Cocktails are a huge part of the tiki scene and their popularity has spread beyond tiki bars, with tropical drinks popping up at traditional bars and restaurants too. Tiki and tropical drinks aren’t exactly the same, however. Consider them cocktail cousins. A tiki drink will be multi-layered and rich, while a tropical one will be light, refreshing and fruity. Either one can be an escape from your reality, especially when presented in a lovely venue that reminds you of the islands, a beachy oasis or a scene from a hip, old TV show. Renewed interest in these colorful libations means that, in L.A., Tiki pop-ups abound: The Spare Room in Hollywood hosts bartenders from around the world for a summertime monthly tiki event, Sonny’s Hideaway in Highland Park features a Tiki Tuesday every week with intricately crafted originals riffing off the classics, and even the Mixing Room at the Marriott downtown has started blending up coconut and rum for their special “Tiki Thursdays” through the summer. Many places up and down this coast offer tiki and tropical drinks seven days a week, but when it comes to the tastiest and the “tiki-est” we fill our mugs with the following:

Ray’s Mistake at Tiki-Ti

Opened by the legendary Ray Buhen (an original bartender at Don the Beachcomber)  and still run by his son and grandson, this neighborhood treasure may be tiny but people are willing to wait in line to get in for one of their drinks — and they have nearly 100! (They don’t sell beer.) The cocktail of choice here goes to the Ray’s Mistake, which has secret ingredients that admirers have been trying to decipher for decades. If you ask, they’ll tell you: “It’s rum and juice.” But it’s a lot more than that. 4427 Sunset Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-9381,

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(Courtesy Tonga Hut)

Navy Grog at Tonga Hut

At Los Angeles’ longest continually running tiki bar, the decor is basically as it was when it opened in 1958, but lovingly restored — along with their drink menu. For those up to the task, drinkers can become a member of the Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard by completing cocktail guru Jeff Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log, featuring 78 old school tiki drinks. For those who just want to try one of the best drinks in the place, they make an excellent Navy Grog (rums, citrus, honey) complete with a sugar stick to stir with. 12808 Victory Blvd., Valley Glen; (818) 769-0708,

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(@BatikDesign for Trader Sams)

Zombie at Trader Sam’s

Deep within the heart of the Disney Resort is a tropical oasis meticulously created to be as perfect as possible. What else would you expect from Disney? But underneath the gorgeous, frivolous decor is a drink program executed by gifted bartenders whose talents rival imagineers. The Zombie, a drink so potent they won’t serve you more than two, is one of the tastiest things on the menu and goes down far too easily. For some, this is the happiest place on Earth. 1150 Magic Way, Anaheim; (714) 781-3463,

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(Courtesy Lono)

Curse of Lono at Lono

Step into this beautiful, lush bar off the grimy streets of Hollywood Boulevard, decorated with treasures and paraphernalia from long lost tiki bars, for their signature cocktail: Curse of Lono. It’s got rums, exotic juices, spices and a hot topping… fire! 6611 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood;  (323) 848-4475,

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(Chase Sampson for Bamboo Club)

Puka Punch at Bamboo Club

Long Beach finally got its own tiki bar, and it has that beachy charm, along with the requisite thatching and fun murals painted by tiki artists on the walls around the pool table. It also has a menu of the classics, including the delicious Puka Punch, made with some of the best rums, falernum, honey, fruit juices and bitters. 3522 E Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 343-2534,

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(Courtesy Pacific Seas)

Blue Hawaiian at Clifton’s Pacific Seas

Clifton’s Pacific Seas is definitely one of the most beautiful tiki bars around, filled with nautical and island antiques and even a vintage Chris-Craft boat! The drink menu consists of some originals but one of the classics reigns supreme at the moment: the Blue Hawaiian. The drink that inspired a fear of all things blue behind the bar has been returned to its original state, with coconut cream instead of sour mix, so that a delicious version is represented in this lovely space in all its blue-hued glory. 648 S Broadway, downtown; (213) 627-1673,

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(Courtesy Tiki No)

Lychee Luau at Tiki No

Deep in the Valley is a spot covered with bamboo and dangling pufferfish lights that also has a karaoke night to go with the drinks. The Lychee Luau is an original worth checking out: along with the rums, pineapple, lemon and falernum you would expect in a tiki drink, the lychee liqueur (made from the strange-looking Chinese fruit) takes it to the next level. 4657 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 766-0116,

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(Courtesy The Mermaid)

Mermaiden Voyage at The Mermaid

Disclosure: I love tropical drinks and bars so much I invested in this one! This aquatic hideaway in Little Tokyo gives the impression that you are underwater when you walk in from the outside: blue and green lights shimmer against the walls, kelp dangles from the ceiling and mermaids peek through a porthole at the end of the seating area. The menu features tropical drinks made with various spirits, but the Mermaiden Voyage, made with rums, a lime cordial, lime juice, housemade hibiscus syrup and mint, has quickly become the fan favorite. 428 E 2nd St., downtown;

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(Courtesy Dama)

Sierra Norte at Dama

This downtown eatery takes its tropical from the Latin side of things and the drinks are just as important as the food. Although they have frosty blended drinks on the menu, the standout here is a mezcal number called the Sierra Norte, with aperol, lemon and pineapple for that final sunny kick. 612 E 11th St., downtown; (213) 741-0612,

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(Courtesy Broken Shaker LA)

L.A. Bae at the Broken Shaker Los Angeles

This Florida transport brings the colorful beach vibe with it, but has created a distinctly Los Angeles tropical menu that changes seasonally. A summer standout would be the L.A. Bae, which takes vodka and flavors it up with banana, bitter florals, lemon and a berry granola orgeat for a refreshing sipper. 416 W 8th St., downtown; (213) 395-9532,

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(Courtesy Ven Tiki)

Mai Tai at Ventiki

This Polynesian pop patio and tiny bar in Ventura has friendly service and innovative drinks, as well as a wonderful selection of mai tais. Aside from the Trader Vic’s–style classics, they have concocted a few locally inspired versions, including the very popular Ventiki Mai Tai made with a blend of rums, orgeat, orange curacao, lime and simple syrup. If that doesn’t do it for you, try the top shelf version for a bit more money and get fancier rums in the mix. 701 E Main St., Ventura; (805) 667-8887,

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(Michele Stueven)

Yee Mee Loo at The Formosa Cafe

It may seem that this lovingly restored Hollywood landmark shouldn’t be on this list, because it’s a Chinese restaurant with a trolley car straight out of an old bar in Chinatown. But Asian eateries have a long history of serving tiki drinks — essentially saving them from extinction — and this spot is no exception. The Yee Mee Loo is a homage to a classic Chinatown dive bar with the same name (and home to the trolley), which served this blue drink of rum and pineapple. This one uses classier ingredients for a tasteful upgrade, just like the owners did with the Formosa itself. 7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 850-1009,


Mo Herms is the host of the Tales of the Cocktail-nominated podcast, “Music and Booze with Mo” heard regularly via Apple Podcasts, Podomatic and other fine podcast outlets.

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