I like having a live guide too so I can ask questions.

  20. 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.

  21. Great Post! I would love to visit this place some day! I love history and traveling as well as HAWAII!!

  22. Such good info. This really is a must visit place. I feel like we have traveled to so many of the same places 😁

  23. 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!

  24. 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!

  25. We were on the big Island in July and would’ve loved to find the time to make it to Pearl Harbor. Next time.

  26. 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.

  27. I can only imagine how emotional this tour must be. Thank you for your insights & suggestions on visiting it.

  28. 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.

  29. Our trip to Pearl Harbor was so moving. There is so much to take in and it’s something that every person should see.

  30. 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!

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. 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.

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