Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Overview: Read Before You Go!

Posted in: Culture & History, Things to Do

Pearl Harbor Historic Sites is the most popular visitor destination on O‘ahu, hosting over 1.7 million people a year, yet planning your day here can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know:

USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Monument
USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl 
Harbor National Monument

There are four distinct historic sites that make up Pearl Harbor: the two bookends of World War II with the USS Arizona (what most people think of when you say “Pearl Harbor,” recently renamed Pearl Harbor National Memorial) and Battleship Missouri Memorial, plus two museums detailing the air and submarine war history. 

The USS Arizona Memorial is free, but has limited ticket availability; the other three sites have admission fees. You can purchase tickets separately or buy a “Pearl Harbor Passport” for $72 per adult, $35 per child (4-12).

There are four ways to secure tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial, the first three being free:

  1. Book online up to two months in advance. CLICK HERE for more info and to book your free tickets. These tickets go very quickly, so the earlier you can solidify your plans, the better.
  2. Book online at 7 a.m. for the next day. Everyday at 7 a.m., a limited number of “next day” tickets are released. They can be booked HERE. If you’re fortunate enough to procure tickets this way, we recommend you show up an hour before your ticket time to pick them up. If you’re late, you might forfeit your ticket to walk-in customers on standby.
  3. Walk up to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center before 7 a.m. Available daily on a first-come, first-serve basis are 1,300 tickets. We recommend getting to the visitor center early to maximize your chance of securing tickets. It’s very important to keep in mind that you’re securing a ticket on a boat, and therefore your ticket will have a time attached to it. Where you are in line will determine when you’ll get on the boat. If you choose this same-day method, plan on visiting the other sites while you await your secured time.
  4. Book through a tour company. Don’t feel like getting up at 5 a.m.? Then booking a tour might be for you. One of the reasons the tickets made available two months out go so fast, is because the tour companies go online every day and secure the number of tickets they’re anticipating selling for that date. Tour packages can be purchased for any number of combinations of the four sites and include transportation.

Here’s what you’ll see:

Pearl Harbor National Memorial: USS Arizona Memorial

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 boat 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.

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

Currently undergoing a major improvement project, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park will reopen later in the year as The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor.

An expanded museum will house new galleries and exhibits, but in the meantime, the submarine remains open for tours. The gift shop and food service are also open.

The USS Bowfin was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” conducting nine war patrols from 1943 to 1945. Launched precisely one year after the December 7, 1942 attack on Pearl Harbor, the submarine and its crew served in the Pacific Ocean, and spent most of that time patrolling the South China Sea, Celebes Sea, off the eastern coast of Japan, and in the Sea of Japan.

Did you know that most WWII submarines were named after fish and other sea creatures? The USS Bowfin takes its name from a fish that dates back to the Jurassic Period known to survive in water with low oxygen content. This aggressive and voracious fish can be found in fresh water stretching from the Great Lakes all the way to the Mississippi River—quite fitting for a submarine that’s believed to have sunk or damaged a total of 213,580 tons of vessels.

Take the time to tour the USS Bowfin for an authentic look into the life of WWII subs and crews. Bearing most of her original equipment, the ship is a National Historic Landmark. It takes about 30 minutes and includes a self-guided audio presentation.

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Pearl Harbor 
Aviation Museum

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.

After seeing 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 the attack, displays modern jets and historic helicopters.

CLICK HERE to read our story about their new interactive flight simulation.

Battleship Missouri Memorial
Battleship Missouri Memorial

Battleship Missouri Memorial

Fondly called the “Mighty Mo,” the USS Missouri was the last American battleship ever built. 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. For tour information, visit

This is a historic year marking the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the agreement that officially marked the surrender of the Empire of Japan and the end of World War II. If you’ve ever walked the decks of the Battleship Missouri Memorial, you’ve seen the plaque that marks the exact spot where this event took place as the ship was docked in Tokyo Bay.

“Salute Their Service, Honor Their Hope” is the theme for the tribute and commemoration that begins May 6-10 in Washington, DC, and ends in Pearl Harbor, August 29-September 2.

A once-in-a-lifetime aerial parade, the 75th World War II Victory Commemoration Flyover, is set for May 8 in Washington. It will feature 100-plus planes representing the major battles of WWII from the Battle of Britain through the final air assault on Japan, and concludes with a missing man formation.

As of press time, there is discussion of bringing up to 24 WWII-era aircraft and their pilots to Pearl Harbor for three possible aerial parades during the commemoration period recreating the show of force of the U.S. as more than 800 bombers and other aircraft flew above the USS Missouri at the surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945.

Stay tuned as we get closer to the event to learn how you can be a part of the commemoration.

We highly recommend you dress in your most comfortable shoes, leave your bags at the hotel or in your car trunk (purses, backpacks and bags are not allowed, but may be stored in an onsite locker for a fee) and make a day (or two!) of historic Pearl Harbor.


[A version of this article appears in print in the pages of This Week O Ľahu]


USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Monument


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