More than 75 years after Japan's attack pulled the United States into World War II, Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial remain among the most popular tourist attractions in Hawaii, with more than 1.8 million visitors annually. The addition of the Battleship Missouri Memorial in 1999, the opening of the Pacific Aviation Museum in 2006, and the inauguration of the new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center in 2010 further enhance the experience at this historic site.
The Memorial's Significance
Hawaii's largest natural harbor, Pearl Harbor is both an active military base and a National Historic Landmark that commemorates the courage and sacrifices of those who fought in the Pacific during the war. A visit to the USS Arizona Memorial makes for a solemn and sobering experience, even for those not yet born on December 7, 1941, when the attack occurred. You literally stand over a grave site where 1,177 men lost their lives; you can see the wreckage of the sunken ship beneath you.
Explore the exhibit galleries "Road to War" and "Attack," where displays of personal memorabilia, historic photographs, artifacts of the battle, and several interactive exhibits tell the story of that fateful day. The visitor center includes a spacious bookstore, numerous interpretive wayside exhibits, and a lovely waterfront promenade. Be sure to pause at Remembrance Circle, which pays tribute to the men, women, and children, both military and civilian, killed as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Visiting the Memorial
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center opens daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours to the USS Arizona Memorial depart every 15 minutes beginning at 7:30 a.m., with the final trip of the day departing at 3 p.m. The experience includes a 23-minute documentary film about the attack; with the boat trip, tours take about 75 minutes to complete. You should plan about three hours to complete the tour and still give yourself time to explore the visitor center fully.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center operates as a partnership between the National Park Service and the non-profit Pacific Historic Parks (formerly called the Arizona Memorial Museum Association). Though admission to both the center and the memorial is free, you do need to secure a ticket. You can do this ahead online, or arrive early to claim one of the 1,300 free walk-in-tickets distributed daily on a first-come, first served basis. Everyone in your party must be physically present to obtain the same-day, walk-in tickets; you cannot pick up tickets for another person.
In addition, each day at 7 a.m., any remaining online ticket inventory for the next day gets released. You pay a $1.50 convenience fee per ticket for ordering advance tickets.
A self-guided audio tour for the USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, narrated by actor and author Jamie Lee Curtis, costs $7.50. Made available by Pacific Historic Parks, the tour takes about two hours and covers 29 points of interest; it comes in nine languages.
Practical Tips for Tourists
Visitors park for free at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
You can purchase tickets for admission to other Pearl Harbor attractions, including the USS Bowfin Submarine, the USS Missouri Battleship, and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, at the Pearl Harbor historic site ticket booth located in the courtyard of the visitor center.
For security reasons, purses, handbags, fanny packs, backpacks, camera bags, diaper bags, or luggage of any kind are not allowed in the visitor center or on the memorial tour. You can take a personal camera with you, though. The visitor center offers storage for $5 per bag.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the USS Arizona Memorial are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.