The best tiki bars in the San Francisco Bay Area

Get a taste of the tropics with a Mai Tai (or two!) at one of the best tiki bars in the Bay Area
Forbidden Island
Photograph: Courtesy Forbidden Island Forbidden Island
By Shoshi Parks |
Advertising

Since it popped up in the 1930s, the tiki trend has been right at home in San Francisco and the East Bay. And while some of the newer spots boast a bit of swank and cocktails as crafty as they come, the paper umbrellas, bamboo walls, Polynesian masks and grass huts that made “tiki” a household word have never gone out of style. From the immersive Epcot Center-esque Pagan Idol and Tonga Room to the are-they-or-aren’t-they Tiki-themed dives of Bamboo Hut and Hawaii West, tiki isn’t just a far-off island dream, it’s a lifestyle.

RECOMMENDED: The best speakeasies in San Francisco

Bay Area tiki bars

1
Last Rites
Photograph: Yelp/Kaharine P
Bars

Last Rites

icon-location-pin Duboce Triangle

This brand new Duboce Triangle bar showcases the dark side of tiki with sky high skulls and plane-crash-in-the-tropical-jungle decor. Though it has sacrificed none of the Disney-quality of the classic tiki bar, Last Rites has managed to do it with a bit more sophistication than many of its San Francisco counterparts. The bar owes this, in no small part, to grown-up cocktails that eschew the blue curacao and sickly-sweet syrups for combinations like the Halfway Tree, overproof rum and fortified wine served in a skull mug and the Hetch Hetchy, a drink made with bell pepper and paprika. But not to worry if you come craving the classics—Last Rites has those too. Try the Marine Layer, a take on the Fog Cutter that adds housemade cashew orgeat (instead of the typical almond) to a base of rum, lemon and egg white.

2
Forbidden Island
Photograph: Courtesy Forbidden Island
Bars, Dive bars

Forbidden Island

icon-location-pin Alameda

Forbidden Island’s tiki decor is spot-on, all grass huts and cocktail umbrellas and Polynesian idols; over the top and full of kitsch without being a parody. The tiki-talking bartenders—dressed in aloha shirts—are experts in their field, helpful without being overbearing because, at the end of the day, Forbidden Island is as much a neighborhood bar as it is a tiki destination. The only thing they take seriously here are the drinks, which offer a craft take on tiki classics. Try the Painkiller, a potent homage to one from the original tiki pantheon, made with pineapple and coconut, navy rum and orange, and dusted with spice.

Advertising
3
The Kon-Tiki in Oakland
Photograph: Virginia Miller
Bars

The Kon-Tiki

icon-location-pin Oakland

Taking over the reins from its popular tiki predecessor, Longitude, the Kon Tiki is chock full of tropical decor straight out of the Brady Bunch episode where Marcia hula dances and Bobby discovers a cursed idol. At the bar and in grass hut booths along the walls, patrons sip mai tais and daiquiris, perfect accompaniments to a food menu that features island-inspired takes on burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. A pupu platter will get you a sample of time-honored and seasonal treats for $40.

4
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Photograph: Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Bars

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

icon-location-pin Nob Hill

Once the indoor pool of the glitzy Fairmont Hotel, in 1945 a set director at Metro Goldwyn Mayer created the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar we know and love today, a full-blown tiki hallucination with thatched bungalows, a live band playing on a boat floating in a jungle lagoon, and honest-to-God tropical rainstorms. There’s a reason that Anthony Bourdain once called this spot “the greatest place in the history of the world;” the Tonga Room is tiki throwback at its non-ironic best. They're famous for their uber-sweet lychee martinis and overpriced everything, but what the bar lacks in mixology cred it more than makes up for in heart. If the Tonga Room ever closes, San Francisco as we know it would surely not survive.

Advertising
5
Smuggler's Cove
Photograph: Noelle Chun
Bars, Cocktail bars

Smuggler's Cove

icon-location-pin Hayes Valley

With three floors of dark corners, pirate memorabilia and a proper indoor waterfall, the decor at Smuggler’s is straight out of an adventure book. The bartenders are true tiki fanatics, and their drinks are expertly crafted, esoteric dives into tiki history. And while it began as a hidden tiki oasis, Smuggler’s Cove has become something of a victim of its own success; today you’ll find the bar perpetually crowded and swarming with scenesters. It can all be very un-tiki. Still, if you have a love for all-things tiki, Smuggler’s Cove can’t be beat. Big drinkers should try the very strong Jet Pilot—the mix of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, lime, grapefruit, cinnamon, herbsaint and a sweet spiced Caribbean syrup known as fulernum goes down all too easily.

6
Pagan Idol
Photograph: Yelp/Owie N.
Bars

Pagan Idol

icon-location-pin Downtown

Pagan Idol does an impressive job of bringing a little of the island life to the heart of San Francisco’s stuffy, corporate neighborhood. The bar’s two rooms, one done up in classic tiki kitsch, the other with the rounded portholes and wooden curvature reminiscent of the bowels of a pirate ship, have ample space for both the happy hour crowd and visiting tourists. Massive scorpion bowl-style group drinks like the Rum Monkey (rums, banana, pineapple, citrus, macadamia nut, cream and egg) are as dangerous as they sound.

Advertising
7
Luau Lounge
Photograph: Courtesy Luau Lounge
Bars, Cocktail bars

Luau Lounge

icon-location-pin Fisherman's Wharf

The Luau Lounge is just so perfectly strange. Hidden behind Players Sports Grill & Arcade on—wait for it—Pier 39, the Luau Lounge meets the bare minimum tiki requirement—though it’s more TGI Fridays than Waikiki. But the mai tais are big and strong and the floor-to-ceiling view of Alcatraz makes up for what the Luau Lounge lacks in island style.

8
Bamboo Hut
Photograph: Bamboo Hut/flickr
Bars, Dive bars

Bamboo Hut

icon-location-pin Jackson Square

It’s hard to say whether the Bamboo Hut is a dive bar that’s transforming into a tiki bar, or a tiki bar that's slowly eroding into a North Beach dive. Either way, it’s raucous, rowdy and often a little dirty. Don’t expect fireworks behind the bar, but if there was ever a place to order a volcano bowl then this is it; with a flaming pool of 151 in the center, these shared 3-4 person troughs of fruit and rum aren’t messing around. One of the last remaining anything-goes North Beach bars, the likes of which have gone the way of Easter Island.

Advertising
9
Trad'r Sam's
Photograph: © Google
Bars, Dive bars

Trad'r Sam

icon-location-pin Outer Richmond

The oldest, longest-operating tiki bar in San Francisco, Trad’r Sam is a bit of living history dating back to the 1930s when tropical haunts were known as bamboo bars. Tiki has evolved since then but Sam has not, so those used to the dedication of Smuggler’s Cove or the full-immersion experience of Forbidden Island might find old Sam a bit down-at-heel. Still, we love a good dive as much as a good tiki bar, and this is the best of both worlds.

10
Hawaii West
Photograph: © Google
Bars, Dive bars

Hawaii West

icon-location-pin Russian Hill

Hawaii West is one of those places that gets so much wrong not because they were trying too hard but because they simply don’t give a shit. The decor is haphazard, the drinks aren't very good and, if Yelp is to be believed, the bartenders frequently overcharge. There's even a pool table, which, though out of place in a tiki bar, is at least free. Still, with its shabby, anything goes attitude, boisterous local clientele and beverages that are more liquor than sweet stuff, Hawaii West will warm you like the tropical sun. Tiki or not, it’s just what you need in a bar: a home away from home, a therapist's office and, most importantly, a dark little hole to get drunk in.

Advertising
11
Tiki Haven
Photograph: © Google
Bars, Cocktail bars

Tiki Haven

icon-location-pin Outer Sunset

Tiki Haven is equal parts sports bar and dive bar. Throw in some fake torches, plenty of bamboo and towering tiki masks and you’ve got the Sunset’s answer to tiki-time. The drinks go down well, the staff are unfailingly friendly and the bar has a distinct neighborhood vibe. It’s the kind of place that proudly serves Jageritas (basically a margarita made with Jägermeister), though we’ll stick with the Wiki Waki Woo—citrus vodka, amaretto,151 and pineapple, orange and cranberry juice, cranberry juice and 151—because the name is just so fun to say. There’s a jukebox, dice and cards, and on Friday nights everybody gets lei’d.

12
Kona Club
Photograph: Caltex98/flickr
Bars, Cocktail bars

Kona Club

icon-location-pin Oakland

A self-described rock n’ roll tiki bar, this next-generation island lounge in Oakland serves up carefully constructed, reimagined tropical classics to a punk rock soundtrack. Amidst the hula girls, Polynesian masks and puffer fish lanterns, TVs play Magnum PI on loop. Signature libations like the Macadamia Nut Chi Chi, a blend of vodka, macadamia nut liqueur, coconut and pineapple are a big improvement over the basic mai tai. The shareable scorpion bowl and kona cabana pack a big punch.

Advertising
13
Hawaii West
Photograph: © Google
Bars, Dive bars

Hawaii West

icon-location-pin Russian Hill

Hawaii West is one of those places that gets so much wrong not because they were trying too hard but because they simply don’t give a shit. The decor is haphazard, the drinks aren't very good and, if Yelp is to be believed, the bartenders frequently overcharge. There's even a pool table, which, though out of place in a tiki bar, is at least free. Still, with its shabby, anything goes attitude, boisterous local clientele and beverages that are more liquor than sweet stuff, Hawaii West will warm you like the tropical sun. Tiki or not, it’s just what you need in a bar: a home away from home, a therapist's office and, most importantly, a dark little hole to get drunk in.

The best speakeasies in San Francisco
Advertising
This page was migrated to our new look automatically. Let us know if anything looks off at feedback@timeout.com