In an article about West Coast donuts, a map of the West Coast marked by different flavors of donuts.

The Donut Travel Guide to the West Coast

This side of the US offers some of the most delicious and creative twists on the iconic treat.
December 8, 2022
7 mins read

Cake, frosting and sprinkles: Normally, these ingredients are reserved for birthday parties or after-dinner desserts — not breakfast foods. But all of these elements come together to create the perfect donut. It’s easy to imagine that the humble donut was invented purely to excuse oneself for eating cake for breakfast.

Recently, a TikTok Starbucks barista kicked off a debate that may have cost her her job. The caption of her video reads: “Watch me make a grown adult their 6am milkshake.” Enraged commenters were upset about the barista’s implication that there is an inappropriate time for a milkshake. It seems that millennials and Generation Z agree that anytime is fine for a milkshake, as long as the drink makes the drinker happy. Perhaps if previous generations had invented self-care before the donut, the latter would not have been made. While it appears that the donut we know today got its start on the East Coast of the United States, it’s the West Coast that has proven to be the “Best Coast” for donuts.

The donut rose in popularity after World War I and was heavily featured in the 1934 world’s fair. Donuts were light, airy and cheap — a perfect combination for a country that was deep in the Great Depression. It’s also around this time that three friends came together with some ingenuity and founded Krispy Kreme in North Carolina. Soon, the business spread to multiple states and jumped on the bandwagon of automation, cranking out dozens of donuts through machinery. As their popularity soared, fellow donut giant Dunkin’ Donuts appeared on the scene in Massachusetts. Over the next few decades, donuts reached the West Coast, which took donuts to a whole new level of creativity.

Right behind Dunkin’ and Krispy Kreme emerged the iconic Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood. You’ll recognize the famous giant donut on top of the tiny shop if you’ve seen movies like “Iron Man 2” or “Mars Attacks,” and it even appears in cartoon form in “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” The giant donut is not the only thing that makes Randy’s a Los Angeles staple. The donuts it has churned out for the last seven decades include the traditional snoozers found in East Coast chains, but Randy’s also goes out of its way to capture the true L.A. vibe with varieties that include blueberry iced cake, Fruity Pebbles and matcha.

Fifty years later and much farther north, two friends from Portland, Oregon, founded the wild and wacky Voodoo Donuts. Claiming to seek “world donut domination,” these geniuses came up with something that’s more than a donut shop: a donut experience. At Voodoo Donuts, donut cravers can find the Voodoo Bubble (a bubble gum flavored donut that includes a piece of gum), the Diablos Rex (a chocolate cake donut with a frosting pentagram across the top) and the famous Voodoo Doll (a humanoid donut filled with raspberry jelly and stabbed with a pretzel stake). These donuts are perfect for a snacking table at your next séance or exorcism, but true fans of Voodoo Donuts will probably say the best donut is the ODB: a cookies and crème donut drizzled with peanut butter. If you’re in Los Angeles to visit Randy’s donuts, Voodoo Donuts has opened a location at Universal Studios to complete the donut crawl.

Pinkbox Donuts, the newest extreme donut shop in the west, was born in 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. These donuts push donut lovers to the wildest place they could go, and then a little further. Pinkbox calls their donuts “dessert,” but the donut shop is open 24-hours a day, so don’t let them put you in a … box. Not only does Pinkbox have licensing with the Care Bears and serve as an official partner of the Raiders, but they also roll out new flavors and themes for holidays, seasons and any other obscure excuse someone could find to eat a donut. Pinkbox’s most memorable treats are the Pooh donuts (which are shaped like the poo emoji and come in flavors for every taste) and most importantly, the mascot, Pinky — a vanilla donut covered in vanilla buttercream and a pink glaze.

Some honorable mentions include Winchell’s (California) and Spudnuts (Utah). The whole Pacific side of the country is littered with fantastic mom-and-pop stores from north to south. The epicenter of westside donuts has to be Los Angeles, which has more donuts than both New York City and Chicago.

The west took the humble 5-cent donut and did what the West Coast does to most things: made it bigger, better and far more expensive. There’s no denying the light of love and friendship that illuminates in the eyes of friends and coworkers when someone walks in with a giant box of these sugary treats. Bringing a box from any of these donut shops will instantly win over even the darkest of hearts (especially with Voodoo Donuts).

Even the history of the traditional bubblegum-pink donut box emerged from a story of hope when Cambodian refugees came to California to escape a dictatorship. New to the country, these immigrants opened tons of donut shops and found the pink cardboard packaging to be more affordable than other boxes. These Cambodian Americans still contribute quality donuts to the population of Southern California. In this way, donuts continue to serve as symbols of hope, love and friendship — and of course, deliciousness. So, the next time you’re visiting the West Coast, don’t forget to grab a dozen to share.

Megan Miller, Arizona State University

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Megan Miller

Arizona State University

Megan has lived her whole life in Southern California where she enjoys all the local attractions, especially the beaches. She enjoys reading, writing and cooking. She is obsessed with her dog, Moose.

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