San Diego has some really cool tiki bars.
The problem, tho, is you practically need Coronado North Island Naval Air Station type of clearance to get into them. The False Idol (at the back of Craft & Commerce restaurant at Beech & Ketter just up from the Maritime Museum), Grass Skirt (you enter through a tight-space in a Pacific Beach Korean restaurant) and Forbidden Cove (inside Killowat Brewery and doesn’t even have a liquor license) and a few others require either reservations or some type of mysterious method to get into or even find.
This speakeasy-type of approach is cool but heck, most of the time I just want to plop down at the bar and have a Rum Runner, a solid Mai Tai or a Zombie. And if it’s the latter, keep bringing them to me until I turn into one.
So PubClub.com has compiled this go-to list of San Diego tiki bars where you don’t need a reservation, hunt for a hidden door or have to locate a secret passageway to get into – just go, sit down and start having tiki drinks. They are not the old-school dark tiki bars but are bright, sunny and have patios. Personally, I like that better anyway.
By the way, if anyone wants to question my credentials about my tiki bar expertise, there is a full-on tiki bar inside PubClub.com’s World Headquarters.
Bali Hai, Shelter Island
This place has been around since the 1950s and serves the strongest Mai Tai this side of the Old School (no longer on the menu; you have to ask for it by name) at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach. It’s so strong the first few sips will numb your tongue and so popular it’s sold 2,761,59 of them. Make that 2,761,60 of them. Now wait, 2,761,62 of them. Well you get the idea (it’s website has a running count).
There is a full menu of other rum-based tiki drinks that are not so potent.
The prices are great; it’s about $15 for the Mai Tai and around $10 for the other drinks. The food on the Happy Hour menu is really good, especially the ribs, if you feel you need to soak up some of the booze.
The thing about Bali Hai from a tiki bar standpoint is that it’s really not a tiki bar at all. Instead it’s a beautiful, nice restaurant with a small lounge area. The bar itself only holds about a dozen people and I keep wishing they would redesign it a bit because only one side of it can accommodate bar stools. That being said, I do like going in there on occasion.
The Islander, Coronado Island
A newcomer to San Diego’s tiki bar scene – it opened in October of 2022 – the Islander makes a heck of a solid Mai Tai. If you plan on having more than one you had better take the ferry across the bay rather than drive. They are only $7 during Happy Hour, by the way (and Coronado isn’t exactly a late-night town anyway), M-F 3-7.
@pubclub.com PubClub.com Drinking Tip of the Day! Mai Tai time. #drinkingtips #pubclub #tiki #tikibar #maitai #polynesian #cocktail ♬ original sound – PubClub
Want something else other than rum? There’s an entire half-wall full of liquor bottles behind the bar.
The decor is definitely Polynesian down to the bamboo-looking beer taps. There’s also a pirate out front, ideal for social media photos.
There is a full menu for food and my friend likes the tacos. I have yet to eat there.
Address: 1015 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA
The Shack, La Jolla
I love The Shack Bar & Grill. It’s less of a tiki bar and more of a tiki shack. Pool table. Pitchers of beer for less than $15 bucks with its everyday Happy Hour. Beach crowd, quite a few of whom ride the waves just down the hill at WindandSea, San Diego’s sacred surfer spot.
It has a thatched roof so it’s easy to spot on commercially-crowded La Jolla Blvd. The deck has a fire pits for those cool San Diego evenings. Inside there’s a pool table and Polynesian decor, including a menu of its tiki drinks.
The food is pretty good – I can personally vouch for the chicken pesto pizza.
Address: 6941 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA
South Beach Bar, Ocean Beach
The best Mai Tai value in town is here at the downstairs bar of South Beach, the home – some locals claim – of San Diego’s best tacos. It’s well made, strong but not overpowering and is just 10 bucks. Plus, it looks out onto the sand and the OB Pier. Cool locals wander in and out, giving the place a local and friendly beach vibe.
What’s not to like, right!?
Address: 5059 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA