Tag: San Diego

San Diego Tiki Bars and An Honest Review of Tiki Oasis

As the tiki folks who read my guide to Phoenix tiki bars know, I still have a lot to learn about the world of tiki. But we have really gotten into the scene (in my introverted way) since our first tiki bar out in Las Vegas. I’ve been to all the tiki bars in Arizona, visited tiki bars across the Midwest, started collecting signature tiki mugs… And we started our home bar with tiki recipe books. Needless to say, I really enjoy this corner of Americana. So, when we got vaccinated in the year of our Lord 2021, we wanted to celebrate with tickets to Tiki Oasis. It seemed like the biggest tiki celebration we’d probably ever have the chance to attend, and it was nestled among some of the amazing modern San Diego tiki bars. So, we made a weekend of it.

Whether you are considering Tiki Oasis in what I hope to be less strange years post-2021, or will be visiting San Diego in general and want to see the tiki sights, this little, honest guide is for you.

san diego tiki bars

The Wonderful World of San Diego Tiki Bars

San Diego is home to one of the oldest tiki restaurants still in operation in the US. It’s got the sun and sea for tiki. And its modern tiki bars are exceptionally fun.

For anyone looking to get into tiki or cross a few special places off of their tiki bucketlist, San Diego is a must-visit location. There is a tiki bar for everyone here.

Bali Hai

san diego tiki bars

(c) ABR 2021

The Bali Hai is a tiki classic, which opened all the way back in 1954. You can delve into the story of this historic restaurant on their website, but no tiki trip to San Diego tiki bars would be complete without a visit. At least, not if you’ve never been.

For as special as it is, the Bali Hai isn’t really what I would consider my jam when it comes to tiki. The restaurant is beautiful, and the views are unmatched, with its huge glass walls. But it’s really more of a classy place for date night than it is a fun-loving tiki place. The prices are higher, and the food is fancier. But it also lacks the immersion of other tiki restaurants/bars on this list. Also, while I think it is inarguable that tiki has questionable roots, there are some strong… inappropriate vibes when it comes to the Bali Hai signature tiki mug and the giant head that adorns the top of the building. I know it’s historic, but we didn’t even bother buying a mug because it just felt… a little too on the nose. I know people will have differing opinions than me on this in both directions when it comes to tiki, and I think all perspectives are legit. But for me, it was an additional element that just made Bali Hai one of my less favorite tiki spots in San Diego.

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The Un-Planner’s Guide to Surviving San Diego Comic-Con (When You Don’t Have a Ticket)

Q: What do you do when you accidentally take a trip to San Diego during one its busiest events of the year (i.e. San Diego Comic-Con)?

A: You use all your Un-Planner skills to find out ways to have fun, even without a ticket.

Free SDCC Shenanigans

Even if you don’t have tickets to San Diego Comic-Con, there’s still a ton of fun stuff to get into downtown. Plenty of the entertainment networks and companies that are hosting events inside of the convention center also are hosting activities outside for free!

Me, gazing adoringly upon one of my favorite no-nonsense TV characters, Captain Holt.

They had plazas with giveaways and games to play, a karaoke bus, an axe-throwing club, stand-up comedy shows and more! It all just depended on what you wanted to to and how long you were willing to stand in a line.

Tips for More Fun and Less Frustration:

  1. If you hate crowds or waiting in line, this is uh… probably not for you. Organizers seem to have this down to a science though, because the lines move pretty quickly.
  2. If you want to do an event or activity that has limited hours, they’re not joking when they tell you to show up early. We showed up to something at noon that was already booked until it was closing THREE hours later.
  3. If you want to avoid steep parking fees and traffic, rideshare/cab your way downtown. Or, if you are driving, use a parking app to pre-pay for parking downtown. If you don’t mind walking an extra ten minutes toward the convention center, the parking garages and lots are basically half the price of those closer.
  4. Maybe this tip is obvious, but if you’re meeting people downtown, don’t make them try to find you in the crowds. I thought the Coin-Op Game Room bar and arcade was a pretty good meeting place for those 21+. It was easy to find and being farther away from Comic-Con made it way less crowded.
  5. This is less of a tip and more of a helpful suggestion for food, especially in the packed Gaslamp Quarter. Cafe 21 has plenty of seating and killer happy hour (just look at this precious fondue board).

If you find need a break from all the fanfare, may I suggest these activities/places:

The Balboa Theatre

If you enjoy the theater (or even funky architecture – the building was built in 1924!), check out what’s going on at the Balboa Theatre. We saw a live podcast show here and it was both an entertaining and relaxing end to our day.

Convoy Street

About 15 minutes from downtown (without traffic), in the Kearny Mesa area, there is an amazing cluster of Asian restaurants and shops along Convoy Street. Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese food – you name it, it seems to be there.

Tip: Once again, parking can get kind of dicey here. So either rideshare/cab it to the area or if you’re driving, you might have some luck parking in the complex that Mitsuwa Marketplace is in and then walking from there.

Here are a couple popular places that I visited that I really enjoyed:

Mitsuwa Marketplace

I wish we had a Japanese grocery store like this in Arizona! In addition to Asian grocery and beauty items it would be hard to find in most stores in the U.S., they also have five little restaurant/food stands inside.

We grabbed some tasty ramen bowls at Santouka Ramen – there were a ton of different options and combos to choose from. I got my usual Shoyu.

Tip: This stand is cash only.

Somi Somi/Sul & Beans

Somi Somi and Sul & Beans are two excellent Korean dessert establishments in one building. We ate Somi Somi, which has soft serve and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake with filling). Or you can go nuts and get the soft serve IN the fish-shaped cone with a filling.

Matcha and black sesame soft serve in a goldfish waffle cone with Nutella filling. Honestly, can you believe this thing?

Hillcrest Farmers Market

If you really want to wind down your weekend, it’s worth taking a trip out the Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The market is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Normal Street. Here you can take in some live music, check out the craft stalls and of course, enjoy a wide variety of food from their many vendors.

Veggie dumplings and BBQ pork bun from House of Bao.

See? Even if you don’t make it into Comic-Con, there’s plenty to do! (But maybe next time, I’ll plan ahead. Maybe.)

Until We Meet Again,

In My Humble O-PIN-nion

San Diego: A City with Something for Everyone


From: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3304/3272838018_8cbd96f330.jpg

From: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3304/3272838018_8cbd96f330.jpg

Ok, so I am finally writing about San Diego. I want to say that it is one of my favorite cities in California, but I’ve only really been to southern California so far, and honestly (not to stroke the egos of Californians- cause let’s face it, they already have a great state) I have loved every city that I have visited there. I think it is something about that warm, ocean air. Whatever it is, San Diego is a beautiful city, and it has a lot to offer any visitor, from major attractions like Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, to cultural landmarks like Balboa Park, and natural parks like Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Park.


(c) AB Raschke

Balboa Park (c) AB Raschke

My favorite of these, when it comes to San Diego is the cultural aspect. Balboa Park is home to several Spanish-inspired buildings- their sandy colored walls, and varied sculptures are particularly appealing in contrast to the vibrant, green gardens arranged around them. The land that the park sits on now was set aside 1868 for a city park, which was eventually beautified and named Balboa for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. Now, it is a nice place to spend an afternoon, exploring the gardens, enjoying the architecture, and taking advantage of the varied museums that call the park home. There is also a really neat area called the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, where they have different cultural events on Sunday afternoon. My only complaint about Balboa Park is that most everything required an entrance fee, and the Botanical Building, which I was really hoping to visit and is one of the few free attractions has weird hours and is closed on Thursdays.

Rhino at the San Diego Zoo (c) AB Raschke

Rhino at the San Diego Zoo (c) AB Raschke

The San Diego Zoo is also in Balboa Park, and I make it a point to visit this zoo almost every time that I am in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the world, or so I read, and it is home to over 4,000 animals. While it isn’t the largest zoo on Earth, the sheer size of this place can be daunting for the animal lover. It feels like there is just no way that you can visit every part of the park in one day, especially if you have little kids with you. Besides being large, half the time that you are in San Diego Zoo you feel like you are either hiking down a steep hill or hiking back up. On the bright side, you get a good work out while you’re there, but it can make seeing everything even more difficult. This sounds like a bit of a struggle, but it is something that I love about San Diego Zoo. You could literally spend all day here and still have new things to see, and there are so many animals there that I almost always end up seeing something new. Also, as a conservation scientist, I really enjoy seeing all of the interactive, educational materials at this zoo. Not only that, but the San Diego Zoo has done a wonderful job with immersive enclosures, and they have recreated a bunch of different environments that can be explored throughout the park. Really, I can’t sing the praises of this place enough. It is definite must for anyone that enjoys zoos and will be in the area.

Awesome cupcake from Frost Me (c) AB Raschke

Awesome cupcake from Frost Me (c) AB Raschke

Another area in San Diego proper that I have always enjoyed is Seaport Village. This is just a nice little area to walk around in, grab some tasty food, and do a bit of touristy shopping. I highly recommend visiting Frost Me Cupcakes if you are in this area. Their treats are not only delicious but beautiful. Seaport Village is also walking distance from the Gas Lamp District, which didn’t have as much shopping, but there are tons of restaurants here, including a pretty tasty Irish pub, the Dublin Square Irish Pub and Grill. It should be noted that parking at Seaport Village is not free, however, and I am not sure what parking is like downtown. Pretty standard urban annoyance, but worth being mentally prepared for nonetheless.


Lighthouse at Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Lighthouse at Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Finally, while there are probably tons of other attractions that I could highlight for San Diego, I just want to mention one of my favorite places in the city that isn’t as well known as the other places that I have mentioned here, and that is Cabrillo National Monument. As I have previously mentioned elsewhere, I am huge national park buff, and so Cabrillo was a must-visit for me. The park has a mix of cultural and natural aspects as well, so I think that is could potentially be appealing to a good mix of travelers. The park is named for Rodriguez Cabrillo, who became the first European to set foot on the United States western coast in 1542. Cabrillo National Monument, interestingly, is also a rather unique and historic place in terms of my PhD research as well, because this is considered one of the birth-places of whale watching! Migrating gray whales can still be seen from the shore of Cabrillo to this day, and if you are ever in San Diego during this season, I would highly advice visiting to park to take a peek at the whales. Onshore whale watching is one of the best ways to see whales if you are concerned for the well-being of the animals, as boats can get you much closer but can also harass cetaceans in the absence of protective laws (which the US has) or operator self-regulation.

Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Besides these, Cabrillo is home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1855 and is not only fun to explore, but is one of the original eight lighthouses of the US West Coast. There are also beautiful tidepools and coastal hiking here. We did this towards the end of our visit, after hiking and exploring the rest of the park, and since we took our trip towards the end of summer, the unshaded coast got pretty toasty, and probably shortened the time that we would have spent looking for animals in the shallow pools in the sandstone. So, besides suggesting that people visit Cabrillo, and that they take advantage of all the attractions that this park has to offer, I would also suggest that you plan your trip around the tidepools if that is something you are interested in.

And if you have any questions about my experience in San Diego or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on March 1st, and I writing about my budget travels in Washington DC.

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