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Choosing between LA and SF: 9 Reasons to Head to San Francisco

September 4th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Travel News, West Coast Cities


So, I hear some of you are wondering whether to head to LA or San Francisco for your next family vacation. I’m not gonna say it’s a no brainer — I don’t know your life. Maybe you want to see Disneyland, in which case why not just go full throttle and head to Disney World? Maybe you have friends and family in LA. We do, and I’m not sure that’s called a “vacation.”

But, if you’re still on the fence, here are 9 reasons that San Francisco might be your best choice.


1. No Rental Cars Necessary

Know what my favorite part of being on vacation is? Weaving through five lanes of traffic and sitting in traffic for hours just to drive 15 miles to get to the beach, followed by a parking situation to rival basically the road to Woodstock itself.

Oh, wait.

San Francisco is actually a tiny city — only 7  by 7 miles — and between walking, cable cars, street cars, and a subway, there’s no need to drive anywhere. If you do want a quick ride, cab fare is rarely over $15. You’re on vacation to relax and hang out, not battle road rage and a spaghetti bowl of highway interchanges.

On a related note…


2. The Chill Factor

People in SF are chilled out, for what ever reason. Don’t you worry about why.

Sure, Los Angeles is full of pretty people and glittery nightclubs and hip live theater. But…that’s a lot of pretty and hip to keep up with. We’re on vacation here.

In San Francisco, you go ahead and wear your beat up Keds to dinner. You won’t be the only one. If it seems like too much trouble to put some mascara on before heading out for the night, rest assured that this is actually encouraged in SF. I mean, you wouldn’t want to look like you’re trying too hard.



3. The Natural Splendor

Every San Francisco street promises an extraordinary vista of pastel Victorians and deep blue San Francisco bay. If you want real nature, well, it’s really not too fair a comparison between LA’s Griffith Park and our Muir Woods. Don’t get me wrong, Griffith Park has unbelievable views (when smog isn’t in the way, see below), but it has nothing on a national landmark of old growth seaside Redwood trees, a mere 16 miles from downtown San Francisco.


4. Smog vs. Fog

Fog beats smog. Every single time. Having a vista marred by sweeping fog, drifting and churning past city landmarks will always be more welcome than the sweet, musty, brown combination of nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, and carbon monoxide.

Plus, once you really fall in love with San Francisco, you’ll also start referring to the cool evening fog as Mother Nature’s Air Conditioner.


5. Our Hipster Neighborhood is Better than Their Hipster Neighborhood

If you’re on the hunt for cute boutiques, laid back coffeehouses, and house cured meats, what you want is a hipster neighborhood. In San Francisco, we have The Mission. In Los Angeles, you have Silver Lake (or Silverlake, they can’t agree on how to spell it).

A comparison:


Hipster Neighborhood

The Mission

2.7 square miles


1.85 square miles



47,000 give or take








Vintage Stores



Fixed Gear Bike Shops



Coffee Roasters


And I didn’t even mention SF’s house cured meats shops, cheese shops, the chocolate factories (yep), and bespoke millineries.



6. The Food

I wanted to do a side by side comparison of Michelin starred restaurants in San Francisco (20), the Bay Area (26), and Los Angeles. But…it turns out Michelin doesn’t even review Los Angeles? Oh, that burns.

Well, moving on, it’s not like we can all afford to eat at Michelin starred restaurants anyway. Unless you’re a serious foodie, chances are you just want a reasonably good meal, at a good price, that’s not too much of a hassle to find or get to.

In San Francisco, you can walk a block or two to any neighborhood bistro and get exactly that. Spontaneous, relaxing good times. No time wasted searching for a good restaurant, noYelping, no mapping out directions to this one particular place, no missing your exit off the freeway, no doubling back because your husband forgot to mention that the restaurant is on the other side of the road, no slowing down miles of traffic behind you to make sure you don’t miss a driveway. And most importantly of all, no valeting.


7. The Happy Anarchy

A healthy dose of anarchy permeates San Francisco. You are more likely to see a naked guy than a cop here. Actually, if a cop was around, even he wouldn’t care about a random naked guy.

Everything and anything goes in this city. Want to walk down the street wearing a robot costume in July? Do it. Want to recreate Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the middle of 24th Street after a night of bar crawling? More people will probably join in than bat an eye.


8. The Hour Drive Test

Drive an hour or two outside San Francisco and you’ll be sipping world class Sonoma and Napa wines on a sunny Mediterranean veranda overlooking rolling hills of bright green grapes in neat, perfect rows. Drive an hour or two in Los Angeles…and you’ll likely still be in Los Angeles. Or maybe Camarillo? Palm Springs if there’s no traffic, I suppose. In case you wanted to do some desert mountain hiking?


9. The Romantic Cable Car

You pile out of Tadich Grill’s brass doors into a cool summer night. Both of you are still giggling from that weird story some guy at the bar just told you about running into Al Gore at California and Broderick at 4am. Above you, fog is whipping between Victorian skyscrapers, the moon’s white glow undulating and diffusing down into the streets below. You smell the sweet cable car chains underneath, with their solemn clang clang clang clang reverberating through the empty street. You only notice it for a second before entwining your fingers in his and running to catch a cab across the street.

This this doesn’t happen in Los Angeles.


by Maria/Far Out City. Maria writes about San Francisco and urban travel over at Far Out City. All photos copyright by 2012 Far Out City.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Ro

    Actually in LA there are FOUR hipster areas – Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz and Atwater Village.

  • Joel Rane

    Here’s a novel idea…why not decide between San Francisco and Oakland, or Los Angeles and Tijuana? How ’bout Portland or Vancouver? I lived in Berkeley for 4 years and SF for 3 months, and while I love to visit, I’d never live in that foggy cold unfriendly place again. Maybe someday you’ll realize that California comes as a package, but I doubt it — signed, 3rd generation Los Angeleno

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  • HLP

    This article reeks of High School.

    Not every city is for everyone. Remember that and you might not sound so provincial in the future.

  • Anthony

    This article embodies why anyone who is cosmopolitan will prefer Los Angeles over San Francisco: SF is pretty but small and extraordinarily provincial. The author may be right that for a short visit SF is preferable, but if you want to live in a world class, cosmopolitan city there’s really no comparison.

  • kelsey

    I spent the first 18 years of my life in the Bay Area and the last 10 in LA and I’m actually a little miffed at the way LA has been cast aside so easily. First off, while I agree with SF’s benefits, LA has plenty, if not in equal measure, to offer. The hipster thing? Umm what about Los Feliz and Atwater Village? The whole Silver Lake area is like four towns! And yes, we do agree, it’s Silver SPACE Lake. And SF is more chill? Did you go to the Westside of LA? It’s like Santa Cruz over there, which is why I live on that side. Hollywood is a TINY part of LA. And as a foodie, I have found better food, particularly Mexican, in LA than I ever did in SF. And while I grew up in the Redwood trees, nothing beats the beauty of palm tree lined cliffs at sunset over the Pacific.

  • BWE

    What strikes me the most, is how similar this take on the glories of SF is to that of the revisionist history we heard at the RNC. This “journalist” (I use the term loosely) chooses to beat down one city to try to market another; and, in doing so, makes arguments that can barely hold water (nice example of sitting in traffic to get to the beach…which beach, exactly, is the prime one to go to in SF to catch some rays??? Come on…). I agree with the one response that said this felt like high school. SF has many great attributes – but the one it doesn’t possess is being happy with itself without the comparisons to LA.

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  • Crp

    Great article! Hands down SF!

  • jpicko

    I have the same to say as this guy… “This article embodies why anyone who is cosmopolitan will prefer Los Angeles over San Francisco: SF is pretty but small and extraordinarily provincial. The author may be right that for a short visit SF is preferable, but if you want to live in a world class, cosmopolitan city there’s really no comparison.”…

    And yes I spent 2 years in SF… yes it’s more urban and dense, but it’s tiny and somewhat sleepy, prices are astronomical for the “california weather” which is pretty meh (365 days a year of jacket weather). It is like Boston on the East Coast…yes cool historic northern neighbor, but NYC is where the action is… same on west coast with SF and LA…

    SF is most definitely better for a tourist visit or weekend visit though, LA is better for living, WAY more to do, way larger metro area, plus more cities to get away to quickly like SD, Vegas or even Mexico. SF is isolated, close to nature, but not much else. If I wanted an urban city, I’d just move to NYC and pay the same price, only 800k of the 8+ million in bay area even live in the city…public transit is there, but nothing special.

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