Sunny days poolside with a fruit adorned cocktail. Lounging under swaying palm trees with sun-kissed skin, cooled by warm breezes. Evenings filled with laughter, music, and the gently lingering scent of piña coladas and sunscreen. For nearly 14 years, an event in a particularly sunny corner of Southern California lends an great spot for that special brand of hedonistic search, embracing that perfect vacation ideal—Tiki Caliente.
From May 4–7, 2023, Caliente Tropics, a mid-century modern Polynesian-inspired motor hotel, and the trio of adjacent restaurants, The Reef, Sancho’s, and the new Le Fern, come together annually as location hosts for the popular event. Spearheaded by restaurateur, Rory J. Snyder, the event brings together an eclectic mix of music, art, mixology, educational symposiums, and that unique ever-evolving cocktail culture centered around exotica kitsch and Tiki culture.
A mixologist himself, Snyder, aka “Wildsville Man”, has blended a love of classic 1950s and 1960s American Tiki, Oceanic Arts appreciation, and Exotica, along with 1970s and 1980s pop culture, and a dash of Yacht Rock. Fresh from a recent Jimmy Buffett concert in Palm Springs, Snyder spoke on his love of Tiki, how he embraces both the classic culture and music, its evolution, and his encouragement through these creative diversions and education to help avoid its direct associations with Polynesian people, their real culture, and any appropriations.
“Tiki and Polynesian are two different things. You know, Polynesians weren’t drinking rum. That’s a Tiki thing. That’s a very American culture of us doing our version of South Pacific. So it’s tied to history, but it’s been morphed. During Hawaii becoming a 50th state, all those Tikis there [now] were brought in from California to help them with their PR as the 50th state because the Christians destroyed the Tikis in the late 1800s.”
Taking advantage of all the hotel’s charms, while recognizing both its building age and space limitations, the now currently soldout annual event caps attendance between 650 to 700 to preserve the space and keep crowding down. Circa Caliente, a companion event often held in the Fall, has had various incarnations through the years and is smaller still.
“It doesn’t make sense to go any bigger. And there is a bigger event than ours in San Diego,” said Snyder. “[Tiki Caliente is] going into year 14. And this one has legs. Circa Caliente had different names, different years. That’s kind of like my pet project, which I get to do kind of like my fun changes every year. Tiki Caliente is more steadfast. It’s like the band Queen versus a Freddie Mercury solo album.”