So, you’re thinking about packing your bags and heading to the good ol’ U.S. of A.? Well, let me tell you, you’re in for a treat because today, we’re diving deep into the ultimate showdown: San Francisco vs. New York City. Two iconic American giants, each with its own unique charm and personality.
As someone who’s had the privilege of experiencing both of these incredible cities, I can tell you right off the bat that both cities have loads on offer. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast looking to be inspired by the big Silicon Valley or an artist seeking inspiration in the concrete jungle of NYC, these cities have got something for everyone.
But, let’s be honest, they’re as different as night and day. From the weather to the pace of life, the food scene to the cost of living, there’s a lot to consider when deciding which city is the right fit for you.
So, grab a drink (coffee or a glass of wine, your call!), kick back, and let’s embark on this adventure together as we weigh the pros and cons of San Fran and the Big Apple in 2023.
DO YOU HAVE THESE ITEMS FOR YOUR TRIP?
✔️ Flights: Book your flights on Skyscanner
➡️ Car rental: Rent your car on Discovercars
✔️ Travel insurance: I recommend World Nomads
➡️ Accommodations: Book your stay at booking.com
✔️ Activities: Arrange your adventure trips and tours
San Francisco Vs New York: Which American City Is Better?
Ah, the age-old debate of San Francisco vs New York City. It’s a rivalry that’s as classic as peanut butter and jelly! But here’s the thing: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which American city is better for you.
It all boils down to what you’re looking for in a city, your lifestyle, and your personal preferences.
San Francisco, located on the stunningly picturesque West Coast, is known for its tech-savvy atmosphere, steep rolling hills, and breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
On the other hand, New York City, on the bustling East Coast, is a city that never sleeps, with its iconic skyline, Broadway shows, and a rich melting pot of cultures.
In the following section, we’re going to break it down for you even further, pitting these two urban giants against each other in various categories, from cost of living to things to do, to help you decide which one might just steal your heart.
Key Differences Between New York and San Francisco
When it comes to choosing between New York vs San Francisco, there’s no “one city fits all” scenario.
It’s about finding the right match for your dreams, aspirations, and lifestyle.
So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the nitty-gritty details of what sets these two American gems apart and which one might just be your perfect match.
Geography & Landscape
San Francisco and New York City couldn’t be more different in terms of geography and landscape.
San Francisco is a compact city by the bay, covering just 46 square miles, making it significantly smaller than the sprawling city of New York, which spans over 300 square miles.
The city’s charm lies in its hilly terrain, with iconic cable cars navigating the steep streets and offering stunning views of the bay.
The city’s coastal location means mild temperatures year-round, though the famous Bay Area fog can roll in unexpectedly.
In comparison, New York City is a concrete jungle that stretches across five boroughs. Its landscape is characterized by towering skyscrapers, bustling streets, and Central Park’s touch of greenery.
The city experiences all four seasons, from the fall foliage in Central Park to the magical snowy winter wonderland of Manhattan during the holidays.
When it comes to geography, it’s a choice between the laid-back beauty of San Francisco and the electrifying energy of New York.
San Francisco and New York City consistently rank among the most expensive cities in the United States, but the nature of their high costs differs.
San Fran takes the cake when it comes to housing costs, thanks to Silicon Valley’s tech boom, making it notoriously expensive to rent or own a home. Dining out and groceries can also hit your bank account pretty hard. In contrast, public transport is relatively affordable.
New York City, while expensive in its own right, spreads the cost more evenly across various aspects of living. Housing costs are high, especially in Manhattan, but you can find more affordable options in the outer boroughs such as Queens.
Dining options range from cheap street food to Michelin-star restaurants, offering flexibility in your food budget. Transport can be a significant expense, especially if you rely on taxis or rideshares, but the city’s extensive subway system provides a more budget-friendly alternative.
There is some mixed info online about which city is actually more expensive to live in, but generally speaking, they are pretty much on par with each other.
San Francisco and New York City offer incredible food scenes. In San Fran, you’ll find a strong focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
The city’s seafood is exceptional, with Dungeness crab and clam chowder being local favorites. The diverse population also brings a variety of international cuisines, particularly Asian and Mexican. Don’t miss the chance to explore the vibrant food scene at the Ferry Building Marketplace.
New York City, on the other hand, is a food lover’s paradise with a never-ending array of options.
From world-famous pizza slices and bagels to upscale dining experiences in every cuisine imaginable, NYC has it all.
You can grab a hot dog from a street vendor or indulge in a luxurious French-tasting menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The city’s food carts, diners, and iconic delis are an essential part of the culinary landscape. Whether you’re craving a classic New York slice or an international culinary adventure, NYC has you covered.
Let’s now dive into the activities on offer in San Francisco and New York City!
San Francisco’s natural beauty is a major draw. You can explore the rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean along the Golden Gate Area, hike through the iconic redwoods at Muir Woods, or take a day trip to wine country in Napa Valley.
Another popular activity is a visit to Silicon Valley, just south of San Fran. You can visit the campuses of tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook, and explore the ever-evolving tech scene.
To explore the rich cultural scene, spend some time exploring world-class class museums like the de Young Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The city is also home to diverse neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Mission District, each offering its unique cultural experiences.
Finally, Sailing in the bay, strolling along Fisherman’s Wharf, or taking a ferry to Alcatraz Island are just a few of the waterfront activities that San Francisco offers.
New York City
If you’re a fan of Broadway shows, New York City is your stage. Catching a Broadway performance is a quintessential NYC experience. Additionally, the city offers an array of live music venues, comedy clubs, and off-Broadway productions.
NYC is also home to some of the world’s most renowned museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the American Museum of Natural History. Art lovers can explore galleries in Chelsea and the Lower East Side.
To escape the city’s hustle and bustle, a visit to Central Park is a must. This iconic green oasis in the heart of Manhattan offers a plethora of activities, from picnicking and paddle-boating to horse-drawn carriage rides and outdoor concerts.
Shopaholics and fashionistas, this next one is for you!
Fifth Avenue, SoHo, and Times Square are world-class shopping paradises. Explore luxury boutiques, flagship stores, and unique shops offering everything from high-end fashion to quirky vintage finds.
History & Architecture
San Francisco is home to a rich history dating back to the Gold Rush era. The city’s historical landmarks, like Alcatraz Island and its once-infamous prison, highlight its past.
The famous cable cars have been in operation since the 19th century and stand as a testament to both innovation and history.
San Francisco’s architectural identity is deeply rooted in its Victorian and Edwardian houses, shown by the world-renowned Painted Ladies. Additionally, the Mission District tells its own story through vibrant street art, where colorful murals tell tales of cultural heritage and social activism.
In the heart of the city, Chinatown is a living testament to its immigrant history, while remnants of the notorious Barbary Coast provide glimpses into San Francisco’s colorful past.
New York City, on the other hand, reveals its history and architecture in a different light.
The city’s neighborhoods serve as living chapters in its narrative. Greenwich Village, steeped in artistic history, once harbored the Beat Generation, while Harlem played a pivotal role in the Harlem Renaissance. The Financial District stands as a symbol of the city’s economic power, housing icons like Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.
NYC’s architectural prowess shines brightly through its iconic skyline, featuring landmarks like the Empire State Building and the modern marvel, One World Trade Center.
Yet, amidst the towering skyscrapers, the city’s charm can be found in the quaint brownstone townhouses of neighborhoods like Park Slope in Brooklyn and the Upper West Side in Manhattan.
Museums and historic sites like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Tenement Museum offer interesting insights into immigration and the city’s diverse history.
San Francisco: Best Things To Do
San Francisco offers an abundance of fantastic activities, including exploring its diverse neighborhoods, visiting world-class museums like the de Young Museum, and savoring culinary delights from around the world.
The following recommendations are the top 3 things you cannot miss on your trip!
✔️ Golden Gate Bridge
A visit to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
You can walk, bike, or drive across the bridge to take in its stunning architecture and breathtaking views of the city and the bay.
I personally loved bike riding across the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s an experience I won’t forget!
✔️ Alcatraz Island
Explore the history of the infamous Alcatraz Island by taking a ferry to this former federal prison.
The Alcatraz Penitentiary housed some of America’s most notorious criminals, and guided tours provide insights into the prison’s intriguing past including those who managed to escape!
The island’s beauty and eerie history make it a must-visit destination.
✔️ Fisherman’s Wharf
Experience the lively atmosphere of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Here, you can sample clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, watch sea lions basking in the sun at Pier 39, and explore attractions like the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
Don’t forget to catch a cable car ride from here to complete your San Francisco adventure!
New York: Best Things To Do
New York City is full of incredible attractions and experiences, making it super challenging to narrow down to just three must-do activities!
But I think I’ve done it! Here are the top three things to do in the Big Apple that provide a quintessential NYC experience.
✔️ Explore Central Park
Central Park in the heart of Manhattan offers loads of activities, from leisurely walks and picnics to boating on the lake, horse-drawn carriage rides, and even ice skating in the winter.
✔️ Visit Times Square
Times Square is the iconic epicenter of New York City’s entertainment and bright lights.
Explore the “Crossroads of the World,” surrounded by towering electronic billboards, street performers, and bustling crowds. It’s particularly amazing at night when the lights illuminate the square, creating an unforgettable atmosphere.
Catch a Broadway show at one of the nearby theaters for a true NYC experience.
✔️ Visit the Empire State Building
No trip to New York City is complete without heading to the top of the Empire State Building. The panoramic views of the city’s skyline from its famous observation deck are truly breathtaking.
Whether you visit during the day to see the city in all its glory or at night to witness the twinkling lights, the Empire State Building provides a picture-perfect moment in the heart of Manhattan. It’s a quintessential part of the NYC skyline and a must-see attraction for any visitor.
Where To Stay In New York
Here are my recommended stays in New York that offer exceptional value!
Hotel Beacon (where I stayed!)
⭐ 8.7/10 1773 reviews
Opting for Hotel Beacon offers more than just a place to lay your head – it provides a secure and welcoming haven in the heart of New York City’s Upper West Side.
King Studio rooms start at around $252 a night.
The hotel’s location on the Upper West Side is fantastic. It’s seriously such a gorgeous area. You’ll have the chance to experience the city’s vibrant energy while enjoying a peaceful retreat. There are supermarkets, cafes, diners, and restaurants all within walking distance.
Inside the hotel, you’ll find comfortable and thoughtfully designed rooms. There is also a cozy lobby where you can hang out with other travelers.
With its array of amenities, from fully equipped kitchens to spacious suites, Hotel Beacon offers more than just a place to sleep. It provides a home away from home, where you can immerse yourself in the local neighborhood and enjoy the city’s offerings with peace of mind.
⭐ 8.5/10 2181 reviews
Staying at the CIVILIAN Hotel in Midtown Manhattan offers more than just incredible value accommodation – it provides a secure and inviting haven for your New York City experience.
A double room starts at $170 per night depending on the season you visit.
Situated in the heart of the city, the hotel combines modern comfort with a commitment to safety, ensuring that your stay is both enjoyable and worry-free.
With its prime location, the CIVILIAN Hotel places you within easy reach of iconic attractions and convenient transport options. Its well-lit surroundings and close proximity to key attractions including Broadway Theatre and Rockefeller Centre, contribute to a secure atmosphere.
CIVILIAN Hotel’s thoughtfully designed rooms provide a relaxing retreat. Plus the views from the hotel are pretty incredible!
Want to discover the safest areas in New York to stay? Check out my Safest Places To Stay in New York + Hotel Recommendations post
Where To Stay In San Francisco
Moving onto where I recommend you stay in San Fran.
Starting from $178 USD / night
Nestled in the heart of Downtown San Francisco, this boutique gem sits just two blocks away from the iconic Union Square.
The location is in a superb area of San Fran!
The BART subway station, Chinatown, and the Cable Car Museum are all within walking distance.
Step into our cozy yet modern rooms that are equipped with a desk, Smart TV, and even a minibar!
Hungry? Hop on over to Daffodil Restaurant and Bar. And if you’re up for a workout, our cardio room has you covered.
Definitely a great place to stay!
Starting from $176 USD / night
Kensington Park Hotel is where timeless charm meets the heart of San Francisco’s vibrant scene! Located just a stone’s throw away from Union Square and a classic Cable Car stop, putting you right in the mix of shops, art, and delicious dining
The rooms are comfy, with white linens, classic mahogany furnishings, and all the modern conveniences like a flat-screen TV and spa toiletries.
And don’t miss the nightly sherry pours in the Grand Lobby – a perfect way to unwind after a day of exploration.
Getting around is a breeze – Fisherman’s Wharf is a quick 25-minute cable car ride away, and the Ferry Building, packed with shops and dining, is a 20-minute walk away.
San Francisco Vs New York: FAQs
Moving onto some commonly asked questions about San Francisco vs New York before we wrap up.
Is it better to live in San Francisco or New York?
Deciding whether it’s better to live in San Francisco or New York is kind of like choosing between a laid-back coastal vibe and the hustle-and-bustle of the city that never sleeps.
San Francisco is all about that tech scene and breathtaking scenery, while New York City is a whirlwind of opportunities and cultural adventures.
So, it really boils down to what floats your boat. If you’re interested in the start-up culture and soaking up those bay views, San Francisco could be your jam. But if you thrive on the fast pace, diverse opportunities, and endless entertainment options, the Big Apple might be calling your name.
It’s like picking between chocolate and vanilla ice cream – both delicious, but totally different flavors, you know?
So, think about what suits your taste and lifestyle, and go with your gut!
Is San Francisco more expensive than New York?
San Francisco often tops the charts as one of the most expensive cities in the United States, primarily due to the sky-high housing costs.
Renting or buying a home in San Francisco can be a real wallet-drainer, thanks in part to the tech industry’s influence in the area.
While New York City isn’t exactly a budget-friendly paradise, it does offer a bit more variety in terms of housing costs, and its diverse food and transportation options can sometimes offset the expenses.
So, if you’re looking to save a few bucks, you might want to keep an eye on your wallet in San Francisco.
Is San Francisco more walkable than NYC?
When it comes to walkability, both San Francisco and New York City have their unique charms and challenges.
San Francisco is known for its picturesque neighborhoods and scenic streets, making it a wonderful city to explore on foot. Areas like Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, and Chinatown are perfect for casual strolls, offering a mix of shops, cafes, and historic sites.
The city’s iconic cable cars also add to the charm and provide convenient transport in hilly areas. However, the steep hills can be a workout, and certain neighborhoods may not be as pedestrian-friendly due to elevation changes and traffic congestion.
New York City, on the other hand, is renowned for its walkability, with a dense network of sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly streets.
Manhattan, in particular, is a paradise for walkers, where you can easily explore different neighborhoods, iconic landmarks, and green spaces like Central Park on foot.
The city’s subway system and buses make it easy to hop from one part of town to another, enhancing its overall walkability. However, be prepared for the bustling crowds, especially in popular areas like Times Square or along Fifth Avenue.
Both San Francisco and New York City offer fantastic opportunities for pedestrians to discover their unique landscapes, but you may find yourself scaling San Francisco’s hills more frequently compared to the relatively flatter terrain of many parts of New York City.
Which city is most like New York?
If you’re looking for a city in the United States that shares some similarities with New York City in terms of its vibrant urban atmosphere, diverse cultural scene, and bustling lifestyle, Chicago often comes to mind as the closest match.
San Francisco is also worth noting! Both cities have amazing food scenes, raging nightlife, and plenty of unique attractions to explore.
If you are wondering what other cities, including international cities, are similar to New York, check out my post on the 12 Cities Like New York.
The Verdict: San Francisco vs New York
In the epic showdown of San Francisco vs New York City, we’ve navigated through a plethora of factors, from cost of living to food, history, and lifestyle. It’s safe to say that these two American gems are like apples and oranges—both delicious, but distinctly different.
San Francisco, with its tech-driven economy and stunning natural beauty, offers a unique blend of innovation and tranquility. Its laid-back vibe and mild climate attract those who seek a close connection with nature while still enjoying the perks of city life.
However, the soaring cost of living, particularly in housing, can be a significant hurdle.
New York City, on the other hand, is a hub of endless possibilities. Its iconic skyline, rich cultural tapestry, and unparalleled career opportunities make it a magnet for dreamers and go-getters from all walks of life.
Yet, the pace can be relentless, and the cost of living is undeniably high.
So, is there a clear winner in the San Francisco vs. New York face-off?
It all comes down to your individual preferences, priorities, and personality.
Whether you’re drawn to the tech playground of the Bay Area or the concrete jungle of the Big Apple, both cities offer unique experiences that can leave a huge mark on your life.
So, my advice? Follow your heart, chase your dreams, and let your chosen city be the backdrop to your own unique story.
Whether it’s the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building that calls to you, remember that life is an adventure, and there’s no wrong choice when you’re deciding between two of America’s greatest cities.