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Know Before You Go: Visiting Pearl Harbor

Here’s everything to know to make the most out of your Pearl Harbor visit.

uss arizona memorial at pearl harbor
Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial commemorates one of the most pivotal moments in US history—the December 7, 1941, attack by the Empire of Japan, which brought the US into World War II. The Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Oahu is still the headquarters of the United States Pacific Fleet, and Pearl Harbor National Memorial (which is adjacent to the naval base) is one of Hawaii's most-visited attractions. Visiting Pearl Harbor can be very moving, but a trip requires some advance planning as the 21.3-acre (0.086-kilometer) site is made up of a number of memorials and sights spread around the lagoon harbor and welcomes 3,000–5,000 visitors every day. Here’s what to keep in mind as you prepare for your visit.

What historical sites can I visit at Pearl Harbor?

battleship uss missouri, pearl harbor
This is a final resting place of thousands of people; there are four main sites here.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

Pearl Harbor has four main historical sites.

The four main historical sites around Pearl Harbor are the USS Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is the only part operated by the NPS. It contains the area’s most-visited attractions—the USS Arizona Memorial—as well as the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma memorials and a visitors’ center. Visiting the USS Arizona involves taking a US Navy-provided boat shuttle to the site, spending time on the memorial (which includes watching a documentary), and a return trip back to the visitor center.

Most visitors also make time for the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum. These three sites are not operated by the NPS and require separate tickets and entrance fees—though all three are covered by the Passport to Pearl Harbor Historic Sites pass, which you can get online. Alternatively, you can book a tour that includes visits to multiple attractions.

How do I get to Pearl Harbor?

waikiki, honolulu, oahu, hawaii
It'll take you about 20 minutes to get to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

Pearl Harbor is accessible by private vehicle or public bus.

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is about a 20-minute drive from Waikiki. That said, you should give yourself additional time as traffic can get heavy around the city of Honolulu. If you are relying on GPS, be sure to type in “Pearl Harbor National Memorial” rather than simply "Pearl Harbor,” which will take you to the active military base. Paid parking is available on-site. You can also get to the site by bus from Waikiki (route number 20 or 42); the ride takes about an hour. Alternatively, you can book a tour that includes transportation to and from the site.

When is the best time to visit Pearl Harbor?

people inside the uss arizona memorial, pearl harbor
Expect crowds no matter when you visit Pearl Harbor.Foto: PomInOz / Shutterstock

Holidays are the busiest times at Pearl Harbor, but you should expect crowds any time you go.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the memorials are open every day from morning until early evening except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Pearl Harbor is a popular attraction, so it’s crowded all year round, but the busiest times are during the summer and winter holidays, during spring break season, and on December 7—National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. For a calmer, less crowded visit, come midweek. Whichever day you choose, the NPS advises visitors to arrive one hour before your USS Arizona Memorial Program begins—programs last around 45 minutes.

Do I need tickets to visit Pearl Harbor?

person reading names at the pearl harbor national memorial
To visit Pearl Harbor, you'll need to book a free ticket.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

Yes, tickets are required to visit Pearl Harbor.

There is no charge to visit Pearl Harbor National Memorial, but tickets—which are issued by the National Park Service (NPS)—are required. You used to have the option of showing up early in the morning on the day of your visit to get first-come first-served tickets, but that program has been discontinued (though you can still get on a standby list by inquiring with a ranger on site if you head to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center as soon as it opens).

How and when should I book tickets?

sailor speaking to passengers on boat, pearl harbor
Book tickets or a tour in advance, as availability is limited.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

Book Pearl Harbor tickets online, in advance, or opt for a tour that includes tickets.

Reservations for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial—made up of the USS Arizona, USS Utah, and USS Oklahoma memorials—are released daily, in the afternoon (Hawaiian time), in two windows. The first are released eight weeks in advance and the second batch are released 24 hours in advance. Tickets are available through the federal recreation website and are required for everyone, including infants. Each person making a booking can only reserve a maximum of 10 tickets per day. Guided tours typically include Waikiki hotel pickup and entrance to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, sometimes with stops at other local sites like Honolulu’s historical downtown.

Should I book a tour?

guests visiting pearl harbor
Tours can provide you with additional context at Pearl Harbor.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

A tour is the best way to visit Pearl Harbor.

A number of tour operators offer Pearl Harbor experiences that require little more than clicking “book” and showing up, with tickets to all the attractions included in the overall price. These typically include Waikiki hotel pickup and drop-off and driver-guides who can offer insights into Hawaii and its WWII experiences, as well as additional historical context. You can book a tour that includes only the Pearl Harbor National Memorial (with transportation to and from any hotel in Waikiki), or extend the experience with a longer tour that also includes a visit inside the USS Battleship Missouri. Some experiences also include a brief tour of downtown Honolulu.

What should I bring to visit Pearl Harbor?

uss missouri, pearl harbor
Bags are not permitted, save for small clutches or wallets.Foto: Benny Marty / Shutterstock

Large bags are not allowed, so bring only the essentials.

You’ll want to bring a camera you can carry in a pocket or hung around your neck and a water bottle that is easy to hold in your hand, so you can stay hydrated in the heat. Bags of any kind that are bigger than 1.5 x 2.25 x 5.5 inches (3.8 x 5.7 x 14 centimeters) are not permitted inside Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Small clutches, wallets, and clear plastic bags are allowed. You can store excess bags at the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum (a 2-minute walk from the visitor center) for a fee. Pets are also prohibited inside buildings; service animals, however, are welcome.

How should I dress to visit Pearl Harbor?

people on shore looking at the uss arizona memorial, pearl harbor
Dress comfortably, yet respectably.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

Wear clothing that will keep you comfortable in Hawaii's heat.

While there is no dress code, you should bear in mind that this is a somber site, where thousands of people lost their lives, and dress appropriately—avoid swimsuits and clothing that is overly revealing or adorned with offensive language. As many of Pearl Harbor’s attractions are outdoors, and the Hawaiian sun can get strong, you should also have sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses and wear comfortable footwear—you’ll be on your feet for the entire visit. Lastly, Hawaiian weather can change quickly, so it’s a good idea to bring a waterproof layer in case of sudden showers.

Is Pearl Harbor accessible to wheelchair users?

visitors at the uss arizona memorial, pearl harbor
Pearl Harbor is wheelchair-accessible but does not have wheelchairs for rent.Foto: Studio Barcelona / Shutterstock

Wheelchair users can get around the site comfortably.

The visitor center, US Navy vessels, and USS Arizona Memorial are all wheelchair accessible, but there are not any wheelchairs available for rent. Strollers are also welcome but can only be taken as far as the USS Arizona Memorial’s pre-boarding area—they are not permitted on US Navy vessels or on the USS Arizona Memorial.

Frequently asked questions

visitors at pacific fleet submarine museum, pearl harbor
The USS Bowdoin is home to the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

Everything you need to know about visiting Pearl Harbor.

  • When was Pearl Harbor attacked? Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The first aerial bombardment group struck Pearl Harbor at 7:55am. The entire attack lasted one hour and 15 minutes and resulted in the deaths of 2,403 US military personnel and civilians.

  • Why is the USS Arizona underwater? After determining that the ship could not be salvaged, because it was so badly damaged, the Navy decided to leave it, and its crew, where it fell. The USS Arizona is the final resting place for hundreds of sailors.

  • Is Pearl Harbor a National Park? No, Pearl Harbor is not a National Park. That said, the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, and the USS Utah Memorial are part of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which is operated by the National Park Service. As a result, Pearl Harbor tours are authorized by the National Park Service.

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