While not glamorous like Waikiki, or awe-inspiring like North Shore, I feel it is the duty of every American visiting Oahu to spend a few hours at Pearl Harbor in honor of those who lost their lives there that fateful day in December of 1941. The unexpected air raid on the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor was a major turning point in WWII, and forever changed the course of United States history. Seeing the sunken USS Arizona is a very somber experience, and there are no words to explain the feeling you get from seeing the site where over 1000 American crewmen died and are still trapped inside this watery grave.
So, I will not attempt to describe the experience, but rather, I will tell you useful tips that will help your visit go smoothly.
First, reserve your tickets in advance online. There are a limited number of first come, first serve tickets available every day at the memorial, but it is an extremely popular tourist destination, and hoping to get lucky is too much of a gamble and adds unnecessary stress to your relaxing Hawaiian vacation. Tickets, as well as additional information, can be obtained here.
Second, the signs in the parking lot telling you to leave your bags in your car aren’t lying. They do not allow bags of any size, not even purses, into the memorial. You can only take wallets and small camera cases in with you. If you do not feel safe leaving your bag in your car, they do offer bag storage on site for $5 a bag. Yikes. We didn’t think they would actually make us leave our purses behind, but they did. That was an unpleasant discovery and dumb waste of money.
We were running late and had to rush to make it to our tour on time. The tour starts with an informational video, which I recommend actually paying attention to, because it helps you better appreciate what happened here. After the video, you board a boat which takes you out to the memorial.
Third, you only get 15 minutes at the memorial, and they definitely stay on schedule. This was the only thing I really didn’t like about the visit. It was hard to be able to fully reflect upon what you are experiencing and pay your respects to these fallen heroes when you are being herded through like cattle. So make sure you see whatever is most important to you first, because chances are, you won’t get to see it all due to time constraints and big crowds.
Once again, I cannot even begin to explain how it feels seeing this in person, knowing there are hundreds of people still inside this ship…
Memorial wall for those who died that day at Pearl Harbor in the service of our country.
Fourth, please keep in mind you are visiting not only a memorial, but also a grave site, so dress and behave respectfully. For how many people were there, it was surprisingly quiet. I think everyone understood the solemnity of what they were looking at. Photography is allowed, and almost everyone was taking pictures, but maybe refrain from the selfie. You don’t want to have a picture of you smiling next to the site of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of America.
Fifth, there are a couple museums that, in addition to the memorial, make up the Pearl Harbor National Monument. These museums are definitely worth checking out. They provide additional perspective on what life was like during that era, and go into greater detail of what happened in the days leading up to, the day of, and the days after the attack. We walked through the museums after our tour, and honestly, I’m not sure if it matters what you do first, the tour or the museum. But definitely do both.
An aerial photograph of Pearl Harbor in 1941
A model of what the Arizona looks like beneath the surface of the water.
And so, I will wrap up by saying I most definitely recommend visiting Pearl Harbor, not because it is a “must-see tourist destination,” but because it is a huge part of who we are as a country, and because these American soldiers died so we can have all the freedoms we have today. And they deserve our respect, gratitude, and appreciation.