California's classic and modern tiki bars provide endless inspiration for interior design, but the full aesthetic includes landscaping and architecture, which many hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants lack.
For this, a stay at a tiki-themed hotel can offer a whole new level of creative input.
While many of the state's once-common tiki motels have closed, a beautifully preserved example survives in Palm Springs as the Caliente Tropics. "It's a great example," Von Stroheim says. "The architecture has a huge A-frame that beckons you in from the street."
The palm-lined grounds dotted with poolside cabanas, large wooden tikis, torches, and tropical touches give this place a classic motor lodge feel—not just like a throwback to the '60s, but also an active tiki palace.
Plenty of apartment buildings in Los Angeles were also built with tiki-inspired landscaping and architecture, such as the Tiki Apartments in Redondo Beach.
"Look to these apartments for landscaping," Von Stroheim suggests. "Most had an entryway, a bridge that might go over water or something, or they would have a pathway that's slightly winding, so you might feel like you're going into another world."
Another tiki hotel destination, of interest primarily for its landscaping, is the Crowne Plaza San Diego, where "the grounds still have their classic tiki feel, with waterfalls, foliage, and outriggers," Cate says.
• Caliente Tropics (411 E Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs): calientetropics.com
• Tiki Apartments (389 Palos Verde Blvd., Redondo Beach)
• Crowne Plaza San Diego (2270 Hotel Circle N., San Diego): cp-sandiego.com
Once you've got a good sense of tiki history and aesthetics, it's time to start collecting some original tiki art. From modern pop artists to classic carvers, there is a healthy crop of creative types producing classic and contemporary tiki-themed art.
Probably the most famous and recognizable current tiki artist is illustrator Josh 'Shag' Agle, whose work is featured on this issue's cover. Shag rose to fame in the late '90s and 2000s, and his Googie-influenced mid-century and tiki-themed art graces the walls of many a home tiki bar.
The colorful surrealism of Brad 'Tiki Shark' Parker and the glowing, narrative scenes by Heather Watts also lend a heavy touch of modern tiki to any wall.
Meanwhile, modern tiki carvers carry on the tradition of classic old-time carvers, such as Barney West, the most famous of all. Among the most prolific and recognized, 'Crazy Al' Evans makes wooden tikis and ceramic mugs, along with velvet paintings and other pop tiki art. Danny Gallardo, a carver who goes by 'Tiki Diablo,' also makes mugs and wooden tikis.
"When tiki carving started popping up, it was guys who looked at pictures of authentic Polynesian carvings and made interpretations of them," Cate says. "These interpretations became almost more recognized than the authentic ones." Gallardo, Evans, and their contemporaries carry on that tradition today.
Many tikiphiles' first introduction to the genre came at a young age with a visit to one of the exotic-themed tiki destinations that were once so common. And of those, the most classic and kid-themed is the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, which opened 50 years ago, in June 1963.
With its animatronic singing birds, meticulously decorated jungle theme, and virgin tiki drinks, the Enchanted Tiki Room introduced generations of children to the notion that you could create a tropical escape in the middle of Anaheim.
Von Stroheim said it was the grounds that most impacted him. "There's a bridge that you pass over when you're entering Adventureland, and there are all these masks and it's very scary…It's really intimidating for a little kid," he says. But then the animatronic birds start singing, and the juice starts flowing, and the exotic and dangerous become fun.
For those in the north who can't easily get to Disneyland, kids are welcome at the Tonga Room, as long as they don't sit at the bar, and at Trader Vic's. "I was inspired the first time I went to Trader Vic's, in Washington, D.C.," Cate says.
• Enchanted Tiki Room, Disneyland (1313 Disneyland Railroad, Anaheim): disneyland.disney.go.com