With well over a million visitors per year, Pearl Harbor is the number one Oahu attraction. The national park includes the sunken USS Arizona and viewing platform, the USS Missouri Battleship, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and the retired USS Bowfin Submarine. You can easily spend a full day viewing, exploring, and taking in all that it has to offer.
We all know the history…on December 7th, 1941 just before 8 am, Pearl Harbor was devastated by the Japanese air force, as hundreds of enemy fighter planes & bombers lead a surprise attacked against the US naval battleships and air force landing stripes & fleet of 300 planes.
About 20 American sea vessels were destroyed, including 3 sunken battleships and 6 others that sustained massive damage. The air force was also neutralized with 300 plus planes that were destroyed, and over 2400 military personal who lost their lives.
This historic day was not only a landslide defeat, but the mark of the United States declaring war on Japan.
Attending Pearl Harbor today is a place for remembrance, observation, exploring, understanding, and respect. It’s normal to experience many different emotions throughout your visit. It’s a grand Oahu attraction which everyone should experience.
Most folks visiting today to pay tribute to the popular Arizona Memorial. But there are 3 other Pearl Harbor attractions worth visiting, including the USS Missouri Battleship, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. You could easily spend a full day trying to see it all! I recommend visiting 2 or maybe 3 attractions, verses trying to see it all.
If you are looking for an all day pass with access to all the attractions, consider purchasing a Deluxe Tour Pass
It also helps to understand the layout of Pearl Harbor to better plan your day. While all the attractions are conducted out of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, only the USS Bowfin Submarine, and ferry service to the Arizona Memorial reside directly from this center.
A transportation bus run every 15 minutes from the center to Ford Island, where you’ll find the USS Missouri Battleship and the Pacific Aviation Museum. Note that it’s only a 5 minute ride onto the island…
If you are coming to specifically see the sunken Arizona Memorial, and only have time to quickly explore one more attraction in the national park, then you might want to consider purchasing tickets to the USS Bowfin. The submarine is easily accessible and fun to explore.
Purchase your Pearl Harbor Tour now
Could be argued as the most popular Oahu attraction, with over 1 million visitors per year. The USS Arizona Memorial is an incredible site that brings on many emotions once in your presence.
The final blow that sunk the ship was a 2000 pound bomb that exploded directly in the armed magazine room. They say it was the most dramatic explosion during the raid. It became the tomb of over 1100 sailors that rests on the shallow waters of the Pearl Harbor bay.
Today you can easily see the outline of the ship while standing on the Arizona Memorial Viewing Platform. The 500,000 gallons of oil that sunk with the ship still slowly seeps out today, and leaves a small film on the water above. The black drops of oil that surface to the top are referred to as black tears from the soldiers below.
The only way to see the Arizona Memorial is by a quick ferry ride out to a viewing platform. The boat ride is free, but you must acquire tickets well in advance or plan accordingly as there is limited room available.
Your 3 best choices are to reserve tickets a couple months in advance, arrive an hour early before the visiting center opens to secure some of the daily issued tickets, or purchase a tour package in advance that provides transportation and tickets.
Sign up for the Pearl Harbor Skip the line Tour
Before boarding the ferry, a park ranger will take a few minutes to talk to the scheduled group about what to expect. You will then be ushered into the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater, to watch a 23 minute movie that highlights the history of Pearl Harbor, the attack, interviews of some vets, and expresses a message for our future. You will then be escorted onto a Navy ferry shuttle where you will take a quick ferry ride over to the Arizona Memorial platform to witness the silent sunken battleship.
The 2nd most popular attraction while visiting Pearl Harbor is stepping onto the impressive USS Missouri Battleship. Words can’t define the feeling that you’ll endure while standing on the bow of the ship, and staring up at the 16 inch 50 caliber guns that were powerful enough to accurately fire rounds at their targets up to 20 miles away.
You are allowed to peruse the ship on your own with the price of admission, but I highly recommend joining one of the ongoing tours. They are free and only take a half hour of your time. The tours are conducted on the upper deck not only give trivial information about the battleship, but also tell some heart felt stories of important moments that walk you through her history, including the surrender of Japanese leaders to General McArthur outside the ships control center. It’s a story worth hearing, not only for what took place, but the message and tone that was set going forward.
Walking below deck is an adventure as well. Have fun exploring the living corridors and different halls that were used. It’s a self-guided tour and interactive experience. You’ll find lots of staged areas, old displayed photos, running videos, and other props to better demonstrate what it was like on this battleship.
The USS Missouri Battleship is located on Ford Island, which you’ll need to take a free shuttle ride to from the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time and recommended to be bundled with other attractions that you’ll be visiting.
Sign up for the Missouri Battleship Combo Tour
One of the newest and fascinating attractions at Pearl Harbor is the Pacific Aviation Museum. The museum is only a decade old, and already offers so much to see and explore!
I consider it most interesting attraction in the area worth exploring! Between the main museum and Aircraft Hangar 79, you will find lots of old classic planes along with new jets and huge military helicopters that were used in strategic missions.
The new 42,000 sq ft Pacific Aviation Museum was well designed and includes a large viewing theater, featuring a 12 minute documentary on the “Surprise Attack”, an exciting Laniakea Cafe surrounded by fun props, and an unique gift shop worth stepping into.
The Aviation Museum is not solely dedicated to Pearl Harbor history, but displays lots of different time periods, including an Emilia Earhart Exhibit.
While the airstrip in front was bombed, the old Hangar 79 survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, but still displays its war wounds as you’ll see many bullet holes riddle the upper windows. Today the hanger is used for the renovation of some older retired planes, and displaying impressive modern jets, such as the MIG-21 or F-104 Starfighter jets. It’s an ongoing effort by dedicated volunteers working on site.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I promise you’ll find yourself in awe standing next to the B-17 Flying Fortress Swamp Ghost, or looking into a cockpit of a B-52 Bomber, or taking a selfie with a fierce looking Flying Tiger!
Purchase a Passport Pass that includes admission to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
The USS Bowfin Submarine was launched a year after the attack, and was nicknamed “The Pearl Harbor Avenger”! Today it’s also the resting place for World War II sub. The Bowfin Sub served a majority of its missions in the Pacific off the coast of Japan.
This forth addition to the Pearl Harbor attractions is not only fun to explore, but one of the easiest to see once entering the Pearl Harbor Visiting Center. It’s a good option if you’re short on time, but would like to include an additional excursion with your Arizona Memorial visit.
It’s located just off a dock on the right hand side of the visitor’s center. With the price of admission you can climb abort the 312 foot long submarine. Walk the full length of the deck, climb up the viewing deck, and grab a hold of the 5 inch 25 caliber machine gun if you like.
Climb the stairwell below and view the living quarters of 70 to 80 US Navy Sailors. It’s hard not to feel sorry for these service men when you see the sleeping cots that are stacked on top of each other with very little breathing room. But you’ll also be amazed when you crouched down and step through the pressured sealed doors, and see hundreds of valves and pipes that line the walls, which were used to help submerge and ascend the sub. The torpedo room is also impressive to see with stacked up torpedoes ready for launching through multiple open firing tubes.
Also give yourself time to explore the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum that’s located just to the right of the entrance of the sub. The museum is devoted to the Bowfin, the navy, and the submarine culture, with over a 1000 artifacts and neat displays to view.
From a prized brass submarine bell to a 12,000 pound Poseidon C-3 Missile, there’s lots of interesting things to see, read about, and take pictures, pictures and more pictures of!
Also part of the museum is the surrounding outdoor grounds. Make sure to check out the impressive turbo jet powered cruise missile and the Waterfront Memorial dedicated to the 52 submarines and crewmen that lost their lives in the war. It also happens to be the best viewing platform and photo opp of the Bowfin Submarine.
Sign up for a Bowfin Sub Combo Tour
Arrive Early – give yourself an hour or more, as you’ll need extra time to park, go through a security entrance, pick up tickets, walk the grounds and take pictures. There’s also a free Pearl Harbor Museum that you’ll will want to explore. It’s full of history, interactive experiences, and lots of memorabilia props to take pictures of.
No backpacks or bags allowed – you are entering a secure national park, and will be required to walk through a metal detector. No personal backpacks or bags are allowed beyond the entrance. There are small locker rentals available before the entrance, and a check in center where you can lockup backpacks and valuables.
But do note that you are able to bring in cameras, phones, small tripods, and bottles of water. Only clear water bottles are allowed…no coke or colored type drinks are allowed.
Do not leave valuables in car – if you elect to drive, realize that you are parking in a tourist area and the thieves know it too! Do not leave any valuables in your car, or anything visible for that matter. Any belonging should be placed in your trunk before arrival. This goes for all Oahu attractions and places that you’ll be visiting during your trip.
Extra viewing time - Give yourself about 2 hours for each Pearl Harbor attraction that you’ll be visiting. All 4 attractions have tours available, short movies to watch, museums worth seeing, and extensive grounds to explore.
You can access the 4 main attractions from the visitor center which has a parking lot. From Waikiki it will take about 30 minutes to arrive.
If you have any energy left to walk and shop then you’ll be happy to know that you are very close to the popular and one of a kind Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. You’ll find yourself walking through a maze of vendors displaying all different types of goods. From thousands of different Hawaiian tee shirts to endless Hawaiiana goods, you’ll walk away in amazement if you don’t find anything you like here!
It might be a bit much for one day, but just 10 to 15 minutes away is the Bishop Museum. It’s full of artifacts from Hawaii’s past and surrounding Polynesia history, culture, monarchy, and much more. I can’t tell you how much of a treat this Oahu attraction is!
Downtown Chinatown is another fun eye opening experience! Get lost in the historic Chinatown district, and explore neat art galleries, Asian gift shops, local produce stands, and a verity of hip restaurants, which surrounds it all.
Also don’t miss the colorful lei shops that help gives Chinatown Honolulu its flare.