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Visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

Recovered anchor from the USS Arizona, as seen while visiting Pearl Harbor
Recovered anchor from the USS Arizona

Along with being famous for beaches and mountains, Hawaii is also well-known for Pearl Harbor.

It’s not so much of an attraction to visit when you’re in Honolulu, but instead, it’s a memorial, a place to learn about, remember, and honor the lives that were lost on the quiet morning of December 7th, 1941.

Pearl Harbor is on the west side of Honolulu.

It’s a deep water lagoon on the island of Oahu, a natural harbor that makes the perfect place for ships to dock.

Due to its position, it became a strategic US military base.

What happened at Pearl Harbor?

Japan was already at war, invading and expanding into parts of China and the Dutch East Indies.

The US had been paying attention, and they decided to cut off supplying resources to Japan, and the US also decided to go into parts of Southeast Asia to help secure them.

But the Japanese had other plans and thought the US entering Southeast Asia might interfere with their goals, and that’s when they decided to attack Pearl Harbor, to prevent the US from doing anything.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Japanese aircraft made a surprise bomb attack on the US battleships in Pearl Harbor, destroying numerous ships with many casualties.

The attack on Pearl Harbor caused the US to declare war with Japan, and they entered into World War II.

At the memorial
At the memorial

What to expect when you visit?

The Pearl Harbor memorial, or more specifically the USS Arizona memorial (the most major ship that was bombed during the surprise attack) is one of the most visited places on the island.

Every day, countless tourists by the busload, and those driving their cars, arrive at the memorial.

If you drive yourself, there is plenty of parking, and the parking is free.

Keep in mind that you can’t carry any bags into the Pearl Harbor memorial – cameras are fine to take, but you have to take them out of your bag before entering.

There are lockers available if you need them, but otherwise, carry what you can in your hands and pockets.

Due to the volume of visitors, and only being able to take a limited group amount to the USS Arizona memorial at a time, there’s often a long line.

The first step is to go to the ticket counter and request your ticket.

You’ll be given a ticket with the time your ticket is valid for, which will often be a couple of hours later.

Tickets to the USS Arizona are free.

I arrived at 10 am, and my ticket was for the 12:45 pm tour.

With a few hours to spare, you could walk around to various exhibits, or even pay the $12 to go inside the USS Bowfin, where you can enter a World War II submarine, or if you’re like me, you could go to eat and then come back.

Part of the sunken ship
Part of the sunken ship

When you arrive at your ticket time, you first meet up with your group outside the theater.

When it’s time, you enter the theater and watch a film, which lasts for about 30 minutes or so.

I thought the film was terrific, and it explained, very concisely, the conflict and why Japan made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

I knew a little bit of the history of Pearl Harbor from before, but it was good to listen to the details in the film to get a better understanding before going to the memorial.

Related: Taking a Scenic Drive Around Oahu

Visiting Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona memorial
The memorial

After the film, you get on a boat for a short 5-minute ride to the white Arizona memorial. It’s a platform floating over the sunken Arizona ship.

Though you can only see a few rusty parts of the ship below the water, it’s a quiet and solemn reminder of those who lost their lives in the attack.

Visiting Pearl Harbor is not the most fun thing to do in Hawaii, but it’s a place to learn about history, honor those involved, and remember the past.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Mary Claire

Friday 12th of September 2014

I visited Pearl Harbor a few years back and it was one of the most humbling experiences I ever had. Being there, in one of America's most historic places, I can't help but be grateful to the people, nay heroes, who selflessly gave all they had, including their lives in the service of their country.


Thursday 13th of March 2014

Hello All: As a former U.S. Navy sailor, I appreciate the post. I have been to the Arizona memorial before when we would make a port stop in Pearl Harbor. Maybe because I served or maybe the little bit of American pride in me, the memorial is a tear-jerker. We need to remember, and learn, from the past. Thank you.

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