The 7 Best Pearl Harbor Tours to Book in 2018

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Pearl Harbor is one of America’s most iconic historical locations — and one of the most important World War II sites anywhere. After all, its 1941 bombing is what ultimately forced the United States’ hand to enter the war, particularly in the Pacific theater. Now, the port — located centrally on Hawaii’s Oahu island — is largely a memorial to the staggering 2,400 lives lost during Japanese military attacks against American ships and planes that year. The main memorial is the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which floats in the harbor’s waters. One of the most famous highlights is the USS Arizona Memorial, but there are also others to visit: the USS Oklahoma’s rows of white marble columns, the docked USS Missouri (the last American battleship), a submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum, which is host to WWII-era aircraft.

You don’t have to be on Oahu to bear witness to the tragedy and catalyst that was Pearl Harbor, however. A multitude of tours is available, including options to explore both Honolulu City and Pearl Harbor on the same day. Read on for the best Pearl Harbor tours the internet has to offer. 

  • 01 of 07

    This five-hour tour is one of the best for first-time visitors to Pearl Harbor. After getting picked up by van in the morning from your Waikiki hotel or port arrival location, you’ll visit Pearl Harbor, where you’ll be able to soak up the history of the hugely impactful event. You’ll also visit the USS Arizona with a skip-the-line ticket, so you won’t have to wait in what can sometimes be incredibly long lines.

    Finally, you’ll embark on a guided bus tour of Honolulu City, taking in some of its top historic sights — including ‘Iolani Palace, and Washington Place — before heading to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl Crater. The tour bus is really nice, with free cold bottled water, phone charging stations, and air conditioning. There are​ also two different start time options, with pickups at 6:45 or 9:45 — so choose what works best for your family’s vacation style.

    Guides are also highly knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to other aspects of guests’ visits, like where to find the best Kona coffee on the island.​​

  • 02 of 07

    There are tours, and then there are tours. This is the latter, and it packs in virtually every major and minor monument, tour, and attraction at Pearl Harbor into one massive tour — and more besides. Start your 10-hour tour at the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center to get a brief overview of the main events of the fateful day — and what came before and after — by exploring its displays and exhibitions.

    Then, it’s time to move on to the USS Arizona: You’ll watch a short film before going on the Navy shuttle to see the memorial above the sunken boat, with narration for the self-guided tour provided by an award-winning audioguide. Next up is a visit to the USS Bowfin, followed by the USS Missouri, the site of WWII’s end (Japan signed the surrender documents here), then the visit to the harbor ends with a visit to the Pacific Aviation Museum, which is filled with planes both vintage and new.

    It’s not just this site your tour explores, however: You’ll have a bus tour through downtown Honolulu to see some of the city’s historical sites, including Punchbowl Cemetery, the statue of King Kamehameha the Great, and ‘Iolani Palace. There’s nothing else to worry about on this tour, with skip-the-line tickets, instant confirmation, service and fuel surcharges, and a great light lunch included.

  • 03 of 07

    For those who want to comprehensively explore the history of Pearl Harbor and take some time to dive into its monuments and memorials, the Day at Pearl Harbor tour is a great bet. The tour, which lasts almost 10 hours, takes guests from their Waikiki-area hotels to the Pacific Historic Park — and then back in time. Highlights include a stop at the Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial, where you’ll take in a movie about the attack, the museums on site, an audio tour of the visitor center and its exhibitions, and a shuttle ride to the USS Arizona memorial.

    You’ll also visit the USS Bowfin museum, where you’ll have an audio tour narrating its history and then head to the museum to learn about submarines. Next up is the USS Missouri battleship and the Pacific Aviation Museum, where, in addition to learning about the history of military aircraft, you’ll see history up close spotting the battle marks still visible on the building’s exterior. Eventually, the tour departs the harbor for a coach ride through Honolulu, where you’ll see the Honolulu Hale (city hall), ‘Iolani Palace, and Korean and Vietnam War memorials on the state capital grounds — and more. 

  • 04 of 07

    Best Island Trip: Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona, and Circle Island Day Trip

    Nu’uanu Pali ​Lookout

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    For those who are looking to branch beyond Pearl Harbor on their day trip and learn a bit more about Hawaii’s history, the Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona, and Circle Island Day Trip is the tour to go on. The tour picks you up at your Waikiki hotel in the morning before the first stop at the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. You’ll watch a film that gives an overview of the events of the fateful day, then head out to the ship’s memorial, where you can walk on a glass floor to see the battleship below.

    After a stop at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to take in the exhibitions, you’ll begin your tour around Oahu, stopping at famous beaches like Pipeline and Waimea Bay, and then you’ll head to the Dole Plantation to learn about pineapple farming on the island. Next up is the Nu’uanu Pali ​Lookout, the site of a famous battle for control over the island that was won by King Kamehameha I won in 1795.

    You’ll take in scenic views over beautiful scenic bays, and then wrap your day by heading to the Byodo-In Temple, which is surrounded by gorgeous nature and scores of wild peacocks. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Best for Naval History Buffs: Pearl Harbor Battleships Tour

    USS Arizona

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    On this seven-hour tour, dive into the history of the battleships that witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. You’ll get picked up early in the morning from your Waikiki hotel, then head to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center for your first stop, touring the museum and its exhibitions while learning about the infamous attack on the harbor. Then, you’ll see a short film about the USS Arizona before getting on a boat to head to the memorial, which is built over the ship’s sunken remains.

    Next, you’ll visit the USS Missouri to see where the war ended — you’ll even get to see the signed surrender treaty. You’ll explore the battleship’s many areas before heading to the memorial for the USS Oklahoma, which pays homage to the American casualties who served on the ship during the war. Finally, back on the bus, you’ll pass through the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where almost 40,000 U.S. armed forces members are buried.

  • 06 of 07

    Best Small Group Tour: Small-Group Half-Day Pearl Harbor

    I’olani Palace

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    For those wanting a more intimate experience on their history tour, this small-group tour is just the thing: Only you and nine others come along on this half-day tour that explores downtown Honolulu and Pearl Harbor’s memorials and museums, including a tour of the USS Arizona. You’ll get picked up early in the morning from your hotel before beginning the day in downtown Honolulu, taking in the city’s history and visiting sights like the 'Iolani Palace to learn about the island’s royal past before the U.S. took over the island.

    With the Americanized, military history on your mind, you’ll then dive into the Pearl Harbor chapter — beginning with a visit to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which you’ll tour via a short bus ride. Next, you’ll visit two exhibitions at Pearl Harbor — a multimedia one documenting the day of the attack and the “Road to War,” which examines the lead-up to the attack.

    The last hour and 15 minutes are devoted to a documentary about the USS Arizona before boarding a boat to the memorial for a short visit.​

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    If you’re meeting up for a family or friend reunion in Hawaii — or just want a very intimate tour experience — a private tour for you and your party is just the thing. This four- to five-hour tour picks you up and drops you back off at your hotel, and you’ll get to skip the line at the USS Arizona memorial — where tickets often aren’t guaranteed due to the queues — so you maximize your time during your visit and ensure you can see this important part of history.

    After visiting the memorial, accompanied by your driver to help guide you through the exhibitions, you can opt-in for a tour of Honolulu’s downtown via your air-conditioned Mercedes minivan. Take in the city’s history with stops at sights like the Aloha Tower Marketplace, the King Kamehameha statue, 'Iolani Palace, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and the state capitol building before being returned to your hotel. ​​