48 Hours in Honolulu // Favorite eats + Where we stayed

what to eat where to stay honolulu hawaii waikiki travel guide

On our way home from Maui, we had a layover in Honolulu which turned into a two-day foodie tour! Japan has been on our travel wish list for so long, we figured eating around Hawaii was probably the next best thing until that happens. Walking down Kalakaua Ave (strip where the main beachside hotels are located), it felt like Vegas meets Japantown. The Cheesecake Factory, with signs and menus in Japanese, was quite the hot spot with a line around the block. If you can resist such exquisite cuisine (lol), we found a number of little spots with delicious and affordable food, all within walking-distance around Waikiki!

white denim shorts honolulu hawaii casual travel outfit

Express shorts 00 (my review), shrunken in the dryer on high heat,
Sole Society sandals sz 5 (also love the taupe), H&M; sheer top sz 2, nude camisole
AT earringsTalbots sunglasses c/o, vintage Lesco Lona bag (similar)

Here are some of the memorable places we ate at, plus a quick review of where we stayed!

katsu lunch special in honolulu hawaii
tonkatsu ginza Bairin best pork katsu in honolulu hawaii

What it is: 
Seasoned meat cutlet (usually chicken or pork) that’s breaded, fried, and cut into strips. Often served with rice, soup and side dishes.

Where to get it: Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin. Katsu is a seemingly simple dish, but it can be very bad (soggy, greasy) when done poorly, and scrumptious (light crispy batter, juicy and flavorful meat) when done right. The pork katsu here did not disappoint. Their lunch sets are also a great value, and include unlimited miso soup, rice, and shredded cabbage.

best poke fish bowls sushi in honolulu hawaii
maguro brothers best poke chirashi bowl in waikiki honolulu hawaii

What it is: Cubes of raw fish mixed with seasonings and toppings, served by itself or over rice. My favorite Hawaiian specialty!

Where to get it: Maguro Brothers. Their team closes the Chinatown location around 3pm to go open the Waikiki one at 5:30PM. The one in Waikiki is literally a take-out counter in a parking lot with no tables. Their fish was so good and fresh, I’m drooling as I type this! You feel full afterwards but not heavy, unlike with some other foods. Their prices are also amazing for sushi – a chirashi and poke combo (pictured in my white to-go box) is under $15!

best hawaiian shave ice in honolulu
island vintage shave ice best dessert in honolulu hawaii

What it is: 
Dessert made with ice finely shaved from a block, topped with fruit puree syrups and other fun stuff.

Where to get it: Island Vintage Shave Ice. This stand is right on the sidewalk of Kalakaua Ave so we feared it was a tourist trap, but it turned out to be our favorite. We went twice and tried the lilikoi, strawberry, and mango flavors (over soft serve ice cream), which all tasted notably like real fruit puree and not artificial.

We also tried Lemona, which is next door to Maguro Brothers and closes right before they open, so you can enjoy a shave ice while waiting for your poke fix! They take care in making all of their toppings (even the condensed milk) from scratch, with in-season ingredients.

best food places to eat in honolulu hawaii
marukame udon where to eat in honolulu hawaii

What it is: A thicker, round wheat flour noodle typically served in a light Japanese broth.

Where to get it: Marukame Udon. This place has thousands of rave reviews, but I want to set expectations and say the beauty of their food is in the simplicity. There’s nothing about the flavors that are knock-your-socks-off. But if you appreciate a good bowl of fresh udon noodles (made right in front of you), then this place sure hits the spot! Everything pictured above was about ~$20 in total.

marukame udon waikiki honolulu hawaii menu

Marukame opens at 7AM, which is awesome for those who love noodles as breakfast! It’s assembly-line style, so you pick up a tray and scoot along, getting your noodles, toppings, then tempura sides. So this picture menu wasn’t clear to us novices, but option #1 Niku Udon is with broth, and #3 Nikutama Udon is with a more concentrated sauce instead of broth (we got #3 and wondered why there was so little “soup”). Niku doesn’t come with their perfectly-cooked egg, so definitely add one if you get that!

what to eat in honolulu hawaii spam musubi
spam musubi cafe iyasume menu
What it is: Basically a big piece of sushi with marinated, seared Spam on top instead of fish, secured with nori seaweed and wrapped in saran for portability. It’s the brainchild of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii post-WWII, making the most of a questionable canned meat that sustained troops stationed there. I’m sure the soldiers never wanted to see Spam again, but I for one am glad it stuck around!

Where to get it: Musubi Cafe Iyasume. This little cafe had tons of choices (bacon, egg, and avocado was popular), including several without Spam for those who aren’t too keen on that. The ones we ordered all came out fresh, with the rice still soft and warm through the wrapping. I stuffed my purse with musubi and loved refueling on ’em throughout the day!

honolulu waikiki beach surfing lessons
surfing lessons outfit waikiki beach honolulu hawaii

After strolling along Waikiki beach and seeing all the 5-year olds surfing effortlessly (as I stuffed my face with musubi), I decided to look up lessons on a whim. Nick told me it was a very bad idea, considering I can barely balance on one leg on land without toppling over.

Nevertheless I called up Mickey’s Surf School last-minute, and it honestly ended up being so much fun! Mickey was super laid back, yet patient and very attentive to our individual needs/ skill levels. With his help I somehow caught a few waves, to the surprise of my husband who has “surfing experience” yet did more face plants than I could count ; ) If you go, just make sure you wear something secure, because it’s something else to emerge victoriously from a wave only to find yourself topless (apparently this is all too common)! You don’t really feel this in the water, but it’s also an amazing workout. My arms and abs were sore for days afterwards!

where to stay affordable hotels waikiki honolulu
surfjack hotel penthouse room honolulu hawaii

For those of you who shop for your men, I love Nick’s chambray palm tree button-up!

Nick booked our hotel, which I was nervous about, since he usually likes places that are a little too hipster for my taste. The Surfjack Hotel was renovated just last year, and I was pleasantly surprised by the surfy bungalow vibes with mid-century design. The regular rooms are reasonably priced, and they have a few penthouse units that you can upgrade to at check-in for a fee.

surfjack hotel honolulu hawaii interior design decor

The penthouse suite we got was bright and comfortable, with a separate bedroom and spacious wrap-around lanai (deck). If you can get the pool-facing suite with bistro lights on the lanai, that one looked amazing! I also loved the Davines bath products (sold at Barney’s), so much that the Asian grandma in me came out and asked housekeeping for extras toiletries to hoard…hehe.

where to stay in waikiki honolulu hawaii_cute surfjack hipster hotel

I do want to mention the Surfjack is in a slightly eclectic corner of the neighborhood, about a 10 minute walk from the beach. They have bikes, beach chairs and towels that you can use. If you want to stay right on the beach, I loved the southern mansion-style aesthetic of the Moana Surfrider hotel.

surfjack hotel pool in waikiki honolulu hawaii

We had a very short stay this time and didn’t get to see much beyond one tourist-heavy area, so I’d love to hear any of your recommendations and favorite spots for a return visit!

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  1. @catieyosh wrote:

    Hi Jean!
    Knowing how much of an ice cream addict you are, you should check out Chef T Best Foods in the Pioneer Plaza in Chinatown… My finance's family makes Thai style rolled ice cream on a cold stove!!! It's delicious, fun to watch, and super instagramable 😉

    As for my other foodie suggestions, if you go up a couple blocks from the Walls part of Waikiki beach (past the zoo), check out Monsarrat Ave in my neighborhood of Kapahulu.
    – Pioneer Saloon has super ono Japanese plate lunches.
    – Monsarrat Shave Ice in the tiny alley right next door is amazing for their homemade from scratch fruit puree toppings.
    – Diamond Head Health Bar makes amazing acai bowls.
    – Banan: A little further up the street, there's a food truck in the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf parking lot called Banan and they make soft serve out of bananas, mangos, acai. You can even get it served to you in a papaya boat!

    Hope you visit again soon!

    Posted 5.23.17 Reply
  2. Litlisted wrote:

    I agree with you. It is certainly a great place to visit and a foodies paradise.

    Posted 5.17.17 Reply
  3. Joyce Pak wrote:

    Love, love, love this travel guide post! Your foodventures look so amazing and drool-worthy. Thanks for sharing!

    Characters & Carry-ons

    Posted 5.16.17 Reply
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Love this blog! What would you wear under the pink sheet top? A white tank top?

    Posted 5.15.17 Reply
  5. van wrote:

    Jean, are you and Nick pretty good at swimming? I booked private surfing lessons for me and my boyfriend for our Maui trip in June but he's nervous about the idea. We suck at swimming and have never swam in the ocean! But I think it would be such a neat experience! Google tells us it's a bad idea and not to do it lol.

    Posted 5.14.17 Reply
  6. Mizeats wrote:

    My pleasure :)! Btw,I really love the H&M; sheer top that I picked up based on your recommendation. Love its color and delicate look. Thank you, Jean!

    Posted 5.13.17 Reply
  7. girl from japan wrote:


    Wow! You guys are planning to visit Japan ?

    I'd like to hear which prefecture you're eyeing on 🙂

    Posted 5.12.17 Reply
  8. Jean wrote:

    All of your suggestions sound lovely and right up our alley, in particular the pineapple ice cream, of course! Thank you for taking the time to share your favorites : )

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  9. Jean wrote:

    Hi there! Aww thank you! Yes I got mine from Etsy. I would just say to check the seller's feedback, ask questions if you want to know any other details or get more photos, and then give your bag a good disinfecting cleaning and "airing out" to get rid of any vintage smells. I've also seen the same brand on Ebay in various similar designs!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  10. Jean wrote:

    Congrats on your upcoming wedding! I hope you'll have a blast on your honeymoon : ) Japanese food in Japan sounds, well, heavenly … I wonder if the places in Honolulu even compare!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  11. Jean wrote:

    Hi Tianzhen – Ah yes, I know we sadly didn't even touch on what the island truly has to offer. It was just a quick layover that we extended an extra day, so unfortunately we didn't get to do the further away activities like hikes (which sound look amazing). Just another reason to have to go back!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  12. Jean wrote:

    Hi Kim – I totally agree, so lovely seeing so many ladies with Hawaii roots or connections! Thank you for taking the time to leave such an extensive and thoughtful list of interesting suggestions! We did try poi, which I think must be an acquired taste ; ) The Boston food scene doesn't really compare in my opinion, but yes, definitely let me know if you visit an I'll also keep my Boston travel guide post up to date!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  13. Jean wrote:

    Yum! Lucky you! I know I didn't even touch on the amazing food scene in your hometown, but we did what we could given the time. After writing this post I was so hungry I had to look up Hawaiian food in Boston. Luckily it looks like one just opened this year, so I'll have to check it out and hopefully find a little slice of Honolulu in the Northeast : )

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  14. Jean wrote:

    Aw thank you! I appreciate your feedback. I hope I didn't offend anyone by simplifying anything down too much, because I know there's a lot of seasoned foodies and Hawaii natives here ; )

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  15. Jean wrote:

    Hi there – haha yes, I'm bummed that we only had time to stay in the most touristy area! I imagine it must be something like visiting NYC and only staying in Times Square : ) I cannot wait to go back some day and explore beyond that. Thank you for the kind offer to be a resource when that time comes : )

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  16. Honolulu is my home away from home. Love seeing your travels! If you're ever back I recommend Blue Hawaii Acai for the best acai bowl ever.
    Julia・Little Miss Haute Couture

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  17. Mizeats wrote:

    This is my favorite type of post – travel, food, and outfit suggestions! All restaurants you visited look great! I was salivating while reading this post! I like the SurfJack's beach vibe! I was laughing while reading the part about you stashing away the mini bath items. Too funny =)

    I second the suggestion that you visit the North Shore. The vibe is definitely more relaxed than the Honolulu area. It's an area that's a favorite of surfers. While there, enjoy a shave ice from Matsumoto's Shave Ice – it's an institution that you cannot miss!You can add ice cream and azuki beans to your order! Yum!! I also suggest snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve or hiking Diamond Head. More leisurely recommendations include having a pineapple ice cream at the Dole Plantation while learning about the agricultural history of the island, having a lovely meal at Alan Wong's restaurant, and visiting any ABC convenience store on the island and picking up a box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  18. Olive wrote:

    Another awesome post, Jean! I am in love with your bag!! Did you get yours from Esty and do you have any tips on buying one from there?

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  19. Jae wrote:

    Sounds like a perfect layover! Drooling over those delicious food photos. 🙂
    Jae || http://www.allthatjae.com

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  20. Such a nice trip! 😉


    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  21. Great post
    The pink pineapple

    New post:http://thepinkpineappleblog.blogspot.com/

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  22. jc wrote:

    Thank you for this post! We are also staying at Surfjack (also my fiance's choosing) this September for our honeymoon and it looks great! We also very much appreciate your food recommendations. We were in Tokyo and Kyoto back in December and the tonkatsu in the photos you posted has brought me back to my favorite tonkatsu meal in Tokyo (at Tonkatsu Maisen Aoyama Honten). Really looking forward to eating all the Japanese eats, and I hope that you'll get a chance to travel to Japan soon!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  23. Rachel wrote:

    This food looks … amazing. I almost want to take a trip just to eat the food you had!

    -Rachel @ Backcountry Petite

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  24. Honolulu is great! I was there a few years ago and would love to go back!

    xo, Katie
    Willow and White

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  25. Amazing trip and super yummy food. This place is certainly going to be on my travel list.

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  26. This looks awesome, Jean! Honolulu is such a dream location for me, I can't wait to make it out there one day!!

    I hope you're having a lovely Thursday!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  27. Hi Jean, I've been a longtime follower of your blog, and am happy you finally made it to Hawaii for travel! I was born and raised in Honolulu, and now live on the East Coast. I loved a lot of your food recommendations as I'm not even aware of many of these restaurants myself, but having lived here my entire childhood, I emphasize that there is truly so much more to do on Oahu beyond Waikiki. If you get a chance to come back to Oahu, I highly encourage you to take a scenic drive around the island, in addition to checking out the island's famous North Shore and doing some hikes. Once you get out of Waikiki, it is so much less crowded and more like the Hawaii most people envision (which you probably got a taste of on Maui)!

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  28. Kim wrote:

    It's so cool to see so many Hawaii folks on this blog. Kinda wish I knew you guys in person! So yup, so many things to do on Oahu, I don't even know where to start. Since you seem to share my love for historic architecture: Doris Duke's Shangri La (by tour only through Honolulu Museum of Art), Moana Hotel, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Hawaii Theatre (take the tour), Hawaii Plantation Village, Bishop Museum. You also share my love for food…there's a lot to choose from. I remember you did a post a while ago about mochi ice cream. You have to try Bubbies. Best mochi ice cream I've ever had and a lot better than the brand you posted. You have to try poi, which is taro mashed with water into a paste that is thinned with more water, a staple food unique to Hawaii (although elsewhere in Polynesia poi is made from breadfruit). You have to try breadfruit! Which is having a renaissance and is a nutritious staple crop. Additionally, I recommend hiking. Hawaii is the endangered capitol of the world. There are some neat things to see out there if you know what you're looking for. I hope I can count on you for Boston tips if I ever make it out there! Love your swimsuit combo. There are some cute local swimwear brands as well like Acacia and Splash Hawaii (latter actually made in Hawaii). A couple of notes – poke bowls are poke over rice always, if it's just poke then its just poke and not a bowl. Poke with poi is a nice combo. That shave ice looks soooo good, although it's fusion and not what I grew up with (which is totally fine!).

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  29. Waikiki has such good food, it's the reason I keep going back. Marukame Udon is a definite favorite of mine as well as Tonkatsu Ginza. Dreaming foodie dreams tonight. 🙂

    Posted 5.11.17 Reply
  30. Looks like such a fun trip! I have never been to Hawaii but now I feel like I have to travel there soon <3


    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  31. Wow all that food looks good!! Cute outfit with the nude top and white shorts.

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  32. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm from Oahu and currently live in Honolulu. I love all of your suggestions! Marukame Udon is a regular lunch treat for me and spam musubis are my fave, so I love that you featured them! I've followed your blog for years and years, so it's been fun to see my home state through your eyes. Thank you for sharing all of your adventures with us!

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  33. lizhuc36 wrote:

    Great post! Just wanted to say that I really appreciate the effort you take in your posts into really thoroughly explaining everything as much as you can to make it simpler for others 🙂 I don't think I'll be going to Hawaii in the near future, but really enjoyed reading about the things that you did do through your descriptions.

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  34. Hailey wrote:

    I moved from hawaii to the east coast. I miss Hawaii so much! Glad you enjoyed all hawaiian food!

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  35. Looks like a fun trip!

    Liz @ ShoppingMyCloset.com

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  36. Baron wrote:

    Hi Jean! I always love when fashion bloggers come to Hawaii…you have been an inspiration for many of my fashion choices. I am not sure that you were also able to notice that the local population of women tend to be quite petite given that a lot of us are of mixed asian descent…which makes your blog quite relevant! Staying in waikiki though; I am not sure how many locals you may have seen lol. In any case, I was born and raised in Hawaii and definitley recommend getting out of Waikiki-when you have a car. There are so many things I could suggest doing depending on what kind of a trip you want. If you would really like the "authentic Hawaiian" feel I would say that one of the outer islands such as Kauai or Big island is the way to go. Maui and Oahu are much more commercial …in any case I initially wanted to say that I am a huge fan; and you always have a Hawaii contact! I have Line if you would like my info 😃

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  37. I've finished dinner but here I am, wishing I was in Honolulu right now to eat all the food. It looks amazing, so does the penthouse, and you of course!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply
  38. La Bijoux Bella | by mia wrote:

    Beautiful trip … always a fabulous post! 🙂

    ��LA BIJOUX BELLA ��| By Mia | A Creative Lifestyle Blog

    Posted 5.10.17 Reply

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