San Diego loves its speakeasies. That’s especially the case when it comes to tiki bars. The most notable ones (in other words, the ones that get the most attention from the other local blogs because they are cool and hip!) are in fact speakeasies. The most known ones are the Grass Skirt in Pacific Beach and the False Idol in the Little Italy area.
But sometimes – most of the time, really – I don’t want to plan my trip to a tiki bar. I want to show up and walk in a time of my own choosing. I also do not want to have a time limit placed on my visit. Maybe I’ll hang loose for an hour or maybe I’ll toss out the anchor and stay for a while.
With that in mind, I have compiled this list of San Diego tiki bars that are not speakeasies. In these places you can come and go as you please, drinks are reasonably priced and you can get your tiki on without worries or hurries.
Ye Ole Plank Inn, Imperial Beach
The Ye Ole Plank Inn has the best name of any tiki bar in San Diego, and in fact one of the best names of any tiki bar anywhere. Here, you can even walk the plank on its rum days, which are Wednesdays and Thursdays (note, this needs further investigating on my part). Located at Seacoast & Palm, a few blocks north of the Imperial Beach Pier, the Ye Ole Plank Inn is a dive tiki bar – perfect! Above the bar are signed dollar beers, there’s fishing nets and puffer fish hanging from the ceilings, pool table in the back bar and even a nice patio with a view of the ocean. Being a dive bar with a tiki theme the cocktails are basic bar ones, so there’s no tiki drink menu. To give you an idea of the prices, bottled beers are $6.50. The only food is a separate counter by Scotty’s Burger but here’s a tip: pass on it.
South Beach (Bottom Bar), Ocean Beach
Most people head upstairs when they go to South Beach and for good reason. It’s happening and has a pair of patios looking out at the Oceanside Pier. For tiki, however, plop at the downstairs bar where you can get tiki bar drinks while looking out the window at the beach and pier. The decor has some tiki elements to it, but it’s mainly the drinks that give this place its tiki atmosphere. Here, the price of a Mai Tai – a good one – is just $10.
The Islander, Coronado
Look for the pirate on Ocean Ave., and you have found The Islander, a new (2022) Polynesian-themed bar on Coronado Island. I stopped short of calling it a tiki bar because it’s bright, colorful and, being in upscale Coronado, is a restaurant-first place. Tiki bars are drink-first places that may or may not have food. Still, it’s nice and recommended as a place in San Diego where you can just show up, sit at the bar or on the lanai and get a nice tiki buzz. Tiki drinks are $14-16; the Mai Tai is quite good. Mai Tais, along with margaritas, are $7 during Happy Hour, with $5 draft beers and just three bucks for a Pacifico (M-F, 3-6 p.m.)
Bali Hai, Shelter Island
This is a San Diego institution, known throughout the city (and beyond) as home to some of the strongest Mai Tais you can get anywhere. In fact, they supposedly limit you to two Mai Tais. Still, I don’t necessarily consider this a true tiki bar. For starters, it’s too nice! Plus it’s spacious and bright with fantastic views of San Diego Bay all the way to Mexico on clear days. Bali Hai has a bar area with a few seats at the bar but it’s mostly a restaurant. It does have a full menu of tiki drinks and its signature Mai Tai is $12, which makes it a heck of a bargain.
Beach Hut Deli, Broadway Pier
Located across from the Broadway Pier at the original home of the Padres, Lane Field – hey, Ted Williams played here! – is the Beach Hut Deli. This tiki-style hut is primarily a small restaurant tho it does have a bar. Mostly it’s beers; the only rum I saw on the shelf was Bacardi Silver and thus I’m hesitant to event mention it here but if you’re feeling tiki while around the Broadway Pier, then just walk across the stree to it.
Events: Tiki Oasis San Diego
For several days of a tiki experience, Tiki Oasis in San Diego is a multi-day event the first week of August. It features tiki drinks, tiki dancers, tiki and rum drinking seminars. Tiki Oasis 2023 event is Aug. 2-6 at the Town & Country Resort.