Pearl Harbor is located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
So, the first thing to know about visiting Pearl Harbor is…
Pearl Harbor is not JUST the USS Arizona Memorial
The most recognized war memorial at Pearl Harbor is the USS Arizona Memorial.
When you look at all the pictures of “Pearl Harbor” basically all you see is pictures of this memorial.
👆 This is the USS Arizona Memorial aka the famous icon of Pearl Harbor aka the “Pearl Harbor Memorial”
Of course, this can be seen as an important part of a visit to Pearl Harbor.
Thousands of Americans died as a casualty of war at Pearl Harbor.
World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument: Pearl Harbor National Memorial
But the USS Arizona Memorial is not the ONLY part to Pearl Harbor.
Basically, Pearl Harbor doesn’t have to be only about visiting the memorial.
It can also be about getting a greater understanding of the significance of the deaths that the memorial memorializes… and possibly WHY they died at all.
More below about what it’s like to visit Pearl Harbor on your own!
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PLUS... Oahu tour, or on your own: Can you visit Pearl Harbor without a tour?
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Can you visit Pearl Harbor on your own?
And yes… it IS possible to learn more about the Pearl Harbor tragedy (and the events leading up to it, as well as a little about the events that happened as a result of it) even without a group tour.
You can get an audio tour once you arrive at Pearl Harbor. It will come with a map as it guides you around the area. I think this is like $5.
How to visit Pearl Harbor National Memorial: What to do when you’re at Pearl Harbor
Things to do for FREE at Pearl Harbor
As of the end of 2021, there is no entry fee at Pearl Harbor. Entry to Pearl Harbor has always been free. Do a quick check here under “fees and passes” to make sure it’s still free.
Bags are not allowed however, and there is a bag storage fee of $5 or more. So this may be a cost of visiting Pearl Harbor for you if you arrive with bags. See details of what you can’t take to Pearl Harbor.
If you won’t be going for the audio tour, you will generally be able to make your way around the visitor center grounds as it’s not that big.
There is also a $1 fee to see the famous icon of the Pearl Harbor Memorial. (More on that below.)
There are 3 main areas in which you can learn about the detailed story of the events surrounding Pearl Harbor.
This includes the lead-up to the attack (the surprise that Americans didn’t see coming) and the attack itself.
- A walk along the harbor with informational signs
- A walk through the indoor museum
- Video that comes with a ferry ticket to the USS Arizona Memorial
Although as with all history, there are different versions of the reasons it actually happened. But you can get the official US government version of how and why it happened.
If you will be visiting Japan at any point in the future, then it will be especially interesting to visit the Hiroshima memorial in Japan after a visit to Pearl Harbor. The events of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima are closely related. I found the Hiroshima museum to be emotionally powerful.
The walk along the harbor
So once you enter the grounds of the Pearl Harbor visitor center, you can head to the left of the ticket and information booth towards the harbor.
Go all the way towards the end. That will take you to what’s called the Commemorative Circle.
From there, you can start your walk along the harbor and stop to read the informational signs along the way.
There’s also a museum, and this can also give you a good amount of information about the entirety of the events surrounding Pearl Harbor.
This is more a standard museum style with descriptive bulletins to read through. There are two main rooms to walk through, and one has a short video you can watch. There are some interactive booths here too.
The main Pearl Harbor Memorial
aka the visit to USS Arizona memorial
The USS Arizona was closed for over a year after there was a safety concern about the ramp of the memorial. It re-opened in September 2019.
You DO need a ticket that costs $1 to take a boat ride to visit the USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona memorial is technically free, but to see this famous spot, you need a ticket which comes with a specific timing.
And to reserve a USS Arizona Memorial ferry ticket, there is a $1 fee.
So a Pearl Harbor ticket to go to the famous icon of the Pearl Harbor Memorial is $1.
You will buy your Pearl Harbor ferry ticket through the National Park Service. You need to buy this Pearl Harbor ticket online before you arrive to Pearl Harbor.
It used to be possible to buy tickets once you arrive at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. This is no longer possible.
According to the National Park Service:
The same day, walk-in first-come first-served ticket distribution program has been discontinued.
Read the National Park Service website about the Pearl Harbor FAQ for current information since how to visit Pearl Harbor can change!
If you aren’t able to get a Pearl Harbor ticket, just remember, there ARE still things to do at Pearl Harbor!
Just because you can’t go to the USS Arizona Memorial doesn’t mean you can’t go to the rest of Pearl Harbor!
You don’t need a tour to visit Pearl Harbor!
It’s not one of those places where you’re in a historic area and you’re just roaming around empty spaces not knowing what you’re seeing.
There is plenty of information to be read up on all around the grounds of the Pearl Harbor visitor center.
Visiting Pearl Harbor WITH a tour
I think there is always at least some value in having a personal guide you can interact with and ask questions with to better learn about the history… if that’s your style!
If it is your style…
You can have a look at this Pearl Harbor tour here that includes the USS Arizona Memorial, Battleship Missouri, and possibly the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
As a part of the Pearl Harbor tour, along with seeing the USS Arizona Memorial, you can tour the Battleship Missouri (also on the grounds of Pearl Harbor) with a guide.
The USS Missouri is known as the site of the “Surrender Ceremony.”
This means that it can also be seen as the site of the end of World War II.
Depending on restrictions (or not), as a part of the tour, there may also be a drive through the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This cemetery (also called the Punchbowl) isn’t as well-known nationally, but can be seen as similar in significance to the more famous Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.
Transportation to and from your hotel is also included as part of this tour.
See more details about the Pearl Harbor tour.
Day trips to Pearl Harbor (from Maui, from the Big Island, from Kauai)
And if your Hawaii vacation is taking you to another Hawaiian island, but you REALLY want to visit Pearl Harbor since you’re “in the area”…
In normal times it has been possible to take an organized tour as a day trip to Pearl Harbor from another island too. With interisland travel not being quite normal, it may not be as easy as it used to be.
In normal times it has also been reasonable to do a day trip to Oahu on your own by booking your own flights, but in 2021, you’ll want to be sure you understand interisland travel restrictions before booking flights between islands.
If you want to do it on your own, in normal times there have been many daily flights from morning to evening between each of the main Hawaiian islands. The sooner you book your flights, the better chance you have at getting more ideal flight times for a day trip, and at a better price!
For interisland flights, check your favorite flight search engine for the cheapest flights and then book directly with your airline of choice:
If you book a Southwest flight, see here for tips on flying Southwest.
How much does it cost to go to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki without a tour?!
The absolute minimum you need to spend to visit Pearl Harbor when you are staying on Oahu is less than $7 per person!
- One day bus pass: $5.50
- Pearl Harbor entry fee: FREE!
- Pearl Harbor ferry ticket to USS Arizona Memorial: $1
Paid attractions at Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
There are a number of paid attractions at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. (aka around the grounds of the visitor center.)
Prices approximate and can change!
Also, there’s a small cafe on-site to buy food if you want to spend a whole day at Pearl Harbor visiting the various museums.
Getting to Pearl Harbor by bus
Okay, so you know that a self-guided tour around Pearl Harbor is possible.
Is it worth it to sign up for a tour to make getting there and back easier?!
The bus is a reliable way to get around some popular spots around Oahu, and that does include Pearl Harbor!
So it’s very possible, and very reasonable, to get to Pearl Harbor on your own.
You don’t need a tour to get to Pearl Harbor conveniently!
Although I suppose this depends on your definition of convenient! Going by bus will likely require some wait time.
Waikiki to Pearl Harbor
You can get a direct bus to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki. The direct bus may be more limited, so try playing around with the departure time if necessary.
It’s really not too difficult to make bus transfers though, so if Google Maps suggests a route to get there quicker, it can be worth taking it!
Honolulu Airport to Pearl Harbor
You can also get a direct bus to Pearl Harbor from the airport. Once again, the direct bus may be more limited, so try playing around with the departure time if you want to avoid bus transfers.
More about how to take the bus to Pearl Harbor
HAPPY VISIT TO PEARL HARBOR ON YOUR OWN!
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