South Seas Cafe (1937-1977) was San Diego’s first large, Tahitian-themed restaurant, home of ‘rain on the roof’ just like at Ray Haller’s Seven Seas (1935) in Hollywood (later Bob Brooks Seven Seas).
The South Seas Cafe not only had the distinction of being the first large Tahitian/Pre-Tiki restaurant in San Diego — it was a woman-owned business. Opened Saturday night July 10, 1937 by Ruth W. Becker and Charles Thomas, South Seas Cafe was located across from the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Pacific Highway.
“We feel sure that the atmosphere of the ‘South Seas’” said co-owner Charles Thomas to the press, “in which we produce lightning, thunder and the beating rain of a tropical storm, will delight seekers of the unusual. The South Seas illusion will be enhanced by Tahitian portraits and figure studies, done by Leeteg. The haunting rhythms of Hawaii will be produced nightly by steel guitars and ukuleles in the capable hands of Stone’s Hawaiians.”
Consolidated Aircraft Corporation’s newly-built production facility nearby provided a busy lunch crowd. And the novelty of an indoor rainstorm with thunder and lightning drew in as many patrons as could fit in the Tahitian-inspired restaurant. Their collection of ‘figural studies’ by painter Edward Leeteg certainly didn’t hurt, either.
Along with the Leeteg paintings down in the bar, they prominently featured an 11-foot-tall black velvet nudie by Morris Levine in the upstairs dining area, and on their menus. The Levine was reportedly won in a Las Vegas dice game bet by Wilbur Clark.
Top it off with thick steaks. Fried shrimp. Rum drinks. Entertainment by Stone’s Hawaiians, Teddy ‘K’ and his Hawaiians, Benny Kealoha and his famous ‘Echo Song.’ Comedy by Our Gang actor Spec O’Donnell. All this made the South Seas Cafe a destination spot.
The South Seas closed in 1977 and was replaced by a ladder store. For years it was a GolfMart, and later was part of an AMVETs thrift store properties. Most Recently, as of 2021, the property was vacant and up for lease.