Free things to do at Pearl Harbor even when the USS Arizona Memorial is closed
Pearl Harbor is on most lists of top things to do on Oahu.
And a visit to the Pearl Harbor historic sites shouldn’t leave you disappointed!
When you arrive on site, you’ll see a sign designated by the National Park Service that says World War II Valor in the Pacific.
There is an official national monument here at Pearl Harbor so you will see park rangers of the National Park Service during your visit!
This is basically an open air outdoor museum!
Being on the harbor, it makes for an incredibly serene backdrop.
There are free parts of Pearl Harbor, and you can also explore more of this important day in American history (and world history!) through one of these Pearl Harbor tours.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Americans attacked Japan. See more about U.S. military dropping the first ever nuclear bomb in the world on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of people. aka what you should know before visiting Pearl Harbor!
The iconic memorial of Pearl Harbor is closed. Is Pearl Harbor still worth visiting?
The most iconic image of Pearl Harbor is the USS Arizona Memorial. (This is the top picture you see above.)
As of May 2018, due to safety concerns citing a “crack in the supporting structure for the visitor loading ramp,” the National Park Service has decided to not allow any more visitors to the memorial.
When will this famous Pearl Harbor Memorial be open again?
The National Park Service has announced that the current plan to resume public access is set for March 2019.
Normally, the USS Arizona visit included a documentary in the theater, and then a boat ride to the memorial.
The documentary will still be presented, but instead of being able to go directly to the memorial, it sounds like there will instead be a boat ride around the memorial.
Check here for details from the National Park Service and to see current updates on when the USS Arizona Memorial will open.
If your trip to Hawaii is before it opens, it may be disappointing to not be able to directly visit the memorial, but there are still plenty more reasons to visit Pearl Harbor.
So don’t cancel your Pearl Harbor plans just because you hear that the Pearl Harbor Memorial is closed!
Below are some reasons to still make Pearl Harbor a part of your trip to Oahu!
There is a list below of things to do at Pearl Harbor that can make your trip worth it.
You will also find a list of things to do near Pearl Harbor following your visit to this historic place. (Like this ancient Hawaiian temple and this hiking trail. Also be sure to check this list of things to do in Central Oahu.)
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So, why visit Pearl Harbor?
The Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941 represents an uglier time in U.S. – Japan relations. Japan had gotten some of its resources cut off by the U.S. and was determined to increase its power in Asia.
In 1941, Hawaii was not yet a U.S. state, but as a U.S. territory, it served (and still does) as a strategic military base in the Pacific.
At that time, Japan didn’t want any U.S. interference in its quest for dominance of different parts of Asia and felt that the way to do this was to put a dent in the U.S. Pacific military force.
And so a plan was formed by the Japanese military to attack Pearl Harbor.
The plan was so secretive and off the radar that the Japanese were able to travel 4,000 miles at sea undetected.
This resulted in the surprise attack in Hawaii that the U.S. was unprepared for and resulted in thousands of American deaths.
The Pearl Harbor attack is what propelled the United States into World War II.
This is one of the things that makes the site of Pearl Harbor a historic event of global proportions.
The Pearl Harbor attack is also what provoked the U.S. to eventually drop nuclear bombs in Japan over Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in tens of thousands of Japanese deaths a few years later that would mark the end of World War II.
The U.S. – Japan relations have changed greatly since then. The two countries now serve as allies.
As a show of peace, President Obama and Japan Prime Minister Abe stood side by side at the Hiroshima memorial in Japan.
A short time later, the two U.S. and Japan leaders then stood side by side at Pearl Harbor.
Both of these acts, at Hiroshima and at Pearl Harbor, were seen as largely symbolic to show current friendship among the two countries despite the tragedies that each of the countries caused for the other in the past.
President Trump and Prime Minister Abe also have shown a public display of friendliness with each other. They have had a number of photo opportunities together with big smiles and a show of friendship.
A visit to Pearl Harbor will provide a greater understanding of this world-changing event that occurred.
You will be in the very place where so much tragedy occurred.
You will be in the very place where the course of global history changed.
A look at what you see at Pearl Harbor
View from the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center
U.S. Navy Shipyard
Battleship Missouri Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial: World War II Valor of the Pacific National Monument
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park
Where to go once you’re on the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center
While there are a number of paid attractions within the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center that will very much enhance your visit, the free sites and activities on the grounds will also provide you with a memorable experience.
Still, the paid narrated audio tour is highly recommended! It will come with a map and give you some guidance on where to go and to give you added explanations.
If you’re not taking the audio tour, you’ll want to roam the entire area so you can see what there is to offer, but here are a few places to get you started…
There are 3 main areas in which you can learn about the detailed story of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This includes the lead-up to the attack (the surprise the Americans didn’t see coming) and the attack itself.
- A walk along the harbor with informational signs
- A walk through the indoor museum
- A video prior to boarding the ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial
Head to the left of the ticket and information booth towards the harbor. Go all the way towards the end. That will take you to what’s called the Commemorative Circle. From there, you can start your walk along the harbor and stop to read the informational signs along the way.
This is more your standard museum style with descriptive bulletins to read through. There are two main rooms to walk through, and one has a short video you can watch. There are some interactive booths here too.
USS Arizona Memorial: World War II Valor of the Pacific National Monument
This is the part that’s closed with no date set regarding when it will open back up. Check here for the latest updates on the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
Before departing by boat for the USS Arizona Memorial, you’ll watch a video that’s about 20 minutes long which details the account of the Pearl Harbor attacks. After the video is over, you’ll take the ferry ride over to the memorial. Once there, you’ll spend a short time there before you take the ferry back to the main grounds of the visitor’s center.
How to get free tickets to the Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial
When people think about visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial, they are probably thinking about the USS Arizona Memorial.
A visit to the USS Arizona Memorial is a ferry ride away. Unfortunately it’s not always as easy as showing up to the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and get in line for a ferry to get there. You need to get a ticket that will designate the time of your ferry ride.
Here are the ways to get your free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial:
- Show up on the day of your visit, head to the ticket booth at the visitor’s center, and hope there are still tickets left. 1,200+ tickets are available this way, and it’s been known to run out by 10am, but not always.
- Up to 2 months prior to your visit, reserve tickets online for a nominal fee. 300+ tickets are available each day this way. It’s been known to run out.
- On the morning of your visit starting at 7am local time, reserve tickets online for a nominal fee. 500+ tickets are available each day this way.
In terms of showing up and hoping to get tickets, if the crowds are on your side (i.e. there are few crowds!) then it could very well work out that you have little wait time!
If you want to call it luck, then your luck mostly depends on if you are going during high tourist season.
In a good scenario, it’s possible to show up at the Pearl Harbor visitor’s center around 10am, get in a short line at the ticket booth, then be handed USS Arizona Memorial tickets for 1pm.
At first thought you may think that 3 hours is a lot of time to wait for your ferry ride to the USS Arizona. But really, there are plenty of free things to do on the grounds overlooking Pearl Harbor that it really won’t even be that big of a deal. And if you don’t mind paying for attractions like the USS Missouri Memorial or USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, then before you know it, it will be time for your USS Arizona Memorial visit!
While the USS Arizona may be the main thing that’s thought of with a visit to Pearl Harbor, it’s very much not the only thing.
You can also think of it as a good thing with the extra time before your USS Arizona visit, because it gives you a chance to better learn and understand the context of the memorial before your trip to the USS Arizona by visiting other areas of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center.
Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
There are four main sites that are considered to be a part of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. Below are links to the official information of these sites.
- USS Arizona Memorial – Free tickets
- Battleship Missouri Memorial – Tickets start at $27
- USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park – Tickets start at $6
- Pacific Aviation Museum – Tickets start at $25
Other things to know before you go
You can spend as much or as little time as you want at Pearl Harbor. It really depends on how much time you do want to dedicate. You can easily spend a half day or full day at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites for the full experience.
You could also just show up with your reserved tickets to head straight to the USS Arizona Memorial and call it a day.
You could also show up without the intention of visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and do a quick walk around the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center for a better look at the different sites in the harbor, and then call it a day.
If you’re doing a road trip around Oahu like this DIY one, this is a good option so you can get a better glimpse of the national monument that is the USS Arizona Memorial.
Although, if you’re able to dedicate more time, it is certainly recommended to allow for more time!
There are no bags, backpacks, or purses allowed on the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center. There is a baggage check-in for $4 per bag if you do arrive by bus with nowhere to put your stuff. Otherwise, leave your belongings in your car.
Pearl Harbor is easily accessible by bus. There’s a bus stop about a 5 minute walk from the entrance to the visitor’s center.
Activities near Pearl Harbor
The Keaiwa Heiau State Park is a 20 minute drive from Pearl Harbor.
At this park, you can visit an ancient Hawaiian temple…
You can go for a hike on the Aiea Loop Trail…
And you can have a peaceful picnic surrounded by nature!
There’s a grocery store on your way to the state park from Pearl Harbor so you can pick up your picnic food too.
HAPPY PEARL HARBOR MEMORIAL PLANNING!
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