Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana.

Kinikimo wore pineapple tablecloth shirts as a teenager. That is, when he wasn’t on the beach skimboarding in his hometown of Laguna Beach.

Gene – Kinikimo in Hawaiian – participated in skimboard competitions in Oahu and Maui when he was growing up. Since I know nothing about surf culture, Gene gave me a quick primer. Skimboards are designed to surf shore breaks with steep slopes and giant waves that come in and break right on shore. Surfers run as fast as they can … step, step … mount a wave and then ride it back on shore to do it all again. Skimboarding originated in Laguna Beach, and Gene was a part of its culture.

Gene has always cultivated plants and collected items from Polynesian culture. In sixth grade, he’d go on garden raids with other kids on the way to school and make flower leis. He studied Pacific island culture in junior high school. He remembers beginning his first collection of tiki items at age thirteen. He bought exotic plants and started a garden as a teenager. His early memories include a place called Tippiecanoe’s, a thrift shop that specialized in island vintage items and was famous for Hawaiian shirts and dresses made from tablecloths.

Today, Gene’s home and his garden, located in a small canyon close to the beach in Oceanside, are a paradise retreat that honors island culture. His lifetime collection of art, sculpture, and ceramics in every room of the house are surrounded by his rescued exotic plants that form a dense tropical garden. His companions include a macaw, exotic birds, and his dachsund. As we walked the garden in the cool sea breezes, we were visited by lizards and a curious snake that took a nip at Gene as he pulled the dead leaves from the bromeliads.

Gene and I talked for hours. Feeling like I found a slice of paradise, I didn’t want to leave. Gene has many wonderful stories. He shared late night encounters involving raccoons and other predators, his cultural experiences living on Hawaii, and his vintage collections that now spill into other warehouses.

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana is Hawaiian for “let the story be told.” It’s a common phrase that is sung at the end of a song or said at the end of story.

I was honored to be present in this paradise. Let Kinikimo’s story be told.

From Atlantic to Pacific.

I drove 3,451 miles to enjoy this sunset. It was worth every mile.

In 1976, our family set out in our classic green and white Winnebago for three weeks of a whirlwind tour across the western United States. From Texas to California to Oregon to South Dakota and back home to Louisiana, I loved that trip. I would sit in the upper bunk bed above the main drivers cabin and wave to everyone as Dad was driving. Dad would exclaim: folks are so friendly out west! Everyone is waving to us!

It was my secret.

Every family picture of our Wild West tour is me smiling. My sister? Well, it was her teen years. It was more likely to capture her in the family pics with arms folded, while Mom and Dad had a look of exhaustion from the drive.

Travel and I agree. Mom and Dad can take credit. Dad was career military, so we moved every three to five years as I was growing up. There were new places to see, new friends to make, new experiences to be had. When we were stationed in Berlin, we used that Winnebago to see all of Europe.

Everyone I have visited has asked me how my current road trip is going. My answer? It’s beyond amazing. There have been moments of smiles and absolute joy as I have driven from Atlantic to Pacific. I’ve driven across the entire United States and achieved another one of my life goals.

And yes, that eleven year old boy is still smiling inside me. There may even be a wave or two.

Father knows best.

Caren – aka Atomic Chick – bribed Bosko with an offer of shrimp tacos in hopes he might do a consult to turn her bare room into a tiki bar. Bosko agreed, came to her home in Upland, gave clear and decisive ideas, all while Fabio, her husband, took furious notes. Not too long after, Caren and Fabio’s first home tiki bar was established.

Eight years ago, Caren and Fabio moved from Upland to Riverside. So they dismantled the bar, split it in half, and reconstructed it as the Chi Chi Lounge. One might be tempted to believe that Chi Chi Lounge is named after the popular macadamia nut tiki concoction, but Chi Chi is actually a reference to Caren and Fabio’s little ones – their chihuauas Ruby, Billy, and Sadie. Sadie was the social one during my visit. She even posed for a pinup.

Caren collects tiki mugs with a serious passion and extensive knowledge.

The Chi Chi Lounge currently houses more that 800 tiki mugs, down from a high of 1,200. How does someone end up with so many mugs? When Caren decides she will add a mug to her collection, she doesn’t buy just one. She buys that mug in every available glaze. At one point, her extensive collection included everything that Muntiki had ever made.

Caren also has a definitive collection of Joniece Frank War God mugs. For those who may not know this history of this mug, Joniece Frank, a ceramicist, was the daughter of John and Grace Frank of Frankoma Pottery. She later became the president of the company when her dad passed and assumed copyright of the Frankoma War God mugs, which are now quite rare. In fact, it took Caren twenty years of searching to find one of the most rare mugs, only to end up lucking into a second one of that same glaze only six months later.

As Caren talked about her collection – protected with wires given the potential for earthquakes – she took a Flame War God (glazed in red) from her shelf to show me that the mug had been made for luau in 1965. This mug is significant due to two factors. Only a few exist due to the small number that were made for the event so many years ago. But the mug’s red glaze is particularly rare because red often cracks in the kiln, making it even harder to find.

Fabio is equally passionate about the Chi Chi Lounge. He constructed the many mug shelves. When he decided he wanted to attempt to carve a giant tiki, he asked the local gardener to give him a section of palm if there was ever one cut one down. His wish came true, but in a large way. Fabio came home to huge section of palm – three plus feet in width – sitting in his yard. Fabio was not dismayed. That giant palm section became his tiki carving.

Speaking of behemoth tikis and moving houses, it’s time for a quiz:

You’ve decided to move houses, and your massive outdoor tiki – you know, the one you carved yourself – needs to move with you. What’s a more effective way to move the beast? Should you: a) ask five of your burliest friends, cross your fingers, hope they will accept, and offer them lots of cocktails in exchange? or b), simply mention the problem to your dad?

Clearly, the answer is b. Fabio was getting concerned about how to get the tiki he lovingly carved to his and Caren’s new house, so he mentioned the idea to his dad. He’d moved it once before. It took five guys, and it wasn’t easy. His dad’s response? I’ve got this. Let’s do it – now. Within hours, Fabio’s dad had concocted the levers and rollers needed for the two of them to successfully move the tiki.

I guess fathers do know best.

You need a time out.

Family life with two young boys, age 5 and 3, can at times be chaotic. When it gets a little overwhelming, David steps into the Jurupa Hideaway for 30 seconds for a time out. David takes a look at his mugs, takes a deep breath, and steps back into reality. At other times, it’s a cool place that he and Nikki can take a break from all media, talk, and enjoy a drink together.

Jurupa Hideaway is David’s tiki lounge in Jurupa Valley, California. When David visited Trader Sams a few years back, he wanted to create a similar space at home. So, he asked Nikki if he could turn a spare bedroom into a tiki room, and the Jurupa Hideaway was established. Nikki did the painting, and David organized his collection of art and mugs into the space.

Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson was a big influence on David as a kid. What’s more cool than a family treehouse complete with running water, elephants, snakes, and tigers? Later on, he visited Hawaii as a teenager, and fell in love with tiki as an artform. He and Nikki also honeymooned in Hawaii, and the picture of them together is an anchor to the hideaway.

David is a collector of tiki mugs. It started with garage sales and five dollar mugs. But when he started to splurge and collect hand-made mugs, as soon as he held it, it felt like it had a soul to it. For David, there’s just something about a handmade mug. He developed an appreciation for ceramics and pottery in high school (he took pottery all four years of high school), so he knows how much work goes into each creation. He describes his collection as little pieces of art.

David’s favorite drink? Beer. The bonus? It doesn’t require a tiki mug.

Go barefoot, but beware of bacon.

Mike has to keep a pair of flip flops in his car.

Teresa has to remind him. Otherwise, he might show up to pick up the grandson at daycare and forget he’s barefoot. He’d be shoeless all the time if he had his way. So, it was no surprise that when I arrived at Pele at Barefoot Bay – Mike’s outdoor home oasis in Imperial, California – he greeted me barefoot.

Why the name Pele? Mike loves volcanoes, lava, and fire. He believes every tiki bar should include an element of danger. When Barefoot Bay comes to life at night, you’ll see flames in multiple places. There are lava rocks that actually steam at the base of the pearl fountain. He’s also included a crafted symbol based on a carving of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lighting, dance, wind, and volcanoes. You’ll find lava and flame patterns in his ceramics, builds, and other items.

People who are passionate about tiki tend to be collectors or creators.

Mike is definitely a creator. He’s built or crafted almost every item in his home oasis with a sense of whimsy and fun. There’s a collection of milepost signs that point to far away places like Curacao 3,256 miles coupled with Maikapupu (sound it out …) only 20 feet away (the restroom). There’s a clock with 5s on every hour because it’s always five o’clock at the oasis. There’s a weather station with a hanging cocoanut which scientifically predicts the weather. If the cocoanut is swinging, it’s windy; if it’s dry, it’s sunny; if it’s blurry, it’s foggy. Like many creative types, Mike creates, conquers, and moves on to another project. Teresa commented that Mike is always busy. He’s tinkering, toying, crafting. It’s evident.

I’m particularly thankful to Mike and his creative spirit. As I was stuck at home like everyone else this past year, I took time to learn how to photograph fire elements in my cocktails using his flaming skulls, a favorite creation. After a year of isolation, it was great fun to get a chance to celebrate his work in person.

Mike left me with an important pearl of wisdom to pass on to all. His advice? When you make Spam Maki, don’t fry the bacon naked.

I lost track of time at El Tiki.

The radio news was focused on the launch of Apollo-Soyuz flight into space, but my mind was more interested in my next meal. I dialed through the radio stations and finally settled when I heard Glen Campbell belting out Rhinestone Cowboy. It seemed appropriate for my road trip across the southern California desert.

I was wondering if I’d ever find a place to get some grub when I came across the El Tiki Supper Club. It came out of nowhere. The place seemed to spring up like an oasis in the surrounding farmlands of a small town. It was a place of mystery with a whale rib out front, bamboo grove, a thatched A-Frame roof, and a ten-foot tiki standing guard. Lots of cars were there, so I figured it must be good.

Teresa, a high school girl, greeted me at the door, led me to a table, and gave me a menu. I made small talk for a bit, asking her about the tikis and sombreros, but she changed the subject and confided that she’d hoped it was a less busy night. Apparently, she and her siblings had to come help out her dad, Ben, who owned the club, when the cars stated pouring in.

I was hoping they had something on the stiff side for a drink, but Teresa quickly told me the bad news. There was no liquor license. So it was beer and wine or one of her dad’s exotic concoctions. I found something promising called a Bali Hai for 70 cents, ordered my food, and took in the atmosphere.

I couldn’t help but notice the young dishwasher guy from the kitchen who kept stealing glances at Teresa. Ben kept reminding Mike to get back to his duties, but it wouldn’t be long before his eyes were back on Teresa. Must be a crush. I wondered how long it would take Mike to ask Teresa to the prom.

My food arrived. My Tiki-Toes were fresh corn chips with toasted cheese and pickles on one half and jalapeños on the other. I downed those, started on my footlong burrito, and was starting to think my dessert order of ambrosia was a mistake, but ended up eating it all.

Before I lost complete track of the time, I paid the bill, made my way into the night heat, and starting driving west. I wondered if I’d ever see El Tiki again.

But I already knew the rest of the story.

El Tiki Supper Club closed two years later, but the building and some tikis remain to this day on the corner lot property in the farmlands of Imperial, California.

Mike did finally ask Teresa to the prom. But, it was a friendly date, and they went their separate ways. Mike married, had a family, traveled to Hawaii, and developed a passion for creating tiki that sustained his wife in her final days when she lost the battle to cancer a decade ago.

Two years later, Teresa had a dream. Mike’s wife appeared to her and asked her to check on him. So she did. And that check-in turned into a date, which turned into romance, which turned into marriage.

I’m comforted knowing that Mike still makes Bali Hais and Tiki-Toes and footlong burritos and ambrosia for his guests. I had the pleasure of enjoying all of these delicacies. He and Teresa keep the spirit of their days at El Tiki alive in their home – complete with a Polynesian garden.

So, yes. I stopped for dinner at El Tiki and completely lost track of time. It was a place so filled with love, I couldn’t help it.

Rotate the shelf! It’s tiki time.

You need to get your Arizona tiki shit together.

That’s what Cathie, a tiki friend from California, told Richard when she introduced him to Verity – Veritiki – at the Kon Tiki’s 50th anniversary back in 2014. A few days later, they started the Tiki AZ facebook page, and people flocked to the site. Now with more than 1,200 members, it’s an active connector for tiki folks in Arizona.

The Atomic Lagoon is Richard and Steve’s courtyard tiki bar, a feature of their 1963 mid-century modern home designed by architect Al Beadle in Paradise Gardens, a mid century neighborhood in Phoenix. Six years ago, the courtyard had the ambience of an unfinished basement. Today, with loving labor from both, the Atomic Lagoon is mod-edge, swanky gathering space with a clean and comfortable vibe.

Both Richard and Steve have always loved mid-century modern. Their love for tiki developed later. Trader Vic’s Emoryville was Richard’s first experience. Once he met friends that more were into the scene, he started frequenting the San Francisco bars, and by mid 2000s, he had been bit by the tiki bug. Steve had exposure to Polynesian art as a kid. His family members had served in World War II, so he saw influences of art and design from artifacts they brought back.

Steve is quite proud of the bar he designed and built in the Atomic Lagoon. He should be. The form has no 90-degree angles in it. Although he admits it was a pain to build – he couldn’t use a square to assist – the result is stunning.

Richard is the mug collector of the two. His collection is beautifully displayed and lit in the guest room and includes vintage mugs from Phoenix bars of the past.

Perhaps the most unique feature is the Atomic Lagoon’s swinging booze shelf behind Steve’s bar. He converted an existing door frame into open, lit cabinet to hold all the alcohol. The shelf rotates and swings from a center point so that the alcohol faces outside during a tiki party and then rotates to face the inside of the house to protect it from the elements at all other times.

As Richard and Steve’s friends gathered, we sipped on Mai Tais and traded stories of our adventures. I kept admiring the volcano flames at the foot of the Lagoon. As the sun set across the Arizona skyline, I felt I’d been transported back to 1963.

There will be tiki by starlight.

One day, James – aka Trader Tobin – decided he wanted to try this thing called tiki. His plan of attack was to make a painkiller cocktail and purchase a tiki mug online. A short five days later, and at the insistence of his wife Marshell, they were at Tiki Oasis.

It was written in the stars.

Fast forward several years, and now James and Marshell have an amazing tiki lounge in their home. It’s name? Hunahuna Hut, which means “cleverly hidden” in old Marquesan. The couple figured, what’s the best place to hide your tiki bar from the kids? How about the master bedroom? Yep. The Hunahuna Hut converts from a tiki-themed primary bedroom to tiki lounge when they have company.

Trader Tobin is now a master lamp maker. Most of the lamps in the Hunahuna Hut have been handmade by James.

It started out of necessity. James couldn’t find many lamps online or quickly, so using his existing woodworking and prop making skills, he started making lamps on his own. Early on, he was obsessed with making a twelve-sided dodecahedron shaped lamp. He did the math, and a few iterations later, he perfected the process.

James had made six or seven lamps for the Hunahuna Hut and friends when he got an order for ten lamps for Max’s South Seas Hideaway, a grand tiki bar opened in Grand Rapids. What an honor!

Now his lamps are in demand for home and commercial bars alike. He’s currently working on orders for several new and existing commercial bars in California and Florida. As a personal side project, he also has a goal to replicate all of the lamps from the vintage Orchids of Hawaii catalogs.

Can tiki dedication test true love? You bet. Try installing a starlight ceiling with your spouse if you want to find out. James had suggested the idea of creating a ceiling to the hut that looked like it was open to the night sky. Marshell enthusiastically agreed. Sounds simple, right? After three days of them working together in the attic moving attic insulation, installing 480 fiber optic lines, painting the ceiling black, drilling holes, keeping track of all the lines, building bamboo gutters, and setting up a generator to get the stars to twinkle and change colors, an amazing feature for the Hunahuna Hut was established. More importantly, their love had passed a trial by fire.

James and Marshell are also both active members of the Arizona based Tiki group Tiki AZ, a social and educational tiki organization of more than 1,200 members.

As I see it, James and Marshell’s stars are shining bright.

No, you may not visit Kon Tiki.

Sunday afternoons when she was a young girl, Debbie’s grandparents would often take her to the Islands, a Polynesian Pop restaurant in Phoenix. She remembers the experience fondly. But, when her family drove past the Kon Tiki (the Phoenix location long gone now), her parents told her it was a bar – and she was not allowed to go.

Debbie finally got her chance in high school. Her band director announced that her jazz band would play poolside at Kon Tiki. Here she was, in the very place she was not supposed to go.

Creating exotic food and escapes has been a lifelong passion for Debbie. Her first job was working at a five star resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. The original Mr. Marriott would visit the location and tell Debbie – “you remind me of my granddaughter.” Debbie later became a talented chef. She even published her own cookbook. And when I visited to talk to her about the Enchanted Tiki Trailer, she served me the most amazing tuna poke nachos. I believe I even sweet-talked her into sharing the recipe.

Debbie and her husband Tom have completely restored a 1960 Kencraft Trailer with a tiki interior theme. The Enchanted Tiki Trailer has beautiful bentwood interiors, vintage checkered linoleum tile and surfaces, tiki mugs, and tropical prints to tie it all together. The most challenging aspect of the restoration was the installation of the curved wood walls. How could they install them without cracking? And, given that this was special ordered wood, they wanted to get it right the first time. Close to a decade ago, there were no videos to help; but through trial and error, they succeeded a creating a beautiful space. Debbie’s advice? If you don’t succeed, try Plan B.

Debbie and Tom’s love for tiki extends far beyond the cocktails. In fact, neither of them now drink alcohol, and Debbie is soon to celebrate one year of sobriety. That hasn’t stopped their obsession, though. When they finished the tiki trailer, they used left over materials to build an interior tiki bar in the dining room of the house. The lounge is complete with sentimental items from her parents, a vintage Packard-Bell LP/stereo cabinet, an beautiful cat TV lamp, and an amazing collection of mugs.

Isn’t it true? Kids always end up doing exactly what you told them not to do.

The devil shops in west Texas.

No services for 74 miles.

That’s what the sign tells you as you leave Marfa, Texas to drive west. Translation: You’d better have a full tank of gas. You’d better have some water. You’d better not feel anxious about seeing absolutely nothing except stunning high desert landscapes.

All that and a shoe shop too.

It was still early morning by the time I reached the midpoint of the long drive, when I zoomed past a lonesome building on my left at 75 miles per hour.

Wha? Must be a mirage. Get yourself together, Tom.

Five miles later, my curiosity gets the best of me. I do a full u-turn in the middle of a deserted highway (that was fun, I’ll admit …), and I drive back.

Yep. There’s a Prada storefront, literally in the middle of nowhere. I had to stop and take a photo. Who would believe me?

The way I figure it, the devil must shop in west Texas. He’s more comfortable than me in this kind of inferno style heat.