Best Way To See Pearl Harbor – Visitor Tips
What’s the best way to see Pearl Harbor?
You ask ten different people, and you’ll get ten different answers. That’s why we spent some time searching online and gathering the best visitor tips from people on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and our own archives to provide you with actual quotes from people who have been there, done that.
If you’re planning a trip to Oahu, here are ten visitor tips on the best way to see Pearl Harbor:
Admiral’s Warbird Adventure
My father-in-law truly enjoyed himself and was visibly moved by the whole experience. He kept saying that it was one of the best experiences he’s had and will remember for the rest of his life! We really appreciated your professionalism and warm demeanor during the entire flight. Thank you for offering such a warbird experience.
– Corrine P, on Pacific Warbirds
Positive Guided Tour
This tour was the highlight of my 5 day vacation in Hawaii! I was able to learn and see so much in one day. It took us around the island of Oahu. It’s a little pricey but worth it because you don’t have to rent a car for the day and you get free entrance to the museum, cultural center, and free lunch.
The tour starts at 6am and ends at 5pm. The driver will pick you up at the hotel you’re staying at. Most likely you will see other tour buses picking up passengers at the same spot. So don’t be alarmed if you see a tour bus driving away at an earlier time than your pick-up time because that happened to us. They will double check if you are getting on the correct bus by checking off the roster. My driver was named Maurice (#DiscoverMaurice) and he was great and informative.
Our first stop was Pearl Harbor. There will be a long line of people waiting for the doors to be opened in the morning. Once inside, you are still able to see everything just fine and it is not congested. You’ll be there for about 2 hours and wander around with your family/friends. You do not have to stay with the group. Your guide will give you a meeting spot and time.
Next stop was the Dole Plantation, then the beaches, then Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, and the last stop was the Byodo-In Temple. I enjoyed it as that was my first time in Hawaii and I wanted it to be more educational and very tourist-like. I booked my tickets through the Pearl Harbor website at: https://pearlharboroahu.com/pearl-harbor-tours/
– Mary I., El Monte, CA on Yelp
Negative Guided Tour
This is a hard review to write because I don’t have any sense of how good or bad the competition might be, but judging strictly by my family’s experience, I would have to say: avoid this tour provider at all costs. Sadly, you will probably even do better on your own. In 3 words: this tour sucked.
After we landed in Honolulu, it was straightforward to find and join our group. We arrived at the Pearl Harbor visitor center in short order, and our guide explained the various opportunities. But the timing was terrible. We had been told we would have time to check out the submarine USS Bowfin, visit the USS Arizona memorial, and tour the battleship USS Missouri. It’s true that we saw all 3 of those sites, but in no case did we really have the time we needed. We were rushed through all 3 vessels and did not learn what we wanted to learn. Instead, by 1 PM we were effectively gone from the interesting parts of Pearl Harbor, dumped instead at the so-called Aviation Museum–which was underwhelming, reeked of “tourist trap,” and repetitive of things that can be seen in many other places around the country, including the Smithsonian–for over two hours. A MUCH better use of time would have allotted 30 minutes to the “aviation museum” tourist trap and added at least 30 minutes to each of the naval vessels.
(To be clear: none of this was the fault of the Pearl Harbor Visitors’ Center. The center is very well done–informative, respectful, etc. The problems all stemmed from the rushed schedule imposed on us by Discover Hawaii.)
Post-Pearl-Harbor, we were herded back onto the bus and driven around Honolulu for another 2 hours, despite having specifically asked at booking time for a tour that did NOT allocate any time to anything besides Pearl Harbor. Again, why not ditch the random bus ride around Honolulu in favor of 2 more hours to explore Pearl Harbor?
Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, those of us who flew in from other islands were–with no advance warning!–dumped off at a downtown hotel and told that a different bus would come to return us to the airport in an hour. We were encouraged to go shopping and have a drink in that hotel’s bar. It was a definite case of adding insult to injury. I have to assume that someone–the hotel?–was paying off the tour company to drum up business, but it left us in such a bad mood we didn’t spend a dime. Nor did we tip the guide at all…we spent what would otherwise have been his tip on a private taxi back to the airport.
If what you want is Pearl Harbor specifically, do it yourself: pre-purchase your own tickets for the specific ships you find interesting; allow a lot of time between ships; use taxis to and from the airport. Skip the “aviation museum.” But even if you decide to go with a tour, I strongly encourage you to find a different tour provider.
Scott P., Half Moon Bay, CA on Yelp
Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
One heck of a well-designed memorial.
You get to be immersed in the events of December 7, 1941. Everything from the events leading up to the attack, details about the attack, and its aftermath. Even if you have zero history knowledge, by the time you’re out the gates, you will have plenty.
The memorial above the USS Arizona is simply touching. Did I say well designed? You’re right at the site of the sunken ship, where for two days rescuers were able to hear tapping from neighboring decks. And there you stand.
You can not bring large backpacks, fanny packs, purses, or large cameras. Basically, you can only bring your phone, a small camera, and your wallet. Don’t worry though, this is not a place for photos, it’s a place to be solemn.
– Santita N., Centreville, VA on Yelp
USS Arizona Memorial
If you visit Oahu you have to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.
It’s a free tour to the memorial. You can request tickets at the front desk when you arrive to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. They will provide you with a time slot. Head over to the memorial area (dock) 10 minutes before your time slot. Once your time slot comes up they will open the doors and play a short film for you. After the film you will take a short boat ride to the memorial. You will be free to walk around and take the boat back when you are ready. It seemed that the boats came back every 15 minutes or so.
Mailoha A., Tampa, FL on Yelp
Battleship Missouri Memorial
First tip: If you are DOD or Military, go take a quick detour and stop at the MWR. General admission normally is $25/person, but through the MWR, you can save about $5-6 dollars a ticket. I’m not sure how much the other entrance fees are discounted through the MWR… plus you can use the MWR tickets anytime up to the end of the year. There is no discount available if you walk up to the window.
Second tip: Also, if you are DOD or Military with base access, you do not need to go to the Missouri memorial from the Arizona Memorial/Pearl Harbor memorial area. You can use your base access to drive over to Ford Island yourself. What this also means is you don’t have to take the community shuttle bus over and you do not have to check in your bag at security. (The bag check in was a big deal for my Mom, as she does not like to have to survive anywhere without her purse…).
Third: The outside deck may not be air conditioned, but the inside is. Thank goodness for the AC.
Eileen B., Honolulu, HI on Yelp
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park
If you get walk-up tickets for the USS Arizona memorial, like we did, you will probably have to wait a few hours until the actual tour. Do you give up your coveted parking spot and go elsewhere, risking traffic to try and get back on time? No! You tour the USS Bowfin, also located in Pearl Harbor. It was $7 or 8 and absolutely worth it. Movies and TV can only do so much to convey life on a WWII submarine. Actually walking through the tight quarters, seeing where the submariners lived, worked, spent downtime playing cards, sweated and prayed as they tried to avoid being hit by enemy torpedos while destroying enemy ships really drives it home. You should take advantage of the audio tour. Because of the tight space, there would be no way for a tour guide or docent to talk to a large group. Self-paced is the way to go. There are employees or volunteers (not sure which) that can help you and take pictures of you and your friend if you ask.
After you tour the sub, the adjacent museum is a must see. It is well-curated and genuinely fascinating, covering the overall history of submarine technology to the role of subs in the WWII Pacific theater. Finally, like the gift shops at the USS Arizona memorial and the USS Missouri, this gift shop has lots of neat WWII inspired memorabilia, from Rosie the riveter pens to historical nonfiction books. I dare you to walk away empty handed!
Rachael O., Honolulu, HI on Yelp
USS Utah Memorial
Members of the Armed Forces, listen up. You cannot allow your families and friends to visit Oahu without taking them to see USS Utah, which is an eerie and unique experience to say the least.
Utah is one of the five memorials in Pearl Harbor, the others being Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nevada. You can find the Utah by accessing Ford Island (military ID required), and heading toward the Navy Lodge. Utah is just in front of the Lodge. For reference, the Mo and the Ok memorials are on the opposite side. Nevada is off the top of the runway across the water, at Hospital Point.
Utah’s fate is amazing. She was hit out in the harbor and at risk of sinking. This would have blocked the channel. Crews tied cables to the ship and rolled it head over heels to where she currently sits. It was decided to leave her there as a memorial to the crew.
If you can land one of the Navy tours from the Boathouse, you get to view the plaque mounted on the seaward side of Utah, which is dedicated to the child who died during the attack. Again, don’t miss the chance to take your family and friends to the Utah. It makes for a great round especially before or after visiting the Mighty Mo!
Geno P., San Diego, CA on Yelp
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
I come here all the time, as my uncle’s final resting place is here at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, as he was a veteran of WWII.
I must say, this is a beautiful park, well maintained, and it has such spectacular views from the lookout area, where you can see from Diamond Head to the Pearl Harbor area.
Also some cool trivia, (as my cousin’s son pointed this out to me)…………did you folks know as you drive into the park, straight ahead is a large white lady statue. This statue is featured on the opening credits of the original Hawaii 5-0 T.V. show (you know……….the show with Jack Lord, not the current show. There will never be a replacement for Jack Lord! Lol!).
Please give a big “MAHALO” to all the veterans who served this great country!
Fran C., Honolulu, HI on Yelp
Pacific Aviation Museum
This museum is pretty impressive! After living here all my life, I never knew this museum existed or never really looked in depth of what Pearl Harbor offers aside from the USS Memorial. I attended a 1st birthday party here and it was such a cool place to hold a kids birthday party. Although we needed military access prior to attending this party, it went pretty smooth as we were able to drive through with our pass with no problems.
The Pacific Aviation Museum is located on Ford Island. Visitors who don’t have military access will have to ride a shuttle bus from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. I think this place is perfect for kids, especially if they love planes! There are so many history behind all that they have displayed here and I’m glad that I was able to experience seeing this museum without paying for the admission fee. There’s also a theater room that shows the history of the planes overtime. But that night, the movie “Home” was played for the kids to watch during the party.
This would be one recommendable sightseeing place to visit that will give historical view of all the Aviation History in Hawaii.
Roxanne Lynn T., Honolulu, HI on Yelp
Pacific Warbirds offers the best Hawai‘i flight adventure tours available. Be immersed in the details of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor and soar above the important sites that played a part in the “Day of Infamy.” Relive history as you retrace the steps of the Army and Navy airmen in the days following the bombing. Fly on some of the same routes the Japanese attackers used into the airfields at Wheeler, Kāne‘ohe and Bellows. There are many air tours in Hawai‘i, but only one warbird airplane flight. Located in Honolulu, Hawai‘i Pacific Warbirds provides a personal historical experience making it one of the best O‘ahu attractions.
Experience an immersive two hour adventure that allows you to relive history as a Naval Aviator and fly Pearl Harbor like it was on December 10th, 1941. Learn more about the Admiral’s Warbird Adventure.