Visiting Pearl Harbor – Oahu, Hawaii

In July 2019 my husband and I took a week long trip to Hawaii. We visited the islands of Kauai and Oahu. Part of our stay on Oahu was at Disney’s Aulani Resort. I am writing a blog series to cover our entire trip. My goal is to help you get an idea about what visiting Hawaii is like, offer some activity options, and to review our accommodations, dining, and other experiences. See the links below to read about other portions of this vacation.


Dole Plantation

Waikiki & Honolulu

Disney Aulani 

I am a travel agent and I would love to help you plan your trip to Hawaii or anywhere else! All of my travel services are complimentary. 

If you would like to discuss your next adventure contact me at: 

Why Hawaii?

Really why not Hawaii? It is absolutely beautiful, has tons to do, offers something for every aged or type of traveler. Plus is you are coming from the mainland US you won’t have to worry about passports or changing money or any of the hassles of international travel. But you will feel like you are somewhere very different from home. 

We choose Hawaii as part of our journey to visit all 50 states as a couple, this was state 47. This was my second visit to Hawaii and my husbands first. 

Check out my Oahu post above to see why we choose to visit Oahu as an island. 

What are the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites?

The Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are located in and around the active Pearl Harbor military base. The most iconic of these sites is the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which is the main portion of the harbor where the Pearl Harbor attacks on US forces by Japan occurred on December 7th, 1941, which caused the United States to officially enter WWII. Within the National Memorial site you also have the iconic USS Arizona Memorial, which stands in the water above the visible wreckage of the USS Arizona which was sunk during the attacks. 

The other Peal Harbor Historic Sites are the USS Bowfin, a submarine, the Battleship Missouri, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Before You Visit

When you pack you bags for your visit make sure you refer to the Pearl Harbor historic sites website. There are extra security precautions as this is an active military base and due to the nature of the memorials. Only very small bags, or those that are completely see through, are allowed at the sites. There are rental lockers available prior to the security check where you can secure and leave your belongings. There is also no food allowed to be brought in and only clear water bottles. I used a clear plastic backpack and made sure to have everything inside the bag visible and breezed through security. 

There are many combinations of tickets and packages to visit one or all or any combination of the sites. Visiting the main Pearl Harbor National Memorial including the museums and the USS Arizona is free. However, there are a limited amount of tickets available per day to visit the USS Arizona. Walk-up tickets are available for daily early morning arrival but reservations are recommended. Advanced reservations are available both 60 days in advance and then an additional batch of tickets are available 24-hours in advance. These go quickly in the busy season of summer and holidays. I highly recommend getting reservations in the 60 day window. You will be assigned a specific time for your visit to the USS Arizona with your reservation. Visit the National Parks website for details on how to get the tickets.

A personal recommendation of mine is to do some research ahead of time when you visit a site of great importance and tragedy such as Pearl Harbor. I like to go in knowing more than the very basics when I visit a site like this. I feel that it really adds to the experience to know what I am looking at in greater context. It also lets me take in an exhibit or site more fully. Especially when visiting sites of tragedy it can sometimes be overwhelming to take in all the information and emotion at once while you are there. This was actually my second visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial but the first visit I was 17 and while I did feel the importance of the place and learn a lot while I was there some of the historical context was lost on me then. For this visit I watched and read the following. 


  • All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor – by Donald Stratton and Ken Gire – This was a fascinating firsthand account of a man that survived the bombings. I believe it is the only book of its kind and it was a very quick and easy read. This would actually be a great airplane book for your flight out. 
  • Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack – by Steve Twomey – This provided a lot of background information about the attack and the state of the war at the time. As well as details about the attack itself. 


  • Pearl Harbor (2001) – I know the interpersonal plot lines and melodrama of this movie are not the best. But it is a very entry level and easy to approach general lesson about the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The movie was also actually filmed at Pearl Harbor so a lot of the bonus features are very interesting. 

Getting There

Pearl Harbor is about a 20 minute drive from Waikiki to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center entrance. The simplest way to get there would be to drive. Parking here is free. We took a ride-share and the drop off and pick-up was simple with ample area to do so. You could also take a taxi or public bus transportation. Many resorts offer transportation or tickets and transportation as an excursion as well. 

Once you arrive at Pearl Harbor you are entering an active military base. You can walk from the parking lot or drop off location to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial or the USS Bowfin and you can walk between the two. To get from the Visitors Center to the Battleship Missouri or the Aviation Museum you can take a provided shuttle bus. The ride each way is about 15 minutes.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial & USS Arizona Memorial

As I described above this site is the most famous and iconic. As discussed above you will have an assigned time for your boat ride to the USS Arizona and you can enjoy the rest of the memorial at your leisure. Much of the memorial here is outdoors but you will also find two museum exhibits indoors. The two museums cover the road to the war and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Consider upgrading to an audio tour to get more in-depth information during your visit. We did the audio-tour and while I am not always a fan of audio-tours I did feel that I gained more information while we toured the museum area and waited for our turn to visit the Arizona. Make sure to explore the walkways around the water as well. In the memorial courtyard you will find restrooms, a gift shop, and a pre-packaged snack shop with a fair amount of food options. 

Once your time arrives to visit the USS Arizona Memorial you will enter a movie theatre with your time group. A brief movie will introduce you to the history of Pearl Harbor and what you all see on the USS Arizona. Then you will be escorted to a shuttle boat operated by the Navy. The boat ride will take you to the Arizona and the journey is narrated by a recording. When you arrive at the Arizona you are given about 20 minutes to walk around and take in the memorial. From the memorial you can look down onto the wreckage of the Arizona and see the oil still leaking from the battleship. When you return to the boat the return journey is also narrated and you are dropped off back at the dock. 

** During our visit in 2019 the USS Arizona Memorial itself was closed due to restoration work that was needed on the dock. The alternative was that the boat took us past and close to the memorial.**

From the time you enter the theatre to the time you arrive back at the Pearl Harbor Memorial dock is approximately 75 minutes.

This entire experience is powerful and solemn and I highly recommend a visit. 

USS Bowfin

The USS Bowfin is a submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII. You can enter the submarine on a self guided tour, that includes an audio tour. As well as view some exhibits outside of the submarine.

We choose not to visit the Bowfin due to some claustrophobia concerns from my husband. It was also the least interesting of the 4 for us and we chose to save on an additional admission ticket.   

Battleship Missouri Memorial

The Battleship Missouri was built and commissioned during WWII. It is the ship where the Japanese surrendered WWII, ending the war, with a treaty signing by Japan and the US. The ship went on to be active during the Korean War and the Gulf War. After it was decommissioned it made it’s way to Pearl Harbor where it is now a museum and memorial. 

You will board the huge Battleship Missouri and have the option of taking a 35 minute guided tour, included in admission, or of exploring on your own. We took the tour and it focused on the technical specifications of the ship itself, the history of the ship, and the surrender ceremony. The tour took place all on the main deck outdoors. After the tour we were given some time on our own to explore the inside portions of the ship where you learned about life on a battleship. The interior of the ship is set up as it would have been at the end of its active life in late 80’s and early 90’s.

Located just off of the ship is a small gift shop, rest rooms, as well as a food truck that served burgers and hot dogs, and a shave ice stand. 

I had never been on a ship like this before and found the size of everything impressive and interesting. The history of the Japanese surrender was fascinating and standing where it happened felt like very immersive history. Going inside the ship was also a fun insight into life in the Navy. 

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

The latest addition to the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites is the Aviation Museum. The museum consists of two hangers authentic to WWII. The larger of the two was standing on December 7th, 1941 and still has the bullet holes to prove it.  

You can choose to explore on your own or upgrade to a guided tour. We chose the guided tour and ended up being the only ones on it so we had a private tour guide which was very cool. 

In Hanger 37, the main building you will find a full counter service restaurant, the Laniakea Cafe, your best bet for food at any of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. Also a gift shop and restrooms. There is even a flight simulator you can experience at an additional cost. In this hanger you will be taken through WWII and see planes authentic to the era from both the US and Japan. Even some authentic artifacts from the Pearl Harbor attacks. A highlight here for us was a plane that President George H.W. Bush flew in training during WWII. 

In the larger Hanger 79, where you will want to look up as you enter to see those bullet holes, you will find aircraft from after WWII. These are mostly large and very impressive aircraft. In the back of the hanger you will find the restoration area where the museum is working to restore even more aircraft. When we were there they were resorting a WWII plane found as a wreck in the pacific, and the work was being sponsored by the Disney company so the logo for the plane had Donald Duck on it. This was a fun Disney surprise to find. They were also restoring a WWII area plane that was the same model that President Bush flew in WWII and planed to restore it to look like the specific plane he flew so that it should be displayed with the one from Hanger 37 to show the complete story of the President’s time in the war. 

This museum is definitely the most up to date facilities of the historic sites. I enjoyed the tour we received as well as seeing all of the aircraft. I found the WWII era displays the best and seeing the evidence on the attacks on Hanger 79 was very interesting. 

Who Should Visit?

I think that this is a part of history that all Americans should see. I think that travel parties of all ages should plan to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and take in the exhibits and the views from the waters edge. I would also recommend adding a visit to the the USS Arizona Memorial unless you have young children with you that would not be able to be calm and quiet during the visit to the Arizona. 

I would recommend a visit to any combination of the USS Bowfin, the Battleship Missouri and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum to those who are interested in either the history of WWII, the military, or the vehicles themselves. If you have young kids I would not  worry about them disturbing the atmosphere at these locations as I  would with a visit to the Arizona. However, if your kids are not interested in history, or the large vehicles here there is not much else to keep them entertained.

I very much enjoyed our visit to the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. I learned a lot and saw a lot of history. If this type of attraction works for your travel party I highly suggest a visit.


I am a travel agent and I would love to help you plan your trip to Hawaii or anywhere else! All of my travel services are complimentary. 

If you would like to discuss your next adventure contact me at: 

Published by katiethemagicsyours

Hi, I’m Katie! I’m an independent travel agent with The Magic’s Yours Travel. I specialize in Disney vacations but I book all sorts of travel all over the world. I book Disney, Universal, cruise, resort, all-inclusive, hotel, and guided travel. All of my travel agent services are FREE of charge to the traveler. You pay no extra fees for using a travel agent, but you get an expert in your corner to offer you VIP planing services. Contact me for a free quote today. Email me at:

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