Save dollars and find island-style fun (snorkeling, surfing, and Mai Tais) in San Diego
Hawaii on the mainland
Thomas J. Story
Palm-dotted beach at Paradise Point

Hawaii may seem a world away, but there are plenty of big waves, tiny bubbles, and tiki-style spots closer to home. Here are some San Diego–based ways to catch the Hawaiian spirit.

Make your own lei

If a luau is on your tropical to-do list, the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa offers a demo and the materials to design a floral garland for the event. A needle and thread, a pile of seasonal flowers such as plumerias, orchids, mini carnations, and tuberose, and the rest is up to you. The resort’s resident tropical macaw and cockatoo birds might make an appearance while you’re at work. Leis stay fragrant and can last more than a week if you refrigerate them and mist with water periodically.

A sunset luau

It’s TGIF, Hawaiian-style. The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa throws a Friday-night luau on the lawn by Mission Bay ― and that means hula dancers in grass skirts, fire knife dancing, piña coladas, tiki torches, a ceremonial roast pig on parade, and Polynesian drumbeats from a live band. Dances and costumes come from different parts of Polynesia (Tahiti, Samoa, and even New Zealand, as well as Hawaii). It’s faux Hawaii, of course, but the festivities are enough to spark your island imagination.

An ocean adventure

Bright orange Garibaldi fish, leopard sharks, giant sea turtles, sea lions, and seven sea caves to explore ― it’s not Kauai, it’s La Jolla Shores. The caves are just a half-mile from shore via kayak, and OEX Dive & Kayak Center offers two-hour tours that include guided trips inside the Clam ― one of just two caves you can enter (at high tide, you can go all the way through). August is a prime month to be out on the water with the warm temps and calm swells. About those silhouettes gliding underneath the boats: Hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of leopard sharks swim below the kayaks, and they’re most abundant in summer. Thankfully, leopard sharks have small teeth (they use suction to eat). For the daring, snorkeling is another option.

Hang 10

Surfing isn’t just the sport of beach bums. These days anyone can ride a wave, and La Jolla Shores Beach is great for beginners, with its sandy-bottom shoreline and small waves. Surf Diva, a surf school started by twin-sister surfers in 1996, gives private or group surf lessons (wetsuit and board included). Lessons start on the sand, where you’ll learn how to paddle, pop up, and master the surf stance before you hit the water.

Next: 48 hours of aloha in San Diego 

48 hours of aloha in San Diego

Friday: Two tropical-themed spots to stay are Paradise Point Resort & Spa, a waterfront oasis with a Balinese-style spa and five swimming pools (from $259), or the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa (from $249) with koi ponds, gardens, and a beach on Mission Bay. Hit the Catamaran Resort first for lei-making (3:30 Fri through Sep 4; $10), then stay for the weekly Friday-night luau with Hawaiian music, fire dancing, and hula (6 p.m. Fri through Sep 4; $35, $15 ages 5–12; nonguests $58, $25 ages 5–12); 3999 Mission Blvd.; tickets at

Saturday: Kayak to see the La Jolla Caves with OEX Dive & Kayak Center (tours 11, 1, 3; from $40; 2158 Avenida de la Playa; 858/454-6195). Have lunch at Aloha Sushi Lounge ($$; 7731 Fay Ave.; 858/551-5000). Drive to the nearby Pacific Beach neighborhood to Motu Hawaii (4150 Mission Blvd., Ste. 115; 858/272-6688), where you can buy a fresh flower lei (from $10). Just blocks away is the gargantuan Pangaea Outpost (909 Garnet Ave.; 858/581-0555) with more than 70 spaces, some selling tropical soaps or tiki partyware.

Sunday: Take a private surfing lesson at the La Jolla Shores Beach with Surf Diva ($83 for 1-hour lesson; reservations required). Treat yourself to a pedicure in a private cabana at Spa Tiki day spa (from $50; 200 Harbor Dr., Ste. 200; 619/231-4363) downtown, then head to Buster’s Beach House & Longboard Bar ($$; 807 W. Harbor Dr.; 619/233-4300) for a tropical drink and an order of Hawaiian pork luau.

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