Wednesday, December 25, 2019

It's a Bali Hai Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Instead of sharing photos of living rooms stacked with presents, with a noble fir decked out in lights, tinsel and ornaments, I decided to take a trip to San Diego, California, to the Bali-Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island. It opened in 1953, and is still going strong today - over 2.5 million Mai Tais served!

In this first photo (circa 1961) we can see "The Goof" on the roof. What is the Goof? According to the Bali-Hai website: Early matchbook covers revealed that the “Goof” head was prominent on the earlier franchises in Balboa and Corona del Mar, and was subsequently transposed to the San Diego restaurant. However, the actual meaning of the head, i.e. “the Goof”, still remains a mystery.

Here's a closer look at this fearsome (or friendly?) fellow.

At the entrance is this fun photo of two ladies admiring "Mr. Bali-Hai", also known as the "Big Opu".  Again from the website: On two of the early matchbook covers from the Balboa and Corona del Mar franchises, the cover reads next to the big fat guy, “Watch out for the Big Opu at….” In Hawaiian, Opu means stomach. Perhaps, the original character idea was that he was fat from eating such good food at the restaurant. I love seeing him dressed up as Santa! Christmas in paradise.

Years ago, Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily restored Mr. Bali-Hai, and he blogged about it. It's super interesting! Read about it HERE, and follow the link to additional photos.

Meanwhile, here's a late addition to this post - a wonderful vintage postcard showing the interior of the Bali-Hai Restaurant, with fun-loving folks learning a little something about Polynesian dancing.

No matter where you live or whatever your beliefs (or lack thereof!), I hope that all GDB readers have a warm and wonderful day.


Nanook said...


Nothing says "Merry Christmas" more than Polynesian dancing and tikis; (unless the tiki is adorned in a Santa outfit-!)

Merry Christmas to you and all the Junior Gorillas.

TokyoMagic! said...

I think a relative of "The Goof" on the roof, terrorized poor Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror!

A very merry Bali Hai Holiday, to all!

K. Martinez said...

I love the Mr. Bali-Hai Santa. Very cool, Thanks, Major!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

TokyoMagic!, Ha, ha! That's a good one!

Andrew said...

Hey, it's Christmas morning and I got a trip to Disneyland! (not really, but I'm saving...) :)

Fun tikis and history today. Happy holidays to everyone!

Mike said...

THANK YOU for posting this! My wife and I discovered this place on our own on a first-time trip to San Diego about a decade ago and LOVED it. I would consider it an absolute MUST DO on any trip to the area.


Having grown up in San Diego the Bali Hai is one of my favorite restaurants. My parents went often on dates there in the early 60’s. Several years ago the building was remodeled and it turned out fantastic ! It kept a very mid-century Tiki Modern feel on the outside and it’s interior too retains a very clean Tiki Modern feel and displays its extensive tiki and Polynesian art and sculpture. The remodel received several design awards. Now having lived in LA/OC I’ve taken friends down there and they love it so much we now get a group a couple times a year and the train down have brunch and the Bali Hai then lounge around and sip their famous tropical drinks in the upper lounge or outside facing the harbor - all in Mid Century Tiki splendor. Then we sober up on the train ride back up.

Chuck said...

Almost ate here and at Croce's a bunch of times, but being budget-conscious and in our mid-20's never made it happen. Next trip...

Merry Christmas to all!

"Lou and Sue" said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Major and to all of you Junior Gorillas! We wish you the merriest!

Sue (& Lou)

Dean Finder said...

"Mele Kalikimaka" to all the junior Gorillas and the Major too.

Melissa said...

Somehow, the Goof on the Roof is less creepy than the Elf on the Shelf.

Dean Finder, I was just listening to the Monkees' version of "Mele Kalikimaka" earlier today.

Anonymous said...

I remember ads for this place in the magazines, but never went there. I would love it, but did not know it was still open.

Thanks Mike Cozart for the tip. I do get to SD occasionally, and will make it a point to visit next time.