San Diego is part of the mainland, but in places, it can feel outright tropical thanks to the sailors and soldiers who brought a love of Polynesia back with them after World War II. While there’s no shortage of attractions in the kitschy, Americanized “tiki” style, there are plenty of places where you can delve into a more authentic sense of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture, too. Here’s a guide.
What to Do
Shelter Island, a Point Loma neighborhood connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, is well known for its Polynesian-style architecture. Be sure to check out the statues along Pacific Beach and Mission Beach drives — and you can opt for a Surf and Tiki Tour that takes you to 20 statues along those streets, if you’re not sure where to start or if you want more cultural context. You can also get in touch with surfing’s Pacific Island roots at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside ($5).
Depending on when you visit, you also might be able to add one of several Polynesian festivals to your itinerary. The event season kicks off with the Hawaiian cultural festival San Diego Ho-olaule’a, which takes place over the first weekend in May. In the beginning of August, enjoy traditional dancing and a re-created Tahiti village at the Heiva San Diego-Solo Ori Tahiti Dance Competition. The Pacific Islander Festival, held in late September, includes crafts, food, and an outrigger canoe regatta.
What to Eat
Luau season generally goes from the end of June through the beginning of September in San Diego. During this time, Catamaran Resort Hotel is just one place to partake in these Hawaiian-style feasts. For $58, guests get a lei, a Mai Tai drink, and roasted pork buffet, all the while enjoying entertainment from Polynesian dancers and performers. Any time of the year, head to Homestyle Hawaiian, where you can try staples like the plate lunch (meat, rice, and macaroni salad), deep-fried Spam masaubi (served on a slab of rice), and Hawaiian shaved ice. Or, try the loco moco — steamed rice topped with a hamburger, an egg or two, and brown gravy — at Island Style Café.