Ten Things to Know when visiting Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii

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Hawaii is a great vacation spot.  The islands offer a ton of fun under the sun. The white beach and volcanos make it easy to forget that Hawaii plays a significant role United States history.  The Japanese surprise attack in the early morning of December 7, 1941, forced the US hand and forced the US’s entrance into World War II.  Every tourist to Oahu should take time to visit Pearl Harbor.  Here are 10 things to know when visiting Pearl Harbor.

Spend the day

Make Pearl Harbor a day trip from Honolulu.  Pearl Harbor is more than just the USS Arizona Memorial.  The USS Arizona Memorial is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. There are museums surrounding the visitor center with the option of going to Ford Island. There is an exhibit about the events leading up to Japanese attack and a second exhibit covers the events of the attack and includes first-person accounts of the attack.   There are several other memorials around the site such as the Waterfront Submarine Memorial.  The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park detail the history of Submarine warfare and provide the opportunity to climb aboard the USS Bowfin.

If you take the bus to Ford Island, it is possible to visit the USS Missouri (a class BB-63 battleship).  The USS Missouri is a significant battleship as it was where Japan officially surrendered and ended World War 2. Since then, it has been recognised for its formidability, and many components at websites like trollingbatteryadvisor.com have tried implementing the same technology. The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor features authentic planes from WW2.  Most have been restored but a few are in the restoration process.

Make a Reservation

If you know exactly what day you will be visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, make your reservation in advance.  You can make your reservation up to 2 months in advance at recreation.gov.  Tickets are free, but there is $1.50 process fee.  Tours often sell out fast so book as soon as you know (if you are planning on spending the day and can’t get a ticket don’t despair or change your itinerary just yet. See my next tip.)

Arrive Early

There are several reasons for this.  The most important is if you have not made a reservation for the USS Arizona Memorial. There are  1,300 walk-in tickets available every day. They are first come, first serve. The tours start at 7:30 am and run until 3:00 pm. They start handing these tickets out at 7:00 am sharp. The line for the tickets can begin forming as early as 5:00 am.  I got there around 6:45 am, and the earliest tour I could get on was 8:15 am. These tickets are usually gone by mid-morning.

Don’t Bring a Bag

Purses and backpacks are not allowed in Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.  They are serious about no bags.  You are allowed to bring in a wallet (it must fit in a pocket, so no large wallets like many ladies carry). You are also allowed to bring in a camera and bottle of water.  Don’t bother bringing anything else.    If you choose to drive, leave everything else (sunscreen, spare batteries, etc.) in your car.  There is an onsite bag check.  For $4.00 they will store your bag while you visit the memorial.

Buy Something From the Gift Shop

If you don’t want to keep spare batteries or hold your water bottle all day.  Buy a couple key chains or patches from the gift shop and ask for a slightly larger bag.  You can then use the gift shop bag to carry your water bottle around all day.


It’s Hawaii, you should be wearing sunscreen all the time, but nothing is worse than a sunburn while on vacation.  Most of the Pearl Harbor site is outside.  The weather can go from cloudy to sunny in an instant (plus its still possible to get a sunburn while it’s cloudy).  It is just better to be safe than sorry.  I would put sunscreen on before I enter the site then reapply every 3-4 hours during the day.  I would recommend getting some coral reef friendly sunscreen.  Regularly sunscreen has been shown to damage coral reefs.  There are lots of new lines of biodegradable sunscreens are available.  Click below for my favorite type.

Dress Code

Please don’t wear your swimsuit.  This is a war memorial that honors the men and women who died during the 1941 attacks as well as those who died during the WWII Pacific Campaign.  The USS Arizona is a graveyard. Most the men who died on the ship are still entombed within her.  There is no published dress code but keep it respectful.   Shorts of a decent length and short sleeves are acceptable but keep it tasteful.

Ignore everything you learned watching the Micheal Bay’s Pearl Harbor movie

Micheal Bay’s movie on Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett takes significant liberties with the actual history of Pearl Harbor.  The whole movie is basically a love triangle with explosions that is very loosely based on a little history.

Read a few books to gain additional background information

Most American’s learned about the main events of Pearl Harbor during high school history class. The events are so much more complex than what we learned in high school history class.  I would read a couple books on the history of Pearl Harbor before visiting. I have read all three of the books and they provide a detailed background on the attack.


Never forget

Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.  It effects to the United States is felt event to this day.  Pearl Harbor brought about a sense of national unity that wasn’t seen again until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.   That sense of national unity wasn’t all patriotic.  In the months after the attack, thousands of Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in internment camps throughout the United States.  Ironically, many young Japanese-Americans would go on to fight in the European theater.  Those units were some of the most decorated units in the European theater.

Pearl Harbor should be a place of remembrance for the men and women who died in during the war as well the dark side of the internment camps.

Do you have anythings to know when visiting Pearl Harbor?

A visit to Pearl Harbor can be an emotional way to spend a day while in Oahu, Hawaii.  Here are 10 things to know when visiting Pearl Harbor.  These tips and tricks will help make the day stressfree and increase your understanding of the events of Pearl Harbor.

22 Replies to “Ten Things to Know when visiting Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii”

    • Jennifer Post author

      Hawaii is a year-round destination. Tourism is highest during school break and holidays. I went in late May and enjoyed my time and it wasn’t super jam-packed.

  1. Jitaditya

    wonderful list… I am glad that you included some small practical details. For instance, not bringing a bag to the Pear Harbor centre is worth noting. It is a small detail but one small mistake can ruin the whole experience.

  2. Meghna

    Thanks for reminding people to visit places of historical importance such as these. This is where true stories are found. Loved your tips for booking in advance or going early if you dont have a reservation. Will definitely plan a visit to Pearl Harbour =)

  3. Jennifer

    We’ve been to Pearl Harbor and it must have changed since then that you can’t even bring in a purse. Just about all women carry a purse and car break ins in Hawaii are really common. It’s a shame that they basically force you in to paying the fee for baggage storage, because you certainly can’t risk leaving it in the car. And who’s really going to miss visiting a memorial significant in our US history?
    Jennifer’s current road . . . 5 Bucket List Adventures in QueenslandMy Profile

    • Jennifer Post author

      While I was there, there were 3 cops on bikes patrolling the parking lot. I suspect they have taken care of the car break-in problem by just being active. I wouldn’t leave anything visible but I left my other lens in my car without incident.

  4. Anda

    This have changed a little since I first visited Pearl Harbor. We didn’t need to make any reservation to visit USS Arizona memorial, back in the 90s. It was a very humbling experience to visit this site and your post reminded me how beautiful Oahu is.

    • Jennifer Post author

      Reservations are for people who plan. I don’t plan so I prefer to just do the walk up like I did. Plus then I could go directly from the airport.

  5. Catherine Salvador Mendoza

    Fascinating and great things to know about visiting the Pearl Harbor. I truly agree with the dress code, we should be showing high respect to the people who lost their lives. Sunscreen? Of course! But I didn’t know that it’s extremely hot in Hawaii. My two young nieces live in Oahu and I’d love to visit them. Hawaii also is one of my dream places to visit. Hopefully one day in the near future!

  6. anto

    I’d definitely be interested in visiting Pearl Harbor. Being from Europe, I know a lot about the WWII things going on here but little about the rest of the world. Of course I’ve seen the movie but as you say, it’s romanticized for the big screen and I’m indeed sure visiting the actual place will give a much better insight in the real happenings here.

    • Jennifer Post author

      Sometimes I feel like Europe forgets there was a war in the Pacific and the Pacific forgets there was a war in Europe. And the Americans forget that the way included other people than Germany, Japan and us.

      I enjoy seeing historical sites. I find it makes the events more than just words on a page.

  7. Mike

    Wow what a great guide. It must be hard to visit a memorial like Pearl Harbor without getting a little emotional. Its good to learn that you can’t bring a bag inside but I love your gift shop trick.

  8. Shweta

    Good list to keep in mind. It’s amazing how many people inadvertently dress inappropriately in historic and religious sites, important to remember the history / culture / context before visiting a place.


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