Bumper to Bumper

With their tropical license plate frames, the O'Neills help motorists take the beach wherever they go.

Text by Jacquelyne Froeber

Cruising the Pacific Coast Highway in San Clemente, California, Kim O'Neill spots a kitschy tropical license plate frame on the vehicle ahead. She's a modest entrepreneur, but admits that seeing her products on cars, trucks, and vans makes her feel "awesome."

Kim started Kokonuts, a beach-theme license plate framing company, in 2000, with a few homemade gifts for friends. She then approached surf shops, which began selling the frames locally; soon, they appeared on car cabooses all over town.

Today, Kokonuts items are sold online and in stores nationwide. Most recently, they caught the attention of MTV producers, who featured Kim's hula girl frames in the automotive makeover show "Pimp My Ride."

Her designs include hand-painted palm trees, hula girls with moving skirts, and striped surfboards. Kim is the creative force. Her husband, Jai, helps with business and marketing when he's not busy with his other job in sales. "Our success is due to hard work, creative minds, and a lifestyle product our family believes in," Jai says.

Both Kim and Jai spent their childhoods by the ocean, and say their love for the coast helps drive the business. They met in California, then married and moved to Australia in 1997. In 2000, they moved back to San Clemente. "I couldn't stay away from my friends and family―and I missed Mexican food," Kim says.

At home in California, Kim, Jai, and their two daughters spend every spare moment at the shore. Summer Kai, 11, surfs with Dad while Kim and Keeli Sage, 3, bask in the sun and wade through the surf.

"People think it's easy to start a business," Kim says. "But you have to stand out." There have been a few offers to relocate Kokonuts, but the O'Neills can't imagine leaving this surf town. "San Clemente is home," Kim says as they pile into their green '67 VW bus. With surfboards secured and seat belts fastened, Jai adds, "Money and title are less important than family and beach living."

For more, visit