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Top 5 Mistakes Families Make at Pearl Harbor and How to Avoid Them!

Are you heading to Oahu this year and want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial? Find out how to visit Pearl Harbor with kids (and what mistakes to avoid)!
This list of tips for visiting Pearl Harbor was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Planning your first family trip to Hawaii can be thrilling. There’s so much to see and do, and one must-visit spot is Pearl Harbor.

It’s not just a beautiful place—it’s a site filled with history and emotion, marking important events that changed the course of American history.

Having been to Pearl Harbor and Oahu many times, I’ve picked up on a few common mistakes families often make when visiting this historic site.

I’m here to share these insights so you can avoid them and have a memorable, respectful visit.

My husband and kids enjoy exploring Pearl Harbor. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

What are the Top Pearl Harbor Mistakes?

Mistake #1: Not Buying Tickets in Advance

The Problem

Pearl Harbor is one of the most visited sites in Hawaii, and tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial are limited. I’ve seen many families show up thinking they can purchase tickets on the spot, only to find they’re all sold out.

How to Avoid It

Always, always buy your tickets in advance. You can reserve them online up to two months in advance at the official National Park Service website.

This is crucial if you’re traveling during peak tourist seasons like summer or winter holidays. Securing your tickets ahead of time ensures you won’t miss out on this profound experience.

There are also a bunch of Pearl Harbor tours you can book if you want to see multiple attractions.

Don’t miss the USS Arizona Memorial.

Mistake #2: Bringing Large Bags or Backpacks

The Problem

Security at Pearl Harbor is tight, and for good reasons. Many families come unprepared, with large bags or backpacks, only to find out at the entrance that these are not allowed inside.

How to Avoid It

Read up on the security policies before your visit. As a general rule, you can’t bring bags larger than a small clutch purse (measuring 1.5 x 2.25 x 5.5 inches).

If you do bring a bag that’s too large, you’ll have to store it in an onsite locker for a fee.

To keep things simple, I suggest carrying only essentials like your wallet, phone, and maybe a small camera, all of which can fit in your pockets.

Leave your bags in the locker. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Mistake #3: Skipping the Audio Tour

The Problem

Many visitors walk through the exhibits and memorials without truly understanding what they’re seeing.

Skipping the audio tour means missing out on a wealth of information that could make your visit much more meaningful.

How to Avoid It

Rent the audio tour. It’s available in multiple languages and provides a detailed narrative of the events of December 7, 1941, and stories of the people involved.

This tour isn’t just informative; it’s a way to deepen your connection to the history presented and to ensure even young visitors grasp the significance of what they’re experiencing.

Mistake #4: Not Planning Enough Time for Your Visit

The Problem

There’s a lot more to see at Pearl Harbor than just the USS Arizona Memorial. The site also includes the USS Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Families often underestimate how much time they’ll need to see everything.

How to Avoid It

Plan to spend at least half a day at Pearl Harbor. If you’re really interested in history, you might even want to allocate a full day.

This allows you to explore the various exhibits and memorials at a relaxed pace, with plenty of time for reflection.

We usually spend 5-6 hours, including time for lunch and Dole Whip.

Image of a boy digging into a Dole Whip at the USS Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii
You can get Dole Whip near the USS Battleship Missouri. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Mistake #5: Not Preparing Kids for the Visit

The Problem

Pearl Harbor is a site of immense historical and emotional significance. Without proper preparation, children might not understand why the site is important or how to behave appropriately.

How to Avoid It

Talk to your kids before your visit. Explain the history of Pearl Harbor in age-appropriate terms. Discuss the importance of showing respect while visiting such places.

This preparation can help foster a more respectful and understanding atmosphere during your visit.

Additional Tips for a Smooth Visit to Pearl Harbor:

  • Wear Comfortable Shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so comfortable footwear is a must.
  • Check the Weather: Hawaii’s weather can be unpredictable. Check the forecast and come prepared with sunscreen for sunny days or a poncho if rain is expected.
  • Stay Hydrated: Bring water bottles for everyone in the family. Staying hydrated is key, especially when walking around outside.
  • Capture the Memories, Respectfully: Photography is allowed at most locations within Pearl Harbor, but always be mindful of signs and guides who may restrict photography in certain areas out of respect for the historical significance.

Pearl Harbor Tips Wrap-Up

Visiting Pearl Harbor is a profound experience that offers educational and emotional insights into a pivotal historical moment.

By avoiding these common mistakes and approaching the visit with preparation and respect, you can ensure that your family’s trip is enjoyable and enriching.

Here’s to a trip that’s as impactful as it is unforgettable!

Looking for more Pearl Harbor posts? Check out Things to do in Hawaii with Kids: Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, 7 Best Pearl Harbor Private Tours Worth Booking, Is it Worth Visiting the USS Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor with Kids?, Is it Worth Visiting Pearl Harbor with Kids?, Best Places to Eat Near Pearl Harbor, and How to Get from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor Easily + Hassle-Free!