We’re calling this list of Tiki Destinations “Central California” mostly to group them apart from their Bay Area and Los Angeles counterparts. These locations are in smaller cities and often have a local and less urban orientation.
Creeky Tiki (1)
782 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
High Roller Tiki Lounge (2)
433 Alisal Rd, Solvang, CA 93463
Hula’s Island Grill – Santa Cruz (3)
221 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Hula’s Island Grill – Monterey (4)
622 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey, CA 93940
The Jungle Bird (5)
2516 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95816
Maikai Island Kitchen & Groggery (6)
49A Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Reef Bar & Restaurant / Pono’s Island Grill (7)
120 Union St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
1919 K Street Bakersfield, CA 93301
VenTiki Tiki Lounge and Lanai (9)
701 E Main St, Ventura, CA 93001
These are the destinations that every tikiphile needs to experience and your visit to the city would not be complete without seeing these. These venues are generally the most immersive tiki experiences, known for high quality cocktails and (for some) food.
- Hula’s Island Grill – Santa Cruz
Worth a Look
These destinations have something interesting to offer, and are sometimes great for locals and for those tikiphiles looking for “extra credit” destinations. But the theme and offerings may be somewhat lower than the must-sees.
- High Roller Tiki Lounge
- Hula’s Island Grill – Monterey
- The Jungle Bird
- Maikai Island Kitchen & Groggery
Only for Completists
If you’re one of the crazy people who like to visit every possible tiki bar around, like I am, then here’s the list. These generally are much further away from a tiki theme, or have significantly bad reputations for service and quality.
- Creeky Tiki
- Reef Bar & Restaurant / Pono’s Island Grill
TBD “Fall” 2021: Wilfred’s Lounge. Napa’s first tiki lounge, 967 First Street Napa, CA 94558.
Summer 2021: Cane Tiki Room, 1240 Park St. Downtown Paso Robles, CA 93446
The Ultimate Mai Tai rating system for Tiki Bars based on the following four criteria:
Drinks: quality, variety, price, consistency
Ambiance: Decor, immersiveness, seating, special features
Service: Hours, ease of service, friendliness
Tiki Aesthetic: Totems, Polynesian and/or Nautical theme, music
|Hula’s Island Grill – Santa Cruz||4||6||7||8||6.25|
|High Roller Tiki Lounge||3||7||6||8||6|
|VenTiki Tiki Lounge & Lanai||7||5||6||6||6|
|Hula’s Island Grill – Monterey||4||5||6||6||5.25|
|Makai Island Kitchen and Groggery||4||5||6||6||5.25|
|Reef Bar & Restaurant / Pono’s Island Grill||4||4||6||3||4.25|
A few notes:
- The Tiki Room at the Santa Cruz Hula’s location is larger and more immersive than the space as the sister location in Monterey, hence the higher rating.
- If you like wine, feel free to add at least 2-3 points to the Drinks rating for High Roller.
- The Jungle Bird used to be listed in our must-see section. But their cocktails have become considerably more uneven in 2020-2021 and food remains underwhelming. Recent management changes signal hope for a return to form.
- More about our Tiki Bar Rating System
This casual restaurant and bar includes a light surf theme with some tiki elements. There’s a second very lightly themed tiki bar on the patio. The “Tiki Tai” includes Captain Morgan White and Spiced, Meyers’s Dark, Grenadine, OJ, and Pineapple Juice. So it’s that kind of place.
High Roller Tiki Lounge
High Roller is a combination wine/tiki bar where the “cocktails” are entirely based on wine and not spirits. It reopened for outdoor seating in July 2020 in a new larger location replacing the original that opened in 2016. The Danish-themed village of Solvang seems like an unlikely location for a wine-focused tiki bar, but the area features numerous respected wineries and as a tourist town the competition for patrons helps to develop this unique offering. The original location’s decor was impeccable and had bar seating and few booths. Though I didn’t love the Mai Tai made with white wine as a base, High Roller was a lot of fun and a must see. The new location continues the tradition with a strong tiki theme, but with a location that is more open and with windows. Plenty of souvenir mugs and glasses are available to remember the visit.
Hula’s Island Grill – Santa Cruz
This is the second location of the Hula’s chain (which includes several Hula’s Modern locations in the Phoenix area), and has a more elaborate tiki decor. The main room is a restaurant with surf, Hawaiian, and tiki elements, and also includes the bar. There’s a Tiki Room that’s used mostly in the evening and is a wonderfully appointed dark, traditional tiki lounge. We like the beach-inspired food, though the cocktails aren’t up to par with current craft trends. There is a fairly substantial rum selection. Hula’s is a lot of fun and is conveniently located in downtown Santa Cruz.
Hula’s Island Grill – Monterey
The original Hula’s location is a few blocks from Cannery Row and is a little less elaborately decorated than the Santa Cruz location. The surf-inspired food is very much on point, but the cocktails here are average and lean toward the touristy/sweet side. The tiki room section is pretty small and less dark than Santa Cruz’s, hence our slightly lower rating. Check out the adjacent speakeasy bar, appropriately named Next Door.
The Jungle Bird
Located in Sacramento’s mid-town neighborhood, the Jungle Bird is the top tiki destination in the area. The front room houses the bar and some lounge seating, while the back room provides a darker hut-focused experience. Out back there’s a small patio and also a large tent set up during COVID times. The cocktails at Jungle Bird are of mixed quality, and we’ve had a very uneven experience with the food here. Management changes signal a hopeful return to form.
The Jungle Bird has hosted the Sippin’ Santa holiday pop-up since 2018. An Aloha Shirt/tiki store named Swanbergs on J is two blocks away.
Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery
Located on Santa Cruz’s picturesque wharf, Makai offers a good tiki experience while still appealing to a wide audience. The interior includes work from Bamboo Ben and the bar rotates. Food is family-friendly and reasonably priced, including Pupus, sandwiches, bowls, and island-inspired entrees. Cocktails aren’t comparable to craft cocktail tiki bars, but are more than worthy considering the general-audience clientele. They serve a large variety of classic tiki drinks, including both a 1944 Mai Tai and an Island Mai Tai, along with a few originals.
Reef Bar & Restaurant / Pono’s Island Grill
In theory these are two different businesses, though they’re obviously related since there’s only one entrance into the room. If you like more traditional Hawaiian food, this is the place since the owners are actually Hawaiian. The interior is a mix of a sport-bar, Hawaiian, and Tiki and includes a nicely appointed patio in the back. Live music is scheduled most nights.
Everyone who visits says they can’t believe that such a high quality tiki bar is out in the middle of an aging section of Bakersfield, but Tiki-Ko has been doing it right since they opened in 2016. A large room features some cozy booths and lounge seating, plus a large U-shaped bar. Staff here are notoriously friendly and the drinks are really good. The lighting and music are classical tiki, and the place is just plain fun to hang out in.
Nautical decor is the focus in the gorgeous basement level called The Sinking Ship Room, now open and featuring decor by Tiki Diablo. Reservations recommended.
The Antique Mall next door includes an actual working Woolworth’s Diner inside.
This bar and restaurant has a small interior with a few seats at the bar, plus a larger patio out front. There are some vintage tiki items on display, plus artwork and glassware/mugs by local favorite Tiki tOny. We liked our cocktails and food, but the small space presents challenges for visits. A gift shop next door can be accessed by asking a staff member. Four different Mai Tais are available, including a top-shelf one for $25 that includes a souvenir mug.
Hawaiian and tiki art is available at Aloha on Main a block away.