Located in Honolulu, Hawaii, Pearl Harbor is a must-see for anyone who appreciates war memorials, World War II history, or simply looking for a fascinating addition to their Oahu island vacation. The attack on Pearl Harbor has fascinated Americans for decades as being one of the most well-known enemy attacks against the U.S. While December 7th may forever live in infamy, the event has captured the hearts and minds of many with books, big budget studio movies, video games, and more. However, the best way to experience history is in person, and this guide serves to help you on your visit.

No Bags Allowed

Pearl Harbor Honolulu Hawaii Overview of the Pearl Harbor port

Unfortunately, unlike other historical sites, bags, purses, and backpacks aren’t going to be allowed. Pearl Harbor is still an active military base, and for security purposes, the site does not allow visitors to bring bags in with them.

There are a few workarounds to this problem. First, if you have a clear bag, such as a “fishnet” style or a clear plastic that is easily see-through, they usually allow that inside as everyone can visibly see what’s on your purse. If you are bringing a small child or children in a stroller, the stroller’s compartments may still act as storage for your visit. Finally, for just $3, there is bag storage at the USS Bowfin Park. The site does receive many daily visitors, so if you’re planning on stowing a bag with them, it would be best to follow tip number two.

Get There Early

The Shrine Room Of The Arizona Memorial The Shrine Room of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

The Pearl Harbor Memorial’s website states that it should generally take about eight hours to see everything, and that’s probably assuming there aren’t any travel-related hiccups. Each of the exhibits and tours can take as long as 2 hours a piece, and the site closes daily at 5 pm.

The gates open at 7 am, and ideally you should be there as close to opening as you can. You might want to purchase tickets ahead of time, saving a few extra minutes without having to stand in line at the ticket booth.

One thing to note is that, like many government-owned historical sites, there are daily tickets given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Around 1,000 tickets are handed out daily, which sounds like plenty until you realize that the site averages around 4,000 visitors daily. If you want to guarantee entrance, it’s highly recommended to book ahead of time.

Give Yourself an Entire Day

USS Missouri battleship pearl harbor The USS Missouri battleship

To expand on the eight hour minimum window, there are several ships to see, a visitor’s center, shuttle bus, and films to see. There are also audio and guided tours available. If you’re trying to cram this all in between 7 am and 5 pm, at least part of your day is going to be a little rushed. This is especially true considering that no outside food or drink is allowed, meaning at some point you’ll have to track down a snack.

Much of the site, such as viewing the USS Missouri, is self-guided. However, the Missouri and the aviation museum are located on the nearby Ford Island, which forces guests to take the shuttle to access as much of it is restricted to military personnel.

Going to the USS Arizona memorial requires taking a short boat trip, and part of the exhibit is a documentary film. As long as you plan your day accordingly, you should be able to fit everything in to your trip.

USS Arizona Pearl Harbor The Tomb at the USS Arizona

Family Friendly, But Maybe Not Child Friendly

Pearl Harbor is beautiful and fascinating, but it’s also mature and tiring. Don’t worry; all the exhibits are family friendly. However, it’s going to be a long day exposed to the sun with a lot of walking, being quiet and respectful, and being in an educational setting. And since you can’t bring backpacks, diaper bags, or other bags inside, or snacks, it can be a very long eight hours for a small child.

In order to access some areas, like the submarine exhibit at the USS Bowfin, you do have to be at least four-years-old to enter. There are also many areas where you will be without a bathroom for an hour, hour and a half, which can seem like an eternity for a small bladder.

USS Bowfin submarine in Pearl Harbor museum USS Bowfin Submarine at the Pearl Harbor Museum

Be Aware of Special Dates

Although the site is opened every day of the year, the visitor’s center is closed for three days out of the year; on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. This means no bag storage, losing out on some valuable info and tips, and having access to buying any day supplies you may have forgotten to bring.

This year will actually be the 75th anniversary of the attack, and a commemoration ceremony will be taking place on December 7th. If you’re going to be in Oahu around that time, try and make it for this special event.

Very rarely, one of the last remaining survivors will actually be on site to speak with guests and help bring history to life. While this isn’t advertised, it may be possible to call ahead and find out if they will be there on the day of your visit.

Finally, like any major attraction, the busiest seasons for them are summer, over winter holidays, and during spring break. As long as you plan for big crowds, you shouldn’t have to rush.

The USS Missouri battleship