The Day-Tripper’s Guide to Pearl Harbour Historical Sites


A trip to Pearl Harbour is essential for any Hawaii itinerary, with millions of people visiting each year to learn about this important part of the islands’ history. When the Japanese attacked the harbour on a quiet Sunday morning in 1941, over 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded and 21 vessels were sunk or destroyed. The event led to the US joining the Allied efforts in World War II and is considered a pivotal event in the war’s eventual outcome. To enjoy the full experience of the Pearl Harbour Historical Sites, take a full day to explore everything that is on offer.

We’ve put together this handy guide to making the most of a day trip to the Pearl Harbour Historical Sites.

Pearl Harbour Visitor Centre

pearl harbour memorial

Often overlooked by people wanting to tour the Pearl Harbour attractions, the visitor centre is actually home to two small museums that are well worth a visit. Perfect for filling time between purchasing your ticket and embarking on your first tour, they are full of interesting facts and stories about the events at Pearl Harbour. Maps, artefacts, and informational videos about the attacks on Pearl Harbour make for very interesting viewing and provide good background knowledge before you see the rest of the memorial. There are also several interactive video displays where you can hear the stories of both veterans and civilians that survived the attacks.

Exploring the human element of the events that happened here serves to make the rest of the tours all the more poignant, which is why the museums are a great place to start.

USS Arizona Memorial

arizona memorial

The destruction of the USS Arizona battleship was a key event of the Second World War and became emblematic of why the US army was fighting in the years that followed. One of the most popular memorials with visitors, the USS Arizona memorial is free to visit, but tickets are limited and can be booked in advance. Before vising the memorial itself, you’ll first be shown a moving 25 minute video about the events of 7 December 1941 and their impact.

You’ll then take a boat ride out to the memorial, which is close to where the Arizona can be seen just below the surface of the water. If you watch the surface above the rusting ship long enough, you’ll see the droplets of oil that still leak from the boat after all these years. At the back of the memorial is a list of all the names of those who lost their lives in the tragic events on the USS Arizona. This is a great place to take in the sombreness and beauty of the harbour and reflect on what happened here.

USS Bowfin Submarine

US Submarine

Nicknamed ‘The Pearl Harbour Avenger’, the USS Bowfin submarine was launched on the one-year anniversary of the Pearl Harbour attacks. The submarine went on to sink 44 enemy ships over the course of its service. You can tour the entire submarine, learning about how sailors lived in the cramped conditions of the narrow sub. Bowfin Park and the Waterfront Memorial are also worth a visit, commemorating the submarines that were lost worldwide in the Second World War. There’s no assigned time to look around, so grab an audio tour and take as long as you want.

Battleship Missouri Memorial

Launched in 1944, the USS Missouri was the site of the formal signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in 1945 that officially ended the Second World War. Tickets bought from the Pearl Harbour Visitor Centre include a shuttle bus over to Ford Island, where the battleship is located. You can choose between a guided tour, an audio tour, or a self-guided tour depending on the pace that you’d like to explore the ship. It’s best to allow a couple of hours for the tour in order to accommodate the 30 minutes it takes to do the roundtrip shuttle to Ford Island.

USS Oklahoma Memorial

Whilst you’re on Ford Island, it’s worth going to see the other attractions there. The USS Oklahoma Memorial commemorates the 429 Marines and sailors who lost their lives on the ship during the Pearl Harbour attacks. The black granite walls of the memorial suggest the hull if the USS Oklahoma, whilst the white marble standards symbolise the ship’s crew ‘manning the rails’ in a display of respect and honour.

Pacific Aviation Museum

Pearl Habor

Also located on Ford Island, the Pacific Aviation Museum gives you a perspective on the attack that comes from the air rather than the sea. It hosts various exhibits, most of which relate to the attack on Pearl Harbour and the air force’s role in it. The museum occupies two hangars where you can see aircraft from the Second World War, and the Ford Island Control Tower that still bears the scars of attack. You can Purchase tickets at the Pearl Harbour Visitor Centre before you visit Ford Island, although make sure you plan enough time if you are also visiting other attractions there.

Our Top Tips

Here’s a few top tips to make sure that your trip to the Pearl Harbour Historical Sites goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Go Early – You often have to wait for tours, which can become extremely busy later in the day, and tickets are limited for some sites. Beat the crowds and make sure you fit everything in by getting an early start.
  • Bring Sunscreen – Most of the sites are outside, so make sure that you have plenty of sunscreen on and reapply regularly. You’re likely to end up with a nasty sunburn if you forget.
  • Dress Appropriately – Pearl Harbour is a memorial to those that lost their lives in the attack, so it might be best to leave the speedos at home for this day of your trip.
  • Pockets – Only take belongings which can fit in your pockets, as most of the sites don’t allow bags to be taken in. If you forget, you will have to pay for a locker to put your belongings in.
  • Get a Pearl Harbour Pass – If you are planning to visit several of the sites it might be worth looking into a Pearl Harbour Pass to save money. Check whether your tour operator offers inclusive entrance fees, or buy one online before you go.

If this guide has got you interested in visiting the Pearl Harbour Historical Sites for yourself, why not book one of Cruise1st UK’s amazing cruise deals today? Browse our full range of Hawaiian cruises or call our friendly team for advice on 0808 2746 777.

The Day-Tripper’s Guide to Pearl Harbour Historical Sites
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The Day-Tripper’s Guide to Pearl Harbour Historical Sites
A trip to Pearl Harbour is essential for any Hawaii itinerary, we detail the must-see sights whilst you're there.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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