Visiting Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on O’ahu
Leah Walker November 13, 2013

The Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 started like every other day on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. That quickly changed shortly before 8:00 am. Without warning, Japanese forces launched an air attack on the U.S. military base of Pearl Harbor located on Ford Island.

Pearl Harbor Oahu Hawaii

Torpedoes struck West Virginia, California, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Nevada battleships, as well as destroyed hangars and aircrafts. A second attack of Pearl Harbor came about 30 minutes later, while Japanese fighters and dive-bombers struck other bases and airfields around O’ahu. In about two hours, the Japanese significantly weakened the U.S. Pacific presence, killed over 2,500 people, and thrust the country into WWII.

Pearl Harbor Oahu Hawaii

O’ahu attracts countless visitors per year and is known for its picturesque landscape, stunning turquoise waters, vibrant city of Honolulu, famous Waikiki Beach, and spirit of aloha. All of these attributes make the island special, but a trip to O’ahu would be incomplete without a visit to Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor Oahu Hawaii

Located 45 minutes west of Waikiki, off Highway 99, Pearl Harbor is next to the U.S. Naval Base. It’s open daily from 7:00 am until 5:00 pm, with the last program starting at 3:00 pm. Tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial interpretive program can be found at the visitor center’s Aloha Court on a first-come, first-served basis. This program includes a 23-minute film in the Pearly Harbor Memorial Theater and then a U.S. Naval boat shuttles visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial. The program takes approximately 75 minutes. Half and full day tours, as well as tickets to the USS Bowfin, battleship Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum can also be purchased.

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial Oahu Hawaii

To fully comprehend the history and magnitude of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and its place in American history, I’d recommend renting the audio tour narrated by actress, Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s available for $7.50 in English, Mandarin, German, Korean, Spanish, French, and Japanese. A map guides visitors around the park, while corresponding numbers on plaques are keyed into the headset to trigger the narration. The tour can be completed in any order and at your leisure.

Pearl Harbor Oahu Hawaii

I found the most interesting aspect of my visit to be the Road to War and the Attack Museums. In the Road to War Museum, visitors learn about the events that led to the war with the U.S. and Japan through items such USS Arizona and the IMS Akagi models, a letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and video of a WWII Japanese code breaker describing the process. The Attack Museum is dedicated to December 7, 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. There are remnants of the USS Arizona and one of the torpedoes that struck the ship, as well as a 1/3 scale Japanese B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bomber. Every fifteen minutes in the museum’s theater the movie, Battlefield-O’ahu, is played. Survivors also can be heard recounting memories from the attack.

Pearl Harbor Oahu Hawaii

Perhaps the most solemn area of the park is the USS Arizona Memorial. The beautiful white memorial is built directly over the sunken battleship where 1,177 Marines and sailors were killed. According to Pacific Historic Parks, the USS Arizona Memorial is the most visited destination in Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial Oahu Hawaii

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial Oahu Hawaii

The park is not only a sad and chilling reminder of one of the darkest days in American history, but also a gravesite and a memorial to those lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor. I saw people from various nationalities posing for silly photos with huge grins on their faces while on the USS Arizona Memorial as if it was just another tourist attraction. This angered and saddened me at the same time.

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial Oahu Hawaii

Pieces of the battleship and oil in the water can still be seen, which are real reminders of the people buried below. When visiting the park, it’s very important to remember that many people lost their lives in the Japanese attack and proper respect and decorum should be shown. Time spent at Pearl Harbor should be one of reflection, education, and remembrance.

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial Oahu Hawaii

For more information on visiting Pearl Harbor, please see their Website.

I was a guest of the O’ahu tourism board. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review by the friendly park rangers, the pristine park grounds, or the nationalistic pride I felt when visiting Pearl Harbor. As always, opinions are mine. 


Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. I visited Pearl Harbour on a trip to Hawaii a few years ago and it was a remarkable experience to see the site, the memorial and learn more about this tragic day; there was a somber atmosphere when I visited, almost like being in a church…but then it was before Twitter and “selfies” became fashionable!

  2. I would cherish an opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor. One of my greatest travel experiences was visiting the Normandy D-Day beaches. I devoured every World War II book and movie as a child and teen. My fascination with learning everything about that period led me to major in history. Unfortunately, not everyone grasps what happened at places like this. I hope those people laughing and having a good time at least learned something about the sailors, airmen and Marines who lost their lives in those waters.

  3. I agree with you about appropriate and respectful behaviour at a memorial; it just makes for good decent sense. At the Pearl Harbor memorial, I had a chill go through me when I looked down into the water and saw the ship remnant poking above the water’s surface; as I understand, there are people buried underneath in the water. I have another dream to visit sites where Canadians fought in World War 1 at notable places like Vimy Ridge, Ypres, and Passchendaele.

  4. i’m glad you had the opportunity to visit. when the hubs & i were in oahu, we weren’t sure if we were going to have time, and since it’s first-come, first-serve, you need to book reservations, like, 6 months in advance. we just went and took a few pictures of the harbor and called it all day.

    i will say, though, that i was super disappointed by how much admission cost. if we had opted to do everything, it would have been over $40 per person. maybe i’m just used to dc where the monuments are free, but i don’t know. it felt excessive for something that, like you said, is for reflection & remembrance.

  5. I have only been to Hawaii once, and it wasn’t even a visit. Instead it was a seven hour layover where I left the airport in search of the beach and a little taxi tour of my own – with the cutest cab driver from Hong Kong. I must get back to the state and see more of it, including this. Great photos!

  6. When I was touring Auschwitz I saw some Japanese taking pictures of each other in front of the displays showing all the hair and shoes taken from Jewish prisoners. At least they were solemn, but it was weird that they would want to pose in front of such chilling remnants of such horror.

    Pearl Harbor is definitely on my radar to visit if I ever get to Hawaii. I have visited quite a few World War II locations across the globe including Normandy, River Kwai, and Corregidor in the Philippines, so I would love to check it out sometime.

    1. Thank you, Raul. By the time I was leaving the park, I was absolutely fuming. I just wanted to shake each person and ask them if this behavior would be ok at one of their family’s grave site.

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