Tiki Oasis Takes a Trip to the Tropics

Tiki dresses
More than anything else, Tiki Oasis is a way for like-minded people to get together. The Enchanted Tiki Room Glee Club Community Meet-Up is just one of many social occasions that makes Tiki Oasis fun for participants. Photo by Albertine

Not even the pandemic could halt Tiki Oasis, the 20-plus-year-old event whose organizers brag is “the Mecca, the big one,” in the world of Tiki events. The 2020 event was minuscule and masked, the 2021 version squeezed through during a lull in Covid cases.

And now with 2022 Tiki Oasis creators Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim plan to come roaring back. (Mask and other rules will depend on the situation on August 3 to 7, when Tiki fans from throughout the globe take over the Town & Country Resort Spa in San Diego.)

The Bay Area-based von Stroheims, who also put on a similar, smaller annual event in Arizona, take a broad view of Tiki, which comes out in their events.

Baby Doe and Otto
'Oasis Gothic,' left, was created by Anthony Carpenter. Tiki Oasis creators Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim are holding Tiki mugs in their likeness. Photo by Sonia Clerc

They see the culture built around rum-based drinks, palm fronds, and South Seas deity sculptures as just one aspect of world culture, of mid-century modern design and lifestyle.

Sure, Tiki Oasis is all about partying: “It’s five nights and four days of like fun, mayhem, good times,” Baby Doe says. There will be “like, 20 bands. Yeah, 30 deejays,” Otto adds.

“Did we mention the ukulele jam?” he asks.

But Baby Doe adds that the event is also “a little serious, of course, but it’s all brought to you in a way that’s digestible. You walk away with some knowledge. And that’s something I think is really important to us.”

“We’re very much into preservation, mid-century preservation. So we want these stories – this kind of timeline, the ‘50s and ‘60s – not to get lost and forgotten, but for the next generation to know about it and for it to continue.”

The Surfrajettes, a four-piece instrumental combo from Toronto, will be performing at Tiki Oasis on Friday night August 5. Tiki Oasis branches out to include surf, rockabilly, and similar forms of music. Courtesy of the Surfrajettes

Tiki Oasis will host about 40 seminars. “We have the world’s foremost experts,” says Otto, “like Sven Kirsten, who has written, I think, five very thick, very deep, and dense conceptual books about Tiki and various aspects of Tiki, and also put out a CD called ‘The Sound of Tiki.’ He approaches it from what he calls an urban archeology viewpoint.”

True, he adds, “it always has to be entertaining and fun-filled, and quite often people will receive a cocktail as they enter the seminar, if it’s cocktail related.”

“There is the aspect of being able to feel like you’re in somebody’s backyard at some kind of a party while you’re listening to this expert share their knowledge with you.”

Among the talks: 'The Trade Winds -- The Rise & Fall of a Polynesian Palace'; 'Tiki Bars in 12 Weeks'; and some that deal with questions like: how authentic is this Tiki stuff anyhow?

Pooch Parade
The annual Pooch Parade is a popular event. An organizer, Kris Kraus, says dogs are “usually invited to most things at Tiki Oasis, as long as they behave.” Photo by Albertine

One event on the bill is 'Understanding Indigenous Art: Authentic, Airport or Artificial with David Cassera.'

At Tiki Oasis, the von Stroheims say, attendees are celebrating beach life and the tropics, not imitating other cultures, which are treated with respect. "For the past five or six years, we have included a Hawaiian dance troupe, like a local Hawaiian dance troupe in San Diego," Otto says.

The theme for this year’s Tiki Oasis, ‘Trip to the Tropics,’ focuses on the Caribbean, with histories of rum.

“We’re learning a lot about the Caribbean and the region,” Baby Doe says, “and it’s fun for us because we can bring some other music, some other vibes to it. And so this year we have some early and some calypso rock steady, early ska music, which maybe people wouldn’t normally get at a Tiki party.”

The marketplace is a popular feature at Tiki Oasis, and it is open to the general public. Courtesy of Tiki Oasis

She adds, “A fan is doing a seminar about calypso music this year.” There will also be a hands-on event to teach tropical flower arranging.

The Tiki Oasis website lists page after page of artisans and other vendors of all things Tiki, an industry that barely existed when Tiki Oasis got its start at the end of the last century.

Indeed Tiki as a whole has mushroomed in these years.

“I got into this because this is just something we love,” Baby Doe says.

  Tiki fabric
Tiki Oasis fabric was designed by Brandcamp.

“When we started producing events in the ‘90s, really the intention was to support Otto’s fanzine that he had at the time, which was called Tiki News,” she says. “We had no plan on becoming huge events producers, but with time, you know, it just kind of grew and evolved organically.

“So our very first Tiki Oasis in 2001 had I think about 60 people and a swimming pool. And, you know, it just grew, grew, grew. And now we have like 4,000 people that come to this event.”

“We really want people to come to this event over the five nights and four days and really just get totally immersed in what we’ve presented to them,” Baby Doe says. “Forget the world.”

Although some events have already sold out, many others have not. Many Tiki Oasis activities are free to all, including the Marketplace.

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