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It's no wonder tiki is alive and well in sunny seaside San Diego - who doesn't love good food, potent rum drinks in funny mugs, and uplifting music in a tropical ambiance. Exploring San Diego's tiki culture and scene reveals that it's not just a trend or lifestyle, it's a state of mind.
Exotic rum punches and smoking volcano bowls. Flower leis and fruit garnishes. Kitschy décor and flaming torches. Palm trees and palapa huts. Handcarved idols and Hula girls. Kool kats and kittens. The rummy Mai Tai stands as the anchor cocktail of tiki's "hep retro" culture, but there’s also Zombies, Grogs, PainKillers and Scorpion Bowls, just to name a few.
San Diego's tiki roots go way back to the 1950s with tiki evidence found in the architecture, art, bar scene, menus and more. And a new influx of tiki-style watering holes and eateries have recently opened their doors in San Diego celebrating this exotic lifestyle with its boozy beverages and Polynesian-inspired eats.
Crowne Plaza San Diego (formerly the Hanalei Hotel) in Mission Valley is another mid-50s Mecca for tiki as it hosts the annual Tiki Oasis Convention each summer, drawing the country's largest gathering of tikiphiles for pool parties and tropical fun.
Where: 2270 Hotel Circle N, San Diego, CA 92108
> Find out more about Crown Plaza San Diego
This Mission Bay resort boasts island-inspired architecture, tropical gardens, koi ponds and a tiki torch-lit outdoor bar called Moray's, a winsome spot for a Mai Tai and some sushi. The resort also hosts summertime luaus - Polynesian feasts with music, hula and torch dancers.
Where: 3999 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
Kona Kai Resort & Spa inspires more tiki-style fun with its thatched-roof tiki bar and poolside cabanas for mojitos and Mai Tais.Belly up the bar for a Perfect Storm - Black Magic rum, ginger beer and lime - which pairs nicely with chef's seafood poke, plump with tuna, salmon, and shrimp in sesame ginger ponzu with taro chips.
Where: 1551 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Kona Kai Resort & Spa
A naval town and gateway to the Pacific, San Diego has long embraced all things tiki. Bali Hai, on Shelter Island, set the tiki tone in 1954 as a Polynesian paradise, replete with hardcarved sculptures, Polynesian artifacts, tapa cloths, and Mr. Bali Hai ceramic mugs cradling potent, rum-infused Mai Tais. Their Pacific Rim-style menu spotlights beautiful fresh fish, poke, Hamachi, papaya and shrimp salad, and more.
Where: 2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
The Nolen, has a tiki menu with five colorful refreshers like their Painkiller on draft with pineapple, orange, rum, coconut and freshly grated nutmeg. Or order up an off-menu Junglebird from their spirit savant, bar lead Andrew Larson. He will create a little fire element to the rum and Campari drink by igniting cinnamon. Bar grub like carnitas-jalepeno-salva-verde flatbreads or chili-glazed meatballs over Idaho potato frites soak up the rum.
Where: 453 6th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about The Nolen
South Park's revved-up vegan restaurant Kindred hosts "Permanent Vacation" Thursdays, a pop-up, tiki takeover with tropical elixirs and eats. Expect a rotating menu of nuclear rum drinks with fresh juices from bar whiz David Kinsey and Polynesian bites like orange miso-glazed seitin with grilled pineapple and a mango sweet potato aioli dipping sauce. Orchids and mid-century Exotica music add to the ambiance.
Where: 1503 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102
Hidden behind Pacific Beach restaurant Good Time Poke, this Polynesian-style speakeasy takes its cues from classic spots like Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber. Beverage director Stephen Tuttle's menu includes classics (Painkiller, Mai Tai) and original creations, like The Tipsy Tentacle (black rum, biscotti liqueur, lime, pineapple, coconut, banana). And when you order one of the three punch bowls, the whole restaurant is treated to the sounds of a tropical rainstorm.
Where: 910 Grand Ave #101, San Diego, CA 92109
Hidden inside Little Italy restaurant Craft & Commerce, False Idol's design is a trip. Martin Cate - the guy behind San Francisco's Smuggler's Cove - joined forces with Ignacio "Notch" Gonzalez and San Diego tiki artist Bosko Hrnjak to create an interior so full of clever details, you'll have to visit multiple times to take it all in. Consortium Holdings' head bartender Anthony Schmidt worked with Cate on a 38-cocktail menu that's part classics and part modern interpretations of classics. The menu also pays homage to San Diego tiki bars of yore, with cocktails from spots like the Barefoot Bar at Vacation Village, the Islands Bar at the Hanalei Hotel, and the Hotel Del's Luau Room.
Where: 675 W Beech St, San Diego, CA 92101
Located in a large, warehouse-like space, Hive is a self-described "mega-restaurant." But keep an eye open for the guy behind the bar wearing a Hawaiian shirt. That's Ram Udwin, one of San Diego's finest tiki-cocktail makers (and founder of Boy Drinks World). For the first Sunday of the month, he comes up with a special menu of tiki cocktails, served from 5:00 to 9:00 PM. Stop by any other Sunday for some of his fancy rum drinks and to geek out on all things tiki.
Where: 4428 Convoy Street, San Diego, CA 92111
“Miss B” is short for Mission Beach, and also a reference to the attractive woman who decades ago adorned marketing materials luring folks to San Diego beaches. While this bar and restaurant isn’t decked out in tiki decor, it pays homage to Mission Beach’s resort-town past with tropical libations like The Coconut Club (house rum mix, house orange-pineapple cordial, Coco Lopez) and The Lusca (house rum blend, guava-mango kombucha, nocello, citrus, honey, papaya).
Where: 3704 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
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