The attack on Pearl Harbor happened 80 years ago this coming December 7. Being an avid reader of World War II fiction and life-long history lover, visiting Pearl Harbor was at the very top of my “must do” list on my first trip to Hawaii in 2015. My husband and I recently had the chance to go back to Pearl Harbor ahead of this milestone anniversary of the attack, and I thought it would be useful to have a guide for this popular historic site on the blog.
So here you go. This is everything you need to plan your trip to Pearl Harbor and remember the events that changed the course of American history, and the date that continues to live in infamy.
Some previous thoughts: A Traveler’s Reflections on Pearl Harbor at 75
- Location: 1 Arizona Memorial Place; Honolulu, HI, 96818
- Hours: All sites are open daily, from 7:00am-5:00pm, except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
- Cost: FREE, although I recommend reserving your tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial online up to 8 weeks in advance at the Recreation.gov website. The cost is $1 per ticket. (More information below.)
- Parking: FREE. There are three free parking lots available, but on busy days they do fill up. Arriving early is highly recommended. Alternatively, you can take a bus or a rideshare from Waikiki and various points around Honolulu. An Uber from Waikiki will run you about $25 each way.
Also helpful: What to Know Before You Visit O’ahu
Passport to Pearl Harbor
This pass gives you admission to all the sites at Pearl Harbor beyond the grounds and USS Arizona Memorial.
- $79.99 Adults
- $13.99 Children ages 4-12
*Prices are current as of August 2021, but are subject to change.
- Audio Tour of the USS Arizona Memorial and Visitor Center (Value: $7.99 plus $1 reservation fee per person)
- Battleship Missouri Memorial Admission (Value: $29.99 adults/$13.99 children)
- USS Bowfin Submarine Admission (Value: $20 adults/$12 children—children under 4 years not admitted for safety reasons)
- Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (Value: $25 adults/$12 children)
More here: Your Guide to Hawaii for History Lovers
Know Before You Visit
Transportation to the USS Arizona Memorial could be suspended for wind or other conditions, for any amount of time. If possible, plan your USS Arizona time for early in the day, so if your time is suspended, you can try again later.
- Bags larger than a clutch and backpacks are not allowed. You may bring a clear bag, which you can find here: Clear Stadium Bag.
- How long will it take? The USS Arizona Memorial experience takes about 75 minutes. Plan for about two hours to give yourself time to walk around the other sites at the National Historical Park as well.
- Wear sunscreen. Click here for my tried and true, solid, reef-safe sunscreen recommendation.
- Bring water. You are allowed to bring a clear water bottle, like this one, full of clear water.
- Be respectful. This is an active joint military base, and the USS Arizona Memorial is an active military cemetery. Please dress and act accordingly.
More here: The Ultimate O’ahu Bucket List
The USS Arizona Memorial Program
This 75-minute program is completely free, however, walk-up tickets are no longer given at the Visitor Center on a first-come, first-served basis. All visitors wishing to visit the USS Arizona must reserve their tickets online in advance at Recreation.gov, and tickets are $1 each, non-refundable. Here’s how:
- You will have to set up a Recreation.gov account before you can select your tickets. If you have visited other National Parks such as Haleakala National Park or the Washington Monument, you may already have an account.
- Tickets can be reserved up to 8 weeks before you plan to visit. Tickets are made available at 3:00pm HST each day.
- Next-day tickets are also made available at 3:00pm HST each day. So, if your date is sold out in advance, or if you decided to visit Pearl Harbor only the day before, more tickets will be made available the day before your visit.
- Choose your date, time, and which package you would like to reserve. Options are:
- USS Arizona Memorial General Admission, which includes a 23-minute video about the attack (suspended due to COVID at this time), boat ride to the Memorial, time at the Memorial, and return boat ride. This is available for a $1.00 reservation fee.
- USS Arizona Memorial+Narrated Headset, which includes all of the General Admission inclusions, plus a narrated headset. This costs $7.99, plus a $1.00 reservation fee.
- USS Arizona Memorial Deluxe Tour. This costs $12.50, plus a $1.00 reservation fee.
If You Miss Out on Reserved Tickets
You can still visit the National Historic Site, and you can wait for stand-by availability. There is no guarantee, but on the day we visited, August 28, 2021, there were plenty of spaces available for day-of, stand-by passengers on the boat the USS Arizona Memorial.
*Note: Transportation to the USS Arizona Memorial could be suspended at any time due to wind or other weather conditions.
Pro tip: Sit on the right, or starboard, side of the boat on the way to the Memorial for your best chance at photos from the boat. Sit on the left, or port, side of the boat on the way back.
Plan to spend about two hours here, and don’t miss these special sites. Please note: When we visited, the flags were at half-staff for the 13 soldiers killed in Afghanistan just days before. Click here for a map of the Visitor Center and Sites.
Waterfront Submarine Memorial
To date, 65 submarines have been lost and more than 4,000 U.S. submariners have lost their lives while serving their country. This memorial, adjacent to the USS Bowfin Memorial and Museum, tells their stories.
USS Arizona Anchor
The USS Arizona‘s anchor was recovered from the site after it sank, and it stands now as a memorial to those who went down with their ship. It rests in view of the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri.
The Lone Sailor
Overlooking the anchor, a statue of a lone sailor stands nearby. The base of this statue contains steel from the USS Arizona, and it represents all U.S. sailors–those who have served, are serving, or will serve.
The Remembrance Circle memorializes the 2,403 Americans–both military and civilians–who lost their lives in the attacks that day. The names on the plaques are organized by where these people were located when they were attacked. The relief map of O’ahu in the middle shows where attacks took place. While Pearl Harbor was the most devastated site, the Japanese also attacked Hickam Field and the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay.
The USS Arizona Memorial
This is what you’re going for. The Memorial sits on top of the still-submerged USS Arizona, and you can see it under mere inches of water. Oil still famously leaks from the ship, which you can see from the openings on the sides of the memorial, particularly the left side as you walk in.
The names of those who served on the USS Arizona who died in the attack are memorialized on the back wall, flanked two “Tree of Life” symbols. The vast majority are Navy Seamen, the two shorter columns of names on the right are Marines.
There are two shorter memorials in front of the wall, and on both you’ll find the names of servicemen who survived the attack, but chose to be buried at sea inside the USS Arizona. The list is complete; there are only two remaining survivors, both of whom intend to be buried with their families elsewhere.
More here: The 10 Best Reasons to Visit O’ahu
There are three more sites to see at Pearl Harbor, but these are not included in your free general admission. Take a look at their websites and decide if you’d like to experience these sites, and plan to budget your time and money accordingly.
- Open: Daily 8:00am-4:00pm
- Cost: $29.99 adults/$13.99 children
According to the Battleship Missouri website, the “USS Missouri entered the Pacific Theatre in early 1945. She participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She joined in on air strikes and shore bombardment on mainland Japan. Most famously, the battleship hosted the surrender ceremony of Japan on 2 September 1945. It also served in the Korean and Gulf Wars.
- Open: Daily 7:00am-5:00pm
- Cost: $20 adults/$12 children
According to the USS Bowfin Submarine and Museum website, “Bowfin is one of the few U.S. WWII submarines that survived this fate, fifteen of which are presently on display. Today, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park is a reality; her story and the story of the U.S. Submarine Force, past and present, will live on thanks to the hard work and dedication of individuals from both the military and the civilian communities.”
- Open: Daily 8:00am-5:00pm
- Cost: $25 adults/$12 children
According to their website, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s mission is to “steward America’s first aviation battlefield of World War II – sharing the artifacts, personal stories, the impact and response to the attack on December 7, 1941 and the Pacific region battles that followed – and to honor those who have defended our freedom so we might educate and inspire future generations.”
Books to Read Before Your Visit
The Girls of Pearl Harbor
While not entirely about or set at Pearl Harbor, this fictional account does a great job of showing how Pearl Harbor completely altered the trajectory of the lives of everyone involved. While I felt the title was a bit misleading (a large part of the book takes place in North Africa!), I liked that the story went further than the attacks and immediate aftermath; it was about where the event took them in the long run.
The Lieutenant’s Nurse
This book highlights the nurses and other medical personnel who served on O’ahu when the attacks began. It also gives a detailed account of how civilians were also impacted during the attacks and the fear they felt.
Red Sky Over Hawaii
This novel takes place mostly on the Island of Hawai’i, but it was a fascinating read to call attention to the fact that O’ahu was not the only island effected by the attacks. Japanese detainment camps were established on several of the Hawaiian islands, and military presence was increased everywhere.
Want more? You’ll find everything you need on my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page.
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