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Kona Kai Club, San Diego, CA (hotel)

Pages: 1 43 replies

Name:Kona Kai Club
Street:Shelter Island
City:San Diego

The Kona Kai Club resort is still operational on Shelter Island just a stones throw away from the Half Moon Inn and the Bali Hai restaurant. It started out life in 1953 as a similar Polynesian Pop inspired resort hotel and club facility.

I have a few postcards from the Kona Kai Club showing the grounds with the thatched huts, A-frames, palm trees and the different areas of the compound.

Close up of the entrance A-Frame, sign and Tiki torches.

The Kona Kai Club used an image of the Kon Tiki ship as their logo, as seen on the matchbooks.

That always confused me until I found out that Kon Tiki was the name of the bar/lounge which featured the ship's sail as seen on this napkin.

This brochure posted by Matterhorn shows some really great images of the different aspects of the resort.

Fun for the kids and the family.

Here is the Kon Tiki Lounge.

And the food

More info.

They also borrowed the Tiki image from the United Airlines menu.

For the third year anniversary party.

Another Kona Kai Club menu on Arkiva Tropika features one of the famous Hawaiian menu images used by the Matson ship line.

I also have some Kona Kai Club Islander magazines that detail some of the events.

The Tahitian Lounge??

Luau night.

Sadly the Kona Kai Club succumbed to the Taco Bell Tuscany remodel with the red tile roofs in the mid 1990's and no longer contains any resemblance to what it once was.

I actually stayed here on a deal during the opening night of Tiki Oasis a few years ago so I could stumble home from the party at the Bali Hai.

It's too bad this one did not survive in style to maintain the great Shelter Island Tiki tradition.



Great post DC, I’ve featured the Kona Kai in my talk/s about San Diego’s Polynesian Pop past because it was where so much happened in San Diego. Locally it was literally THE place you came to if you where a politician, celebrity, someone rich or in power.
I’ve never seen the illustration of the bar which finally answers why they used the Kon Tiki logo, I’d never heard of it. I know they remodeled several times over the years so how long it was there? The Tahitian Lounge was the large octagonal building near the pool, it had a Witco Mainlander out in front of it and was built in the early 60’s. The Club was just that a club not a hotel (until way later) the hotel part was the Kona Inn right next door. A few years back after the last renovation they renamed the club something as stupid as the new architectural style they slapped on it, then a year or so ago they renamed it back to the Kona Kai?
Amazing work as always.


Yeah, that sail over the bar is a great discovery! Excellent post, pal!

Thanks guys, it is good to finally know the Kona Kai Club - Kon Tiki logo connection.


I didn't realize what a happening place the Kona Kai Club was. Here is some more info from Crtiki.

Kona Kai Club opened in 1953, and along with the nearby Bali Hai Restaurant, was one of the first developments on the predominantly Polynesian-themed Shelter Island. The Kona Kai Club was a marina, intended from the start to serve high-end yachts, and it developed into the premiere marina in San Diego. The catalog of celebrities mooring pleasure boats there is impressive: Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Durante, Dick Van Dyke, Liberace, and many more.

In 1959, the Kona Inn hotel was opened nextdoor (at 1901 Shelter Island Drive). Later in the year, the entire property was purchased by Jack Wrather, a Hollywood producer who was the original owner of the Disneyland Hotel. Wrather expanded the marina, and in 1963 sold the club to John Alessio, owner of the famous Hotel del Coronado. Alessio started to add Mediterranean touches, including an octagonal structure echoing the one at the Coronado.

The Kona Inn and Kona Kai Club underwent their final renovation from 1995-1997, which completed the conversion from Polynesian to Mediterranean. The name was removed in 1998, and it became Shelter Pointe Hotel & Marina.

I have a matchbook featuring the great googie sign at the adjacent Kona Inn.

The name of the restaurant was the Voyager... not much in the way of Tiki (maybe a nod to a certain Witco ship?).

And finally a photo of the sign from Critiki.

Shelter Island must have been an impressive sight back in the day.



I had to laugh, sigh and shake my head at the quote included with the Tahitian Lounge advertisement:

“For a truly magnificent drink, try one of Eddie Villa’s Double Beefeater’s on the Rocks,” recommends frequent clubber Mr. Giovanni Pietanza.

Wow, how did ol' Eddie make that drink? Let's see, rocks glass, add ice and two shots of Beefeater's Gin, maybe a squeeze of lime. Voila! You couldn't get that cocktail just anywhere. Just the sort of drink you would want in a place called the Tahitian Lounge.

Well I figured I would go ahead and take quick photos of the things I have that haven't been posted yet.

Voyager Ad

Letterhead Envelope

Kona Inn Brochure

Kona Kai Club Postcard

Kona Kai Club Postcard

Kona Kai Club Postcard

Kona Inn Postcard

Kona Inn Matchbooks

Voyager Matchbook

Kona Kai Club Matchbook

Kona Kai Club Room Key

Kona Kai Club daily menu typed on letterhead

Kona Kai Club Room Folder

Kona Kai Club brochure

Close ups shows part of the sail on the left side of the bar.

This is a book I have on the history of the Kona Kai Club. It's over a 100 pages long. Shows the construction, the owners and all of the stars that use to go there.

Tiki Shaker,

Thanks for posting all of the material. That last brochure is killer. Almost a shot of the Kon Tiki boat sail at the bar.


WOW....great post indeed. Brings back many memories for me because as I kid I used to hang out there all the time in the 60's. My parents weren't club members, but I had several girlfriends whose parents were members, so used to go there to swim, hang on the beach and piers and also went to a few functions there. The luaus were great and they used to have synchronized swim shows there often. THANX for sharing all the ephemera. :wink:

Again amazing work DC and great images Shaker,

I want to make a few additions and a couple of small corrections to the Critiki info, although John Alessio bought it in 63 he didn't make any Mediterranean changes he was the guy who really Tiki-fied the Kona Kai, he hired a Hollywood set designer to really make it "authentic" Polynesian, the stupid changes didn't happen until 95 just after we discovered it. The Tahitian Lounge was based on the Hotel Del and I suspect replaced a smaller poolside structure that was a similar shape you see in some of the ads.
Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable filmed "Run Silent Run Deep" at the Kona Kai, Jerry Lewis edited films there (I think he may still have a boat docked down there some place).
I could go on and on,



Bosko, does your research mention WHO the Hollywood set designer was?

And what is that connection between Jerry Lewis and San Diego Tiki?


Tiki Shaker - That's an amazing collection of Kona Kai items!

Has anyone seen a cocktail menu from the tiki version of the Kona Kai? I'm curious what cocktails they made there (other than double Beefeaters).

Great job, everyone.

The cocktail napkin also shows an artist's rendering of the Kon Tiki sail over the bar. I bought one off eBay a few years ago, but the seller never sent it to me and I had to get a charge-back from eBay for the auction. I would have rather had the napkin.

Hey Sven, L.A. set designer Al Goodman, all I could find on the Internets was he worked on the Rosemary Clooney Show. I guess he was hooked up with the Alessios, he also designed much of the (60's remodeled) interior of the Hotel Del, amazing (but so typical So Cal) to think some Hollywood guy made up the interior of the venerated Hotel Del Coronado, so now we all accept it as historical, but the Mid Century Tiki stuff is not to be taken serious, how perfect. 1960 two million dollar remodel "Most of this went into the interior, with special wallpaper, carpets woven to order, a spruced up lobby, new private dining rooms and a plush new bar. A "leading Hollywood scenic designer, Al Goodman, supervised the work...attacking the problem as he would a stage set."
It was all theatrics, great for us and Polynesian Pop.
I would presume he also designed their Luau room?


Hey Sven,

I looked in that book I have. The Hollywood set designer was Al Goodman.


On 2011-12-12 19:07, TIKIBOSKO wrote:
I would presume he also designed their Luau room?

I thought the Luau Room at the Hotel del Coronado dated back to the 1950s, which would obviously pre-date the 1960s hotel remodel. But who knows? Maybe the Luau Room wasn't that junglely until Goodman worked on it.

The Luau had been there since the 40's but they remodeled in 62.


Here is a couple of images from a mag i bought at a swapmeet recently for a dollar!.

Sven - I'm still researching and writing the bio about Jim Casey. Currently going through his diary's and find references to work he is doing at the Kona Kai for Tom Duff and Al Goodman. Do these names sound familiar, and if so, can you provide any information?


Not much more info than what was said here: As Bosko mentioned in his earlier post, Al Goodman was a set designer who did the renovation of the Kona Kai. I looked him up, he worked mostly in Television in the 50s:


He did one sorta Exotica movie, THE JAGUAR:

What a cool B-movie plot:
"Though Mickey Rooney is listed as coproducer of Jaguar, the star of the proceedings is East Indian actor Sabu, here cast as a young South American. Though raised in a civilized atmosphere, Juano (Sabu) cannot quite shake the savage instincts of his jungle-bred forefathers. When he is falsely accused of three murders, Juano is willing to believe that he committed the crimes thanks to the influence of a powerful narcotic. It turns out that our hero has been set up as a fall guy, but he goes through hell and back before he can prove his innocence."

Sounds just like OUR Sabu! :)

If my memory serves me right, two of these guys used to stand at the Kona Kai (now at the Half Moon Inn). They could very well be Jim Casey carvings:

Here is an older menu with a date of 1955

The Kon Tiki Bar featured the Kona Kai Cocktail and the Trade Winds Cooler

Last insert is from February 1956

According to Critiki the Kona Kai Club opened in 1953 and the Kona Inn opened in 1959


Great menu! Did you find that in the wild?

Saw this brochure for the Kona Inn next door.

It lists the other Jack Wrather hotels on the back of the brochure.



I hadn't seen this thread earlier. From my collection, here's a plate I found at a thrift shop when I lived in Cali.

Cool plate. Here is a Trade Winds magazine from the Kona Kai Club dated August 1966 I tried for on ebay.

Nice fire dancer on the cover

Inside was an ad for the Taamaraa event.

It used the same United Airlines Tiki and artwork that were on the menu I have.


Hey, maybe they will renovate it in mid-century Tiki style, like it should be ! ...... :roll:


On 2013-01-10 06:38, bigbrotiki wrote:
Hey, maybe they will renovate it in mid-century Tiki style, like it should be ! ...... :roll:

We can dream, but I wouldn't hold your breath. I wouldn't even be surprised if they changed the name.

Noble House resorts does tasteful, contemporary remodels.
Many of us may have been to Paradise Point in San Diego.
The spa has more Balinese than Tiki attributes.

The entrance is the most likely area to see Tikification.
While I doubt that they will copy Humbphrey's majestic A-frame, it is possible that their designers will take inspiration from Shelter Island's Tiki history.

Here is a sampling of their other restaurants:

I hesitate to say it (because I am all to aware just how wrong these things tend to go) but anything would be an improvement, it looks so wanna be rich but trashy + cheap in it's current state, the lobby is a complete after thought, the blue tarp colored awnings make it look like a swap meet, the "Mediterranean" style looks so clunky, fake and with out purpose, the place lacks on so many levels, why anyone would pay to stay there is beyond me.
We recently rediscovered some older buildings on the property that were spared in the big remodel, even though they are old and in need of work they are still charming, there used to be a time people embraced the quality of the materials they were using, even bricks could look interesting, now days everything has that it's going to be torn down in a couple of seasons anyway so why bother look that our generation is overly blessed with?

I was reading this thread and I realized that I never really checked this place out. So I went down there on Saturday for a quick drink. I did some recon and dug up some information. I had never tried to check this place out before because it looks like it doesn't have anything to it from the front of the building. It does not advertise a bar or restaurant from the outside, so I always thought it was just a hotel.

But after checking out this thread, I thought that there must be more than meets the eye. I got my wife to cruise over there with me. As we were walking up to the door she was still convinced that it was only a hotel and we weren't going to find anything. I told her that we are just going to walk past the front desk and have a look. It was strange, but we did it. As soon as we were past the lobby we saw the sign to the bar/restaurant. The restaurant was closed but the bar was open. So we headed over there for a drink.

Sat down with the bartender, Jeff I believe his name was, and asked if they served any specialty drinks. He said that they did and handed me the small menu of their different drinks.

Pretty basic with not enough rum in my opinion, but I tried the Kona Kai Cooler and it was decent after I stirred it and Emily had the Kona Royale which she enjoyed. The bartender asked if we were staying in the hotel and we said no. He asked if we just came to watch the game and we said we don't follow football we actually just came to have a drink. He was kind of puzzled since the only other patrons in his bar was a family that was staying at the hotel. He asked if we were just out walking around, and I said no, we wanted to check out the place before the big remodel.

This got him talking a bit about the new owners. He said that they got rid of the Hawaiian music at the bar and replaced it with Cool Jazz. To me it sounds like a step backwards and not forward, but he said he liked it. I would be sick of any music that I had to hear all day everyday (sublime for example), so I understood where he was coming from.

He told us that the new owners "weren't crazy about the Hawaiian theme," but they were going to keep it. They are also going to keep the Kona Kai name. We talked with the bartender for a bit and then we walked around to see what we could see. It looks like a really good place for a restaurant/bar, if they would do something with it. I think a breakfast buffet would be perfect and bring in some customers, and with just a little signage they would have twice as many people over there just to check it out.

But I agree with Bosko that it is in dire need of renovations. The lobby felt semi modern, but all of the really cool areas to hang out seemed like they were very outdated. The outdoor tables and chairs looked to be 40+ years old with chipped off paint and uncomfortable chairs. The pool was small and a lot of their outdoor space was not utilized. About the only cool Hawaiian thing that we saw was the old pineapple water fountain.

So I am not sure either why anyone would stay here as of right now. It is on the far end of an island, with not much around. Sure Bali Hai is on the opposite side, but there are much better places to stay in SD, and you can still take a taxi to Bali Hai. I hope that the new owners do try to make this a more sought after destination. I sure would like to have another place to go get tiki drinks here in San Diego.

[ Edited by: lunavideogames 2013-01-14 18:03 ]

kiara posted on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 6:49 PM

The Kona Kai Cotillion.
"Where the younger set learned the fox trot and the cha cha."
A rare Tiki at the Kona Kai.
Resembles the Mainlander Witco Tiki.

Hey Kiara it is a Witco, it's located at the Half Moon now.

kiara posted on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 2:57 PM

On 2013-01-16 09:16, TIKIBOSKO wrote:
Hey Kiara it is a Witco, it's located at the Half Moon now.

Thought so but didn't want to jump to any conclusions. Thanks! :)

I spotted that Tiki when I stayed there back in 2008.

They added a little paint.


kiara posted on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 4:16 PM

On 2013-01-16 15:40, Dustycajun wrote:
I spotted that Tiki when I stayed there back in 2008.

They added a little paint.


Painted and hidden behind a bush. This Tiki has been shamed....

"The entrance is the most likely area to see Tikification.
While I doubt that they will copy Humbphrey's majestic A-frame, it is possible that their designers will take inspiration from Shelter Island's Tiki history."

Entrance is the area Noble House will not "tikify". The foyer ("entrance"), as it has been redone currently, screams out - GO AWAY!… or, YARD SALE!… depending on your politics.

In fact, only the pool area has been tikified... little huts, umbrellas and what not. The pool deck will be redone but the pool/jacuzzi configuration will remain the same (lap pool stays!).

The restaurant is now named "Vessel".

The pool area and gym/spa are going to close April 1, 2014 and "reopen" June 30, 2014. Noble House is adding a 6 room "spa treatment center", where a good portion of the gym/yoga facilities are now. The gym will lose 40% of the existing square footage, the yoga/pilates/karate room will move to the Marina office building (or not).

The old Marina offices will become a two story affair. Yacht offices sales offices below and meeting/yoga/pilates space upstairs (marina offices will be closed during remodeling/buildout until late October 2014).

Noble House is attempting to Kimptonize the property with "vibe". See their Edgewater Seattle property.

The most successful the place has been in recent years was during the summer parties/luaus on the small private beach, however, Noble House put a stop to that activity.

[ Edited by: Birken Stox 2014-03-16 17:29 ]


On 2014-03-16 17:28, Birken Stox wrote:

The most successful the place has been in recent years was during the summer parties/luaus on the small private beach, however, Noble House put a stop to that activity.

[ Edited by: Birken Stox 2014-03-16 17:29 ]

I went to one of those luaus with friends a couple of years ago. It was a lot of fun and there were A LOT of people attending. So no wonder they cancelled them.

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