You’re coming to Hawaii, and near the top of your list of things to do while you’re here is a visit to Pearl Harbor. There’s a lot to see at the historic naval base, so it’s a good idea to plan out the day so you get the most out of your time there.
Where will you start? What exhibits take precedence over the others? Where will you stop for a bite to eat? Organization is the key to getting the most out of your time at Pearl Harbor and the following is a suggested order of how you may want to explore the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and other Pearl Harbor Historic Sites.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is the first thing you experience when you arrive. This is where you get your tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial program and the other sites. After you have your tickets, it’s time to explore the Visitor Center and take in the artifacts, relics, newspaper articles, and photographs laid out in front of you. Two exhibits, “Road to War” and “Attack!” are enlightening and thoughtful, with information spanning before, during, and immediately after the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941.
USS Arizona Memorial
Be sure to pay attention to the time on your USS Arizona Memorial program ticket. After taking in the Visitor Center, give yourself at least ten minutes to make your way to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater for the first part of the program: a 23-minute documentary film about the attack and its aftermath. Afterward, you board a US Navy shuttle boat for a ride across the harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial, directly above the sunken battleship where 1177 men lost their lives.
Gaze down at the wreckage of the once-mighty battleship, still leaking the droplets of oil known as the Black Tears of the Arizona.
Battleship Missouri Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial marks a terrible loss. The Battleship Missouri, moored along Battleship Row on Ford Island, is a symbol of victory and hope. After returning to the Visitor Center from the USS Arizona Memorial, catch the shuttle bus across the Admiral Clarey Bridge to Ford Island for a visit to the Battleship Missouri. Explore the tight passageways and living quarters of the battleship, and see the Surrender Deck where Japan signed the documents that brought World War II to an end.
Just outside the entrance to Missouri, there is a food truck serving light meals and drinks.
USS Oklahoma Memorial
From the Missouri, it’s just a short walk to the USS Oklahoma Memorial, a hard-to-miss installation consisting of 429 white pillars and marble plaques. Each pillar honors a crewman lost aboard USS Oklahoma when she capsized and sank during the attack. Pay tribute to the fallen men and read about the history of USS Oklahoma at this poignant display.
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
The other major attraction on Ford Island is the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, focusing on generations of aerial warfare from before World War II to today. The museum’s collection includes a Mitsubishi Zero fighter, the Japanese fighter plane used at Pearl Harbor and throughout much of World War II. The museum is home to a large collection of aircraft, many of which were restored on-site. Interactive exhibits, including flight simulators, make the museum fun for both adults and kids.
Also at the Aviation Museum is Laniakea Cafe, a full-service restaurant.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park
Returning to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, you see the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. Like the Battleship Missouri, Bowfin was not yet in service on December 7, 1941. In fact, USS Bowfin launched exactly one year after the attack, earning her the nickname Pearl Harbor Avenger.
Today, the submarine serves as the centerpiece of a museum dedicated to underwater warfare. Go inside a real World War II-era submarine for a feel of what life was like under the water. The museum houses a wide variety of submarine-related artifacts and memorabilia.
Don’t miss the Waterfront Memorial, honoring the 52 submarines and over 3500 officers and submariners lost during the Second World War.
Or You Can Just Take a Pearl Harbor Tour
Rather than trying to plan everything out yourself, consider booking a tour of Pearl Harbor and let the experts take care of all the details for you. An experienced local guide picks you up at your hotel, takes you to Pearl Harbor while sharing lots of background information, and guides you through the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites.
Whether you choose to visit Pearl Harbor on your own or as part of a guided tour, it’s a day you won’t soon forget.