Pearl Harbor Tour: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

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Pearl Harbor is a top tourist destination in Oahu, Hawaii. As the site of one of the most devastating attacks on American soil, the Hawaiian base is important in America’s history.

Every year, millions of visitors flock to Pearl Harbor to pay their respects at the USS Arizona Memorial battleship site and learn about the events that took place on December 7, 1941. People also visit other sites, including the USS Missouri Battleship, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

Are you planning on visiting Pearl Harbor? You will enjoy a unique and moving experience, but there are some important things to know before you go.

Pearl Harbor is Still a U.S. Navy Base

Although it is open to the public, Pearl Harbor is still an operational naval base, and certain areas may be off-limits for security reasons. It’s important to follow all posted signs and directions from staff during your visit.

Even though you can’t enter some places, it’s still fascinating to see the naval ships and activities on the base. The trip will be worth it, especially if you’ve never been to a naval base.

sailor at pearl harbor memorial
Image Credit: Karee Blunt

Arrive Early for Your Tour

Due to high demand, Pearl Harbor tours can often sell out in advance. It’s best to book your tickets as early as possible and arrive at least an hour before your scheduled tour time. This will give you enough time to complete the necessary security checks before entering the base.

Visitors also have the option of booking a guided tour or exploring the sites on their own. Whichever option you choose, leave enough time to see all of the sites within the Pearl Harbor memorial.

Know Before You Go – Oahu City Pass

The 3, 4, and 5-day Oahu Go City Pass includes several money-saving activities at Pearl Harbor, including a free audio tour guide, admission to Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum with an audio tour, admission to the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and a Pearl Harbor and Honolulu City Tour.

Several Pearl Harbor Tour Options Are Available

Several touring services are available, from full-service tours to self-guided audio tours. You can even go by yourself. Whatever option you choose, visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is a must. It includes a boat ride to the memorial, a documentary, and viewing exhibits within the visitor center.

At the memorial, you will relive the events of the attack through personal accounts and artifacts on display. You may feel solemn as you stand over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, where more than 1,000 lives were lost.

Private tours at Pearl Harbor have some merit, but it’s not the best. You will have more fun moving with others and learning about the historical significance of each site. Besides, Complete service tours will handle everything from transportation, hotel, feeding, etc. So you can focus on enjoying your Pearl Harbor tour. 

uss arizona memorial pearl harbor
Image Credit: Karee Blunt

RELATED: 11 Best Oahu Luaus: How to Choose the One That’s Right For You

Discover the Most Historic Battleship in the World

The USS Missouri, also known as “Mighty Mo,” is the last battleship commissioned by the United States Navy. It is most famously known as the site of Japan’s surrender, effectively marking the end of World War II.

During your tour of Mighty Mo, you’ll have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of history and explore the deck where Japan’s formal surrender took place. You can even touch the wall where General Douglas MacArthur signed the historic document on the battleship Missouri.

On September 2, 1945, Emperor Hirohito formally acknowledged the Empire of Japan’s surrender to the United States. This mutual agreement between the warring parties ended the fighting.

uss missouri pearl harbor
Image Credit: Karee Blunt

Prepare for Hawaii’s Sun and Heat

Before you take a plane for the Pearl Harbor tour, you should know that Hawaii is known for its warm climate. Don’t be surprised if it’s hot and sunny during your visit, so bring sunscreen and hats and stay hydrated.

You’ll also want to wear comfortable clothes and shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking during the tour. And don’t forget to bring your camera to capture all the historic sites and moments at Pearl Harbor.

If you can’t stand the heat, take a break from the sun by visiting the Pacific Aviation Museum’s indoor exhibits. Here, you’ll learn about the brave individuals who fought in the air during World War II and see restored aircraft on display.

Appropriate Dressing and Behavior

Pearl Harbor is a place of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the attack. As such, it’s important to dress and behave appropriately during your visit. You should avoid bringing any profanity-laced clothing or dresses showing an excessive amount of skin.

Visitors must remain quiet and respectful as they tour Pearl Harbor, especially at the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s a place to honor and remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to the country.

Additionally, remember to be respectful of the solemn atmosphere and refrain from loud conversations or disrespectful behavior at all of the sites within Pearl Harbor. Park rangers can bar entry to anyone who doesn’t comply with the appropriate dress code or behavior. 

pearl harbor memorial names
Names of all who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor are on this wall at the Arizona Memorial site. Image Credit: Karee Blunt

Waiting in Line for the USS Arizona Memorial

Due to its popularity, the USS Arizona Memorial often has long lines and limited availability for tours. Your wait time can be as short as 30 minutes or several hours, depending on the season and day.

You can avoid waiting by booking a tour in advance online or arriving at Pearl Harbor early in the morning. Getting a ticket online will cost a small fee, but it guarantees your spot on the memorial tour; USS Arizona tickets are free if you get them onsite at Pearl Harbor.

If you have to wait in line, bring water and snacks to stay hydrated and nourished.

Be Prepared for a Moving Experience

Pearl Harbor is a solemn and emotional place. Visitors can expect to see artifacts, photographs, videos, and personal accounts of the devastating event that changed the course of history.

It is an emotional experience, and you may tear up anytime. Feeling distraught about the brave men and women who fought and died is okay. But you can take solace in their sacrifice not being in vain. 

little girl looking at survivor photo at museum
Image Credit: Karee Blunt

Plan Your Pearl Harbor Tour Today

Whether it’s your first visit or you’ve been before, a Pearl Harbor tour is an unforgettable, meaningful experience. Start planning your trip today and pay tribute to the brave individuals who fought for America. Remember to dress and behave appropriately, prepare for the heat and crowds, and be prepared for an emotional journey.

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Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.