Pearl Harbor (Hawaii)

While visiting Oahu, a visit to the important Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a must do.  Everyone should visit this site at least once to see where so many lost their lives for freedom.  Much like a visit to Normandy, this site is inspiring and heart-breaking at the same time.  Unlike Normandy, however, these service men and women did not choose to go into a battle, it was forced upon them by the Sunday morning attack that brought America into World War II.

To guarantee your access to Pearl Harbor, be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time.  Tickets are available for purchase for $1.00 up to 60 days in advance.  Since some of the site is only accessed by boat, you must have tickets to see the actual USS Arizona memorial.  There are some same-day tickets available but you don’t want to chance it.  If you don’t want to see the USS Arizona memorial or are happy seeing it from the shore, tickets are not needed.  I also recommend renting the headset tour, which narrates the site and helps bring the artifacts to life, particularly for children, when you buy your tickets.

Arrive in plenty of time before your ticketed time to find parking.  The connected lot is very small and while there are several additional lots nearby, they are a 10-15 minute walk from the site.  Also be aware that bags are not permitted unless they are see-through so leave all diaper bags, purses, etc. securely in the car or in an onsite locker.  See the Park Service’s video for more information about the site.

After going through security, proceed straight ahead to pick up your tickets from the ticket window, even if you purchased them in advance.  You can pick up your headset at the kiosk beside the ticket windows.

Leave enough time before your ticketed time to arrive at the entrance to the theater, which begins your tour to the USS Arizona memorial.  You should plan to be at the theater 10-15 minutes before the ticketed time. We did not plan this and arrived just as our group was making its way into the theater!  It definitely caused some panic on our part!

Your tour will begin with a 23 minute movie about the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It does a great job of explaining the background of the attack and has actual footage of the attack.  It is suitable for most children over the age of 8 but does have some loud sounds and talks about how many people were killed in the attack.

After leaving the theater, your group will be escorted out to wait on the boat to take you to the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor.  The boat ride itself will be exciting for children!  There is a tour guide on the boat to provide narration but if you have the headsets, you will get a more immersive experience.  


The USS Arizona memorial is currently undergoing repairs so boats do not dock at the memorial.  In a previous tour, the boat docked and visitors were able to walk on the memorial to see the USS Arizona just below the surface in its watery grave.  The repairs are scheduled to be completed by Fall 2019.

Even if you cannot walk on the memorial, you will still be moved by the experience.  It is especially poignant to see the oil still leaking from the ship on the surface of the water.  Your children will be fascinated by the buoys that mark where the ships were lined up on “Battleship Row” on the day of the attack.  They also will be awe-struck by the USS Missouri battleship and how it looms over the harbor.  Ask them to imagine many of those ships were in the harbor that day and how that must have looked.  Even with a busy naval base and harbor traffic still going on, the site itself is somber and even my 10 year old understood the reverence to show at the site.


After the 30 minute boat ride, you will return to the visitors center for more exploration of the site.  You can walk around the grounds to learn more about the attack and see the remembrance circle.  This is a great place to let your kids get some energy out before heading back to the museums.  

If you have time before your ticketed tour, you could begin your visit with the museums but if you are cutting it close on your ticketed time, the museums are a great way to wrap up your visit.  Each of the museums, the “Road to War” museum and the “Attack” museum, are self-guided and easy to see at your own pace. The narrated headset guide also works in the museum and provides more context for what you are seeing.  My children loved seeing the interactive maps and artifacts from the attack.

Be sure to end your tour at the fantastic gift shop back near the entrance.  Your kids will find lots of souvenirs to bring home!

If you are interested in more tours, the Visitor’s Center also sells tickets for the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, which is part of the complex.  You can also purchase a passport ticket to tour the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri battleship, both of which are only accessible through a shuttle bus tour.  If you have any budding history buffs, they will especially love the tour of the USS Missouri, where the peace with Japan was signed.


Helpful hints:

  • Cost: Free access to site; advance tickets $1/person
  • Recommended: to understand and appreciate the site, ages 10 and up; the site is accessible for all ages
  • Plan to spend at least 3 hours at the site
  • Gift shop and small snack shop onsite
  • Public transportation: #20 and #42 bus from Waikiki
  • Parking: One small, connected lot.  Other lots nearby – leave 15 minutes to walk from lot to visitor’s center.
  • Dining options nearby: Other than the onsite snack shop, there is only one restaurant within walking distance, Restaurant 604.  There are many restaurants near the H1 highway.  
  • Nearby attractions include: Other Pearl Harbor attractions listed above.  Waikiki, with its beaches, shopping, and restaurants, is only a 15 minute drive away.  Other nearby historical sites include the Iolani Palace (don’t miss the King Kamehameha statue!), the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, and Hawaii’s Plantation Village.  


Books to read:


Have you taken your kids to Pearl Harbor?  What was their favorite part? Let me know in the comments!




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