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Visiting Pearl Harbor is a fascinating and enriching experience that should not be missed during your trip to Oahu. Commemorating the horrific events of December 7, 1941, the memorial and its accompanying museums provide a unique look at one of the most pivotal moments in American history.
While many people choose to visit Pearl Harbor with an organized tour, you can also visit the site on your own. However, doing so requires a bit of planning and preparation, as there are certain attractions that need to be reserved far in advance.
If you’re trying to figure out how to visit Pearl Harbor on your own, then you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. In this article, we’ll share an overview of what you can see during your visit, how to secure reservations, as well as a few tips and tricks on how to maximize your time there. Plus we include an example itinerary to help you organize all of these steps!
Want help planning the rest of your Oahu trip?
Get a feel for the island with our Oahu Travel Guide
If you’re on Oahu for a cruise, our Cruise Travel Guide will be invaluable!
Our packing list will help you maximize space in your suitcase.
Don’t book that rental car just yet, you may not need one after all.
Can You Go To Pearl Harbor on Your Own?
Yes! Pearl Harbor and its historic sites are open to the public, whether you come on your own or with a guided tour. There are no reservations needed for the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, or the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
However, you do need to reserve a ticket if you want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. There are no first-come-first-serve tickets available, so reservations need to be secured online. A select number of tickets are released eight weeks prior (at 3 PM Hawaii Time) to the visitation date. The rest of the tickets are then released 24 hours before, which means you might be able to snag one last minute if you’re lucky.
Can You Do a Self Guided Tour of Pearl Harbor?
Absolutely! You are free to purchase tickets or reserve your spot for any or all of the attractions you want to visit at Pearl Harbor. You don’t have to book through an organized tour company to visit.
The only exception is the Ford Island Bus Tour (which we’ll talk about a bit later). This is the only attraction where you’ll be accompanied by a tour guide.
It’s also worth noting that while you can visit the USS Arizona Memorial on your own, your ticket will be for a specific time slot. And if you want to visit the Battleship Missouri or the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (which are located on Ford Island), you need to take the shuttle. It’s free and leaves every 15 minutes from the Visitor Center.
Pearl Harbor is still an active military base for the U.S. Navy. Visits to the Pearl Harbor Memorial is currently managed by the National Park Service.
How to Visit Pearl Harbor on Your Own
Pearl Harbor isn’t just one place. Between the museums, the ship tours, and the historical sites, there’s a lot for you to see and do here. You could spend an entire day here and still not get to see everything Pearl Harbor has to offer!
Therefore, it’s important to decide which sights you want to see during your visit. At Pearl Harbor, there are several main attractions:
- The USS Arizona Memorial (reservations)
- The USS Battleship Missouri ($)
- The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum ($)
- The USS Oklahoma Memorial (reservations)
- The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum (with the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum) ($)
- The Visitor Center
When choosing which sites to visit, keep in mind what attractions are paid and which ones require advance bookings. We’ll share more about each one a little bit later.
Pick a Date and Plan Ahead
There are two main attractions that require advance reservations – the USS Arizona Memorial and the Ford Bus Tour to see the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah.
The USS Arizona Memorial is the most popular attraction at Pearl Harbor and definitely something you should see while you’re here. Therefore, we recommend basing your trip to Pearl Harbor around when you’re able to secure tickets for this tour.
If you want to see the USS Oklahoma Memorial and USS Utah Memorial, then you’ll also be required to reserve a spot in advance on the Ford Island Bus Tour. This 90-minute park ranger-led tour will take you by bus to see the memorials as well as a few other “hidden” sights of Pearl Harbor.
Once you secure your reservation(s) for a specific date and time, you can decide which museums or sights you have time to see before or after.
However, we recommend blocking out an entire day for your Pearl Harbor Visit. Even if you only tick off two or three sights, you’ll still want to give yourself extra time for travel, lunch, and bathroom breaks.
Book Tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial
Tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial are free (although there is a $1 service charge), but they need to be made online and in advance. Tickets are released in two booking windows on the site. The first one opens eight weeks out, so you’ll need to plan ahead if you’re hoping to secure a spot for a specific day. If you’re already in Hawaii and planning to visit Pearl Harbor spontaneously, then you can check back 24 hours before the visitation day, as a select number of tickets are released then as well.
When reserving a ticket, you’ll see that tours for the USS Arizona Memorial are offered every 15 minutes. Not only will you need to choose a date in advance, but you’ll also need to pick a time, so keep that in mind if you need to arrange transportation or schedule around flights.
Make Reservations for the Ford Island Bus Tour
The Ford Island Bus Tour is an informative 90-minute led by a National Park Ranger. Although it’s not self-guided, it’s a great experience if you want to have a more in-depth understanding of Pearl Harbor. The tour takes you to a few hidden sites as well as to the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma memorials.
If this sounds like something you want to do, then you’ll need to reserve a spot online. Like the USS Arizona Memorial tickets, there is a $1 reservation fee that needs to be paid during the booking.
The tour runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, leaves only once a day at 3:15 PM, and goes until 5 PM. If you want to do this tour in addition to the USS Arizona Memorial tour, then make sure you do NOT reserve your USS Arizona Memorial tickets during this time frame.
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Decide Which Museums to Visit
Besides the USS Arizona Memorial and the Ford Island Bus Tour, all the other sights and attractions at Pearl Harbor can be visited on a whim. If there is time before or after your scheduled tours, then you can visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and/or the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum.
If you are planning to visit multiple sights during your visit, then it may make financial sense to purchase the Passport to Pearl Harbor. This includes general admission tickets to the following Pearl Harbor Historic Sites:
- Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
- Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
- USS Battleship Missouri Memorial
It also includes an audio tour of the Visitor Center and the Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Experience.
To make the most of your day trip to Pearl Harbor, we strongly suggest that you come early! Of course, your schedule will likely depend on when you make your USS Arizona Memorial Reservation. However, you should still plan on arriving early so you can explore the Visitor Center or museums without feeling too rushed.
Leave Bags at the Hotel
Pearl Harbor is an active military base and is quite strict when it comes to what’s allowed on the grounds. Specifically, it’s prohibited to bring in purses, backpacks, or bags that are larger than 1.5″ X 2.25″ X 5.5″. Instead, make sure all your personal belongings fit inside a small purse or fanny pack.
However, you are allowed to carry your items in a clear plastic bag, similar to what you would bring to a sporting event.
If you have luggage or a larger backpack that you have to bring to Pearl Harbor, you’ll need to check it at the storage facility near the entrance of the Visitor Center.
Watch the Clock
With so much to see, it’s easy to get distracted or lose track of time while you’re hopping from one sight to the other. It’s a good idea to create a rough itinerary of what you want to see and how long you want to spend at each place.
In order to make your reservation times (either for the USS Arizona Memorial or for the Ford Island Bus Tour), make sure you keep an eye on the clock! And give yourself ample time for bathroom breaks or to walk to the meeting point.
If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss:
23 Best Things to Do on Oahu With Kids (from The Hawaii Vacation Guide mom and dad)
Where to Stay on Oahu with Kids: The 7 Best Family Hotels
What Can You See at Pearl Harbor?
The first time we visited Pearl Harbor, we just saw the USS Arizona Memorial and left! That was a huge mistake, as we later discovered that there are so many interesting museums and sights to explore at Pearl Harbor.
To help give you an idea of what to see, here are detailed descriptions of the main sights and attractions.
USS Arizona Memorial
The iconic white structure marks the spot where the USS Arizona was bombed, killing 1,177 sailors and marines and leading to the country’s involvement in WWII. While the sunken ship remains at the bottom of the ocean, the memorial was constructed over it in 1962 and features a viewpoint over the sunken decks of the ship and a shrine to the lives that were lost.
Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater
We recommend that everyone watch the historical film shown in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater before your visit to the main sights. They show a 23-minute long film about the attacks that occurred on December 7th. In addition to the footage from the attacks, you’ll also hear stories from survivors, which makes it an informative yet extremely emotional film.
The film is shown at 15 and 45 past the hour.
Inside the Visitor Center, you’ll find two exhibit galleries about Pearl Harbor – “Road to War” and “Attack”. With memorabilia, photographs, and artifacts, they provide more information about what happened at Pearl Harbor.
Remembrance Circle is located outside, facing the USS Arizona Memorial. This concrete structure is a memorial that’s dedicated to all the lives (military and civilian) that were lost during the attacks on December 7th. This includes the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, and the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
USS Bowfin Submarine
Located right next to the USS Arizona, the USS Bowfin Submarine is one of the 15 surviving US combat vessels. You can step aboard and walk the deck, visit the interior rooms, and see the torpedoes in the torpedo room!
Tickets to the USS Bowfin Submarine also include entrance to the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum.
Battleship Missouri Memorial
The Battleship Missouri is located on Ford Island. It’s here where the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers in September 1945, officially ending WWII. It was decommissioned in 1992 (making it the last active WWII battleship out of any nation in the world), making it one of the most important historical sights to visit in the US.
With your ticket to the USS Missouri, you’ll be able to do a free guided or self-guided tour of the submarine. To get here, you’ll need to ride the free shuttle from the Visitor Center, which takes approximately 10 minutes. You can also visit the USS Missouri as part of the Ford Island Bus Tour.
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is also on Ford Island (so you’ll need to take the free shuttle or book the Ford Island Bus Tour to visit). It’s quite a large museum, taking up two massive aircraft hangers.
In hanger 37, you’ll find a detailed museum about island life in the 1940s as well as the Pearl Harbor attacks. There are also restored military aircrafts from both the US and Japanese forces, as well as a flight simulator for those who wish to channel their inner pilots.
Hanger 79 features an impressive collection of vintage bomber jets and figthers that were built after the war. You can also visit the restoration shop, which restores aircrafts that will soon be on display in the museum.
Where is Pearl Harbor Located?
Located on the island of Oahu, Pearl Harbor is roughly 10 miles from Honolulu and 12 miles from Waikiki. If you are typing it into your GPS, make sure to use the following address: 1 Arizona Memorial Place
Find a great place to stay on Oahu:
Where to Stay in Waikiki: The 12 Best Hotels and Vacation Rentals
Where to Stay in Honolulu: The 10 Best Spots
Which Part of Oahu Should You Stay: Waikiki or Ko Olina or North Shore
Getting to Pearl Harbor
There are several different options for getting to Pearl Harbor if you aren’t going with an organized tour company. If you’re coming from Waikiki, expect the drive to take around 30 minutes. You can take a taxi, an Uber or Lyft, or drive yourself (parking at the Visitor Center is $7 a day).
Another option is to take public transportation. The Bus is Honolulu’s transport service, and it’s a cost-effective way to get around the city. Take the #20 or #42 to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. From Waikiki, the trip will likely take around an hour. Taking the bus from other parts of the island is possible, but it can be quite time-consuming, depending on where you are.
There are also different shuttle services that you can take to Pearl Harbor. Ask your hotel if they provide a shuttle or work with a company that offers trips to and from the site.
Pearl Harbor Sample Itinerary
Having a planned itinerary can help you make the most of your time at Pearl Harbor. Therefore, we wanted to share a full-day option for those who want to tick off the main sights, like the USS Arizona, the museums, and the other battleship memorials.
One thing to note is that we did this itinerary with two young kids, which meant we didn’t spend a lot of time at each spot. However, we did get to see a lot more than most people who visit Pearl Harbor. If you don’t want to cram a lot into your day, then feel free to adjust the following schedule to fit your interests and travel style.
How long does it take to visit Pearl Harbor?
This answer depends on exactly how many sights you want to see during your visit. If you’re short on time, a half-day trip to Pearl Harbor is doable, although don’t expect to see more than two attractions.
Ideally, you’ll want to block out an entire day to visit. That way, you can take your time touring the museums or wandering through the different submarines and memorials.
Here are the operating times for the different attractions at Pearl Harbor:
Pearl Harbor Visitor Center: 7 AM to 5 PM
USS Arizona Memorial: 8 AM to 4 PM
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum: 9 AM to 5 PM
Battleship Missouri Memorial: 8 AM to 4 PM
Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum: 7 AM to 5 PM
Our recent Pearl Harbor Visit Itinerary
8:15 AM: Arrive at Pearl Harbor (remember to come as early as you can!). Spend some time walking around the Visitor Center and checking in for the USS Arizona Memorial tour. They suggest getting to Pearl Harbor an hour or so before your tour is supposed to start. Check-in should also be done 10 minutes before.
9:00 AM: Our USS Arizona Memorial tickets were for 9 AM. Including the boat road, you’ll be at the memorial for about 45 minutes.
10:00 AM: Dock back on land and head to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater to watch the 23-minute film. Afterward, head outside and visit Remembrance Circle.
10:45 AM: Buy tickets for the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum (which includes access to the USS Bowfin Submarine). The tours are self-guided, but they do give you a free audio tour if you want to learn more about the grounds and submarine.
11:45 AM: Take the free shuttle ride to Ford Island. By now, you’re probably feeling a bit hungry, so grab lunch at the Ford Island Bistro or mini-mart.
12:45 PM: Buy tickets for the Battleship Missouri Memorial. A free guided tour is included if you want more information about the museum, although we did the self-guided tour and found that to be perfect for our visit!
2:00 PM: Get back on the shuttle and make your way to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. General admission includes a free audio guide, but they also offer guided tours on a first-come-first-served basis. If you want to have more information about the different aircrafts, it’s definitely worth doing! Make sure you also have time to do the flight simulator (only 150 tickets are given out each day so make sure you ask for one once you arrive). Compared to the other sights, this museum was the most interesting for our kids, as there are a lot of fun things to see in both of the hangers!
4:00: After a long day, we got back on the shuttle towards the Visitor Center and said goodbye to Pearl Harbor!
Pearl Harbor Tours
There are advantages and disadvantages of visiting Pearl Harbor on your own. While it gives you more flexibility to see the exact sights you want, you will miss out on having a guide to share insights and bits of information. In addition, you absolutely have to make sure you reserve your tickets in advance.
After seeing how to visit Pearl Harbor on your own, if you would prefer to go with a guide, or if you discover that tickets are sold out for your dates, you can always book a guided tour. Most companies always include entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial as part of their offering.
We’ve done both guided tours and self-guided trips to Pearl Harbor, and the choice ultimately comes down to your travel preference or style. If you decide a guided tour is more up your alley, then check out our list of the best-rated Pearl Harbor tours. We have a helpful chart to show the sites each tour visits and we’ve included half-day and full-day tours so you can pick something that works with your schedule!
Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor Memorial With Kids
If you’re a parent of young children, there are a few extra things you’ll want to think about before visiting Pearl Harbor with kids. These are some of the tips we found helpful when visiting with our kids:
- Strollers are allowed, but not everywhere. You can bring a stroller into the main Visitor Center area of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, but if you’re heading to the USS Arizona, you’ll have to leave them before boarding the boat.
- Infants and Kids need a ticket for the USS Arizona Memorial. Even if they’ll be sitting in your lap for the boat ride, they still need a ticket in hand.
- No diaper bags! Bring everything you need (like diapers) and put it in a clear bag.
- Restrooms have changing tables but once you get on the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, you’ll be without a bathroom for 45 min to 1 hour.
- Our kids enjoyed the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum the most!
The Best of Oahu at Your Fingertips
A trip to Hawaii isn’t cheap, so don’t leave your vacation to chance. No matter where you are in the planning process, grab an itinerary to help you finish strong. It is packed with the best restaurants, beaches, hotels, vacation rentals, tours, and complete itinerary days. Better still, if you run into any hiccups along the way, you won’t miss a beat. Just pull out our itinerary and you’re off to something just as spectacular.
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