How to Be Bicoastal

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When I tell people I’m bicoastal, a few questions come up:

  1. Do you have a place in both New York and LA?

  2. Which city do you prefer?

  3. How do you have time to travel so much??

This article is for people looking to split their time between NYC and LA — those who want to be bicoastal or are “bi-curious.”

Here are the most important things I’ve learned in 4 years of bicoastal life:

  1. It’s never been a better time to be bicoastal. New resources make it easier and cheaper to go back and forth seamlessly.

  2. Seasons matter. LA is better in the winter and late summer, NYC is amazing in the fall and spring.

  3. There is a playbook — a set of best practices — for New Yorkers looking to relocate to LA, and vice versa.

Why are more people embracing the bicoastal lifestyle — with its never-ending flights, Airbnbs and apartment swaps?

At a minimum, being bicoastal means splitting your time between 2 cities. It could mean having a permanent residence in both places. It could mean living full-time in one city, but spending a good chunk of time in the other (as I do).

Bicoastal life requires certain considerations. You need to ask: What do I want to get out of each city? Where are the best professional opportunities? Where do I feel most alive? And, for single people: Where do I want to be dating?

It’s not for everyone. You need enough financial resources. You need a flexible lifestyle. I’m single and don’t have children. It’s a different story for people who are married with kids or tied to a physical office.

I recognize there’s a certain privilege in talking about bicoastal life. Yet the reality is more people today are embracing new, flexible approaches to work and life. It’s easier to travel cheaply and work remotely.

Bicoastal life is not without its challenges. But it has immense rewards. If you play your cards right, you can have the best of both worlds.

(Note: I focus this piece on NYC and LA, but the insights here can be applied to Boston and San Francisco, too.)

My journey from NYC to LA and back again

I lived in Manhattan for 12 years. I experienced the highs and lows of New York life, from 100-hour weeks at Goldman Sachs to all-day picnics in Central Park.

As time went by, the stress of the city began to wear on me. I felt like the city was taking more out of me than I was getting from it. When I visited friends in LA, I noticed how much calmer I was. I didn’t feel the same emotional ups and downs as I did in New York.

Winters in NYC were taking a toll. In 2015, I decided to sublet my West Village pad and spend the winter in Santa Monica. I had a blast. Went to beach yoga, did sunrise hikes, sound bath meditations. I befriended my Airbnb hosts. They introduced me to their friends.

LA went from being an attractive fantasy to a place where I felt I could actually settle down, where I could make a new home.

What bicoastal life means for me

When I moved to LA, it was hard to imagine giving up my New York social life. My best friends from childhood were there. Most of my family is on the east coast.

My first trip back to NYC was strange. I recall walking through Penn Station and feeling suffocated by the the barrage of travelers — was the city always this intense?

I wasn’t sure where to stay. It was weird not having my own place in the city. I found a few good hotels: The Ace, The Public. I started to get comfortable going back and forth between NYC and LA.

These days I spend the majority of my time in Santa Monica, close to the beach and the 3rd Street Promenade. Summers there are amazing: beach gatherings, outdoor concerts. In the winter, the temperature rarely drops below 50. The ocean is cold, but the sunsets are incredible. You can go to the beach in December and have picnics in February.

Quality of life in LA is amazing. I’m talking in particular about the west side of LA — Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu. Sunny skies 300 days a year. Outdoor recreation: hiking, surfing, beach volleyball. Lower stress levels. Everything is just easier.

I travel to New York 4 or 5 times a year. I love NYC in September, when the weather is great and people are back from their summer getaways. October in the city is gorgeous — the leaves are changing and you feel the magic of autumn in the city. Spring time is great, too: I spend as much time in New York as I can in May and June.

How to get the best of both worlds

I used to be one of those New York snobs who looked down on LA. I heard all the stereotypes: LA people are vain and superficial, the traffic sucks, the homeless problem is out of control. All these are true, to some extent. How much they affect your quality of life depends on a lot of things — where you live and work, and the people in your social circle.

I found ways to create the best of NYC in LA. I found an apartment in downtown Santa Monica, easy walking or biking distance to everything I need. I befriended a diverse group of people. I have some friends in the entertainment world, but many others who are not. You can avoid traffic if you don’t get in a car at rush hour. And owning a car has become optional, thanks to Uber and Lyft.

New York City is unrivaled in its energy and diversity. The best restaurants, bars, culture and nightlife. I love the vibrancy and the unplanned serendipity of New York. You never know where the night will take you.

New York is the major league of cities. You need to have something going for you to make it there. It’s not an easy place to live. The people you meet are exceptional. Brilliant, attractive, ambitious. World-class professionals from around the world. People who inspire you to achieve more.

Living in New York was like graduate school for me. I learned a lot about the world, and about myself. Living in the city toughened me up. It made me more resilient.

For me, going back and forth between New York and LA reflects the way I want to live. My life in New York is fast-paced and action-packed; coming back to LA gives me a chance to breathe and slow down.

How to make bicoastal life work for you

Bicoastal life can be great, but it’s not easy. You need to be flexible and adaptable. Here are the major challenges I’ve encountered — and how I’ve found ways to deal with them.

Housing

Most people I know who moved from NYC to LA gave up their apartments in the city. The biggest challenge when going back to the city is finding a short-term sublet. Hotels are expensive and don’t feel like home. Airbnb has high fees and limited inventory.

I’ve come to rely on private housing communities on WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram. These groups have thousands of members in NYC and LA who post short-term sublets. Ask your friends for housing groups they trust.

Private housing groups have several advantages over Airbnb. You get to see a broader array of housing options. Some people don’t feel comfortable renting their place to a stranger on Airbnb (and dealing with snooping landlords). There’s a greater degree of trust when you’re renting from someone with mutual Facebook friends.

Work

There are more ways to work from anywhere than ever before. WeWork’s all-access membership lets you work at any of their global locations for $299 a month. Airbnb has a new tool to let hosts share wi-fi speeds for remote work.

Changing time zones can be a challenge, but I’ve gotten used to waking up earlier when I’m in LA to keep up with my east coast colleagues. Before an east coast trip, I gradually shift my wakeup time to 5am PT to reset my circadian clock so I’m not as jetlagged when I arrive in New York.

Finances

You need to make sure you have the budget to support a bicoastal lifestyle. Major expenses are travel and housing. You can defray your expenses if you’re able to rent out your place to people you trust while you’re away. Short-term housing groups are great for this. I’ve been able to stay in New York City for an average of $100 a night.

Making Friends

Meeting people in a new city can be hard. Especially a city like LA, where everything is spread out and people drive everywhere. I’ve written previously on how I built community in LA (one of my most widely-shared pieces).

The pandemic has presented new challenges, but there are still plenty of ways to meet people and make friends:

  • Fitness classes

  • Arts and music events

  • Tech meetups

  • Book clubs

Last summer I created a group called NYC in LA. I noticed how many New Yorkers were relocating to Southern California during the pandemic. I wanted to find a way to bring them together and provide mutual support. So I made a group on WhatsApp and Facebook.

I wrote a mission statement:

“The purpose of NYC in LA is to build community for NYC people in LA — to share apartment listings and local resources, find safe ways to gather in person or virtually, and share funny stories and tips on staying mentally fit. We love NYC but we’re embracing life on the left coast, which is strange and wonderful (and yes, you can find good pizza here!)”

The group has grown to 400 people in the past year. It’s been an incredible source of community. Every day people share events, local recommendations, and apartment listings. New friendships have been forged.

During the pandemic I started hosting something I call the DPP, or distanced park picnic. It’s easy to do — just pick a location, invite people, and tell them to BYO blankets, food and drink. I encourage people to bring their friends, too.

I’ve met dozens of people this way. Nothing makes me happier than introducing LA newcomers to new friends, giving them tips and helping them settle in. I know how hard it is to feel at home in a new city. I’ve been there.

Dating

Everyone likes to complain about dating apps, but the truth is they make it easy to meet people in new cities. It’s a great conversation starter talking about NYC vs. LA and what you like about each city. People are genuinely curious.

Dating apps aren’t just for meeting romantic partners in a new place — you can meet potential friends, too. Bumble has a traveling mode, and the other apps make it easy to switch your location. I know people who change their city a few days in advance so they can line up dates when they arrive.

You should be transparent about your situation: how much time you spend in each place, where you have a permanent residence, etc. It’s not fair to mislead someone about how often you’re in town.

If you’re looking for something serious, bicoastal life can be a challenge. Many people aren’t interested in a long-distance relationship. New Yorkers have a ton of dating options — they may not want to date someone based in LA. Then again, I’ve met New Yorkers who won’t date anyone based in Jersey / Brooklyn / above 42nd street.


There are other challenges to bicoastal life I haven’t addressed: pets, health insurance, taxes, mail, air travel. A whole book could be written on the cultural differences between NYC and LA.

My hope is that this piece is useful for those contemplating bicoastal life. The world is vast, open and accessible. There’s never been a better time to untether yourself and embrace the best of both coasts.

I’d love to hear your comments and questions. What are your thoughts on splitting time between the two coasts? How have you made bicoastal life work for you?

Until next week,


By Daniel Zahler

Every week I write an email newsletter with perspectives on health and wellness trends, and strategies & tactics on how to optimize cognitive, physical and emotional health. I hold a JD and BA from Harvard, have worked at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, and advise global business leaders as a GLG council member.

Check out my articles in Thrive Global here.


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