Paradise Found - Page 4

10 ways to live it up in the exotic world of tiki California

7. Hit a hot spot for Polynesian décor

Tiki style evokes exotic travels, so souvenirs and artifacts are crucial. So are tropical-themed decorations such as bamboo and thatch, exotic drink mugs, and of course, tiki statues.

Collectors meet to swap wares at pop-up marketplaces such as the International TIKI Marketplace held every six weeks or so at Don the Beachcomber. But there are plenty of permanent tiki vendors as well.

The biggest and most classic place to shop is Oceanic Arts, in Whittier, which bills itself as the "world's leading supplier of tropical and Polynesian dècor since 1956."

They produce, import, and sell just about everything a tiki bar could require—from thatch roofs, bamboo trim, and wall mattings to real wood tikis, outrigger canoes, and carved wooden masks.

But Oceanic Arts has no catalog online, so for cybershopping there's, which has a respectable array of tikis and tropical décor.

Many of the carvers mentioned above have online shops, including 'Crazy Al' at, and another contemporary tiki artist named Bosko Hrnjak. He sells mugs, dècor, bamboo, and hand-carved tikis at an online shop,, which Von Stroheim described as "a one-stop luau."

• International TIKI Marketplace:
• Oceanic Arts (12414 Whittier Blvd., Whittier):
• Tiki Master:
• Tiki Objects by Bosko:



8. Set an exotic mood and turn up the volume

While classic tiki destinations may crumble, classic tiki tunes remain perfectly preserved. A tiki bar can get away with a varied soundtrack ranging from Don Ho to the Ventures to today's brand of tiki bands.

But the quintessential tiki music is the '50s-era lounge sound known as exotica, pioneered by Les Baxter and Martin Denny.

Denny introduced the hallmark sound of exotica. For his 1957 album Quiet Village, birdcalls, sound effects, and exotic drums laid a backdrop for a lounge-pop ensemble of piano and vibraphone—and a genre was born.

Through the '50s and '60s, performers including Denny, Arthur Lymon, Ted Auletta, and Robert Drasmin, and groups such as the Surfmen, made exotica originals and frequently covered Baxter's tunes.

A new crop of bands, including the Tikiyaki Orchestra, Don Tiki, the Martini Kings, Creepxotica, and Waytiki Kayakon, continues that tradition.

For some variety, Cate recommends a heavy dose of Hawaiian music interspersed with exotica.

"If you go to a Trader Vic's, you'll typically find they play old Hawaiian standards from the '20s and stuff," Cate says. "I love the sound of Hawaiian guitars in the background. It's not jarring, and doesn't have bird calls or train whistles or Chinese bells."

Kirsten recently curated a compilation of tiki music called The Sound of Tiki, which serves as a good primer for those ready to explore the sound.

The Sound of Tiki - compiled by Sven Kirsten (Bear Family Records)
Dionysus Exotica LP compilation (Dionysus Records)
Hawaiian Memories: Vintage Recordings 1928-1941 compilation (Take Two Records)



9. Take in a video of tiki fantasy and history

Books and music can only take one's understanding of tiki culture so far. It sure helps to see it in action. Films such as Elvis Presley's 1961 Technicolor hit Blue Hawaii express the fantasy of an American in paradise, while the recently remade adventure classic Kon Tiki follows Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl's legendary crossing of the Pacific in a balsa wood raft.

But to understand tiki culture today, it might help to check out one of the few documentaries on the movement. Perhaps the most ambitious of these is The DVD of Tiki. It uses Kirsten's Book of Tiki as a starting point for an in-depth exploration of "both the true South Seas and its pop culture reinvention," creator Jochen Hirschfeld explains in his published description of his project.

The film includes a journey through the modern South Pacific, vintage super 8-millimeter footage, and interviews with some of the legends of tiki culture, such as Martin Denny, Oceanic Arts owner Leroy Schmaltz, and many more.

Another documentary, Tikimentary - In Search Of The Lost Paradise, by Brazillian filmmaker Duda Leite, focuses more closely on the modern-day subculture surrounding Shag, Von Stroheim, and the music and art scene of tiki's second wave.

Blue Hawaii (1961)
Kon Tiki (1947 and 2012)
The DVD of Tiki Vol. 1: Paradise Lost (2012)
Tikimentary - In Search of the Lost Paradise (2010)



10. Get connected with the tikiphile nation

What fun is getting into tiki without other tikiphiles to share the obsession? Not much, really. So anyone with more than a passing interest in the culture will probably want to get involved with a larger community online and in person.

In California, the premier tiki event is Tiki Oasis, organized by Von Stroheim, which annually attracts several thousand people in August to the Crowne Plaza Mission Valley in San Diego.

With live tiki carving, a car show, parties, vendors, and educational seminars about drinks, music, architecture, and more, Von Stroheim describes the weekend-long event as "The Book of Tiki come to life."

Smaller tiki events, such as home tiki bar crawls, one-off parties, and music shows, dot the calendar as well, many organized and promoted online at the tiki discussion site Tiki Central.

Tiki Central is the main destination to talk tiki online, and a good place to meet other tikiphiles, swap pictures, read accounts of home bar projects, argue about music, and show off collectibles.

Elsewhere online, Critiki serves as a repository for all things tiki, especially architecture. And Ooga Mooga is a site just for mug collectors. And of course, a subscription to the San Diego-based quarterly Tiki magazine will help keep the discerning tikiphile consistently informed.

• Tiki Oasis:
• Tiki Central:
• Critiki:
• Ooga Mooga:
• Tiki magazine:


Photos: David Toerge, Jo David, Lee Joseph, Doug Letterman, Domini Brown, Scott Evanskey, William Beem, Chris Jepsen; and courtesy Sven Kirsten, Martin Cate

Illustrations: Josh Agle (, Mike Cressy (