It's one of the hottest neverending debates: Which US coast is better? The East Coast boasts the Big Apple, New York City, plus Miami and Boston, just to name a few. On the West Coast, however, as you're about to see, there is no shortage of unbeatable cities - some large, diverse and rowdy, and others small, charming and quaint. From Washinton state all the way down to California (sorry, Alaska, we're excluding you this time around), there is so much to see, do, eat, drink, and even smell, that you'll be tossing up where to visit next.
So without further ado, let’s kickstart our West Coast USA journey at the southernmost point of California and work our way up north. Roll down the window, blast that punk rock and enjoy the road trip!
We’re starting our journey in California’s sun-soaked San Diego. The southernmost city in the state, just above the border to Tijuana and Mexico, is one of the most underrated cities across the country. It might not have the same shimmering reputations as San Francisco or Seattle, but what San Diego does showcase are phenomenal stretches of beaches, Balboa Park (the West Coast’s answer to New York’s Central Park), the infamous San Diego Zoo, and impressive art, food, and craft beer scenes.
Outside of Mexico, of course, some of the best Mexican food is found in San Diego. Plus, the weather is predictably almost perfect, year-round.
It’s not too long before we reach our next destination - Carlsbad, California. Situated just north of San Diego, Carlsbad is a slice of low-key, go-with-the-flow beach life nestled in between the major booming cities of San Diego and Los Angeles. The stretches of beaches are as good as within a couple of hours’ drive, and the town has a cute village feel. It’s a worthy destination to spend a day for anyone who chooses to travel up or down the coast by car.
For those wanting to tick off a few fast-food joints along the way, there are a couple of renowned In-N-Out Burger locations in the area as well.
Even though there are no beaches in Anaheim whatsoever, it stills draws immense crowds larger than the majority of US cities. Why’s that? One word: Disneyland. It would be remiss of anyone driving through California to ignore the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hang with Mickey and his friends, and while it’s certainly not cheap, it’s still a bucket list activity for many.
If heart-pumping roller coasters and hair-raising thrill rides is a priority, then for a cheaper price, and with usually smaller crowds, Knott's Berry Farm is a great alternative to Disney in the Anaheim area. Either way, you can’t bypass Anaheim.
Los Angeles doesn’t always get the best wrap and it’s understandable why. However, the City of Angels has plenty to show off to visitors from near and far. If you can avoid the tourist traps that are Hollywood Boulevard and Santa Monica Pier during the peak summertime, then you’ll discover just how much LA has to offer.
The city can be proud of its diverse, world-class foodie scene, as well as less run-of-the-mill tourist attractions like the Warner Bros. Studios tour, Griffith Park, the Getty Center, and the La Brea Tar Pits. There is no shortage of worthy attractions in LA for those who know where to go.
We’ve left the crowds and bumper-to-bumper traffic of Los Angeles and have continued our journey north, this time to the central Californian coast city of Santa Barbara. Compared to the rowdiness of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a welcomed breath of fresh air. The small city boasts stunning beaches, some luxury hotels, and a first-class dining and wine scene.
As the base of the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), it’s also home to plenty of students, meaning that there are plenty of budget-friendly eateries and bars for those pinching pennies. Like most popular places in California, the number of visitors peaks in the summertime, so spring or fall are touted as the best times to visit.
We’re yet to leave California, with the next step of this journey of must-visit West Coast destinations landing us smack-bang in San Luis Obispo. Out of state, it’s an unknown entity, however, anyone who’s driven the San Francisco to Los Angeles route will have witnessed the quiet charm of this small coastal city.
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Visitors can check out the grossly impressive Bubblegum Alley, or venture along hiking trails to Big Falls. Each Thursday evening sees the San Luis Obispo farmers market in full flight, which is considered one of the best in California. So, if you’re traveling through the area during that time of the week, why not check it out?
About an hour south of San Francisco sits the next stop on this West Coast adventure - the cute beachside town of Monterey. Aside from its A-grade beaches that show off long shorelines and splendid coasted views, Monterey plays host to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium where visitors can pet bat-rays, plus the adored Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
Monterey is also not too far from the artsy Carmel-by-the-Sea (or Carmel, for short), so you can easily knock off both destinations within the same 1-2 days. It might not have the same allure as Cali’s big cities, but Monterey possesses a unique charm like few others.
Enough with the little coastal towns, let’s tick off another behemoth! Next up we’re landing into the hilly, windy, progressive, straight-up beautiful city of San Francisco. From Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz and over to Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, and of course, the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, San Fran boasts some of the world’s most iconic landmarks which are eagerly awaiting your visit. Nature lovers will also appreciate the city’s proximity to Yellowstone and the Muir Woods.
Whatever you prefer to do in San Francisco, just make sure to pack your walking shoes, because, as we’ve seen in the movies, the windy city is built on some seriously steep hills.
Finally, we’re out of California! As far as hipster, funky and artsy reputations go, nothing beats Portland, Oregon. The City of Roses balances some wonderful outdoor and nature-type opportunities - such as the Portland Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden (you get the nickname now, right) - with endless chances to explore its stellar food, music, art, and party scenes. Portland is rather proud of its craft beer as well, so why not take a break from exploring and wet your whistle?
If you consider yourself somewhat of a sweet tooth then you can’t leave Portland without sampling one (or two, or five) out-of-this-world creations from Voodoo Donuts (pictured).
We’ve reached our final destination on this list of must-see USA West Coast cities, and many would say that we’ve left the best ‘till last. Seattle is a progressive, vibrant, funky, diverse city full of things to do, places to visit, restaurants to eat at, and so much more.
It boasts the postcard-worthy attractions like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and Chihuly Garden and Glass; however, Seattle also offers a handful of obscure points of interest, like the world’s first Starbucks location or the disgustingly dazzling Seattle gum wall. It’s not too far from Vancouver, Canada, if you want to extend your journey cross-country!