What is best way to see Pearl Harbor?
Here are some great answers to common questions about the best way to see Pearl Harbor. From how to get Arizona Memorial tickets to tips if you tour Pearl Harbor on your own. Including advice about getting there from all over the island and the Honolulu International Airport near Pearl Harbor. Make sure to read this (actual) insider guide before visiting the Memorial.
What questions should I ask for the best Pearl Harbor tour?
After over a decade of giving tours at the Memorial, one of the things you realize is that people visit for very different reasons. They also have vastly different priorities (or lack thereof) during vacation. Most of these “insider guides” and “best way to visit Pearl Harbor, etc.” posts get written by folks that have visited the Memorial once. If that. This article is going to be a little different than those. Before we even get started, there are a few questions to ask ourselves.
People visit the Memorial for a variety of reasons. Some people come to Oahu specifically to visit Pearl Harbor. In that case, they want to see and do more.
If the answer is yes, you may want to reach out in advance. The National Park Service is incredible, and there are some additional perks for those in uniform.
If you have, things have changed. They are constantly renovating, updating, and adding to the visitor experience. If not, make sure to check out the Pearl Harbor overview.
There is something for everyone at Pearl Harbor. For those interested in history, make sure to spend some time looking at these hidden gems in Pearl Harbor.
Are you staying on a neighbor island? Maybe in from Australia or New Zealand and heading to the States? The Honolulu Airport near Pearl Harbor, and makes an easy trip.
For those staying in Waikiki, a trip to Pearl Harbor is quick and straightforward. However, if you are staying somewhere else, it may be a little trickier.
This island has so many great things to see and do! By the time you finish this post, you will know the best way to see Pearl Harbor for your specific family.
If you didnʻt immediately jump forward with one of those links, donʻt worry, it will pay off. Whether you tour Pearl Harbor on your own or take an excursion, there is so much to see. Not only that, but a few minutes here and there make a big difference. But you may already know that if youʻve ever tried to get Arizona Memorial tickets or caught the Ford Island Shuttle.
First priority: Get Arizona Memorial Tickets.
These things are like gold. As of the writing of this, the walk-up tickets have been discontinued due to Covid. Because of that, you have to reserve tickets in advance. There is often a standby line, but donʻt count on it. That line is hot and uncomfortable.
If you end up in that line, you are standing in the sun, for however long it takes. So either take a tour or reserve them in advance through recreation.gov. They release tickets approximately eight weeks, then again a day prior to the tour day. Exactly at 3:00 pm HST.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial overview
There are countless humbling and educational exhibits at the Museums and Visitor Center. Believe it or not, there are also plenty of fun attractions. That makes this place perfect for all ages. However, certain areas are more appropriate to some than others. For example, that standby line isnʻt much fun with fussy kids. While the Arizona Memorial is for quiet contemplation, the National Park Service has kept children in mind.
Since the Bowfin Submarine and Museum is in the primary Visitor Center, it is easy to add to any trip. Regardless of if you tour Pearl Harbor on your own or with a group. The Battleship Missouri is located on Ford Island and is great for all ages. There is also a memorial for the USS Oklahoma and her crew just outside. At the Aviation Museum, you can see planes from World War 2 on, and you can hop in the flight simulator for a spin. Literally.
Visiting the Arizona Memorial
More than 1 million people come here to pay their respects each year. They come from all over the world for a variety of reasons. As we mentioned above, this is a place to ʻreflect, remember, and understandʻ what happened on December 7th, 1941.
While things occasionally change, visitors experience a movie to set the tone along with a shuttle boat to and from their brief visit aboard. That is, of course, assuming you get Arizona Memorial tickets in advance.
About the USS Arizona Battleship
The USS Arizona was a Pennsylvania Class Battleship built in Brooklyn, New York. She was commissioned on October 17th, 1916. During World War I, this heavily armed Battleship escorted President Woodrow Wilson across the Atlantic. He was on his way to the Paris Peace Conference to assure the end of The Great War.
Unfortunately, though, she was destined to usher in the entrance of the United States into World War II. Several members of the band attended a concert the night before. When the attack happened, the troupe of the USS Nevada was playing Colors. The entire USS Arizona Band perished at their Battlestations below gun turret 1. These are, but a few of the 1177 brave souls lost onboard. Each sailor was a son, brother, husband, or father, with their own personal story.
Experience the Mighty Missouri
Another great Battleship, this time of the Iowa Class, was called in to end World War II. Not only that, she served until Desert Storm. Seeing the ʻMight Moʻ is one of the best ways to visit Pearl Harbor. While the time on deck varies, plan for about 3 hours with transportation.
It is also one of the most fantastic attractions on Oahu. Kids and adults alike love exploring the ship. She was featured in several major productions. Since it is on an active military base, most use the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to get there.
Donʻt forget the Bowfin Submarine and Aviation Museum
Also found on Ford Island, and accessed via the shuttle bus, is the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. They are constantly refreshing the exhibits, and most planes are in near flying condition. Not only that but there are often temporary exhibits as well. However, the flight simulator is undoubtedly our favorite. If you see both the Battleship and Aviation museum, that takes about 4 hours. Even if just visiting this museum, set aside about 3 hours. It may come in handy if you want to see it before the Arizona Memorial.
As we mentioned above, the Bowfin Submarine is excellent for any visit. They just opened a beautiful new museum, and it comes with an audio tour choice. Especially for S.T.E.M students and educators. There is one for adults and one for children. This exhibit takes about an hour to explore. Donʻt forget each of these attractions has its own unique gift shops.
Waikiki & Airport near Pearl Harbor
Waimomi, or “water pearl,” is located in the center of Oahu. Itʻs found at the base of Puuloa or “long hill.” The Honolulu Airport near Pearl Harbor is about 5 minutes away. Waikiki is nearly half an hour, but if you are coming from Koolina or Turtle Bay, give yourself at least an hour and a half.
Remember that the Park Service wants you to arrive at least one hour before your program. So even though the airport near Pearl Harbor is minutes away, make sure to keep that in mind. No matter how you choose to visit.
Should you tour Pearl Harbor on your own?
The truth is, that depends. There is no one size fits all answer for this question. The park rangers and volunteers do a fantastic job. So if that is the route you choose, you wonʻt be disappointed. Just make sure to get Arizona Memorial tickets in advance. There is free parking at the Visitor Center and make sure you know the bag policy. If you are lucky enough to be on the island, this year marks the 80th Anniversary of the attacks. It is sure to be a special experience.
If you are staying on the outskirts of the island, do not underestimate the traffic. We are constantly making the Top 10 ʻWorstʻ lists. Taxi cabs and shuttles are relatively cheap and easy from Waikiki. However, that is not the case outside of Honolulu. Of course, if you donʻt want to worry about any of that, we highly suggest taking a tour.
Visiting Pearl Harbor in your rental car?
Did you secure your tickets and plan to drive to the Memorial? Plenty of people do that. Believe it or not, tour guides canʻt join you in several parts of the National Park, including the Arizona Memorial.
So the main difference between a tour and going by yourself is the trip through Downtown Honolulu. But donʻt worry. Recently we created a GPS-guided self-driving tour from Pearl Harbor through Honolulu.
Parking information and advice at the memorial
Once you turn off of Kamehameha Highway, turn right at the bottom of the hill. Handicap guests can be dropped off in the first parking lot in front of the entrance. But keep in mind, security and parking are tight, so we suggest going straight to the second or third lot. There is overflow parking further down Arizona Memorial Place towards the Admiral Chick Clarey Bridge.
The National Park is instituting a parking fee at the Memorial. That will apply to the first three lots. We never recommend traveling with valuables or excessive bags, but you will want to leave what you brought in the vehicle. Otherwise, you can use the luggage storage area for an additional fee.
What if you are Military?
As there should be, Service members have plenty of exclusive perks. The coolest of which is the Rememberance Barge Tour. Thatʻs where we got a lot of these photos. It is an extraordinarily well-done experience. We can not recommend this enough.
If you have access, make sure to visit the USS Utah Memorial. Which is another benefit of an active Military ID is being able to drive onto Ford Island. There is also a Memorial for the USS Nevada, which ran aground at Hospital Point.
History buffs and students will love it.
You can spend an entire day and more at Pearl Harbor. Many people do. History buffs will love the Audio Set Tours, and each attraction has some variation. There are scavenger hunts and coloring books for kids. Believe it or not, they can find Pokemon throughout the museums. Although not on the Arizona Memorial. Movie buffs will recognize scenes all over the Visitor Center, while Military enthusiasts will marvel at all the active equipment. If you are lucky, you may even see some F-22 Raptors. Of course, the history of this wahi pana, or “special place,” goes far deeper than that.
The waters here teemed with fishponds and pearl-bearing oysters. This history is why it is known as Pearl Harbor today. The harbor was also a source of friction over fishing rights. That is why one translation of Mokuumeume is “island of strife.” Another translation has a more tender meaning. That barely scratches the surface and doesnʻt even mention shark riding or the family of Shark Gods. You read that right, shark riding, for real.
Other tips and tricks for your visit
But wait, thereʻs more! Especially if you are coming or going to the airport near Pearl Harbor, you will need to know about the bag storage area. If you use it, place the little bags in the big ones to save some money. Fortunately, once youʻre in the Visitor Center, any bags you purchase can go anywhere.
It isnʻt busier on the weekends. However, it is much more active on cruise ship days. Especially double ship days. As a matter of fact, mention “double ship day” to anyone whoʻs worked there for a while. Youʻre guaranteed about 5 minutes of entertainment.
So what is the best way to see Pearl Harbor?
The correct answer is that the best way to see Pearl Harbor is how you want to see it. Now we might be biased, but make sure to check out Your Private Tours of Oahu before deciding. You can visit whatever attraction you want and spend as much time as you like. We can handle all the tickets and, of course, take care of the driving and parking. That includes help to get Arizona Memorial tickets in advance.
There are other tour companies on the island as well. Many of them are outstanding. If you donʻt go with us, we might recommend Polynesian Adventure Tours. Like us, they also offer pickup at the airport near Pearl Harbor. We also sincerely hope that if you choose to visit yourself, this article gave you some ideas to enhance your experience. But all that said, make sure to take a look at the route map and some of the tours below. We know you will like what you see.
Planning your perfect Pearl Harbor tour.
Weʻve created this interactive map for you to get even more ideas. You can navigate by clicking the locations on the map or the slide icon on the top left. There is information about the attractions, shopping, food, activity recommendations, and more.
These are just a few of the options you can visit during a Pearl Harbor combination tour with us. Of course, you can also use for recommendations it no matter how you decide to travel. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us with questions. But weʻre not done yet, we left some of the most important advice until the end.
As always, mahalo nui loa for taking the time to check out the Things to do on Oahu Blog. Make sure to follow us on social media for updates and ideas for your family vacation to Hawaii. Donʻt forget to share with your family and friends.
No matter what, go as early as possible and remember A, B, A, B. It means Arizona, then Battleship, then Aviation, then Bowfin. When visiting multiple attractions, thatʻs how you do it. It is also probably the most valuable piece of advice in this whole article. You know what they say right? Save the best for last.
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