Tales of our San Francisco Tiki Adventure

A while back, I wrote a post about the top 8 tiki destinations we wanted to check out in California. Many of them were located in and around San Francisco so, when we had a wedding to go to up there this past May, we decided to try to hit as many tiki bars as possible. We didn't get to as many spots as we had planned but we still had fun on our little road trip!  

Early one Friday morning, we packed up our bags, donned some tiki-appropriate attire and set off on our road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  Gatsby wore his lei.  I wore my BucketFeet

We didn't take the scenic route along the coast (one of my favorite drives of all time); however, we did stop to enjoy the scenery along the way. 

When we arrived in San Francisco, we dropped Gatsby off at the hotel before we ventured out to our first destination: Trader Vic's.  We were happy to have found a pet-friendly hotel (Hotel Diva) and they even upgraded our room to provide more space for our pup!  He was a happy camper to say the least.  

We had a dinner reservation but ended up being about an hour late due to the lovely rush hour traffic we discovered along the way.  Luckily, Trader Vic's still had some availability and seated us.  Good thing because we had to try the original 1944 Mai Tai.  We were also looking forward to sampling some other drinks and the food.  

Greg ordered the Mexican "El Diablo" (left) ["tequila, cassis, lime, and ginger ale"] and I ordered the original 1944 Mai Tai (right).  The Mai Tai was the best Mai Tai I've ever had.  The waitress let us know that they made all of the special ingredients for it in house rather than using pre-made syrups, etc.  Really, it was amazing.  That night, Trader Vic officially won me over. 

For dinner, we ordered a series of appetizers since we really like pupu platter foods served at tiki spots. This was the Kapiki Pepe Salad ("shaved brussels sprouts, radicchio, clementine, roasted hazelnuts tossed in a lemon vinaigrette").  

We also ordered the Crab Rangoons ("spiced crab and cream cheese filled wontons") because I pretty much order them whenever they're listed on a menu.  These were really amazing.  They were loaded with crab unlike some other versions I've tried!

We also tried the Tama Tama Meatballs ("seasoned lamb with a touch of spice and fresh mint tossed in a tamarind and currant glaze").  They definitely had a unique flavor to them!

Let's talk a little about atmosphere.  While most tiki spots are pretty dark and windowless, Trader Vic's is situated right on the water so it offers a panoramic view of its surroundings.  The view was great for watching the sunset.  And windows aside, there was also a lot of tiki decor all over the place so it wasn't necessarily less "tiki" than other restaurants.  

Also, great carpet. 

One surprising thing to us was that a lot of the patrons were really dressed up (often celebrating a special occasion).  I think that's the first time we've seen a tiki spot be anything more than casual! 

As for round two of drinks...

We ordered a Scorpion ("a powerful sting of rum, brandy, and orange juice with a whisper of almonds").  

And a Samoan Fog Cutter ("a vaseful of rum, gin, brandy, and sherry wine with orange juice and orgeat").  Both were pretty good but neither topped the Mai Tai we had earlier. Also pictured: some BBQ Spare Ribs we ordered.  We wish we could have sampled some more things here so we'll definitely be back on our next trip!

After dinner at Trader Vic's, our plan was to head to the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar.  We had been told at the Coconut Club that the Tonga Room had the best atmosphere of all the tiki bars in San Francisco so we had to check it out.  Since it's located in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel, we had to wind down corridors of convention rooms before we finally got to the entrance.  That was probably the coolest way I've ever gotten to a tiki spot.  Greg didn't trust that we were headed in the right direction at all!  Unfortunately, when we got there, it was pretty late (and it was a Friday) so there was a long line.  

The crowd wasn't really what we expected either.  A lot less tiki and a lot more Friday night party scene.  The wait was forever to get a table so we decided to just do standing room at the bar.  

When we ordered drinks, we definitely went for a Pineapple Royale ("aged rum, brandy, Cointreau, and fresh pineapple juice") but I'm not sure what other drink we got - maybe a Pina Colada or a Chi Chi.  Well, either way, both were very sweet.  Too sweet for us actually.  Not sure if this was a Friday night fluke or what.  

The atmosphere was very cool though.  Floating barge with a live band in the pool in the middle of the place - can you really beat that?  I had envisioned this spot being huge but it's pretty much as wide as shown in the picture.  There are also live rain storms (so cool!) but one of those didn't happen while we were there.  

Overall, this place was such a cool little hidden pocket of tiki somehow still surviving in the basement of a fancy hotel!

We would have loved to have sat at one of the tables around the pool, but we did enjoy dancing on what appeared to be a ship deck at one edge of the water.  After we got tired of that, we moved on to our next destination.  Next time we return to San Francisco, we'll definitely revisit the Tonga Room on a week night or earlier in the day so we can sample their food and give the drinks another shot!

Ok, so our third and final spot for the night was Smuggler's Cove.  This one also came highly recommended at the Coconut Club for having the best tiki drinks in San Francisco.  From what I've heard more recently, they have some of the best in the country.  Again, we were faced with a long Friday night line.  And, by the time we reached the front of it, we were denied entry due to Greg's expired ID.  Major bummer.  Next time!

Saturday, we mainly spent at the wedding (the real reason for our trip).  

We would have explored some more tiki bars Saturday night as well but we ended up being at the wedding later than anticipated (having too much fun in the photo booth clearly).

Sunday, it was time to drive home.  Since we had brought Gatsby, we unfortunately couldn't stop at any more tiki spots on the way back to LA. 

Overall, we're super happy we got to check out Trader Vic's & the Tonga Room but we definitely need to take another tiki road trip up north!  Beyond revisiting those two spots, here are the other destinations we have in mind: Smuggler's Cove (San Francisco), Longitude (Oakland), and Forbidden Island (Alameda). 


Has anyone else taken a tiki road trip before?  We've got the official Tiki Road Trip book to use as inspiration but we'd love to hear about your experiences!