Mai-Kai, San Diego

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The Mai-Kai that almost was…


Photos, Mai Kai Ft Lauderdale

In 1959, after Jack and Robert L. Thornton created a Polynesian hit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with their Mai-Kai Restaurant, they bought six acres in San Diego’s booming Mission Valley resort area for another. The 400-seat San Diego Mai-Kai was to be similarly designed as that in Florida.

Across the road in what were once meandering cow pastures, the May Company built their ultra-modern shopping center, and down the San Diego River a mile or so was the new Hanalei Hotel.

After five years of attempting to re-zone their property just west of Bowlero Lanes (now, the Scottish Rite Center), Reed Thornton gave up and sold to Chrysler Corporation — for a profit of $100,000.

Not that long ago, there was still a Hummer dealership on the property.

Can you imagine if San Diego had its own Mai-Kai Restaurant since the 1960s?



Citation: Martin S. Lindsay. ‘Mai-Kai, San Diego.’ Classic San Diego: tasty bites from the history of America’s finest city. Web. <>

“Thorntons” Tim Glazner, Mai-Kai: History and mystery of the iconic tiki restaurant, Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2016.

“bought six acres” ‘Realty roundup,’ San Diego Union, 16 Aug 1959.

“attempting to re-zone” ‘Realty roundup: Mid-city plan sparks projects,’ San Diego Union, 29 May 1965; Frank Rhoades, ‘Reporter on the run,’ San Diego Union, 19 Aug 1965; City of San Diego Zoning Department documents and Assessor plat maps.

Additional research by Mike Skinner. Thanks, Mike! Revised 16 Aug 2017.

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