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The US is vast and varied. Covering a huge swath of the North American continent, it’s presence and influence as one of the world’s super powers is keenly felt around the globe. Fringed by the mighty Atlantic Ocean on one side and the even mightier Pacific on the other, it’s arguably the epicentre of Western pop culture and home to epic displays of nature, as well as distinct and interesting cities. Plus, Beyonce lives there. All of this adds up to make it a bloody good place to visit. But it’s more or less impossible to see it all on one trip – so which Coast do you aim for?
We asked two writers to go head-to-head and plead the case for their side of the country in the ultimate debate. In the West Coast corner we have Los-Angeles-based TEGAN BUTLER and fighting for the East Coast is New Yorker JAYMZ CLEMENTS. Let the showdown begin.
“The West Coast is the best coast”
by Tegan Butler
I can’t tell you the moment I fell in love with the West Coast, but I can tell you that it was hard and fast. As a whole, North America is larger than life with an attitude to match; but the West Coast is a subtle and elegant reminder of the unforgettable marvel the continent has to offer on a vast scale. From the stunning national parks of Yosemite to the thriving cultural hub of centres like Portland and Los Angeles, the west coast draws a crowd for it’s laid-back lifestyle, picturesque deserts and picturesque valleys that span the Pacific.
Forward-thinking cities at a slower pace
The West Coast is home to some of the most vibrant, interesting and progressive cities in the US, and the distances between them are easily covered by plane.
The West Coast’s most northern city and capital of the evergreen state of Washington, Seattle is nicknamed the Emerald City for its lively and lush suburbs set on the water of Puget Sound. While Washington is renowned as one of the wettest states in the US, Seattle’s cooler climate attributes to the robust coffee and food culture that breathes life into the city next to the sea. Home of the very first Starbucks and countless boutique breweries offering hearty local beers, take a trip to the iconic Pike St Market to sample comfort food from hundreds of vendors and wander through the colourful flower stalls. The Seattle Monorail is a futuristic trip through the centre of the CBD while the towering Space Needle is a must-see downtown on the way to your next coffee stop in the artist-centric borough of Capitol Hill.
Portland is a flurry of culture, known for its art, healthy living, music and top-tier culinary options. Set amidst the scented pine of Oregon’s vast needled woods, it’s one of the ‘hippest’ cities in the US, populated with a range of liberalists, vegans, cyclists and artists, making a vibrant, progressive melting pot (spiked with the downright weird). Sink your teeth into a Voodoo Doughnut before reaching zen at the Portland Japanese Garden.
Ruling the north end of golden California, San Francisco continues the epicurious theme with a dense population of young creatives and tech-savvy professionals supporting a strong cafe and food culture. Check out the gleaming red beams of the Golden Gate Bridge – year-round fog makes the view of the Bay from Twin Peaks even more visually appealing, or get a close-up look from Baker Beach. A perfect day in San Francisco might involve a wander through Alamo Square Park to see the teetering pastel rooftops of the Victorian houses that line the famously steep streets; or venture to the north side of the bay to Sausalito, where a community of beautiful, elaborate houseboats – originally established by hippies in the ‘60s – fill the docks.
Perfect weather year-round? Hollywood parties every night of the week? Motherland to the green smoothie? It’s all true. The sun-bleached city of Los Angeles is known for its endless summers and effortless sex appeal; think swooning palm trees and the glittering lights of the strip and beyond. While there’s a spotlight on entertainment, at its core, Los Angeles is a thriving bubble of creators, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, producers and so much more, meaning that, along with the endless list of things to explore, it’s just as much the people that make LA what it is. With stimulation at all angles, take the time to really get to know LA; take a car through the winding streets of Mulholland Drive and look out over old Hollywood, ride a bike along Venice’s Abbott Kinney and take in the quirky, laid-back beach vibes of iconic California, then head Downtown to the sample some of the most authentic Mexican cuisine this side of the border from the many taco trucks.
Near-perfect weather, year-round
The West Coast has a mix of climates, from searing desert heat to cool coastal winds. That said, the summers are generally long, warm and pleasant and, unlike the East Coast, the winters are never too harsh. The rugged geology and gently changing seasons is perfect for outdoor sports like hiking and snowboarding (yes, it does snow, just head slightly inland). While the vibe up north may be moodier, SoCal’s hubs of Los Angeles and San Diego are famous for their year-round sunny weather, meaning it’s always the right time for the beach.
Deserts, mountains and that coastline
The west is a land of geological diversity, and it’s home to many of the county’s revered national parklands and some of the most beautiful natural sites in the world. The Grand Canyon in Arizona, Zion in Utah, Yosemite in California and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are unique to the Wild Wild West’s quintessential identity of painted boulders and red desert sands. All of the west’s major cities hang off the coast, making for short drives to the ocean, while a string of kitschy surfside towns trace south from the foggy shores of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest to the golden sun-lashed sands of southern California to Baja Mexico.
Head inland and the ocean is replaced by the valleys and lush mountain ranges of world famous national parks like Yellowstone. Olympic National Park in Washington is one of the most enchanting landscapes in the northern hemisphere; straddling ocean and mainland, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the wettest areas in the continental US, enveloped by thousands of silky moss strands and home to plenty of grazing deer. Contrast that with Death Valley National Park in NorCal – the hottest and driest places in the entire country – and it’s clear that the west is a complex and beautiful beast. Joshua Tree is a coming-of-age pilgrimage for many, a visual feast of pastel sunsets and boundless cacti, while the snow-capped tops of Mt Hood and the Sierra Nevadas, provide for panoramic views of the Milky Way and the rest of the cosmos. I know where I’d rather be.
(Pop) culture and creativity
Don’t be fooled by what you’ve heard; LA isn’t solely obsessed with celebrity culture, and the West Coast isn’t full of just hippies and free spirits (although that is part of what makes this place so great). Younger than the East Coast, the west has a unique perspective on lifestyle, placing a great importance on health and happiness – perhaps because the combination of great weather and epic nature means we spend a lot of our time outdoors. The west also knows a thing or two about having a good time. Just look at Coachella and Burning Man; these festivals celebrate the joy of being alive by throwing an annual party in the desert.
California used to be a part of Mexico, and the distinct Hispanic tone of many of LA’s neighbourhoods means there’s plenty of incredible food and diverse weekend produce markets (where you can buy an avocado for $1). Movie buffs ought to note; stroll anywhere in the east side of LA or San Francisco and you’re bound to stumble across a film or TV shoot. We have music too, and lots of it; Seattle, Portland and LA are some of the biggest, most vibrant music scenes in the US. Playing homebase to so many of our favourite bands, past and present, it’s no wonder that iconic venues such as LA’s Troubadour and The Roxy, The Showbox in Seattle and Mississippi Studios in Portland boast a full calendar of live acts every night of the week. As well as iconic guitar bands like Nirvana and The Eagles, the West Coast is also home to the tremendous hip hop talents of NWA, Tu-Pac, Snoop and Kendrick. Need I say more?
All West Coast photos and header image: Tegan Butler and Andrew Noel
“The East Coast is the neatest coast”
The USA’s East Coast is easily its neatest coast. Well… maybe not ‘neatest’: it’s a bit more lived in, but, just like a pair of thongs, that makes it more comfortable. The East Coast encompasses everything any traveller needs: world-renowned iconography, stunning vistas, beautiful beaches, inspiring culture, sport-crazy populations, architecture that can’t be beat, historical importance, party cities and everything else in between.
In short, as the East Coast has been settled for longer than the west, there are far more people and far more scope for adventure and experiences that can’t be beat. It’s quirky, gritty, beautiful and wonderful in its own way.
First off: location, location, location. The big advantage of the East Coast is simply the proximity its major cities and attractions have to each other. You can base yourself somewhere, or do short trips ‘til your heart’s content and impress everybody/your Instagram followers with how much stuff you can do here.
Iconography in iconic cities
Dude. Seriously. You’ve likely spent an entire lifetime being exposed to American culture, so we all know the sights, and the East Coast has got your bucket-list travel sorted. And everything is within a couple hours flight of each other. That’s flat out ridiculous.
In short, New York City has *deep breath* the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Broadway, the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower, the 9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pools, Central Park, Wall Street, Rockefeller Center, the Plaza Hotel, the Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Queensborough Bridges, and the most iconic skyline in the world. Wander Williamsburg and Bushwick, smash a bagel and lox, try a Crif Dog, and get lost (or don’t – Manhattan’s numbered streets make life very easy) in the greatest city in the world.
As the US capital, Washington DC isn’t just suits, lobbyists and Kevin Spacey; it’s also home to the impressive-as-hell National Mall. That covers Barry’s Digs (the White House), the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Building and various excellent Smithsonians – plus, you can jump a bus and check out the Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon. Also, because of its ever-in-flux population, the food and bar scene is out of this world.
Up north, Boston feels like a small town, but is fascinating to explore: from all the stops of the Freedom Trail, the swan boats of Boston Common, old-timey Fenway Park, the Cheers bar, the impressive Bunker Hill, and more history than you could catapult a Dropkick Murphy member at.
The equally sports-mad Philadelphia totes the Liberty Bell, Constitution Hall, the Rocky steps (aka the steps leading up to Philly’s surprisingly excellent Museum of Art) and the modern world’s version of the Montagues and Capulets: Pat’s vs. Geno’s cheesesteaks.
Miami has (obviously) Miami Beach and one of the best club/party scenes in the world, while Orlando has Epcot Centre and (the much better for grown-ups) Universal Studios.
And that’s just the coast! If you go a little bit inland, you can check out the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and have a day off Ferris Bueller-style in Chicago, or go buy some boots, hang out with Jack White and listen to some blues in a honkytonk on Music Row in Nashville. Also, don’t sleep on Charleston, South Carolina’s throwback to old Southern charm.
Actual, y’know, seasons
The East Coast gets a bad rap for its weather, but that’s (mostly) due to the cold winters (and super stubborn snow), but by the same token, the first snow of the year gets you as excited as Big Kev was for cleaning products. The flip side is that after waiting out those harsh winters, summer (especially in the north east) is straight up glorious – if you don’t mind a bit of humidity in late July-August – and each city’s population takes full advantage of it.
Waterfalls, mountain ranges and untamed wilderness
All along the East Coast, the combination of beaches and wilderness can’t be beat. There’s the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls, but just as amazing is the 50,000 acres of islands, mountains, coasts, lakes and woods of Acadia National Park in Maine, which also houses Cadillac Mountain, the first place on the eastern seaboard to catch the sunrise each day in fall and winter.
Meanwhile, New York State alone has more than 50 ski resorts, and some of the USA’s most breathtaking – and easily accessible – wilderness, is just off the coast, with mountain ranges like the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, the Catskills and the Shenandoah National Park right there for all sorts of adventurous escapades (white water rafting!).
Further south in Florida, amid all the legit-amazing beaches, you can also check out ‘gators in the Everglades, and in the Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks, there’s amazing snorkelling and diving on the world’s third-largest coral reef (which also has heaps of super interesting shipwrecks).
Basically, not matter where you go on the East Coast, if you want to spend any time outdoors, no matter what your persuasion – hiking, camping, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, diving, snorkelling, skiing, relaxing, exploring or laying on a beach and people-watching – the options are as endless as Canada’s patience with Drake.
Sports, arts and the bright lights of Broadway
Due to its historical head-start, the East Coast also gets to rightfully boast about being the hotbed of American culture. New York City alone boasts a terrifying array of excellent galleries and museums – the MET, MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and roughly a million more – and on top of that, you’ve also got the bright lights of Broadway’s plays and musicals (grab a cheap ticket from the TKTS booth just to say you’ve been), while the Lincoln Centre hosts the best film, ballet, chamber music and opera in the world. Plus, every artist/band in the world will hit the major cities on the East Coast, and there are festivals galore, so you’ll never miss the chance to see the best music, film, art and theatre that the world has to offer.
Add to that the great museums and galleries in Washington DC (especially those free Smithsonians), Baltimore, Philly and Boston… and the amazing Art Basel that hits Miami each year, (where you could run into Kanye West, or maybe A$AP Rocky, Miley Cyrus and Kylie Jenner), you’ve got culture more covered than Evel Knievel’s insurance.
Also… a huge part of American culture? Sport, and the East Coast is America’s sports hotbed. Even if you’re not *that* into sport, it’s still worth your time to eat a hotdog and catch some baseball at historic Fenway Park or the new, but still iconic, Yankee Stadium. And few things in life are as much fun as witnessing the unbelievable athleticism at an NBA or NHL game at Madison Square Garden. Also, in Florida, Jacksonville’s NFL stadium has a freakin’ pool.
So it’s more obvious than the answer to ‘Who was the best Batman*?’: the East Coast is the best coast. Even its hip hop is the best!
*er, whoever wins out of a fight between Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, obvs.
And the winner is….yeah right, sorry guys, we absolutely refuse to choose. Your best bet is just booking two trips, or extending your holiday to get the best of both coasts.