The West Coast or Pacific Coast is the coastline along which the contiguous Western United States meets the North Pacific Ocean. As a region, this term most often refers to the coastal states of California, Oregon and Washington. More specifically, it refers to an area defined on the east by the Cascade Range, Sierra Nevada and Mojave Desert, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Census groups the five states of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii together as the Pacific States division.
As of the 2010 Census, the estimated population of the Census Bureau's Pacific Region was approximately 47.8 million (56.9 million if Nevada and Arizona are included) – about 15.3% (18.2% with Nevada and Arizona) of US population. The largest city on the west coast of the United States is Los Angeles.
Major cities and metropolitan areas on the West Coast include (from north to south):
The history of the West Coast begins with the arrival of the earliest known humans of the Americas, Paleo-Indians, crossing the Bering Strait from Eurasia into North America over a land bridge, Beringia, that existed between 45,000 BCE and 12,000 BCE (47,000–14,000 years ago). Small isolated groups of hunter-gatherers migrated alongside herds of large herbivores far into Alaska. Between 16,500 BCE and 13,500 BCE (18,500–15,500 years ago), ice-free corridors developed along the Pacific coast and valleys of North America and possibly by sea.
Alaska Natives, indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and California indigenous peoples eventually descended from the Paleo-Indians. They developed various languages and established trade routes.
The West Coast of the United States has an oceanic climate in its Northern edge towards the Canada–US border, but from the California border towards the Mexico–US border the climate is mediterranean. The coastline sees significantly mild temperatures when compared to the inland areas during summer. In far Northern California there is a difference of 17 °C (30 °F) between Eureka and Willow Creek in spite of only 25 miles (40 km) separating the locations and Willow Creek being located at a 500 metres (1,600 ft) elevation. Slightly narrower fluctuations can be seen all through the coastline, and could partially be explained by the cold currents in the Pacific Ocean moderating coastal temperatures and the mountain ranges blocking the maritime air from moving farther inland than its foothills during summer. Coastal fog is also prevalent in keeping shoreline temperatures cool. This does not only occur in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it also affects Santa Monica in Los Angeles, Southern California, with very little yearly temperature differences but with cool summers similar to those expected in Northern Europe. A short journey inland and summer temperatures are compatible with the rest of the United States on the same latitudes, sometimes warmer due to prevailing winds from the Nevada and Arizona hot desert climate.
Since the West Coast has been populated by immigrants more recently than the East Coast, its culture is considerably younger. Additionally, its demographic composition underlies its cultural difference from the rest of the United States. California's history first as a major Spanish colony, and later Mexican territory, has given the lower West Coast a distinctive Hispanic tone, which it also shares with the rest of the Southwest. Similarly, two of the three cities in which Asian Americans have concentrated, San Francisco and Los Angeles, are located on the West Coast, with significant populations in other West Coast cities. San Francisco's Chinatown, the oldest in North America, is a vibrant cultural center.
On the other hand, the French writer Guillaume Faye, comparing California to Europe, wrote that "as super-America, California stands out as the absolute antithesis of authentic Europe[...] California has set itself up as the world centre of the simulacrum and the inauthentic, as the absolute synthesis of "cool" Stalinism. An hysterical land; focus and meeting-place for the rootless, California is the land of non-history, of the non-event, but at the same time the site of the constant swirl, the uninterrupted rhythm of fashion, that is to say, the site of tremors going nowhere, those tremors which so obsess it, constantly threatened as it is by earthquakes." Other writers, like Jean Baudrillard, Mike Davis, and Umberto Eco, have made related statements on Californian culture.
In the Northwest, Portland and Seattle are both considered among the coffee capitals of the world. While Starbucks originated in Seattle, both towns are known for small-scale coffee roasters and independent coffeeshops. In the Pacific Northwest at large, which includes the Canadian west coast, the culture has been significantly shaped by the environment, especially by its forests, mountains, and rain. This may account for the fact that the Northwest has many high-quality libraries and bookshops (most notably Powell's Books and the Seattle Central Library) and a "bibliophile soul". The region also has a marginal, but growing independence movement based on bioregionalism and a Cascadian identity. The Cascadian flag has become a popular image at Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers games.
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Archaeological evidence, in fact, recognizes that people started to leave Beringia for the New World around 40,000 years ago, but rapid expansion into North America did not occur until about 15,000 years ago, when the ice had literally broken.