As authorities prepare to reopen museums and other attractions across Hawaii, a question on many people’s minds is, “When can we return to Pearl Harbor?” While a firm date has not been set for reopening the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which includes the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, it’s safe to assume that it will be before the 14-day visitor quarantine is lifted. This means that Hawaii residents will be the first to be able to visit the Memorial and the other sites scattered throughout Pearl Harbor: the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. For locals, this represents a golden opportunity to visit the Pearl Harbor sites before the throngs of tourists return. Some people regard Pearl Harbor as purely a tourist attraction, and use that as an excuse to stay away, but you shouldn’t. The museums, memorials, and other sites are national treasures that should be experienced by everyone.
Return to Pearl Harbor – What to Expect
When the first visitors return to Pearl Harbor, they can expect to find everything in immaculate shape. Most of the attractions have been able to retain much of their staff, so they’ve used the down time to perform thorough cleaning and maintenance. Expect to find public-facing staff eager to welcome you after a long hiatus.
What to See
A visit to Pearl Harbor offers four main attractions: the Pearl Harbor National Memorial (including the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the USS Arizona Memorial), the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, The Battleship Missouri, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
A visit to Pearl Harbor starts at the Visitor Center. Administered by the US National Park Service, this is the hub of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The Visitor Center includes multiple exhibits and two museum galleries: The Road to War and Attack!
The highlight of a visit to Pearl Harbor is the USS Arizona Memorial program. This timed and ticketed program starts at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater, where guests watch a 23-minute documentary film about the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. After the film, you board a US Navy shuttle boat for a ride across the harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. Anchored directly above the fallen battleship—which serves as the final resting place for over 900 sailors—this is a place of quiet reflection. Be sure to look into the water next to the Memorial to see the famous “Black Tears of the Arizona,” droplets of oil that have been seeping out from the ship for nearly 80 years.
Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park
Adjacent to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. Here, visitors have a chance to explore the World War II-era submarine nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger, getting a feel for life at sea in incredibly cramped quarters. Please note that children under the age of 4 are not allowed inside the submarine, but they are welcome in all other parts of the site.
There are multiple submarine-related displays on the grounds, as well as a Waterfront Memorial dedicated to the men and vessels lost in the Pacific during World War II.
If the USS Arizona Memorial represents the beginning of American involvement in World War II, the Battleship Missouri symbolizes the end. This is where the Instruments of Surrender—the documents bringing the war to a formal close—were signed on September 2, 1945. Look for the plaque on the Surrender Deck that marks the exact spot where this historic event happened.
The Mighty Mo, as the last battleship built for the US Navy is affectionately known, had a long and active career. After serving in the closing days of World War II and hosting the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, she went on to serve in the Korean Conflict, after which she was decommissioned and placed in reserve. Recommissioned and reactivated in the 1980s, USS Missouri later saw action in the Gulf War.
Missouri was decommissioned for the final time in 1992, and became a museum ship berthed at Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor in 1999.
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Pearl Harbor’s newest attraction is the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Housed in two historic hangars, the Museum has an extensive collection of military aircraft, including the iconic Mitsubishi A6M2—better known as the Zero—as well as several of the American aircraft that fought against it in World War II. The collection also includes planes and helicopters from all the decades since then. as well as a working maintenance and restoration shop as it was configured during World War II.
The Museum offers a flight simulator that lets you experience aerial rolls, loops, and spins as you take the controls for a simulated dogfight over the Pacific.
With all of these attractions projected to reopen before the out-of-state visitor quarantine ends, this is a great time to plan a visit to Pearl Harbor, a place of enormous historic significance right in your own backyard!