Pearl Harbor is often number 1 on Oahu visitors’ must-see list. Pearl Harbor is a historic bay to the leeward side of Honolulu. Along with visiting Pearl Harbor historic sites, I suggest a peaceful time at Moanalua Gardens.
Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are along the harbor and Ford Island. Pearl Harbor is still an active US Navy facility including Headquarters of the Pacific Fleet. The main visitor sites are the USS Arizona memorial (part of the National Park Service World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument), USS Missouri memorial, USS Bowfin submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. It takes 8 or more hours to tour all of these attractions.
The USS Arizona and its crew were casualties of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The memorial consists of a museum and the chapel-like memorial floating over the submerged ship. Start with the 23-minute documentary film in the museum theater, then spend time in the two galleries that tell the story of the attack from both the US and Japan point of view. You will take a boat ride out to the memorial and will have about 10 minutes to pay your respects. Plan to spend about an hour and a half at this site.
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is also known as the Mighty Mo. She was built in Brooklyn and was commissioned in the US Navy in 1944. Representatives of the Allied and Axis powers met on her deck for the surrender ceremony ending World War II. She went on to serve in the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm. The ship became part of this memorial in 1999. The memorial has a general admission ticket that takes you on the main deck with a tour guide and includes the historic surrender site from September 1945. The Heart of the Missouri tour is for folks who can easily navigate steep ship stairs and gets you into the inner workings of the ship. You will ride a bus from the visitor center to the ship’s Ford Island mooring.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park has a memorial park, missiles, and the USS Bowfin. The submarine began service in 1942 and she saw much action in the Pacific during the war. You can tour the submarine, the museum, and the park waterfront memorial. You can walk to the memorial from the visitor center.
The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor documents the planes of the Pearl Harbor attack. Two hangars and the Ford Island control tower make up the site. A general admission ticket gets you an audio tour of Hangar 37 with its excellent museum exhibits. The Aviator’s Tour takes you with a guide through Hangar 37 and 79 where aircraft are restored. You may also buy a ticket for the Guadalcanal flight simulator. Seeing the aircraft and dioramas of island life is very inspiring. You will ride a bus from the visitor center to Hangar 37 on Ford Island.
The historic sites bookstore has a large excellent collection with some gifts. The tour of the Arizona memorial is free but a ticket is needed. They are issued on a first-come first-served basis. The Missouri has 2 types of tours each day and you should purchase your tickets ahead of time. The Bowfin charges for admission. Pacific Aviation Museum tour tickets can be purchased in advance online. You can also buy tour tickets that will take you to Pearl Harbor and provide audio narrated tours. No bags are allowed within the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. It will help to wear something with pockets so you can carry your phone, keys, etc. If you don’t want to lock your things in your trunk, a baggage storage facility (fee) is on site.
If you drive to Pearl Harbor, the parking lot can get very full. The first Arizona tour begins at 8 am, so I suggest you arrive before 8 am, or around 9:30 when the first tour is finishing.
Moanalua Gardens is the site of Prince Lot’s home. It’s a big grassy lawn with some magnificent trees. There are a few flowers, a small taro field, a koi pond, Prince Lot’s house, Chinese Hall, and a hula mound. There is also a very nice gift shop. Moanalua is a very peaceful place to take a breath and relax.
In the center of the lawn is a fantastic monkeypod tree. Known throughout Japan as the Hitachi tree (kono ki nanno ki), it has been used as a corporate symbol since the 1970s.
Prince Lot Kapuaiwa became King Kamehameha V in 1863. He built his home here in the 1850s and it is a charming cottage style with covered porches connecting the sections. It is being renovated and I can just imagine some very lovely events happening there. The yearly July hula festival is named for Prince Lot and the dancers use the hula mound there. There is a small fee to visit the gardens.
Aloha Stadium Swap Meet happens three days a week at the famous Aloha Stadium. There are so many stands! It’s a good place to look for economical aloha wear, foods, and gift items.
Next time I’d like to visit the Keaiwa Heiau and spend more time at the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Central Oahu map – Pearl Harbor and Moanalua Gardens
Grabbing a bite
Dixie Grill is a little taste of southern barbecue with a heavily military clientele. They serve sweet tea! They smoke meats daily: pork, brisket, turkey, and pastrami. Chicken fried steak, shrimp and grits, and catfish are also on the menu. I love the caddy on your table with 6 sauces representing barbecue classics: Hawaii, eastern North Carolina, Memphis, Texas, Kansas, and Savannah. The restaurant is located on Kamehameha Highway just a few minutes from the Pearl Harbor visitor center. This is a must-stop for us when we are near Aiea.
For more food options, Sam Choy’s Island Style Seafood Grill is on Hickam Beach on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (you will need to call (808) 449-0865 to see if you qualify for a visitor’s pass to the base). Or you may want to drive into Honolulu and stop at La Mariana on the way back to Waikiki. Or use your favorite app to search the Aiea area.
From Waikiki, take Ala Wai Boulevard to McCully Street. Get up on the H1 highway westbound (Ewa, towards airport and Pearl Harbor). After about 8 miles, take the exit onto Route 99 Kamehameha Highway. Watch for the Pearl Harbor visitor center entrance on your left. The Aloha Stadium will be on your right.
To continue on to Moanalua Gardens, take H201 highway eastbound. Take exit 3 Pu’uloa Road towards Tripler Army Medical Center. Carefully follow the signs to the gardens (you will be looping around and under the exit, left on Mahiole Street then along the creek into the parking lot for the gardens).
If using The Bus, for Pearl Harbor, take the #20 Westbound or #42 Westbound and get off at the USS Arizona Memorial. For Moanalua Gardens take the #19 or #20 to Alakea and King. On Hotel Street, take the #3 bus to the Buckner Gate of Fort Shafter.
Resource links for Pearl Harbor & Moanalua Gardens
- Plan your visit from Pearl Harbor historic sites
- World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (USS Arizona) from National Park Service
- Reserve Arizona Memorial tickets on recreation.gov
- Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor
- Moanalua Gardens Foundations
- The Hitachi Tree
- The history of Ford Island (Moku’ume’ume) from Historic Hawaii Foundation
- Aloha Stadium Swap Meet (Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday)
- The Bus information for Honolulu
Let’s talk story
Most folks make a point to visit Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial on their first trip to Oahu. Remembering their sacrifice is important. When you visit Oahu, I hope you’ll visit the Punchbowl memorial cemetery. I find the beauty and peacefulness of the Punchbowl draws me back many times and feels like a sacred space to give honor to those who have served.
Affiliate links: if you make a purchase using these links, I’ll receive a small compensation towards maintaining this blog, at no extra cost to you.