A Tale of Two Cities: San Francisco vs. New York



San Francisco.


As a bi-coastal San Francisco expat, I sometimes feel like I’m living a double life. My West Coast friends see me as a traitor for leaving the “Best Coast,” while my East Coast friends mock me for my Valley girl accent and sunny outlook — a stark contrast to the average no-nonsense, blunt New Yorker. 

Underlying these jibes, however, is a serious rivalry between the two cities, which feature wildly different ways of life. Having lived in both, here’s my attempt to judge the competition, broken down into six different categories. 

Transportation & Navigation — New York

For beginners, New York’s public transit system is easier to pick up (I didn’t say “easy. I said “easier”). All you need to learn are the — albeit convoluted — subway routes (and bus lines, if applicable). Newcomers to San Francisco (SF) will struggle with the many different transit systems: Bay Area Rapid Transit (also known as “BART,” an inter-city subway that has some stops in SF), cable cars, the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) and Muni Metro. BART fares are also calculated based on distance, while one swipe of a MetroCard will take you anywhere you want to go within the MTA system. If anything, the MTA is more frustrating than difficult to understand, as it’s notorious for frequent delays and disruptive service changes.


Furthermore, many Manhattan and Queens streets are structured on a grid system, so finding out where you are is a lot simpler. While San Francisco does have landmark streets (such as Market, Powell and Valencia) and its structure is somewhat gridlike, it isn’t a true grid system. It’s more like a bunch of grids stitched together, and its hilly construction plus the myriad of public transit systems make it not very walkable and hard to navigate.

New York also gets bonus points for not having needles or human feces by subway entrances. 

Food — San Francisco

Culinary revolutions don’t begin in New York — they begin in San Francisco. For instance, did you know that there are three different types of burritos? The Mission-style burrito — the kind that most people know as a burrito today — has its roots in San Francisco, as does the “sushirrito,” which made headlines upon its invention in 2011. We also have a bustling Asian community and an official Japantown, which is something that New York lacks.

New York does seem to have a higher density of European restaurants, and pizza joints (duh). San Francisco may not have pizza galore, but it outshines New York in its diversity and quality of food options: if you’re craving excellent Mexican or Chinese food, look nowhere else. Immigrant-founded restaurants offer authentic flavors and reasonable prices. If you’re willing to splurge a little, there’s sure to be a high-end restaurant a few minutes away.

Sports — San Francisco

Let’s face it: the Yankees are overrated. San Franciscans love bonding over their sports teams: the Giants, the Warriors and, though not as much, the Niners. While the Giants and Warriors “dynasties” did bring in some fairweather fans in the last decade, our community stays together. 

We bonded together to stand behind Mike Krukow, half of our beloved broadcasting duo Kruk & Kuip, when he revealed he was suffering from a degenerative muscle disease. We started the #LetTimmySmoke campaign when Tim Lincecum was cited for marijuana possession — as many do in SF, he was just “blazing it.” We cried when the Warriors lost to the Cavs in 2016, and we rejoiced when they won in ’15, ’17 and ‘18.

New York doesn’t seem to care about a team other than the Yankees. The Nets and Knicks? Fuhgeddahboudit. There are New York Giants fans out there, but some of them even bleed into — gasp — New Jersey. (I learned very quickly upon coming here that you shouldn’t even mention the Mets.) Moreover, the Yankees have evolved past a local sports community and become more of a cultural symbol: it’s hard to know if the person across from you wearing a Yankees hat is an actual fan or just a tourist who thinks they must look like an authentic New Yorker.

SF Giants fans don’t have time to deal with hating on both the Mets and the Red Sox. We just devote all our time to hating on the Dodgers.

Diversity — Tie

Statistically, New York is more ethnically and linguistically diverse than San Francisco, and I’ve seen this play out anecdotally. I’ve never met more Dominican, Puerto Rican and Jamaican people than when I moved to New York. There are also some really cool West African restaurants that I’ve yet to try.

However, LGBTQ people will find more of a home in San Francisco, where rainbow flags are ubiquitous and Pride feels like part of the prevailing culture. Both cities have Pride parades, but San Francisco parties harder. And like I mentioned earlier, we have better Asian food. Good luck finding a Burmese restaurant in NYC — I could only find one in NYC, which was in Bensonhurst, a 60-minute trek from where I live. 

People — San Francisco

New Yorkers are known for their attitude and rushed nature: both stereotypes are true. Meanwhile, you should feel welcome to chat up a San Franciscan while in line or say hello while biking past them in Golden Gate Park — friendliness is the norm in California. Arguably, our accents are more pleasant, too. We probably try to compensate for the omnipresent fog with our cheery attitudes.

Also, if you ask someone for directions in New York, chances are they’ll tell you, but you’ll have to pay the price of a dirty look.

Arts, Culture & Innovation — New York

Which city is the home of Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)? NYC, of course. The Met, often called the best museum in the world, deserves that praise — it’s vast, boasts a wide range of art from different geographical areas and time periods, and can take days to really unpack. San Francisco has its own MoMA, but it withers in comparison to NYC’s many MoMA branches. Art enthusiasts and humanities lovers will have much more fun in NYC’s many museums, comedy clubs and theatres.

San Franciscans are too focused on their startups or STEM ventures to pay any attention to the arts. For every museum or indie art gallery, it seems like five startup companies are born. It’s becoming a place where coding languages might replace actual languages in the list of most commonly spoken ones in the near future.


Which city wins out? Ultimately, it depends on who you are. As a humanities major and aesthete, I feel at home in NYC. On the other hand, STEM majors will find more job prospects in San Francisco, where there is more demand for young talent. In the end, I’m happy being in the concrete jungle where dreams (and student debt) are made of … but when my hankerings for Burmese food hit, my mind drifts back to the foggy skies and smelly streets I hold dear.