West Coast, Best Coast?

Well folks, it is less than a month until we commence our Eastbound road trip HOME! A year, a lot of hand sanitizer, many surgical masks, four vaccines (between us), and one election later, our time in LA County is coming to an end. Road trip 2.0 here we come! We will be leaving on July 20 to begin our journey, with a repeat of our drive through the LA to Denver, CO corridor. However, from there we are taking a different route to change things up. I think we will drive through Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and then West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and... Vermont! Vermont is our next chapter and we are very excited about this move. More on that later. We are also very excited to be back in Canada for a good chunk of August, to reunite with friends and family, as well as celebrate at our postponed wedding reception. 

How to sum our year up? Well, we saw a lot and ate a lot and Josh worked a lot! 

Now to my question: What of the common turn of phrase "West Coast, Best Coast!"* 

*I guess this is more a review specific to SoCal, rather than the entire West Coast. 

First, the good.

  1. It is always sunny and Josh can wear shorts all year.
  2. You can eat outside year round. This is enjoyable for humans and animals alike! Bertie never has to be excluded from dinner. 
  3. The beaches are expansive and have impressive shorelines. Del Mar Dog Beach near San Diego takes the top spot, for us!
  4. SoCal is where Trader Joe's was born -- in Pasadena no less! I will admit I did not get the Trader Joe's fanaticism before living here, but I am a proud convert at this point and diligently make my weekly visits for my goods.    
  5. Burritos, Mexican food, et al. We have enjoyed many meals between handmade tortillas. Chile Rellenos were a welcome discovery for me... especially in burrito form! There are some terrific $1 fish tacos that we like to pick up nearby on some Tuesdays -- although the price was recently hiked to $1.25. And they say that some of the best Chinese food in the USA is right here in the San Gabriel Valley. Date shakes in the Palm Desert are a favourite as well. 
  6. Malls are outdoors aka Bertie-friendly, except for the scary fountains that seem to accompany them. 
  7. There is always on location filming to spy on. For example, we live next to "Christmas Tree Lane" which seems to be a go to spot for Hallmark movies. Right down the street is Mountain View Mortuary and Cemetery, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in the San Gabriel Valley (c. 1882). More to the point, though, it is THEE cemetery used for movie and TV scenes. We're talking The Office ("The Chair Model"), Desperate Housewives (aka Mama Solis' funeral), Seinfeld (the final resting place of Susan Ross), CSI, Six Feet Under (funeral or Nathaniel Fisher),  Criminal Minds, Sons of Anarchy, No Strings Attached, Pretty Little Liars, etc. 
  8. In-N-Out. Animal style. I say no more. 
  9. Things are generally more dog-friendly. Or, perhaps it is that rules are generally followed far less frequently.
  10. There are some iconic national parks and forests, so hiking trails abound. We have enjoyed regular runs and hikes nearby in Hahamongna Watershed Park and the Arroyo Seco as a whole. There are also some close canyon hikes. Though, our favourite loop, called the Mishe Mokwa trailhead, is way out in Malibu. There you get ocean views from way up in the mountains -- but it is exposed and dang hot. 
  11. Things are a little more relaxed on the whole. I guess that is a good thing? I am not sure about this. 
  12. Driving on the Pacific Coast Highway.
  13. There are hills and mountains everywhere and, therefore, panoramas too. 
  14. The coyotes are smaller than Bertie.
  15. There is a volume of impressive architecture, ranging in style from Victorian, Spanish Style, Craftsman, Midcentury Modern, to Contemporary, that feels unparalleled. We have done a lot of urban walking all across the county. Some of our favourite walks are in and around Pasadena, including the Caltech campus. We have also really enjoyed exploring the "secret staircases" of LA.
  16. Fruit grows on trees and plants flower year round! 
  17. We have had unprecedented (for us) access to the Southwest, and have been able to travel from San Diego all the way to San Francisco, and inland into the California mountains and deserts around Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, the Sierra Nevadas. We did a loop through Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, which allowed us to see Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Santa Fe, and Sedona. 

Now for my critiques. 

  1. It is ALWAYS sunny. The weather never changes. It has rained (I mean really rained) twice since in the year we have been here, and the most exciting weather description is probably "there is a bit of a breeze". Ok, I should be fair. There are a few common weather "events" other than sun, which are "wild fire season" and "drought". Ok, ok, ok. There is also the marine layer that likes to hang around some mornings for a humid, gloomy effect. This is a term we have learned here, and you will often hear people speak of it: "There's quite a heavy marine layer today!". It always burns off though and the resulting weather is, well, sunny. When we moved here at the end of July, I thought we had dodged the hottest time of the year and could enjoy cooler weather until the following Spring. Ha-ha. In fact, things really do not even start to heat up until late August and only start to chill out in December! Never mind that we are also living in Pasadena, which may not be in the San Fernando Valley -- what is commonly referred to as The Valley -- but it IS located in the San Gabriel Valley. Let me tell you, the valley heat is no joke. As a case in point, as I write this, it is 35 degrees here, while it is 18 degrees at the beach. This is a typical differential during the hot season. What I would give for some good old fashioned weather, in the proper (East Coast) sense of the word.  
  2. It is also always dusty. If you go out for a walk in sandals, even on the asphalt, your feet will need a bath. If you go for a run on the trails, your legs will be shrouded in it. It envelops your car. When the Santa Ana winds blow, they blow it in your face. It never rains and its a desert, so there you have it folks. 
  3. LA County is falling apart -- I mean really falling apart. Public infrastructure is often crumbling. There is a very noticeable presence of garbage -- I guess I should be calling it "trash" down here in the Southwest. LA County seems to have thrown their hands up in a lot of ways, when it comes to maintaining the buildings and public spaces. When you talk to a native Angeleno about it, they always cite Prop-13 as the root of the problem, which passed in 1978 and really restricted property tax increases if a change of ownership never occurs. Actually, Malcolm Gladwell reflects on this in relation to the golf courses in LA, in an episode from his Revisionist History podcast called "A Good Walk Spoiled". We have also been struck by the volume of homeless encampments, not just in Skid Row, but in Echo Park, Venice Beach, under most overpasses, in the empty space alongside the freeways, along the LA River, etc. There is an extreme epidemic of homelessness here that is not new in any way, but is startling nonetheless.  
  4. Shade is awfully hard to find, especially if you dare to go hiking. Canyons or mature neighbourhoods with irrigation are basically the only places you can be sheltered. The desert sun in the Valley or in the mountains is particularly strong. Speaking of which, I have reflected a lot on water this past year. The Colorado Aqueduct that transports water almost 400 km from the Colorado River is Southern California's primary source of drinking water. When I stop and think about it, the survival of LA County, with a metro population of around 15 million, is really so precarious. Not only that, but over a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts are grown in California -- the success of which can be attributed to irrigation.  
  5. God help you if you are a fan of European fare - Italian, German, etc. It is simply not a priority out here. And, Angelenos might disagree, but the dairy and bread situation is not top shelf. 
  6. Traffic, roads, and sidewalks in  "The County" leave something to be desired! There is always traffic, especially on the freeways. And no, they are not called highways. This is the land of the free, after all (ha-ha).  Vintage Toyota Tacomas abound, especially ones outfitted for transporting the equipment of a very characteristic informal work sector: the Mexican immigrant gardeners. Entrepreneurs or exploited workers? I digress. You often have to skirt around (or run over... whatever the case may be) all forms of debris that has fallen out of trucks overflowing with unsecured junk and furniture, often on its way to Mexico. Anyway, I have to tell you about the "dips". Who are the people who put massive water drainage trenches across every single intersection in LA? Oh, they're at the bottom of every driveway, too. Anyone driving through the intersections at more than 5 mph, let alone the posted speed limit of 35 mph, will scrape the bottom of their car and might even catch some air. We learned some quick lessons in avoiding dip scrapes. Sometimes they are so steep you have to approach them at an angle! Also, whether or not you get a sidewalk in a given neighbourhood seems random, and they often just end without warning. If they do not, the tree roots seem to devour them -- cracking the surfaces and creating steep mounds. We have not done a face plant yet, but we do trip multiple times per walk. 
I do not think this is by any means an exhaustive review, but it is a fairly accurate reflection on some of the things I have noticed and taken note of after living here for a year. So, back to my original question: Is the West Coast really the best coast? For me, it is not. This past year has definitely solidified my love for the East Coast. I miss and love the variety of seasons, the history, the fresh water, and the ice cream of course (and general food choices).

Now excuse me while I go pick up my weekly flowers and cheese haul from Trader Joe's. 

Enjoy some highlight photos from the past twelve months. 



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