Escape to Makai!
A Fully Immersive Tiki Paradise on the Santa Cruz Wharf
Walk far enough out on the Santa Cruz Wharf and the land falls away, replaced by a sense of ocean and sky in all directions. On the wharf’s lower decks, sea lions bask in the sun and bellow contentedly at one another. Seagulls wheel in the sky or hop along the wharf railing, pestering meditative fishermen. To the west, surfers ride the glistening waves of world-famous Steamer Lane like an impossibly beautiful dream. It is out here, near the last bend in the wharf, that you will find the Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery, a fully immersive escape into the world of tiki.
To step inside Makai is to enter an exotic world of bamboo, woven rattan cane, palm fronds, and colorful Japanese glass fishing buoys. It is a place of island melodies and intoxicating aromas. Tiki statues silently grin and howl from every nook and cranny. A school of silvery fish flash across the ceiling. Entering Makai is like being hit with a warm wave of pure tiki before swimming out into its ocean. And that’s by design, according to Peter Drobac who opened Makai in 2020.
“I love the escapism of tiki. I love the way tiki can transport you into a place of pure imagination and fantasy. Our menu is island. It’s Asian-fusion. It fulfills the tiki mission in truly unique and surprising ways,” says Drobac. “And, of course, I also love our cocktails.”
A team of master mixologists has crafted a drink menu that would’ve made Trader Vic himself proud. From a historically accurate Mai Tai tribute to the wild communal drinking experience of the Scorpion Bowl, Makai is full-tilt tiki. Plus, the bar rotates, making it arguably the coolest place to get a drink in the whole Monterey Bay region.
Makai also smokes its own meats. Rich as a luau, the Kalua Pua’a features tender pork shoulder house-smoked over applewood chips, shredded, served with Makai’s tamarind sauce, and drizzled with homemade dynamite aioli.
The rest of the Makai’s menu enjoys a similar attention to detail. Each dish features traditional elements subtly reimagined to reinforce the entire tiki experience. The Poke Stack, for instance, offers bite-size morsels of soy-sesame marinated ahi tuna, avocado, and seaweed salad. It’s a divine, complex taste of the sea.
If you really need a vacation, but only have a few hours, I invite you to escape to Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery, the fully immersive tiki paradise on the Santa Cruz Wharf.