Must See Attractions: Pearl Harbor Historic Sites

Posted in: Culture & History, Things to Do

By Fern Gavelek

A visit to O‘ahu isn’t complete without time spent at Pearl Harbor’s landmarks. There are four distinct historic sites: the two bookends of WWII with the USS Arizona and Battleship Missouri Memorials, plus museums detailing the air and submarine war efforts. A great starting point is the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, gateway to all four sites. A Pleasant Hawaii tour can take the hassle out of securing tickets and coordinating tour times among sites. 

Pearl Harbor National Memorial: USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial
An aerial perspective of the USS Arizona Memorial [Diana Quinlan / NPS Photo]

Paying tribute to the 2,390 military and civilians killed during the December 7, 1941 attack, the USS Arizona Memorial program includes a documentary film and shuttle to the memorial that straddles the sunken Arizona. Submerged in 40 feet of water, the ship serves as the grave for over 900 unrecovered service members. At press time, access to the Arizona Memorial is temporarily suspended due to loading dock repairs. Due to the closure, visitors are taken on a 30-minute, narrrated tour aboard naval vessels of the nearby Battleship Row. Check the website for updates

Visitors can also view two exhibit galleries, “Road to War” and “Attack,” that detail the events leading up to the attack and its devastating aftermath. View personal memorabilia, photos and exhibits, plus hear accounts from those who witnessed the attack.

The on-site bookstore is stocked with Pacific war titles, plus videos, posters, audio recordings and mementos relating to the USS Arizona, the attack on O‘ahu and the War in the Pacific.

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park

USS Bowfin
USS Bowfin at sunset [Photo courtesy U.S.S. Bowfin Museum Submarine Museum & Park]

Nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” the USS Bowfin is not a replica of a WWII sub—it’s the real thing! Restored to near-perfect condition, the Bowfin offers an authentic look into the life of WWII subs and crews. Bearing most of her original equipment, the ship is a National Historic Landmark.

Touring the sub takes about 30 minutes and includes a self-guided audio presentation. Visitors will marvel how compact design and engineering made it possible to house a crew of 80 men in a fully-enclosed ship measuring 312 feet long by 27 feet wide. Learn how the Bowfin took the war to the enemy and stand at torpedo battle stations — imagine some of the crew sleeping in bunks atop this weaponry. Experience the inside of her control room, office quarters, galley, mess decks and engine rooms. Audio provides candid commentary by members of the Bowfin crew. A Waterfront Memorial honors the 52 subs and service members who were lost during WWII. 

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
A guided tour at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum [Photo courtesy Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum]

Located on Historic Ford Island, where some of the nation’s largest ships were moored offshore in December 1941, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is housed in historic seaplane hangars that survived that fateful day. Standing sentinel over the epicenter of the Japanese attack is the 158-foot Ford Island Field Control Tower.

After seeing a video and walking through a corridor depicting island life pre-1941, visitors to Hangar 37 view an authentic Japanese Zero plane, wartime aircraft and exhibits illustrating Pacific Theatre battles. Hangar 79, which is still riddled with bullet holes left by Japanese guns, displays modern jets and historic helicopters, including MiG-15 and F-86 Sabre aircraft that flew during the Korean War. Hangar 79 also features a restoration shop rebuilt to wartime authenticity where vintage aircraft are restored today for future museum displays. 

Want to become a Fighter Ace pilot? Climb into the cockpit for an interactive flight simulation that somersaults, spins and loops as you take the controls! 

Battleship Missouri Memorial

Battleship Missouri Memorial
Batteship Missouri Memorial at rest in her current (and final?) home

Fondly called the “Mighty Mo,” the USS Missouri was launched in 1944 and is the last battleship ever built. She is the site where WWII formally ended with the signing of the displayed Instrument of Surrender. The 887-foot-long ship boasts several newly restored areas: the towering 110-foot-tall superstructure with its main mast, the navigation bridge with the chart house and captain’s cabin, and the open bridge. 

Visitors can view the ship’s displays involving operations, engineering, navigation, administration, food service and living quarters to get a glimpse of life at sea. The Crew’s Room displays artifacts donated by generations of former crew members while the Korean War exhibit remembers the Missouri’s two arduous tours of duty during the “Forgotten War.” 

After serving in Operation Desert Storm, the USS Missouri completed her last active naval mission by leading a contingent of ships into the historic waters of Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the attack. A new immersive audio experience, recorded with the help of active-duty sailors, allows visitors a glimpse of what it was like on December 5, 1991, when the Missouri entered Pearl Harbor. The ship returned to Hawai‘i to serve as a memorial eight years later. 

To learn more about Pearl Harbor Historic Sites and World War II history, please visit their website!


[A version of this article originally appeared in print in Pleasant Hawaii Magazine, published by This Week Publications]


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An aerial perspective of the USS Arizona Memorial [Diana Quinlan / NPS Photo]


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