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!
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