5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Visit to Pearl Harbor

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a small boat in a body of water: PHOTO: USS Arizona Memorial Pearl Harbor Hawaii (photo via pinggr / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Pearl Harbor is one of Oahu’s most visited attractions.

With a mix of free and pay-for museums, ships, and activities, there are many ways to explore and experience its history.

Here are five tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Travel Light & Plan Ahead

Bags and purses larger than a wristlet are not allowed inside the Pearl Harbor historical sites (this includes camera bags). There is a bag check at the front gate where you can store them ($5 per bag), but it’s best to avoid it altogether, as the line at the bag check can get quite long during busy times. You don’t need to bring much to enjoy the day – just your wallet and camera – and we recommend traveling light to avoid the hustle.

When scheduling your visit to Pearl Harbor, you should reserve an Arizona Memorial ticket in advance. It includes a short movie and a boat ride out to see the Memorial. This movie and boat ride will be attached to a specific time. Show up at least an hour before your ticket slot so you have enough time to visit a few museums beforehand.

Visit the Road to War and Attack Museums Before the Video and Boat Tour

Two free museums – the Road to War and the Attack Museums – set the historical stage in the years leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Even if you know your history well, taking an hour to go through these museums will give you a detailed explanation of what was happening at the time. The Road to War Museum explains how the aftermath of World War I affected the United States’ willingness to get involved in World War II, and what the U.S. thought of the Japanese capabilities leading up to the attack. The Attack Museum provides moving, detailed descriptions of what happened on December 7, 1941.

Don’t Pass Up the Audio Tour

You can browse the Pearl Harbor historical site on your own, but if you want to deepen your experience, spring for the audio tour. It’s only $7.50, and it will bring the historical site to life. Not only does it narrate the Road to War and Attack Museums, but it also brings you to significant points throughout the historical area, explaining other memorials and points of interest that lack signage.

Lighten the Load By Visiting the Bowfin and Missouri

Pearl Harbor can be a moving place, one that brings about great sadness. It’s advised that you work in a few lighter, less-intense activities along the way. You can get a neat glimpse of life on a sub by touring the Bowfin Submarine, which allows you to go below deck and walk through the living quarters.

A visit to the U.S.S. Missouri is also a great idea, as it provides closure to the whole Pearl Harbor experience. World War II ended when the Japanese surrendered on board the Missouri. You can tour the entire ship and also visit the exact spot where the surrender took place.

Eat at Restaurant 604

In a perfect world, you would arrive at Pearl Harbor in the morning to explore the museums, visit the Arizona Memorial mid-morning, and then finish up with the Bowfin and Missouri by early afternoon (visiting in the morning is nice because it’s cooler, and most attractions are outside and/or open air). In this scenario, you would finish up around lunchtime.

Since the hot dog carts at Pearl Harbor leave something to be desired, we recommend you make a short walk next door and eat at Restaurant 604. With a view overlooking Pearl Harbor, it’s a nice end to the experience, where you can reflect on your visit and enjoy local fish plates or Kalua pork.

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