A tour of Pearl Harbor National Memorial on Oahu is a must-do stop when you visit the island. However, if you haven’t done the research, it can be quite daunting to know what to see and how to be prepared for your visit. We learned a few things that will help you plan a smooth visit on your vacation. Families can visit and enjoy Pearl Harbor with a little preparation.
What to See at Pearl Harbor
First, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a free venue run by the National Park Service. The free activities include:
- A museum
- A film
- A shuttle boat ride and tour of the USS Arizona (a battleship that was sunk in the harbor in 1941)
- A short walk with signs along the water.
There are also many other things to do at Pearl Harbor, including visiting a submarine, or the USS Missouri, which is a decommisioned battleship, and an aviation museum. Because these adventures are not part of the National Park system, you will need paid tickets. We did not do any of these extra activities at Pearl Harbor, but you can easily get tickets for those tours.
As we’ve mentioned, the National Parks part of the tour is free. That being said, it is advisable to get advanced timed tickets to visit the USS Arizona. These can be reserved online for $1. The tickets “guarantee” you a time to see the ship.
Be forewarned that Pearl Harbor National Memorial can close at any time due to events happening at the base, weather, or other complications. In our case, the memorial closed due to a broken pipe, and our tickets were cancelled. No, we did not get our money back. Tickets are non-refundable even if they cancel.
Luckily, there is a standby line. We returned a few days later and got in the standby line. As tours are every half hour, we weren’t sure how long we’d have to wait. Luckily, it only turned out to be 40 minutes. On a busy day, the standby line likely takes much longer. They allow ticket holders to enter first, and then fill the seats with the standby line. Just know that if you don’t have tickets, you can still visit the ship if you are willing to wait. We highly recommend tickets. Visit Recreation.gov to reserve.
The museum takes about an hour to visit. We were surprised at how even-handed the presentation was, with no real villains or heroes, just a presentation of what happened on that day. There are testimonies from eyewitnesses including soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of other artifacts, models, and information. We enjoyed the short videos that run on repeat. They helped our children learn a lot about what happened at Pearl Harbor and kept them entertained.
There is a short walk along the shoreline with information about Pearl Harbor. There are views of the USS Arizona Memorial, as well as the anchor that was recovered from the wreckage. This area is paved and offers a great view of the surrounding area and the military base. It also helped us learn a little bit more about the events that happened in 1941.
The tour to the USS Arizona also takes about an hour. First, you watch a movie that recounts the attack (when we visited in 2022, the film was shown separately since there was construction happening at the memorial). Then you board a ferry and take the short ride out into the harbor to the monument. When you reach the monument, you are reminded that you are standing atop a National Cemetery that marks the final resting place of nearly 1,000 men. There is no talking at the monument, as a reverent demeanor is required. If you have little ones, you’ll want to discuss this with them before you arrive.
The monument spans the ship, and you can look down into the water and see its outline. Buoys mark either end, and a few small areas protrude from the water. There are fish swimming in and around the wreckage, too. A separate room at the far end of the monument has the names, ranks, and dates of death of each person on the USS Arizona when it exploded. There are 2 survivors as of October 2022, both over a hundred years old. We felt a lot of emotions when visiting this memorial.
Tips For Families
A visit to Pearl Harbor National Memorial is moving experience that reminds you that war can even tear a hole in a tropical paradise like Hawaii. Make sure to visit if you are on the island. You can also find other free things to do on our list of family-friendly activities on Oahu.
- Teach your kids a little bit about Pearl Harbor before visiting. Help them understand that it is a special, reverent place where they shouldn’t run or be too loud.
- Make sure to pick up the Junior Ranger booklets for your kids.
- No bags are allowed. For those with really young children, you can place diapers and wipes in a clear bag to bring in.
- Plan about 2-3 hours to visit Pearl Harbor depending on how long you wait for the shuttle out to the USS Arizona.
- For current hours, visit the Pearl Harbor National Monument website.