In 1955, former bookkeeper, Tom Ham, had proven success in the restaurant world by bringing San Diego its very first “Polynesian Paradise”. It brought life to Shelter Island for locals of Point Loma and became a must-go to spot for visitors. It wasn’t until 1971 that his real dream came true when he added his second location on the scenic San Diego Bay. He passed on just two years later, and for the last 40 years, his family has lived on to tell his tale with the same two iconic San Diego locations, Bali Hai and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse. I was lucky enough to visit both venues recently to get to know the family, the chefs, and try out some of their signature dishes.
With so many choices, it can be extremely difficult to experience all that San Diego has to offer. That is why I’m not surprised that it took me quite a number of years to come across Tom Ham’s Lighthouse on Harbor Island. However, after dining there, I am perplexed about why I had never heard of this historic venue that has been around since 1971 that has captured the hearts and appetites of many locals and visitors alike.
When I mentioned this to Andy, the General Manager, as well as Tom Ham’s grandson, it didn’t seem to surprise him. Their iconic sister restaurant, Bali Hai, has taken a lot of the glory in the past years, but now that is all about to change.
After a major remodel that closed the restaurant for over 5 months, Tom Ham’s Lighthouse is officially the place to come for the best view while dining in downtown San Diego. Grab a table on the patio or perhaps a seat at the bar…even if you’re in the dining room, you will get the same view of our beautiful skyline. The muted décor highlights the nature that surrounds you at all times and allows you to focus on the brilliantly prepared dishes that arrive in front of you.
Executive Chef Lance Repp has spent years perfecting his culinary skills to bring the diners a menu that features edible masterpieces that is both visually appealing and wildly innovative. His love for creating these dishes is what made him the perfect choice for the new era at Tom Ham’s.
Walking into Tom Ham’s, you will truly feel that you are now part of something special. The family has surrounded themselves and their guests with small and large remembrances of San Diego past and present and artifacts that Mr. Ham had picked up along the way: the old and new maps of San Diego, the Boston bell, and the secret stained glass windows that spell out Tom Ham, a tribute to the man who started it all.
It made such an impact on me to learn the history of the restaurant, the family that owns and runs it, the appreciation they have for each and every employee, and the immense gratitude they have for their fans and loyal customers. It shows in every table setting, every prepared dish, and in every person that works for this incredible family. You won’t find this level of customer service without a strong backbone. From what I learned from an incredibly proud son, “We all have Mom to thank for that.”
For Fun Facts about Tom Ham’s, Andy, and Chef Lance, click here.