Visiting Pearl Harbor: Attractions, Tips & Tours
Pearl Harbor is one of the biggest tourist attractions on Oahu. Located here are the USS Arizona Memorial, which offers free tours daily; the Battleship Missouri; the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park; and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. The main highlight is the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken hull of the Battleship USS Arizona. It commemorates the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor and is a somber reminder of the events that occurred here on December 7th, 1941. Docked nearby is the Battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered, bringing an end to the war.
See also: Where to Stay near Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial is the most visited attraction in Hawaii, with more than 1.5 million visitors a year. It is also free of charge to the public. The memorial, located above the sunken battleship, was opened in 1962 and stands in memory of those killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. Parts of the battleship still project above the water. The gleaming white floating building, about 197 feet long and accessed by Navy shuttle boats, contains a large semi open-air room, where visitors gather. At the end of the memorial is a shrine with the names of the 1,177 victims, including the commander and his deputy, engraved on a wall of Vermont marble.
The Visitor Center, built in 1980, can accommodate up to 4,500 visitors daily. Tours, which are free, apart from a nominal convenience fee, include a documentary film, a boat trip to the USS Arizona Memorial, and time to wander around. They begin every fifteen minutes and last seventy-five minutes. Only a certain number of tickets are handed out each day, some of which are reservable and some of which are available for walk-ins, but they usually fill to maximum capacity, so it's best to either reserve in advance or arrive early in the day to secure a tour.
Docked just down the shore from the USS Arizona Memorial, is the USS Missouri, where the Japanese officially surrendered, ending WWII. The ship was brought to Pearl Harbor in 1998. Two tours are offered daily: one is a basic tour on the decks with information on the history of the ship, the other is a more extensive tour that goes into the engine room and explores the inner workings of the vessel.
An admission fee is charged to visit the USS Missouri, but a number of passes cover multi-sites at Pearl Harbor and are a good option if you plan on seeing more than just the Missouri and the Arizona Memorial.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park
The USS Bowfin was a submarine built during the Second World War and later restored by a private organization, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association. This association also maintains the park as a memorial to the 52 U.S. submarines and their crew, sunk during the war.
The Bowfin is known for having sunk a total of 44 Japanese ships and was one of the most sophisticated submarines produced by the US during World War II. Volunteers stationed in the various compartments explain how all the equipment and polished brass was used. You can wander around the ship at will or climb the command tower and gain a 360-degree view of Pearl Harbor through a periscope. Many photographs and other memorabilia illustrate life aboard a submarine, both on friendly patrols and in wartime situations. Also in the collection is the Kaiton, a World War II Japanese suicide manned torpedo. A variety of torpedos and the conning tower of another historic submarine complete the exterior collection.
In the USS Bowfin Museum building, which covers all aspects of submarine history, are artifacts and models that trace the history of U.S. Navy submarines and submarines in general.
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor
This museum, located on Ford Island and accessed by shuttle bus from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, features two hangars displaying aircraft related to World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Aircraft range from those in pristine condition to those that still show destruction caused during the war.
The tour begins in Hangar 37 and starts with a 12-minute video on the attack on Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, you can take your time exploring the aircraft and photos on display. The second hangar, Hangar 79, showcases the "MiG Alley Korean War Exhibit." Also on site are combat flight simulators that allow you to try your hand taking off from a runway and landing on an aircraft carrier.
Where to Stay near Pearl Harbor for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly-rated hotels in Honolulu with easy access to Pearl Harbor:
- The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach: luxury condos, floor-to-ceiling windows, two beautiful pools, full-service spa, multiple restaurants, fitness center.
- Prince Waikiki: mid-range pricing, near Ala Moana mall, beautiful harbor views, tennis and golf club, infinity pool, spa.
- Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club: affordable boutique hotel, tropical decor, walk to the beach, outdoor pool with cabanas, board games.
- Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach: budget high-rise hotel, central location, Keurig coffeemakers, heated rooftop pool, convenience store.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Pearl Harbor
- Pearl Harbor Day Trip: An easy way to see the sights of Pearl Harbor is on a USS Missouri, Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, and Punchbowl Day Tour. This tour offers hotel pickup and drop-off from various hotels in Waikiki, admission and skip-the-line access to the USS Missouri, and a visit to the USS Arizona and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl Cemetery). This seven-hour tour also includes important sites in downtown Honolulu.
- If you are only planning on touring the USS Arizona Memorial, be sure to book in advance or arrive early to secure a tour. If you plan on visiting a combination of sites or all of the sites, including the USS Missouri, the Submarine Bowfin, and the Aviation Museum, a tour or multipass is your best option.
- Tours of the USS Arizona Memorial are free, all other attractions here have admission fees.