San Francisco vs. Los Angeles : My Unbiased Comparison

A disclaimer, I can’t stand this era of sensationalist headlines and listicles. One of our recent videos satired this. What I dislike even more are when these articles are misleading, but the general public is too lazy to dig just one step deeper to find out what is biased, exaggerated, or just plain false.

With that said, there was this article going around comparing San Francisco and Los Angeles last month… “WHICH IS THE BETTER CITY??” For those not from CA, this is a big debate between the two major cities of CA. “NorCal vs SoCal” for eternity. I read this article and found A LOT of problems and misinformation. I understand it was all done in fun, and so is this post. =) So here’s my take. Oh wait… I need a crazy headline.

SF VS. LA! THE BEST CITY IS DETERMINED BY THIS ACCURATE (MOST BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN) STUDY! (youwontbelievewhathappensnext!)

My arbitrary qualifications to speak on these city’s behalves… I grew up in the East Bay and have experienced a LOT of SF in my recent young adult years. I currently live in LA (the last 7 years) and would consider myself to know it quite well. To be fair, I’ve reached out to my good friend Susan who is the opposite. She grew up on the outskirts of LA and now lives in SF and knows the city very well. (She also LOVES SF) and will balance any areas I’m not particularly knowledgable in.

ALSO, one important RULE  that this comparison must adhere to before we begin… The biggest mistake of the other article was not being consistent with “LA-LA” (downtown LA) and “LA” (SoCal), whereas SF was basically JUST SF. LA is HUGE, and generally ppl group everything in LA county together or single out “downtown LA” when it benefits their point. So to be fair, we are going to compare LA and SF and their 30 MINUTE radii, because that’s generally how the citizens of each city will live.

Herewego! Filled with glorious google image photos!

WEATHER

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If you want seasons, SF wins. It gets super cold in the winter (frost, no snow). Leaves change on schedule, Spring is bright, and Summers can be very hot on the East Bay. But that fog tho… it really does suck and it’s unpredictable. Susan would like to point out though that the fog can be very beautiful at times. Sure, well, the smog in LA gives us gorgeous sunsets, but we’d gladly give it up.

LA really does live up to the stereotypes. We have maybe one month of “cold” weather. This year we literally had one weekend of heavy rain (in Feb), and the rest has been high 70s or even 80s (in Jan). Winter literally skipped us, and it’s sunny all the time.
LA WINS by a HAIR because generally ppl want “nice” weather more often than not. Don’t get mad yet…

AIR QUALITY/POLLUTION

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(it sometimes actually looks like that from the plane)
When LA has a clear day, it can actually be quite beautiful. Vast open city, big mountain ranges as the backdrop. But that’s WHEN LA has a clear day. Which is not THAT much of a rarity, but it’s definitely a treat when it happens. SMOG is very real.
SF WINS easily. The Bay’s air is awesome. Sure LA has the sun shining all the time, but it shines through smog.

BEACHES

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We’re talking about coasts, so we should compare beaches. Yes, even though portions of LA beaches are polluted and crowded, many are still very open, and you get the beach culture and hot enough weather to actually enjoy it. There are definitely more sandy beaches where you can play beach volleyball, tan, rollerblade/bike.. you can’t do that on rocks and cliffs (which don’t get me wrong, are beautiful too)
LA WINS

PUBLIC TRANSIT/TRAFFIC

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(even the carpool lanes have traffic!)
LA is a city that was not built w/ any public transit in mind. They’re trying, but the culture is set. People don’t want to take the metro except for the novelty or on very rare occasions to a special event. Buses are a last resort. And there are just too many people. So traffic is terrible. But there are windows and patterns to the traffic, so if you live here and drive enough, you know when to get on the road and when your 2 hr window is. haha.

SF has bad traffic too during the rush hours. The bridge, the 101, the maze.. but LA is definitely worse on a round the clock basis.
SF WINS because BART is cool. And weekends actually mean clearer freeways.

FOOD – Alright, this is where it’s gonna get messy and angry. We’ll need subcategories too…

Chinese


This is where I feel like the other article gravely lost all its credibility. To say that SF’s Chinese food is “unparalleled to any Chinese food down south” is just plain ignorant. haha. I love the bay, but I have to admit, the Chinese food in the 626 is unrivaled. From countless Hong Kong cafes open to 4a, quirky and hip boba shops, reliable tea chains, mom and pop hole-in-the-walls, to legit famous restaurants from China/Taiwan testing in LA… 626 (and therefore part of the 30 min radius) beats SF’s Chinatown and Sunset by far. Yes the bay has the South Bay w/ Milpitas/Cupertino/etc, but that’s 50 min out at least.
LA WINS don’t fight it. Susan agrees.

Korean

Ktown
Does SF even HAVE korean food? Gotta cross the bridge to Oakland. Nothing compares to LA’s Koreatown. Hell, Korea doesn’t even compare to Koreatown in some ways, lol.
LA WINS no question. Susan (Korean herself) concedes. Even saying Norcal korean food is overpriced and mediocre at best.

Mexican
Tacotruck

I won’t even humor this with any sort of explanation.
easy, no contest. LA WINS

Japanese
LA has the very legit and quaint Little Tokyo. SF has Japantown.
TIE
*edit*
My friend reminded me that LA also has Sawtelle Ave… LA WINS

Vietnamese and Thai
LA has Thaitown, Westminster thirty fiiiive min away and much of the 626 is Vietnamese too. Both go to LA.  (I know the Bay has South Bay with San Jose, but that’s 50 min away from SF.)

Alright, obviously this comparison is skewing Asian. Mediterranean, French, Spanish, Italian, Middle Eastern, etc all don’t have focused areas dedicated to these cuisines. There are definitely famous restaurants and establishments in both cities which can probably go head to head… but I’m going to guess LA WINS.. ONLY because there are more immigrants and immigrant communities in the greater LA area. LA has Little Ethiopia, there, does that tip the scale? I’m open to disagreements here, but I still think LA will win.

American – Coffee, gastropubs, new american, bars, fine dining…

bestia1
I feel like this might also have to be split. Any restaurant or cafe Susan or someone could namedrop up there, LA has an answer and vice versa. Let’s just be happy that both cities are filled with inspired chefs, creators, and local markets to support delicious dining! TIE

crab

LA takes a lot of these categories, I feel bad.. umm SeafoodSF WINS. Now the food fight card looks a bit more respectable. Ain’t no one wants to eat seafood from LA waters, haha.

DATING and SOCIAL CULTURE (had too hard of a time googling for representative pictures. Just use your imagination, it’s probably accurate)
Okkk, would you rather have everyone be in tech or a non profit bragging about their new startup or incubation… or everyone be in “the industry” (entertainment) and talk about the short film, album, play they’re working on? Yes, not everyone is in these respective industries, but the stereotypes are true.
TIE, both equally annoying and harboring douchery.

BUT… dating, I think I’m going to have to give to LA. A much more equal spread of males to females is why. I’ve had girls say the guys in the bay don’t have enough style and swag. And those that do, know they are a rarity and there are so few girls so they don’t feel inclined to settle down. I’ve had countless guys say there are NO girls in the bay and if there are, they don’t “try”… meaning, girls in LA dress up a bit more. One could say that’s superficial, one could say, that’s life and aren’t we all trying to impress someone? Girls admit it too. I’ve had several girls say they feel judged if they wear heels or false eyelashes out. Hella sad! People travel to LA to party and let loose. SF is known to be more “chill” (read: wear jeans and a northface fleece to go out)
LA WINS~ Depends on what your tastes are. We’re both skewing towards LA on this one.

In terms of general “vibe” though… I definitely believe that people from Norcal are more laid back, and Socal is, yes, a little more superficial. People around the bay seem to be more culturally aware and sensitve, and also worldly. Down in LA, there are more people who are looking for any way to fame and fortune and “fake it til you make it” mentalities, and this is reflected to the general culture. Look, there’s all types of people everywhere in this world. I’m not saying LA doesn’t have cultured and chill people, and that SF doesn’t have narcissism, but when you meet someone in LA who’s originally from SF, you instantly can tell.. “hey, you’re from the bay huh?”
SF WINS~

NAPA
Is that in the 30 min radius? Barely? Ok… can’t compete w/ wine. SB is def further. I’m only putting it on this list because the other article did.
SF WINS

THEME PARKS

universalstudios
LA is a city built on entertainment, so of course our theme parks are better and more numerous.
LA WINS Not even counting Disneyland which is more than 30 min away.

NATURE

MuirWoods
As much as LA has been racking up points, SF should probably get like 10 extra points for this category. The green, the wilderness, the mountains, valleys, rolling hills, open space, water, did I mention green, makes SF one of the most beautiful places in the country. Ppl in LA want to go hiking, I scoff (yes, very snobby of me). But LA hiking is dusty, dirt paths, and you get 15 min into a wooded area and that’s supposed to be hiking. We can still see the million dollar homes on the neighboring hill!

LA is one big parking lot and strip mall with a few dusty mounds with dry bushes. SF is a gorgeous, lush, and fresh wonderland. LA has billboards EVERYWHERE, even in the “suburbs”.
SF WINS

SPORTS

curry
Time’s have changed. Somehow the Lakers are tanking and the Warriors are the 6th seed. Clippers are awesome, but for some reason LA is still a Lakers city. Warrior fans are not bandwagon, they’ve been there through it all. Probably how Clipper fans would be if the Lakers never existed.

49ers, Giants… SF WINS again. Oh.. but congrats to the Kings and Galaxy for their championships in 2013. A few ppl in your city cared.

MUSIC/ENTERTAINMENT
This depends what your tastes are so it’s hard to really quantify. What’s your preference of entertainment? Every major awards show, premiere, concert happens in LA. Susan says SF has more unity in certain city-wide events. Debatable. Bay to Breakers is a pretty good argument. Nightlife is bigger in LA I’d say, especially if you’re into clubs; LA is comparable to Las Vegas in many ways. Live music at a dive bar? Artisan cocktails at a hipster speakeasy? Swanky hotel rooftop lounge? Walking around aimlessly at an outdoor shopping center? Afternoons and evenings at a museum or art gallery?
LA WINS
 just cause it’s bigger and has more variety, so you’ll probably find something you like here.

SNOW – breaking from the 30 min radius for a sec

snow
Yes SF has Tahoe 3 hrs away, and Mammouth is an extra hr… but we have Mt High and Big Bear less  than 1 hr and 2 hrs away respectively. Even if the snow isn’t that good, we can still get our fix in in a morning and be back by lunch. (Literally, one morning I woke up at 6a, got to Mt High, boarded for 3 hrs, and was back to LA by noon) Can’t do that in SF. But that’s IF we get snow…
LA WINS

UNIVERSITIES
I don’t’ care. I went to UCSD. YEAH SAN DIEGO!

CITY BEAUTY

SFSkyline
I’d hafta concede that SF is just a pretty city as a “city”. That simple Transamerica Tower is enough to make the skyline unique. Add two beautiful bridges and being surrounded by water, this is no contest. LA doesn’t allow buildings to NOT have helicopter pads on the roofs, meaning all buildings must be flat on the top. That is boring!

The architecture in dtla is very historical and nice, but i’m sure SF has that too. Everything else in LA are townhomes, apartment complexes, and strip malls. The hills and Victorian homes give SF a real LOOK.
SF WINS

PARKS

GoldenGatePark
As mentioned before, this sorta relates to the Nature category. Golden Gate park alone is like as big as all the “parks” in LA combined. Griffith and the Hollywood hills definitely try and are a fair offerings to LA… for being dry dust mounds. SF has too many parks and open spaces to even start naming.
SF WINS no contest.

ART & MUSEUMS

zoo
This should be a tie. Both cities have plenty of art museums (LACMA vs MOCA, Getty vs. DeYoung) One could argue about the specific collections but hey, let’s not turn this into a debate about art.  They both have great arts districts, a natural history museum, science museums (LA has the shuttlllle), and observatories (Chabot probably gets better images than Griffith).  So, if we gave LA all those food points for the quantity of choices… You know what it comes down to? SF has a zoo.. and another one in Oakland.
SF WINS  by a giraffe’s neck, at the other zoo.

HOUSING
DTLA is about the same as SF proper. Consider the 30 min radius, I’m sure the living prices are comparable. But people seem more reluctant to live “outside” of SF, where as ppl in LA are from neighborhoods all over and there’s no shame in saying one area or another. SF is a little pretentious that way.
LA WINS

ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS

recycling
LA is definitely trying to catch up. Our plastic bag ban came 1 yr after SFs. Local farmers markets are popping up more and more. Environmental initiatives are peaking out, but I sorta figure all these ideas are coming from people who’ve seen them first executed in other cities, namely SF, and wanting to bring them down to LA.
SF WINS but really everyone wins because who cares where it starts, as long as it’s spreading!

 

IN CONCLUSION… Which city is the best???
IT DEPENDS! Wow, how anticlimatic. Ok, if you actually tally it up, LA won by a handful (really racked up points in Food). A comparison like this can’t count points for points because depending on your personality, each category and point is weighted differently. Someone who ranks nature lower and is fine with Runyon Canyon will say LA. Someone who wants to be able to get around their city without sitting in a car will say SF. In the end, LA is just bigger and a much more diverse melting pot, so there are more choices of everything. But SF loses these square miles to rolling hills, grand cliffs, and a beautiful bay that cradles and beautiful city. I think I’m a pretty reasonable guy, and Susan is too. Hopefully this article compared fairly, and maybe will help those from outside of CA better understand the cities. CA in general is a freaking AWESOME state, and we’re lucky that we can even have these two metropolises to argue between.

16 thoughts on “San Francisco vs. Los Angeles : My Unbiased Comparison

  1. Hi Phil! Well this has got to be one of the most reasonable SF vs. LA articles I’ve read to date. As a resident of SF (born and raised woo hoo!), I’d have to say I agree with most of the points you made, although I think the Chinese food is arguably comparable. Also, would’ve been interesting if you compared SF vs LA boba/bubble tea/whatever the cool kids are calling it these days. Thanks for sharing your refreshing take on the topic! Also, please visit SF soon? I’d love to meet you.

  2. Yo Phil, Japanese, Thai/Vietnam, Korean, Chinese but not even a mention of North Indian, South Indian, Sri Lankan, Bengali food?? Or some African cusisines, Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Nigerian?? Dude you should retitle this San Francisco vs Los Angeles, which city is better for East Asians?

    1. You’re totally right. That’s why I added that “etc” section for other types of food I miss. Very aware my palette skews Asian-American. Although I did give a nod to Little Ethiopia, I def would love to be educated on restaurants from the regions you listed. Care to share if you know some? =)

  3. Great read, at least you didn’t call it Frisco or San Fran. People from SF seem to be more caught up in the NorCal vs. SoCal mentality (snob). Anytime you mention LA to a native San Franciscan, you draw a wrinkled eyebrow and some ire. Do the opposite and the native LA person would just think of the GG Bridge or Fisherman’s Wharf.

    1. So true. I even get sneers from some people in norcal. I mean where the hell did this hostility even rise from?! Lol back in LA no one really gave a crap.

  4. Thank you Phil. This was such a pleasurable read. I am satisfied as a native San Franciscan and am now hungry for 626 food.

  5. It’s all good, from Diego to tha Bay
    Your city is tha bomb if your city makin pay
    Throw up a finger if ya feel the same way
    Dre puttin it down for
    Californ-I-a

    From Oakland to Sacktown
    The Bay Area and back down
    Cali is where they put they mack down

    West Coast Best Coast. California Love.

    Seriously though. Why not both?

  6. This is so helpful! I’ve been dreaming to live in one of these states for fashion school and this is great. Thank you so much!

  7. Wow Phil, this is awesome, thanks! This’ll help me look for what kinds of things I’ll do when I get a chance to explore these cities! Hopefully as a resident, not just a tourist. That food section? Verrrry important for a foodie! ;D

  8. Awesome perspective between both cities. Both are equally great plus it all depends on what your looking for. Look forward to visiting LA and SF one day and maybe move out there.

  9. Hi Phil!

    Great article! I’m going to LV/LA each for a day (plus Grand Canyon for a day). Any suggestions on what to do in those places taking in account the time I’m there? You seem like a veteran when it comes to this!

    Thanks!

  10. Hi Phil,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog and enjoyed pics to go along with it. I’m a SoCal native and have lived all over SoCal. My fiance is, like you, from the east bay. I have lived in both SF and the east bay for several years and made my round to NYC and now back to LA. It’s rare to get anyone from the bay area to admit some of the things you’ve written about, and so all in all, I appreciate you making a bold attempt to challenge some of biases people have about both LA and SF. I just want to add, that I agree with most of your assessments, but as for Nature and hiking, you might be completely wrong. Yes, within the 30 minute radius, you will find beautiful terrains in SF, but it I don’t think that LA offers less. As an avid hiker, I find that LA offers more diversity in hikes and a better training ground for the Sierras. There are places to backpack, swimming holes, cool geological formation (Vasquez Rocks, Devil’s Punchbowl), 60ft waterfalls (Eaton Canyon, Malibu Canyon), numerous ocean view trails (Malibu) all within 30 minutes away of LA City proper, and not to mention Mt. Wilson is a real mountain, 5,000ft high, still within LA City proper. As someone whose always been inspired by the unique geographic terrain that exists here, I was surprised by assessment of nature in LA. Having traveled to different places around the world, including Cape Town SA, the contrast between ocean to desert in LA is truly a rare natural amenity. If you want to explore nature in LA, check out some hiking trails in the Angeles National Forest, it will open up a whole new world of nature that will surprise most people.

    The other thing I wanted to mention was your section on Japanese food, showcasing Little Tokyo. While Little Tokyo is cool, the selection of Japanese food is small compared to Gardena where the largest population of Japanese (still within the 30 minute radius). If you visit Gardena, you will see find endless options of Japanese food not found anywhere in any other American cities. Hope I’m not coming off condescending in any way. You seem to have genuine intentions regarding the topic, so I thought I would add some of my local knowledge from being born and raised here. And I could have long conversations about the differences between the two places, and like you I agree they are both great places to live in!

    P.S. I love the 626!

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