10 Tiki Oasis Tips (to Guarantee an Awesome Weekend)

For those of you who don't know already about it, each year there is a weekend-long event held in San Diego called Tiki Oasis that is a tiki convention of sorts.  We knew it was BIG so we decided to finally check it out this year.  We were a little late to register so we didn't get to stay on site at the Crowne Plaza (which is completely rented out exclusively for the event) and we also found that many of the really cool symposiums were already completely booked.  No big deal though, this was our first time at the rodeo so our intent was really just to check it out and have fun. Sure enough, the event didn't disappoint!  

During our brief two-day stint, I kept saying that, short of a parade, Tiki Oasis was pretty much the tiki equivalent of Princeton Reunions.  Or, for anyone who's been to Tiki Caliente/Mod Palm Springs, it's pretty much that weekend x10.  

Overall, our first Tiki Oasis this past August ended up being a great experience and we discovered so much about the event while we were in San Diego.  By the time it was over, we had arrived at some takeaways that we'll be sure to keep in mind in the years to come.  Here are our top 10 bits of advice for newcomers to the event:  

1. Rest Up in Advance (There is a LOT to Do)

We decided to save some money and stay over on Friday night only.  Apparently the Thursday night kick-off party was super packed at Bali Hai, so we don't really regret missing it (especially since that would have been our first time there).  But we do regret one thing majorly: not getting enough sleep Thursday night.  We stayed up most of the night working and figured we'd sleep for a good portion of Friday once we got down to San Diego.  We didn't expect there would be THAT much to do at Tiki Oasis.  We were wrong.  There are interesting events going on constantly.  Talk about FOMO in favor of a nap! 

2. Make Sure to Go to as Many Symposiums as Possible (and Book Them Early!)

The symposiums are a great opportunity to learn some really awesome & fun things!  Where else can you attend lectures on so many interesting aspects of tiki culture? Our first symposium was a talk on modern architecture in Honolulu given by architectural photographer, Darren Bradley.  

It was a great exploration of everything going on in the city and I was happy to have some vague points of reference from a trip I took to Oahu more than 10 years ago.  Since Greg and I both work in the world of architecture (and went to school for it), we understood many of the connections that Darren made to other architects, buildings, photographers, etc.  It was great - we kind of felt like we were back in college for a second, exploring an interesting topic. 

After following Kelly Patterson & Paul Spencer of  Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en pretty closely on social media for the past year, it was great to also attend their symposium!  

They gave lots of entertaining pointers on how to hold a space-age party, with a retro twist of course. Kelly described some some great food & drink recipes, crafty decoration ideas, and showed us all how we could easily make our own custom swizzle sticks.  As an added bonus, we got a complimentary cocktail and these hilarious looking (but tasty!) Space Food Sticks. 

Now that I'm in wedding-planning mode, I'm going to have to keep an eye out for other great food, drink, and party ideas to pull for inspiration from these two!

The symposium we really splurged on was the Rum & Cigar Cabana we attended. It was hosted by Tatuaje Cigars and Deadhead Rum.  We were able to kick back for a few hours and relax with what seemed to be never-ending samples.  It was great to discover some new cigars that we really enjoy and we liked sipping Deadhead Rum on the rocks.  Both companies offer some delicious products!  

We enjoyed the lounge so much that we ended up lining up a little too late for the Sven Kirsten talk and didn't make the cut because the room was already packed.  We were at least refunded the admission we had paid in advance.

Next year we'll be sure to sign up for even more events and we'll make sure to get in on the cocktail symposiums before they're sold out!  

3. Pay Bali Hai a Visit (During Off-Hours in the Afternoon)

When we went to check in to our hotel, the room wasn't ready yet so we had to kill time until 4pm.  We had been forewarned that Bali Hai would get crowded at night so we decided we might as well go check it out while we were waiting. Turns out afternoon is definitely your best bet to leisurely enjoy this place! 

This was our first visit and WOW!  We really didn't expect a full panoramic view of the water.  

It was very quiet around 2:30pm, which was great so we could really enjoy our first visit.  We ordered a Mr. Bali Hai since we had made that drink and served it at Open Studios.  We discovered that the recipe from Beachbum Berry's Total Tiki App is a little different (and we think a little tastier) than the current drink served.  Maybe it's closer the original?

We also tried the famous Mai Tai.  All alcohol.  No, really.  Unlike any Mai Tai we've had.  Very stiff - they even only let you drink two in one sitting. Personally, I prefer the fruitier versions but it was worth trying.  We weren't hungry enough for a meal but we did try the Tuna Poke, which was super tasty.  While we were there, we also picked up the iconic Mr. Bali Hai mug and the limited edition totem for 2015 to add to our rapidly growing tiki mug collection. 

Next time we're in San Diego, we'll be back for dinner and to sample some other cocktails! 

4. Save Some Energy for the Room Parties (and Use the Stairs) 

The room parties at the Crowne Plaza kick-off right after the bands are done at 10pm.  I was clued into some of their locations through my Instagram feed but, when we entered the courtyard, we realized it was pretty easy to figure out where all the parties were due to the flow of people.  

We heard that the elevators were crowded and taking forever so we used the stairs the whole night.  It worked well for us but I could imagine this might not be the best idea if you've had too much to drink.  We had experienced the room parties at Mod Palm Springs in the past and thought those were pretty cool but the ones at Tiki Oasis were just INSANE!  In a good way.  I've never seen so many people crowd hotel corridors and spill in and out of rooms.  Beyond that - the decorations were great, the cocktails served were pretty excellent, there were bands and entertainment in just about every room, and the costumes people had on for the Sci-Fi theme this year were super creative.  

5. BYOB 

Now, don't get me wrong, there were PLENTY of opportunities for free alcohol over the course of the weekend - lots of vendors providing free samples, many symposiums offering refreshments, and room parties serving a sampling delight of different cocktails.  BUT there were still lulls where we wanted some drinks and wished we had pre-mixed some back in our room.  Instead, we ended up spending money at the bars scattered around the resort (like the wonderfully themed one below). 

This was definitely not the end of the world (the drinks were good!); but, for cost savings purposes, we'll bring some alcohol of our own next time.  Added tip: bring some tropical sippers to hold your drinks as you stay "hydrated" in style all weekend long.  

We had ours in tow - we just didn't think to bring the obvious to go along with them!  

7. Stay at the Crowne Plaza (and for More than One Night)

We stayed at a hotel nearby for just a night (since the Crowne Plaza was already booked and we were trying to save money with a short stay).  We were just a short Uber ride away from the Crowne Plaza but in the end we wished we were stationed on site.  The hotel is completely booked just for the event and there are activities happening constantly that you really don't want to miss (2 days definitely felt to short)!  Staying on site, would have made trips back to the room to rest & freshen up a lot easier.  We also wouldn't have had to deal with parking every time we did decide to drive our own car.  

What we also didn't know ahead of time was that was a pleasant surprise was that this particular Crowne Plaza has a tiki past.  It is still reflected in decor around the hotel - pretty cool! 

8. Keep Tabs on the Buzz Through Social Media

Before the weekend started, there was so much buzz surrounding the event, it was crazy!  I followed along as much as I could on the Tiki Oasis Event Page and Facebook Group (that happens to still get some informative updates from members year round).  There was a lot of great information I got about the event just from reading everyone's posts and it definitely built up anticipation of what was to come! 

On Instagram, the official hashtag, #tikio, was useful to browse all of the updates and happenings coming in from everyone's feeds.  For the events and activities that we didn't attend, we were still about to get a taste of what was going on.  

Before I got there, I hadn't realized just how many of the people I follow on Instagram/social media would be there!  I did get to meet a couple of fellow Instagrammers in person finally - @tiki_chippy (Dave Nelms) and @spyrateradio (Erik Lefler).  I may have ran into some others along the way but I unfortunately don't know what everyone looks like!  In all, we ended up meeting some great people. Hopefully we'll continue to make more tiki friends as the years go on!

9. Shop! (Support Tiki Vendors & Artists)

We loved seeing all of the talented work for sale in the different marketplace areas over the course of the weekend.  It's rare that you get this many great tiki vendors and artists in one location at once so it's definitely a shopping opportunity not to be missed! 

Now that we're strapped for cash on our super-tight Modern Tiki Wedding planning budget, we unfortunately couldn't splurge.  I did manage to get a necklace from Sweet Siren Designs and a tiki toy for Gatsby from Tiki Paws, though.  I would have loved to pick up a Tiki Tony mug too - I've been eyeing those from afar on Instagram!  Maybe after the wedding when we're not so strapped for cash! 

10. Don't Sweat It When It Comes to Tiki Fashion Choices & Costumes!

I was SO worried before we got to the event that we were going to be underdressed.  On the Facebook page, I heard lots of chatter about costumes to go with the theme and carefully curated outfits so I thought we would stick out and look too "ordinary" for the weekend.  Turns out that there's a huge range of clothes that people wear.  Some aren't dressed up in tiki/themed clothes at all and some people go all out with elaborate costumes.  

Moral of the story here: wear whatever makes you happy because anything goes!  

In all, we are still in total awe of the sheer magnitude of this event.  The amount of people that attend, the extreme effort that goes into it each year, and the fact that the hotel allows this group to completely overrun it in tiki splendor.  It was all amazing. 

Since this was just our FIRST time attending Tiki Oasis, I'm sure there are lots of other tips out there from seasoned veterans.  Please share!