San Francisco Vs Los Angeles

San Francisco Vs Los Angeles

Los Angeles vs San Francisco: how to choose your perfect California city break

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Los Angeles or San Francisco: which should you visit first?

They’re two of the biggest cities in the United States. They’re two of the most famous cities in the world. Los Angeles and San Francisco have been written about, sung about, and eulogised a thousand times on the silver screen.

But which of these West Coast heavyweights should be first on your travel list? Here’s our lowdown on what they have to offer.

Which city has the most intoxicating views?

Let’s face it, both US cities have some seriously memorable views.

San Francisco is a much easier city to get a handle on, and you can start putting everything into place from the top of Alamo Hill in the Western Addition. The view across Alamo Square is a postcard seller’s dream, the Painted Ladies (a row of colourful Victorian houses) providing the scenic foreground to a cityscape that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge.

Given Los Angeles’ rambling sprawl, it’s harder to find one defining vista of this city, but the lookout from the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood comes closest. You’ll probably recognise its distinctive facade from Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land, and if you head up here just before dusk, the views are just as stellar, with the lights of Downtown’s skyscrapers twinkling into life in the valley below.

Which city is home to the trendiest neighbourhoods?

Historically, Downtown LA has been the city’s forgotten central suburb, easily outshone by the sparkle of Hollywood. But in recent years, the district has undergone a renaissance. Skid Row – the area with the largest concentration of homeless people in America – is a reminder that there’s unfortunately still a long way to go, but elsewhere DTLA is on the up.

The grand old buildings and movie palaces of Broadway have been restored, Frank Gehry’s futuristic-looking Walt Disney Concert Hall has added some heavyweight cultural panache, and Koreatown and the Arts District are awash with trendy restaurants and bars and cutting-edge galleries such as Hauser and Wirth.

It’s fair to say that Mission district in San Francisco has been on visitors’ radars a tad longer. The city was officially founded here in 1776, around the iconic Mission Dolores, the old Spanish mission that still dominates 16th Street and gives the district its name.

Despite being San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhood, the Mission has constantly reinvented itself to remain its hippest one as well. Here a strong Latino culture runs alongside cool boutiques, vintage clothes shops, edgy galleries and, on and around Balmy Alley, the city’s largest concentration of murals.

Find out more about trendiest neighbourhoods with our in-depth guide to the best places to stay in San Francisco or check our guide on the most hyped areas to stay in LA to get the full picture.

What about the big sights?

Well, they don’t come much bigger than the Golden Gate Bridge, which spans the channel between San Francisco and Marin County in Northern California. Once the longest bridge in the world, it’s best appreciated by walking or cycling over, so you can properly take in the immense scale of it all.

Out in the Bay sits Alcatraz – San Francisco’s other legendary landmark – the high-security prison once home to Al Capone and other notorious names, which you can now explore on an atmospheric audio tour.

The sight that most encapsulates Los Angeles has got to be Hollywood Boulevard. This is where it all began, the first Hollywood premiere taking place at the Egyptian Theatre (which you can poke around on monthly guided tours), and where the biggest names in showbiz are written in stars along the pavement on the so-called Walk of Fame.

The Oscars are still held in the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood and Highland, and just down from here is the TCL Chinese Theatre, famous for the celebrity handprints and footprints enshrined in the concrete outside.

Where can I find the best food?

California has its own style of cooking, a health-conscious fusion cuisine that revolves around locally sourced ingredients. It was born in Berkeley, the city just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, but is arguably best appreciated in Los Angeles. Try Spago, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills restaurant that helped put California cuisine on the map, or Off Vine, for comfort cooking in a Craftsman’s bungalow in Hollywood.

While there might be a taqueria on virtually every street corner in LA, undoubtedly one of the best places for Mexican food is San Francisco’s Mission district. The super burrito, a huge tortilla filled with far more ingredients than you’ll find in its Southern California counterpart, was invented in the city and is packed to perfection at La Taqueria on Mission Street.

Los Angeles vs San Francisco: how to choose your perfect California city break

San Francisco Vs Los Angeles

From misty Northern California redwood forests to sun-kissed Southern California beaches, the enchanted Golden State is a dream destination. Combining bohemian spirit and high-tech savvy, California embraces contrast and contradictions.

And this is never truer than when comparing its two premier cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles. Physically and intellectually, they could not be more different – the embodiment of the state’s split personality between north and south.

The question for visitors is which world-class destination at either end of the sensational, coastal Highway 1 is worth more time. For answers, read on. And note, for this exercise we’ll consider much of Southern California as being part of greater LA, while we’ll give the entire Bay Area to San Francisco.

Does San Francisco or LA have better sights and nightlife?

San Francisco has no shortage of famous views, and it packs a lot to see into a relatively compact footprint. Its nightlife is diverse and downright libertine. LA counts things to see and do in numbers proportional to its huge size. And you’ll enjoy eating and drinking with global influences. So which place is better for the visitor?

South facing view from the top of Mason Street at California Street, Nob Hill neighborhood

San Francisco has incredible neighborhoods to explore

San Francisco is a sight in and of itself, and the gorgeous vistas of the bay, Golden Gate, Pacific Ocean and city streets unfold in an ever-changing panorama. Most major museums are downtown, though Golden Gate Park has its share of attractions, as does the nearby Presidio. The city’s most historic neighborhoods are the Mission, Chinatown, North Beach and the Haight. You’ll find hilltop parks citywide and various walking routes lead from one to the next. You can walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, take ferries to Alcatraz and Sausalito and hop a train to Berkeley.

California’s pasture-raised meats and organic produce are proudly featured on the Bay Area’s trendsetting, cross-cultural menus. Innovative chefs serve exquisite fare at intimate bistros and buzzy, heaving hotspots. No matter what you’re drinking, SF’s bars, cafes and clubs will oblige, with anything from California wines and Bay spirits to local roasters and microbrews. Adventurous drinking is abetted by local bartenders, who’ve been making good on gold rush saloon history with potent drinks in deceptively delicate vintage glasses. SF baristas take their micro-roasts seriously, and local DJs invent their own software.

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Sunset over the beach in Santa Monica

Los Angeles has glitz and great food

A dozen miles inland from the Pacific and the beaches, Downtown LA combines history and high-brow arts and culture. Hip-again Hollywood awaits northwest of Downtown, while urban-designer chic and gay pride rule West Hollywood. Museum Row is Mid-City’s main draw. Further west are ritzy Beverly Hills, Westwood near the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus, and West LA. Beach towns include kid-friendly Santa Monica, boho Venice, star-powered Malibu, and busy Long Beach. Leafy Pasadena lies northeast of Downtown, while Disneyland is south in the heart of Orange County.

Bring an appetite. A big one. LA’s cross-cultural makeup is reflected at its table, which is an epic global feast. And while there’s no shortage of just-like-the-motherland dishes – from Cantonese xiao long bao to Ligurian farinata – it’s the takes on tradition that really thrill. Nightlife here is scattered but if you’re ready to flaunt it, you’ll find the literal red-carpet treatment.

Our pick: It’s a split decision. San Francisco wins for its intense neighborhood focus and pervasive beauty. You can spend a day immersed in visual pleasures, and then pick a street to restaurant- and bar-hop the night away. LA scores for the immense number of sights and excellent places to eat scattered across its sprawl.

Which city better suits my travel style?

Singles, couples, families, LGBTIQ+, straight – all types of travelers flock to California. Both SF and LA are welcoming and accommodating to one and all, but which does a better job of catering to every type of visitor?

Rainbow pedestrian crossings at the intersection of 18th St and Castro Street, San Francisco

San Francisco’s legendary history of inclusion

The City by the Bay is synonymous with the LGBTIQ+ community. Its history of gay rights is legendary, and it was one of the first places in the country where people could be openly out. For couples, it is one of the top romantic destinations worldwide. Many a relationship has been started or cemented while enjoying one of its beautiful vistas. The mere thought of the Golden Gate makes many a person reach for their partner’s hand.

There is much for families as well, from Alcatraz to the waterfront and all the parks and (temperate) beaches. Still, many families visiting from afar have been caught out by the summertime fog and sent fleeing to a corner store for emergency sweatshirts.

People cycling and jogging on Santa Monica beach during sunset

Los Angeles is home to the world’s most famous family attractions

Families and Disneyland, Disneyland and families – you get the point! Add in oodles of other kid-friendly attractions, like Universal Studios, the Santa Monica Pier and the balmy beaches, and Southern California is one of the top destinations for families in the US.

LA is also a great place for LGBTIQ+ visitors. It’s one of the country’s most diverse cities and has made many contributions to gay culture, especially in West Hollywood. How couples enjoy Los Angeles will depend on how much they enjoy time in the car together. There’s plenty for couples to do as long as they have plenty of time to get there. Singles may find that a visit to the Southland is a paradox: there’s a lifetime of sights and experiences to explore, but the vast scale can be isolating unless you get intimate with a particular neighborhood like Silver Lake.

Our pick: Families will love LA, but will also have lots to do in San Francisco. The latter is also probably more enjoyable for singles and couples, and it edges out LA for its LGBTIQ+ scene. We say you can have a fabulous trip to either city but give the nod to SF.

Which is cheaper – San Francisco or LA?

No one calls California a cheap destination, but people on a tight budget can still enjoy a lot of what the state offers, and that includes San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both have well-deserved reputations for being expensive, but there are some important wallet-altering differences.

Navigating San Francisco by public transport to save money

During one of the region’s many tech booms, the local joke was that Manhattan – known for its stratospheric rents – was now the budget alternative to the Bay Area. In a city where couches in someone’s living room rent for $1500 and up a month, lodging bargains are few.

The immense wealth of many residents means there is simply no limit to what you can spend on (superb) food and drink. Still, there are excellent budget options, like a burrito in the Mission or locally sourced gourmet treats in the Ferry Building.

And walking, one of SF’s best activities, is always free. Public transport is functional and cheap. You can spend an entire day enjoying the magnificent sights and vistas without spending a dime.

It’s easy to eat cheap in Los Angeles

Large swaths of LA are pricey – it is the locale of Beverly Hills, after all. Across the region, you can find vast swaths of every economic strata. Affordable lodging may not be in an A-list location but you can book it, even if the savings are offset by the inevitable expense of a rental car.

You can eat and drink both well and cheaply, not just in the justifiably famous taco joints of East LA but in locally owned food stands and restaurants across the Southland, from Koreatown to Santa Monica and beyond. Virtually every food in the world can be found here, often with a distinctly LA interpretation.

Yes, Disneyland is pricey, but the beaches – and even the world-class Getty Villa – are free, as is the very intangible LA vibe and buzz.

Our pick: You can get by on a small budget in San Francisco, but to fully experience the best of the Bay Area, it helps to have plenty of dough – even if you’re just buying the iconic local sourdough. Sure, you can pay to live like a celebrity in LA, but you can also live like a mere fan and enjoy your days (and nights) for much less. Los Angeles wins the budget sweepstakes.

Which city is better for using as a base to explore?

California is renowned for its car culture, but do you want to spend your trip behind the wheel? Both San Francisco and LA have extensive public transit systems – which are most useful for visitors? And what’s there to see in the region, and how do you get there? These are vital questions for travelers.

Aerial view of San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, partially covered in mist with the shore in the distance

Some epic trips are within easy reach of San Francisco

Unlike most US cities, San Francisco has decent public transportation. A network of buses and streetcars can take you to most corners of the city reliably and cheaply, and then there’s the famous cable cars, a top attraction in their own right.

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You won’t want a car in the city, where parking hassles and break-ins are among the headaches. While the Bay Area has some good regional transport options (including trains and ferries), you’ll need your own wheels for popular destinations like Wine Country, the redwoods and the Pacific Coast along Highway 1. In fact, the sights are so numerous within a two-hour drive of SF that you could add weeks to your trip just exploring the region.

Views of the Walk of Fame and the Buildings at the Hollywood Boulevard with a woman walking in the foreground

You’ll need a car to escape Los Angeles – and even then it’s difficult

After spending billions of dollars across several decades to create a public transport system almost from scratch, LA has a nascent system that can be useful to visitors. You can take subways and trains to Hollywood, Santa Monica, Anaheim near Disneyland, and other tourist-friendly places, but the sheer sprawl of the Southland means you’ll need a car to fully appreciate the region.

Palm Springs and the desert, Malibu, most of the beaches and myriad individual sights are all hard to conveniently reach without your own wheels. LA’s traffic is deserving of every bit of derision as the freeways can be clogged from early morning until well into the night. Many visitors have discovered that what seemed like a perfectly sensible itinerary for the day fell apart as they got marooned in coagulated traffic.

Our pick: San Francisco wins easily, as you can fully appreciate the city on foot with a little help from public transit. A vehicle is necessary for much of the region, but what a region it is, with sensational day trips for every taste and interest.

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San Francisco Vs Los Angeles

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022 ranks the world’s must-visit countries, cities and regions to provide a year’s worth of travel inspiration.

Buy Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022

San Francisco Vs Los Angeles

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022 ranks the world’s must-visit countries, cities and regions to provide a year’s worth of travel inspiration.

San Francisco vs Los Angeles

When comparing San Francisco vs Los Angeles what’s the difference?

Welcome to California, USA!

California is the shining example of tourism in The US. Redwood National Park, Joshua Tree, Big Sur, and Monterey Bay are all worth seeing, and that’s just outstanding natural beauty!

You probably already know this, but the big decision that needs to be made is where you want to stay if you’re traveling here.

Table of Contents

San Francisco vs Los Angeles

Compared with the cost of living in NYC you may even be considering moving here permanently, to chase your dream of performing on the silver screen or becoming the next Richard Prior at the Comedy Store.

Silicon Valley is here, so the likes of Apple and Google rule the roost here too. So what will suit you better, LA or the Bay Area? Let’s find out!

San Francisco

San Fran is the iconic city with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Some of the coolest looking sloping streets are found here, and the city is right next to the home of the Golden State Warriors; Oakland.

Pier 39 has some very very cool hotels and is the spot most tourists visit, but isn’t the Bay Area supposed to be colder than LA?

Weather In San Francisco

You would think that since San Francisco is in “sunny California”, the land of surfing and Beach Boys. But no!

We found that although there is a more consistent warmer climate all year round, average temperatures in the Summer months are lower than you’d expect.

Dolores Street in San Francisco during summer

According to Google; August, September and October are the warmest months in San Fran. The highest average temperature is 21 degrees Celsius in August.

Compare this to London in the UK, where the highest average temperature is 23 degrees Celsius in July!

Although the sun is here and the rain can be quite sparse, the temperatures are actually quite ambient.

This might be because the ocean breeze is prevalent, with the Bay Area bearing the brunt of the Pacific Ocean.

We’d say, still pack your shirts and shorts in the Summer months, but don’t expect the warmest climates California can typically offer.

Also, if it’s your first time in the area consider doing the Golden Gate Bay Cruise to learn more about the bay area.

Cost Of Living In San Francisco?

The cost of living in San Francisco has been advanced more than ever due to the Bay Area’s proximity to Silicon Valley.

Since the early 2000s, the economic balance has skewed to the point where housing expenses are now 270% more expensive than the national average, but the homelessness problem is on the rise.

A homeless person in the streets of San Francisco

The disparity is made most clearly by the notorious “poop problem”, in which reports of public defecation have increased from 5,000 incidents in 2011 to 25,000 incidents in 2018.

Imagine just how badly the situation progressed during the pandemic, and you get a mental image of the true cost of living here.

According to Business Insider;

“The Bay Area is home to more wealthy people than any of the most populous US metro areas, according to the US Census.”

Typical rent averages around $4,500, which is a lot higher than the national average.

Cost of Living San Francisco vs Los Angeles

We have found some incredible insights online, about how much more expensive San Francisco is against Los Angeles.

Despite LA boasting some of the highest prices in America by way of rent and health insurance, the Bay Area still averages as 55% more expensive!

Although the cost of food and transportation are similar, the housing prices are where the differences are really prevalent.

A residential neighborhood in San Francisco where prices of houses can be as double as compared to houses in LA!

The median price for San Francisco homes are double those of Los Angeles! When the median house price in an area is over $1 Million, we would suggest living nearby and not specifically within the metro area.

California has some affordable places to live, so you don’t have to settle for an expensive place in the city.

For a place with some of the highest levels of homelessness, we would say that buying a home here isn’t worth it.

Is San Francisco Safe?

Locals protesting against hate crimes conducted to the members of Asian community

When researching the safety of a city, we typically find that there might be more opinions online than published facts.

With San Fran, this was certainly the case. However, we did come across the Inside Guide to San Francisco, which published statistics based on data rather than bias.

They say that the violent crimes that occur in the city are away from the tourist areas and in more aesthetically displeasing residential areas.

“Crimes most likely to affect tourists are the car break-ins (somewhat preventable).”

The big take-away from this site is that San Fran is not at all the most dangerous place in the US. We would say that San Francisco is in fact, quite safe.

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Los Angeles

The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles

You’ve heard it all before: Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Santa Monica, San Bernadino (that one was a joke) and Venice Beach!

The homes of the rich and famous are here, the big film studios are here, the best theme parks are here and the wine is to die for!

Let’s jump into LA, shall we?

Is Los Angeles Safe?

Los Angeles used to be a haven for gangs and drugs back in the day. Whether it remains that way is really up to debate, but East LA was where the Bloods and the Crips originated.

Gang culture has been a huge issue in LA for a long time, but recent years show that other cities in America such as Chicago are having a worse time. What makes LA so ‘dangerous’ is really the mentality of fear.

The rich are scared of the poor, the poor are scared of the police, and the police are scared of the gangs they have to interact with on a day-to-day basis.

Although LA is a globally recognized Smart City, for a tourist, walking in East LA just ten blocks would seem and feel normal. An LA native would be horrified that you even cherished the thought of doing it.

Tourists taking photo during sunset in East Los Angeles

DiscoverLA says this about travelling to Los Angeles at any time in the future:

“Visitors to L.A. County are asked to self-quarantine for seven days” unless you are a “fully vaccinated traveller.”

Weather in Los Angeles

Its location between the coast and mountains helps to produce the perfect climate.

If you don’t like extremes, Los Angeles is a great fit for you as the average high temperature is 75 degrees and there’s sun about 300 days a year.

Living here, you’ll always find a good reason to get outside and enjoy the sunshine! Los Angeles is one of those cities that really represents the American melting pot mentality.

People of different race and color in the boardwalk of Venice beach during summer

In the greater L.A. area, over 140 nationalities are represented and nearly 100 different languages are spoken.

This means that you don’t have to be from a high-climate country to enjoy being here. Although there isn’t a dry heat, you’re by the beach!

The sea breeze sorts you out fine, and most places have high quality air conditioning. Living in LA, you’ll see that many nationalities even have their own neighbourhoods!

However, there is the risk of wildfires and earthquakes mean that many people are deciding to live somewhere else.

Cost of Living in Los Angeles?

We went to our trusted source with these matters, Investopedia.

“As of March 2021, based on figures from, the average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center sits at approximately $2,258 per month.”

The good news is that while these averages may seem quite scary to a newcomer of LA, they are skewed upward by the presence of extravagant luxury rentals in the wealthy areas of town that you wouldn’t have a hope of reaching. Do this Celebrity Homes Tour to see the wealthiest areas.

You can find plenty of Los Angeles rentals for under $1,800 per month if you go outside of the city centre to spots like Santa Monica.

However, it’s advisable when you find something that seems ‘cheap for the area’ to investigate the neighbourhood and the apartment to ensure it is somewhere you’re willing to live.

An apartment in Los Angeles even though it is small can still be expensive

If you can afford to buy in Los Angeles, prepare yourself for extreme levels of competition and the highest prices.

When the average cost of living is this high, it almost puts you off living here.

How Far Is Los Angeles From San Francisco?

To go from one city to the other is a brilliant trip. We dream of doing a California tour, with all the national parks from Sacramento in the north down to San Diego on the border to Mexico in the south.

California has a lot to offer visitors, so there’s never a dull moment! The issue with this plan, is that the Californian roads are notoriously jammed.

San Francisco to California is almost 6 hours apart when traveled by car

However long it takes you to normally drive just 5 or 6 miles, you double that time and you’ll still be late!

If you rent a car here, you’ll find that driving is pretty much the only method of getting around California, especially in LA. So as much as telling you how long it will take sounds useful, it really isn’t…

If you decide to drive when there’s no traffic (around 5 am or 10 pm), the drive between LA and San Fran is around 6 hours.

If you take a chance at setting off around 11 am, you’ll probably encounter 2-4 hours of traffic.

With some pit stops on the way like Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay, the 380+ miles will be broken up with some memorable spots.

San Francisco vs Los Angeles

Which is the better place for you? Well, if you don’t mind the smog and reports of gang activity, LA has the climate and the cheaper prices.

However, if you’re the millionaire with an inkling for ambient climates, then San Fran is the spot for you.

As far as tourism goes, both cities have plenty of sightseeing opportunities, amazing food and direct transportation. Why not include both cities in a California dream trip.

What are your thoughts? Why not book your trip to California today?

Neither of these locations made it onto our list of sustainable travel destinations but both cities have sustainable projects in motion.

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