Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tiki Time: Taking Island Shelter on San Diego's Shelter Island

"Most people live on a lonely island lost in the middle of a foggy sea.  
Most people long for another island, one where they know where they will like to be."

These days, I really do find myself muddling through a fog, longing very much for another island.  As she always does, Southern California steps up to provide my every need - even a little bit of island paradise right where the West meets the water.  It may seem a little "on the nose," but in the Port of San Diego, there sits an island-themed island, a place where tiki gods rule and every building is wiki wacky tiki tacky!

At just over one-mile-long, Shelter Island packs a powerful punch of Polynesian Pop!  As it has no permanent residents, every visitor immediately becomes part of the island ohana.  Spending a few sun-kissed hours soaking up the mid-century splendor of this tropical paradise was enough to refresh my spirits and restore my faith in my own native island.


Trader Mort's Liquor (1965)

The first stop on our self-guided tiki tour was Shelter Island's preeminent liquor emporium.  Since 1965, Trader Mort's Liquor has stood sentry at the gateway to the island's many tiki delights.  Under swaying palms and that magnificent roof, Trader Mort's offers thirsty vacationers a place to stock-up on umbrella-drink essentials.

With a roofline is punctuated by the gods, we knew 
that we were walking on holy (haole?) ground!

"I'll take potent potables for $1,000, Alex"

The sparsely-decorated and wonderfully-worn interior remains lost 
in time, shelving a host of tiki mugs and other ceramic cocktail vessels.


Humphreys Half Moon Inn & Suites (1961)

The next stop on our tiki tour was Shelter Island's Hawaiian-style hideaway.  While it would be a challenge to get lost on the island (it has but one road), it is more than easy to get lost in the lush gardens of Humphreys Half Moon Inn

Since 1961, the sprawling gardens of Humphreys Half Moon Inn have been studded with half-hidden tikis nestled between verdant foliage and serene water features.

There is even a "See-no-evil," monkey-topped, tiki totem by the pool.

While Humphreys is in the midst of a "remuddle," (board-and-batten siding is quickly being replaced with stucco and questionable, silvery, slate corner caps), the grand porte-cochère proves that it isn't too late to fully embrace the genius of the original architecture.  Time and modern sensibilities, however, are rarely on the side of wacky tacky.

Such is the case with Humphreys' restaurant/music venue.  With an inviting a-frame entryway, Humphreys by the Bay, promises a dimly-lit interior replete with ancient fisherman's floats and blow-fish lanterns.  Instead, guests are treated to a dining room completely refashioned in white leather and chrome.

The exterior is not faring much better.  As seen in this photo, the rafter tails are crumbling and the edifice shows only shadows of the original decor (tiki mask/signage?).  See a vintage photo here.

All things considered, our complaints are few and our gratitude plentiful for an ownership who is actively maintaining a vital part of California's historic tiki architecture.

Including this enormous lantern with which I became completely obsessed...  It was so big that a human could easily fit inside it, reminding me of the cages from one of those Pirates of the Caribbean movies.


One part conch shell and two parts starfish, James Hubbell's "Pacific Portal" sculpture is an obvious photo-op on the tiki tour.  Directly across the street from Humphreys, the larger-than-life art installation conjures images of Verne-ian voyages and feats of Cousteau-ian courage.

Like this handstand-y show off...

Not to be outdone, Ben & Erika performed some highlights from their own acrobatic repertoire.

And they even stuck the landing!!!

The view from the bottom...


Bali Hai Restaurant (1953)

A brief visit to Shelter Island's most famous outpost concluded our tiki tour.  Considered by many to be the jewel in Shelter Island's tiki tiara, Bali Hai Restaurant began life as "The Hut" in 1953.  Flagging patronage in its earliest years encouraged an overhaul that set a precedent for many updates over the next half-century.

One enduring element of the original restaurant is the iconic "Goof" on the roof!

The Real Goof

I'll admit it; slightly underwhelmed by Bali Hai, I assumed an even grumpier
attitude than that of Mr. Bali Hai, the establishment's less-than-amused mascot. 

Somehow, I feel like I have shirked my responsibility by never before dropping anchor at Shelter Island.  But now that I have, I know I will be a regular visitor.  If you are ever in San Diego and you hunger for a veritable pu pu platter of Polynesia, then get down to Shelter Island.  Who knows, you might see me there!

"If you try, you will find me where the sky meets the sea."

"Bali Ha'i" - Sarah Vaughan with The London Symphony Orchestra

Trader Mort's Liquor
2904 Shelter Island Dr
San Diego

 Humphrey's Half Moon Inn & Suites
2303 Shelter Island Dr
San Diego, CA

Bali Hai Restaurant
2230 Shelter Island Dr
San Diego, CA

Cheers & Aloha!

Mr. Tiny


  1. So many tiki totems!!!! I can't stand it! It's my New Years resolution to go to Hawaii ASAP! I went in high school but I was unfortunately on high dosages of narcotics so its but a haze of hula dancers and tikis! If this trip doesn't occur, I'm just gonna go to San Diego.

    1. Take me with you! Mary goes to Maui and Oahu all the time - the life of a flight attendant. She and my mom went to Kauai recently and they both really loved it. I'll probably always have to settle for the Hawaiian BBQ restaurant down the street from my house...

  2. Replies
    1. It was my favorite part!!! I really wanted to see if a full-size human could fit inside - like a tiki go-go cage. Is that weird? It doesn't matter; it was so cool!!!

  3. Hello Mr. Tiny, I haven't looked at your blog for a while, and I was going to say WHAT? Hows about a tribute to David Bowie, the genius, but then I scrolled down and saw your wonderful, sweet tribute to your father.

    Also, I went to high school with Sarah Vaughn's dauhter, Debbie, who later changed her name to Paris. She was in my freshman dance class, and lived a block from my childhood home, where my mom still lives. She was very very pretty and a great dancer. I read that she grew up to marry a hockey player with the NHL and just sold their house to Britney Spears.

    1. Thanks for checking in! Yes, it's been a rough time personally and for music lovers everywhere.

      That is a pretty exciting brush with stardom! Ms. Vaughan's voice is an unmistakeable gift.

    2. My brushes seem to be more like brushes with people who have had huge brushes with stardom rather than actual contact with stars. Hollywood scares me a little bit so that is probably why I have a bit of distance. I grew up surrounded by big stars offspring so I know exactly the kinds of family issues they have.