People come to the West Coast for the ocean, the mountains, the desert, and its forests. They come for the food, the culture, the celebrities, and the sights. But what many people don’t realize is that when they come to Washington or Oregon or California, they’ll be hearing some words and phrases they don’t have back at home.
Everything from Seattle to San Diego is distinctly American, but some of the lingo is hella “West Coast.” Whether you’re texting your friend in the industry for a drive-on because you know you won’t be able to find parking in Los Feliz, or going up the coast to NorCal on a trip to the Emerald Triangle, there are a ton of terms that, if you don’t know them, might go over your head.
The Daily Meal has rounded up 20 choice words and phrases used by West Coast natives in daily conversation that you’re sure to overhear in conversation the next time you’re crawling down the 405 to SaMo, ordering In-N-Out, or discussing the ever-stunning weather (sorry Seattle). Remember: Best coast? West Coast!
You may think that only California surfers in bad TV-movies say the word “gnarly,” but it is in fact a real thing people say. Although it began as surfer slang in the ‘70s, it’s commonly uttered today by West Coast teens from San Diego to Seattle, especially those in the skate community.
A huge term in Los Angeles, “the Industry” refers to the entertainment industry. It applies to people who act, write, produce, direct, sing, model, agents, managers, and everyone involved in production and post-production who work in TV, film, and music. Typically, when you hear it used in a sentence, it will sound like: “He can totally get you into SoHo House, he’s in the industry!”
Although weather on the West Coast is notoriously lovely, the month of June brings about a layer of fog and grey skies that can hang around all day. You may hear people on this coast say, “Don’t forget to bring a jacket for our hike. There’s hella June gloom!”
People on the west coast, and especially Angelenos, love abbreviations. SaMo is the abbreviated form of the city of Santa Monica. There are SaMo buses, a SaMo train, and even a SaMo High School. Other popular abbreviations in LA include BH for Beverly Hills and NoHo for North Hollywood.
The common term for Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties in Northern California. The Emerald Triangle is the largest cannabis-producing area in America. As the Napa Valley is to wine, the Emerald Triangle is to weed.
This Silicon Valley term basically means: “a startup that is profitable only because the founders live in an uncle’s basement and eat ramen.”
Real West Coasters know how to pronounce this area of Los Angeles. It’s not “Los Fe-LEES,” as many transplants say, but rather “Los FEE-liss.” The correct Spanish pronunciation would have it the first way, but just like Sepulveda (“Seh-Pull-Veda”) and Cahuenga (“Ca-wayne-ga”) boulevards, pronunciations can be deceiving on the West Coast.
A Hollywood term meaning, a permit to park in a studio lot. One example would be: “Oh, you’re coming by set? I can get you a drive-on.”
If you say “Runyon” anywhere in Los Angeles, people will automatically know that you are referring to LA’s scenic hiking and running trail, Runyon Canyon. With its sweeping views of the city and close proximity to all things Hollywood, it’s also one of the 35 places you’re most likely to see a celebrity in LA.
When people say that they are “going up the coast” they typically mean that they are driving up California’s gorgeous California State Route 1. The 1, which begins near Dana Point in Orange County and ends near Leggett in Mendocino County, offers drivers breathtaking views of the ocean as well as quaint ocean-side towns stretching up the coast. It’s a prime route for trips to Carmel, aka one of the most beautiful towns in America!
When anyone from the West Coast uses the term “back east,” they could mean anywhere from Arizona to Maine. If it’s not bordering an ocean, it’s all the way back east.
“West Coast, Best Coast!” is the common turn of phrase for everyone living on the left side of the United States from Seattle down to San Diego.
Unlike many highways across America, California has free controlled-access highways that we call “freeways.” Yes, not all roads are toll roads everywhere else, but only Californians use this term.
“Hella” means “a lot,” “very,” or “really.” It’s short for “hell-of-a-lot.” It originated in Northern California as part of a teen subculture but it’s taken over the entire West Coast. The word is hella popular!
If you’ve ever studied the meterology, then you know that the marine layer is an air mass that develops over the surface of a large body of water in the presence of a temperature inversion. That means in cities by the coast, a gray layer of mist from the ocean and pollution from cities (yuck) creates a head of smog that covers areas of the West Coast near water until it evaporates from the sun in the afternoon.
According to California Highway Patrol, a “SigAlert” is “any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more.” Typically, they’re announced during radio traffic broadcasts, but can be found online on the California Highway Patrol website. They’re about as common in California as a vegan bakery — so, about every mile.
This is one of the few Chinook Jargon terms to have a lasting and mainstream usage in the Pacific Northwest. However, its meaning is varied and rather confusing. “Skookum” can replace positive adjectives like “strong” or “monstrous,” or refer to someone who is reliable. The noun version refers to a mythical Bigfoot-like creature. A “skookum house” can mean a jail or prison. “Skookumchuck” describes turbulent water or rapids, such as those in a stream or river. It’s not widely used anymore, but most folks in the PNW are at least familiar with it (sometimes from the names of places or people), and it’s the only place you’ll hear the term in the United States. (For the record, it is also used in British Columbia.)
People throughout California prefer to use the route or interstate number instead of the full name. However, we also add a “the” to it. We would never say “take the San Diego Freeway to the Santa Monica Freeway,” because that’s too many words. We’ll go totes abbrevs and say, “Take the 405 to the 10.” And for the record, that’s “four-oh-five,” not “four-zero-five” or “four-hundred five.” Thinking of driving up the coast starting from PCH to the 1? You might want to stop along the way at some of the best food and drink in California. It’s all hella good.