Comparing San Francisco and Los Angeles is like comparing apples and oranges – a proverbial saying, I know. Nevertheless, they are two very different cities with their own unique culture and environment; so much so that after spending a significant amount of time in both cities for the past 7 years, I can honestly say that the two cities have as much in common as NYC and LA – gasp!
So, I decided to compare SF and LA to see how they fare in my book.
1. The Weather
Hands down, LA has San Francisco beat!
Every time I’m in Los Angeles, no matter what time of the year it is, it’s always been sunny and perfectly warm. Not that we don’t have beautiful sunny days in San Francisco, but even after living here all these years, it’s hard to predict what the weather will be. It changes on daily, even hourly basis, and you can experience literally ALL four season in one day.
Therefore, you can never plan your days, much less an outdoor activity, and you would have to lug around a suitcase full of cloths just for safe measures. Hence, the native San Franciscans have perfected the layered (aka. HOBO) look.
The only constant element of San Francisco’s weather is THE FOG, and at some point during the day, you will encounter the fog. And you better have your sweater, jacket or coat with you, as the fog can bring in the siberian chill.
There are stunning beaches in both cities, but the beaches in San Francisco are mainly for dog walkers and surfers, as it’s hardly ever warm enough for people to hang out much less swim in the ocean even with a bodysuit.
3. Traffic & Walkability
The traffic in LA is a notorious nightmare! If you’ve ever been stuck in a standstill traffic on LA freeway, you would know why Michael Douglas’ character in “Falling Down” had a meltdown and went on a violent rampage throughout the city.
Then again, Los Angeles is a huge city, and in comparison to condensed square mileage of San Francisco, LA is spread out. It usually takes 40 minutes to an hour to get anywhere in the city, and even if your GPS indicates you’ll be at your destination in 20 minutes, you should always add at least 20 minutes to the time of arrival.
On the other hand, although the traffic in San Francisco can be irritating at times, it’s fairly easy to get around the city. However, finding a place to park is one of the most difficult things to do in San Francisco – not to mention, expensive. Therefore, although you may arrive at your destination on time, you may end up spending half an hour driving around looking for a space.
As far as public transportation is concerned, both cities are pathetic in comparison to the extensive and efficient public transportation system in the Northeastern cities. Actually, it’s shameful that a state that prides itself as being the leader of renewable and alternative energy still doesn’t have a workable intercity public transportation.
You need a car to get anywhere in LA – period. However, LA is not the only city in the US that’s not conducive for walking, as most (large) cities in America are not designed for pedestrians; some don’t even have sidewalks. On the other hand, although it’s not one of the best walkable cities in the country, NYC and Boston being ideal, walking around some neighborhoods in San Francisco can be quite pleasant, especially with the breathtaking overview of the city and the Bay.
4. Scenic and charm
Hands down San Francisco has LA beat!
Although I’m impressed by some of Art Deco architecture in LA and love the night view of the city from top of the Griffith Park, I’m always blown away by the beauty of San Francisco. Every time I walk outside my apartment, it’s as if I’ve stepped into a postcard.
Culture in terms of ethnicity, both cities are home to a great mixture of people from all over the world, and along with it, a wonderful melange of communities, cuisines, languages and customs.
However, in terms of Arts, this is an area that’s seriously lacking in San Francisco. I’m not really sure where all the supposed culture in San Francisco is that everybody keeps talking about, but after living here for 7 years, I have yet to discover such cultural hot spot. The city has a handful of mediocre museums, with exhibits rotating once in a blue moon, and cultural institutions that are stuck in a bit of a time warp and that cater mainly to elderly patrons.
Los Angeles, on the other hand, has some of the world class museums: LACMA, MOCA, Getty Center, just to name a few, top-notch opera company and two symphonies: LA Philharmonic and LA Symphony. The Exposition Park, a 160-acre public space, houses two major institutions, California Science Center and Natural History Museum, and there are numerous smaller museums and art galleries throughout the city.
Then, there is Hollywood, and although art snobs may thumb their noses at this billion dollar industry, there’s no disputing the monumental impact that Hollywood has had on American culture and worldwide, and visiting Los Angeles without seeing some glimpse of this industry is like visiting Paris without seeing the Louvre.
6. Food & Restaurants
San Francisco has better Chinese food; LA K-town’s Korean food is far superior! Both have great Mexican food – Cali Mex, that is, and the rest is pretty even.
7. Sports Team
San Francisco dominates with 49ers and Giants … nuff said!
8. For Children
Yes, I realize LA has Disneyland. However, I believe that the real mark of a truly child-friendly city is not places where you have to spend hundreds of dollars to entertain children but the resources that are available to every child at no cost.
Griffith Park is pretty awesome, but San Francisco is a city made for children and families. Golden Gate Park versus Griffith Park? Hands down, Golden Gate Park. Also, San Francisco has managed to hold on to its small town atmosphere, and unlike Los Angeles, there are relatively few tall buildings and vast number of recreation areas and parks – also, parks in general are just more beautiful in San Francisco.
LA isn’t as glamorous as everyone thinks. After all, the entire 4,752 square miles (12,308 km²) of Los Angeles County made up of 88 incorporated cities, including two islands, can’t all be Beverly Hills. LA, like most big cities in America, is comprised of a diverse group of people from all walks of life, and like most people, not every Angeleno can afford to have Rachel Joe as their stylist; therefore, must succumb to dressing and inevitably, looking like the rest of us.
San Francisco isn’t as bohemian as we like to think. Long gone are days of flower power and hippy movement, and what remains is a high tech-industry driven yuppieland. Especially with housing prices for 2 bedroom condos averaging $800K to $1 million, who can afford to live la Vida BOHO here?!? We may walk around in flip-flops and hoodies, but make no mistake; San Francisco is bohemia no more.
10. Cost of Living
Lastly and most importantly, the cost of living in Los Angeles is reasonable in comparison to the insanely high prices in San Francisco. People can actually afford to rent and own homes in LA, whereas the cost of living in San Francisco is ridiculously high and growing by the minute. So much so that after living here for past 7 years, almost everywhere else, even NYC and Paris, seems like a bargain.
Nevertheless, I love living in San Francisco, and I enjoy visiting LA. I love the small town charm of San Francisco, but being a bona fide city girl, I take comfort in knowing that LA, a bustling metropolis, is only an hour flight away – certainly worth a quick getaway for some of the best Korean food outside Korea.
What I love about Los Angeles:
- Great restaurants and cuisine from all over the world
- K-town (aka. Koreatown)
- World-class museums, especially LACMA and MOCA
- Seeing Space Shuttle Endeavour at California Science Center
- Gorgeous beaches, Santa Monica being my favorite
- Watching the sunset from Griffith Observatory or Getty Villa
- A glimpse of old Hollywood – I still get a kick out of Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Rich history and Art Deco architecture of the city
What I love about San Francisco:
- It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. The view of Golden Gate Bridge and the bay still takes my breath away.
- It’s a very child friendly city!
- All the one of a kind stores in Japantown and Mission District
- All the beautiful parks, outdoor spaces, and breathtaking hiking paths
- Watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean
- The best dim sums outside of China
- It’s so eclectic and unpredictable – like the weather.
- You can go to a 5-star restaurant wearing flip-flops.
- Skateboard is a form of transportation.