A Day Trip to Pearl Harbor: Travel (with kids!) Guide

This post is part of a series of stories from our 2019 Spring Break adventure in Hawaii.
Click here for all posts.

Early in the planning for our trip to Hawaii we decided to stay on Maui but we penciled in a day trip to Oahu because we just couldn’t be that close and not visit Pearl Harbor. We always have our eyes open for activities and opportunities to explore history and we are suckers for a National Park.

And once we’d decided a visit to Pearl Harbor was officially on our list, I started looking more deeply into what to see and where to go and how to do it in one day — and WHOA. I got overwhelmed quickly. “Visit Pearl Harbor” turned into a full day of activity in the area and a string of travel logistics (including island hopping) — and also one of our favorite days of our week. I’ve captured our adventure — and some things we learned along the way — in case “Visit Pearl Harbor” is on your Hawaii list (and it should be!).

There’s A LOT to see at Pearl Harbor

First of all, what we all colloquially call Pearl Harbor is a large area in which there are several historically significant memorials and sites. And only a few weeks ago — after our visit — the National Park changed names. We visited the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in March — and it has now been re-designated as the Pearl Harbor National Memorial! Not a lot will change, but it seems there was energy to give it a name that better represents the location.

Pearl Harbor has four sections:

  1. USS Arizona Memorial. Many visitors consider this the main tour, and it is completely free. The dock was damaged in Spring 2018 and has not yet reopened, but a shuttle boat takes visitors out to see the memorial of the USS Arizona.
  2. USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. The closest attraction to the USS Arizona is the USS Bowfin which allows visitors to board and explore a real submarine! The Bowfin itself and the museum nearby are an incredible introduction to the United States Submarine Force.
  3. Battleship Missouri Memorial. The Mighty Mo is a short bus ride from the USS Arizona and USS Bowfin, and visitors are able to explore the battleship on which the documents to end World War II were signed.
  4. Pacific Aviation Museum. Again, a short bus ride away, the Pacific Aviation Museum houses over 50 aircraft in two giant hangars.

It’s a lot! And we wanted to see it all. If we’d been staying on Oahu, I think we’d have planned to take two days to visit it all — but we were determined to maximize our single day and do our best.

USS Arizona Memorial

Admittedly, I was disappointed to learn the dock wouldn’t be repaired and reopened in time for our visit. But it was still an incredible experience. The USS Arizona was bombed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The wreckage — and the remains of nearly all her 1177 fallen heroes — still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and what is now the USS Arizona Memorial.

The USS Arizona Memorial is an incredible tribute to everyone impacted by the attack. Every single person we encountered during our visit treated the experience with reverence and respect. Truly — it’s a special place.

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park

Have YOU ever been on a submarine?? There are only a handful of places you can poke around a real military submarine and we couldn’t pass it up. Launched one year to the day after the Oahu attack on December 7, 1941, the USS Bowfin was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” by its factory workers. It lived up to that name by becoming one of the most decorated submarines of World War II.  She has been fully restored and now lives on the shores of Pearl Harbor and offers visitors an intimate look at the Submarine Force and a glimpse into the lives of the men and women who served.

After poking around the USS Bowfin, we headed back to shore to explore the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum which chronologically unfolds the history of the submarine force from its earliest attempts in 1776, through WWI, WWII and including the US submarines of today. It was FASCINATING. Submarines are a component of the US fleet that always seems to be shrouded in mystery and secrecy — I loved learning more about it all.

Battleship Missouri Memorial

We took a short bus ride from the USS Bowfin and I think my jaw dropped when we arrived at the Mighty Mo. We got off the bus and were absolutely dwarfed by the USS Missouri. It’s 900 feet long, y’all. That’s almost three football fields. And it’s over 200 feet tall. It is HUGE.

We joined a tour with the loveliest, most knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide we’ve had — maybe ever. Her name was Dawn and I could’ve listened to her all day. We heard the history of the battleship and most notably the story of her decks hosting the surrender of the Japanese to end World War II. What an incredible piece of history.

Pacific Aviation Museum

One more short bus ride and we arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum — Colt’s most anticipated stop of the day.

The museum includes two hangars filled with aircraft — Hangar 37 and Hangar 79. At each end of Hangar 79, the hangar doors’ blue glass windows are still riddled with bullet holes left by the Japanese attack. And Colt had done his homework — Hangar 79 is the location Apollo 8, 10, and 11 capsules were brought after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean post-mission. He loved connecting those two dots of history.

We were tired by the time we got to the Pacific Aviation Museum, but Colt loved it just the same. The museum has a great restaurant so we were able to refuel and catch a sitting break, and he was ready with all his questions for the tour guides.

Logistics and Tips

There are potentially a lot of moving parts and logistics if you plan a full day at Pearl Harbor. Here are a few things we learned:

  • Tickets. We knew we wanted to see everything so we bought “Passport to Pearl Harbor” tickets — for the convenience of having one ticket to cover everything instead of paying individually at each stop, and the cost savings. The Passport to Pearl Harbor tickets were $72/adults and $36/youth — and they include EVERYTHING. Audio tours, museum admission, and bus transportation between the sights.
    • Note: The Passport to Pearl Harbor DOES NOT include tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial film and boat tour — because you can’t buy them. Those tickets are free and handed out on a first come first served basis. We got there early and there was no line — we walked right up and got our tickets. They give out 1300 each day, but I’m sure they go more quickly during peak times of year.
  • Security. The Pearl Harbor area is an active military base and there were security protocols throughout our day. During the bus ride our driver let us know of portions of the trip during which we were not allowed to take photographs out the windows, there are no photos allowed from certain angles aboard the USS Missouri, and there are restrictions on bags (like more and more places in recent years). I knew I’d want my camera and that we’d pick up books and brochures throughout the day — so pockets on a jacket wouldn’t be enough. So I brought a clear bag like I would take to a football game here at home, and it was perfect. The security guys smiled at me and said, “well YOU’VE done your homework!” I have a feeling they point a lot of people toward the $5 storage lockers…
  • Audio Tours. Colt Hood’s never met an audio tour (or guided tour) he doesn’t like. So we take advantage of these and we learn so much. It works for us, too, because we each move at our own pace through exhibits and experience them with some privacy. There’s no shortage of audio tours at Pearl Harbor, if they’re your thing, too.
  • National Park Passport. I wish I’d started one for myself years ago, but I love being with Colt as he gets new stamps in his. Passports are available in any National Park Service gift shop, and we snagged a Junior Ranger booklet there, too.
  • Logistics. We hopped over from Maui on the earliest flight we could book on Hawaiian Airlines, and flew back that evening. It was an early morning and a long day, but it was super simple. And since we were “packed” so lightly and the flights are so short between islands — it was like taking a cab. Of all the planning I did for our day, this was the easiest.
    • As far as food, we stashed a few snacks in my bag, but thought food was simple to find and not terribly expensive. We shared a hot dog outside the submarine museum, and enjoyed an actual restaurant (burgers, sandwiches) at the Pacific Aviation Museum. And we drank water all day long – water is allowed nearly everywhere.

One Last Stop

Colt likes to visit state capitol buildings when we visit state capital cities — and we were in Honolulu for the day! So we took a quick Uber to see it before our flight. We hadn’t left enough time to explore downtown like we’d hoped — so we have items on our “next time” list, but Colt did get a quick glimpse of the Hawaii State Capitol!

Pearl Harbor: Remember. Understand. Honor.

2 thoughts on “A Day Trip to Pearl Harbor: Travel (with kids!) Guide

  1. This was amazing !!!! Helped me so much planning our day!

    1. Oh good, I’m so glad! I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

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