USA West Coast

American flag

From cities to desert sands, the western region of the United States of America has a unique place in our shared consciousness. Think of ‘The West’ and you’ll often be taken back to the ‘Old West’, conjuring up images of cowboys, Indians and the frontier. Of course, a lot has changed in the western states since the cowboy reigned supreme but it still retains that frontier spirit with a lot of enterprising businesses taking place here – just think of Microsoft, Silicon Valley and Starbucks. It's also where you will find Hollywood, Las Vagas, stunning Californian beaches and the amazing Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park among many others.

History & Culture

The spectacular USA west coast is a multicultural delight, with cities and towns brimming with wonder to captivate anyone who explores it. The history buff in you may wish to seek out the stories of famous cowboys and cowgirls of the Wild West, like the Dalton Gang and Calamity Jane. Since the era of the historic American cowboy in the late 19th century, the modern world has seen cowgirls establish the ability to work at virtually identical tasks and have obtained considerable respect for their achievements. Working your way north along the beautiful west coast, why not try your luck and pan for gold in the state of California? The Californian Gold Rush spanned the years from 1848–1855 and brought both delight and horror to those caught up in the madness.

Coffee culture has become a big part of American society, ever since the American Revolution in 1765–1783, when drinking tea was seen to be unpatriotic. Coffee has come a long way since those days, especially since the conception of Starbucks in Seattle in 1971. Currently, there are over 11,000 Starbucks cafes throughout the United States of America, so you’re never far from your double-shot-mocha-latte! If this highly commercialised chain isn’t for you, both Seattle and Portland are well-known for their small-scale coffee roasters and delicious independent coffee shops.

USA Cowboy
Fotolia

Natural Wonders

Blessed with some of the world’s most incredible national parks, be prepared to feast your eyes on the mind-blowing magnificence dotted throughout America’s west coast. Starting with the obvious, a trip to America is not complete without visiting Yosemite National Park. Absolutely stunning during all seasons, Mother Nature will gift you with varied landscapes throughout the year. Perfect lake reflections of the grand mountains surrounding you will calm your spirit and soothe your soul. During winter, some of the rivers and creeks transform into an icy slush as they crawl their way through the park, making you feel like you’re on another planet and far away from reality. Speaking of other-worldly, Antelope Canyon is a photographer’s delight with its breathtakingly beautiful flood water-carved walls – around every turn is another unique sculpture waiting to be explored.

The Grand Canyon is on most people’s travel bucket lists, and with good reason! Try standing on the unfenced edge of the rugged South Rim and listen to the wind whip around the canyon that drops down over 2km below you. Or get a birds-eye-view during a helicopter flight over the West Rim, where brilliant blue skies are met with the rich red rock of the canyon.

Antelope Canyon USA
Shutterstock

Outdoor Adventures

Yosemite National Park is too big and beautiful to spend just the day exploring. It is during the night that the incredible canopy of stars is visible, away from the light pollution of the city. For a unique experience, stay overnight in one of the beautiful park hotels, or get closer to nature in a tent-cabin. What could be better than waking up to the sound of birds chirping outside your window in the summer, or ice gently falling from the giant sequoia tree branches on your tent-cabin roof in the winter?

Go on an adventurous drive out through Death Valley and explore the salt flats at Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America at 86m below sea level. There is a small spring-fed pool of ‘bad water’ next to the road, which the surrounding salts have made undrinkable, giving the area its unique name. Although the salt flats seem to stretch on forever, surprisingly there is an abundance of life throughout the nearly 1.4 million hectares of land Death Valley occupies, including more than 1000 species of plants and over 350 species of birds and mammals.

Continuing your drive through the Wild West, make your way to the iconic wonder that is Horseshoe Bend. This dramatic vista was created over millions of years of fast-flowing water from the mighty Colorado River. Carried within the rushing water were stones and other substances, creating the dramatic erosion visible today. Although we can’t notice it, this place is constantly changing and will continue to do so until the end of time.

USA California Death Valley Tourist Couple
Shutterstock

Must-do Experiences

A classic American Road Trip is an absolute must while visiting the iconic West Coast. Unmissable drives include the coastal route through the Redwood National Park in California and, of course, Route 66 out to the Grand Canyon and beyond.

Surround yourself with the world’s tallest living thing – the giant sequoia redwood trees. Standing proud at up to 100 metres high, these beautiful trees will line the road as you drive the Redwood Highway following the coast. There are even some spots where the tree trunks are so large that some have to be carved out so the road can run right through the centre of the tree!

Throw on your leathers and jump on a Harley-Davidson as you cruise your way along the famous Route 66. Once affectionately known as The Mother Road or the Main Street of America, this nearly 4000 kilometre stretch of road passes through 8 states and provides access to hundreds of roadside attractions along the way.

A trip to the USA west coast would be incomplete without a stop to the amazing, wild and ridiculous Las Vegas. This city really does not sleep – from roller coasters on top of hotels and 10 storey high zip lines, to incredible stage shows and nearly 200,000 slot machines – there is something for everyone.

For some classic people-watching, why not hire a bicycle (or rollerblades!) or just wander the path from Venice Beach to Santa Monica Beach. Well-known for incredible street performers, along with a few crazy costumes, you are sure to enjoy the unique atmosphere of this popular area.

USA Route 66
Fotolia

Points of Interest

Language
English is the official language of the USA, however Spanish is spoken widely in California.
Currency
US Dollar (USD)
Electricity
120V/60Hz
Time
California and Nevada (Pacific Coast Time) are 16–17 hours behind AEST, depending on Daylight Saving Time, which occurs from March to November. Arizona follows Mountain Standard Time (1 hour earlier), but does not observe Daylight Saving Time.
Visas

Most Australian citizens are able to travel to the United States without a visa by using the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), with an approved ESTA. For more details go to http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english.html

Important Info
Tipping is a way of life in the USA and the extremely low wages of many professions, especially hospitality workers, means that it is a necessary evil. Restaurant staff (not fast food outlets) should be tipped 15-25%; Taxi driver 10-15%; Valet USD3-5; Housekeeping USD3-5 per day; Porterage USD2 per item of luggage carried; everything else (you pretty much need to tip for every service) - approximately 15%.

Useful Phrases

How much do I tip the bell boy? How much do I tip the bell boy?
Put my bags in the boot of the car Put the luggage in the trunk
Put it in the rubbish bin Throw this in the trash can
We need some petrol We need gas
New York is quite nice in autumn New York is beautiful in the fall
I'll have a burger with no tomato I'll have a burger, hold the tomato
I'll have a filter coffee with Half & Half [Half milk & half cream] I'll have a coffee with half n' half
I'll just a small soft-drink Give us a big gulp
That's quite nice Oh My God, that's awesome!

Getting Around

The USA is the perfect self-drive destination, so don’t be scared of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road! With so many fancy cars available for hire at very reasonable prices, why not spoil yourself and hire that ruby red Mustang you’ve always wanted to drive? Put the top down and let the wind blow through your hair as you cruise from destination to destination at your own pace.

If you’re not quite ready to jump in the driver’s seat of a canary yellow Chevy Camaro or on a Harley-Davidson motorbike, there is always the fantastic rail network to transport you around the country. Amtrak is quite extensive, and connects with a lot of other transport options, like buses and ferries, to make getting from point A to B a breeze.

Dining

The west coast is home to a huge variety of dining options; from funky little food trucks in Portland and the enviable coffee culture in Seattle, to celebrity-owned restaurants in Los Angeles and an endless supply of doughnuts in San Francisco. You will be spoilt for choice with something new around every corner.

Most importantly, if you’re driving out to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, make sure you stop in at Peggy Sue’s '50’s Diner. This iconic little diner, originally built in 1954, is about half way between the two cities and is the perfect place to stop for a Buddy Holly Bacon Cheeseburger and the best vanilla malt milkshake you’ve ever tasted!

Shopping

Los Angeles is definitely the best place to start if you’re heading out on the world’s best shopping spree. Whether you want to sift through vintage stores for that one-of-a-kind treasure, window-shop for extravagant luxury goods, or anything in between, Los Angeles has you covered.

Not keen on emptying your wallet into a slot machine, why not hit the shops in Las Vegas and take home a new suitcase filled with goodies? As this city never sleeps, you are guaranteed to get your shopping fix around the clock at a multitude of different locations, including two outlet shopping centres to the north and south of Vegas.

What to Pack

The weather on the beautiful west coast of the United States of America is quite mild year round. Make sure you bring your swimwear for the summer time, to hit the beautiful Californian coast, and a jacket and umbrella during those chilly winter months. Depending on where you’re heading on your trip, you may need a snow jacket. There will definitely be some glorious snow on the ground during the winter months at inland places like Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon – a stunning alternative to the photos you’re used to of these incredible places.

Did you know?
In 1992, a high-roller gambler known as Archie Karas walked into a Las Vegas casino with $50. He managed to turn that $50 into $40 million! However, he promptly lost it all again. Gamble responsibly!

There is so much to do and see in this part of the world – no matter who you are and what you enjoy, you can find it here on the west coast of the USA. Go swimming or surfing on the Californian coast, or explore the Hollywood hills on a horse-riding tour. Try your luck at celebrity-spotting, ride the roller coasters at Disneyland, or spend a full day shopping at the outlet malls.

Why not cycle your way across the Golden Gate Bridge, or spend the day hiking through spectacular Yosemite National Park? Perhaps you would enjoy a leisurely drive through the Redwood National Park, or getting your adrenalin pumping by sitting on the edge of Horse Shoe Bend? Be sure to admire the Grand Canyon’s natural beauty from the glass skywalk, or get a bird's-eye-view while on a helicopter tour. And head to Las Vegas to experience the night life and incredible stage shows, or hit the poker machines if you’re feeling lucky! The list really is endless ... what will you do?

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