The Tropics Restaurant – A Tiki Ghost Town

When we were wrapping up our Palm Springs trip with a stop at the Caliente Tropics motel, I thought we’d also get to check out The Tropics Restaurant and Conga Room bar, which had re-opened a few months prior in what used to be The Reef.

To our surprise, it was closed (and apparently barely re-opened in the first place). It looked so empty it was kind of creepy, like zombies were going to appear from around that motorcross mural…

The room facing the pool was supposed to be turned into a tiki bar, hence the A-frames, but I guess they weren’t able to secure a liquor license.

These shelves were once filled with tiki mugs, but they’d been cleared out along with other tiki design items by Bosko and Crazy Al.

Apparently some interested parties have checked out the space, but nothing seems to have come from it. Something along the lines of Hula’s Modern Tiki would be perfect.

Anyway, we ended up doing what probably most guests at the Caliente Tropics do when they want a bite to eat, which is go to the coffeeshop at the uber-hipstery Ace Motel next door.

King’s Highway was definitely not a bad place to wind up, though. Their ALT breakfast sandwich ($11) really hit the spot. Mmmm, fried egg, bacon, avocado, tomato and harissa aioli on a brioche bun…

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Caliente Tropics – Palm Springs, CA

Over the decades, America’s fascination with Polynesia has inspired tiki bars, tiki apartments, tiki mini-golf, a tiki drive-in, tiki liquor store, tiki tattoo shop and, as you’ll see, tiki motels. (In fact, there’s even whole chapters dedicated to them in The Book of Tiki and Tiki Road Trip.)

Caliente Tropics, originally called The Tropics, opened in Palm Springs in the heyday of tiki in 1964 and was part of Ken Kimes’ motel empire. Included were five tiki-themed motels in California—Indio (Coachella-land), Blythe, Modesto and Rosemead were the other locations. The Oceanic Arts tikis in the parking lot are definitely worth a look.

The resort has had a tumultuous history, going from being a rundown place of somewhat ill repute to hosting the inaugural Tiki Oasis event. Unfortunately, changes in ownership/management have kept it in a state of flux.

The lobby is covered with bamboo, lauhala matting and thatch, plus there’s a few tikis (like this foam Ku carved by Marcus Pizutti), chunky swag lamps and a rock waterfall fountain in the corner. (Editor’s note: The lobby has since been relocated to what was briefly The Tropics restaurant.)

This Easter Island tiki plaque by Bosko was part of the property’s extensive renovations from about a decade ago.

I liked these little thatched A-frame huts for two out on the lawn. Looks like the perfect place to lounge in some very valuable shade and escape the desert sun for a bit.

Adjacent to that area is the pool. Behind it, the signage is still up for the Reef bar, which opened in 2003, was renamed Hawaiian Bill’s a couple years later, then closed in 2009.

We didn’t stay there, so I can’t speak to the quality of the rooms. We had actually intended to spend some simoleons on lunch there, but that’s a story for another post

Caliente Tropics Resort
411 E. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92264
760-327-1391

Shag: The Store – Palm Springs, CA

Last year, the folks at M Modern gallery opened Shag: The Store in Palm Springs—the first permanent retail space dedicated to the artwork of Josh Agle. It appropriately keeps some pretty swank company, with Trio Restaurant right next door and vintage and mid-century design stores nearby.

The store has an impressive stash of prints, mugs, books and other stuff, with many items that were previously sold-out. From time to time they also have prints that are exclusive to Shag: The Store, like the one coming up for their first anniversary.

During our visit they were featuring Shag’s collaborations with Disneyland from 2002 to 2010, including the much-coveted mugs inspired by the Enchanted Tiki Room.

They also had merch from the Haunted Mansion and Disneyland 50th anniversary series. I was sort of startled to see a stationery set I own (and apparently foolishly used) going for nearly $200. (Though that price includes the cost of not having to time-travel back to Disneyland five years ago when it was originally being sold).

It was fun to marvel at rarities like these “Japanese exclusive” mugs from 2006. (In this case, the price of the set includes the cachet of coming from Shag’s own collection…plus the peace of mind of not having your mugs arrive in pieces due to the carelessness of an eBay seller.)

There was at least one deal to be had, though. For five bucks, I picked up a Shag vinyl CD case. (You know, for those almost obsolete shiny round things that play music?)

The neatest part of the store is this groovy backdrop wall with a Shag-style tiki where you can pose like you’re in one of his paintings. If you ask nicely they’ll even bring out a box of fun props like fezzes!

The Shag Store
725 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760-322-3400