New York and San Francisco are two of the most popular cities in America and also rank among the most expensive. So, there is a common debate about which city is better and why.
Both places have a lot to offer residents, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. While New York has an energy and diversity that you won’t find anywhere else, San Francisco tends to be cleaner and more laid back. Here is a side-by-side comparison of New York vs. San Francisco.
Cost of Living
Both cities feature a cost of living that is much higher than the national average. However, New York is slightly more expensive. The cost of living in New York is 187% higher than the national average, whereas, in San Francisco, it’s only about 116% higher. The median price of a home in all 5 boroughs of New York City is over $740,000, and in Manhattan, it’s closer to $1.3 million. In San Francisco, the average home price is around the same at 1.3 million, but there are other cities nearby in the Bay area that are cheaper. San Francisco has a better unemployment rate at about 5.9%, compared to 8.8% in New York City.
By most standards, San Francisco has better weather. San Francisco’s prime location in Northern California along the bay gives it a mild climate that is temperate all year round. It rarely gets too hot or too cold, and the rainfall is minimal (snow is nonexistent). On the other hand, New York experiences a full range of seasons. The spring and fall are great times to be in New York, but the summer and winter can be brutal. Plus, it rains 47% more in New York than in San Francisco. Those who like seasons may be more drawn to NYC because of the romantic quality of the fall or the energy of the spring after a long cold winter. But by most metrics, San Francisco offers a consistently more pleasant climate year-round.
New York City is famous for its public transportation, which in most respects is faster and more efficient than in San Francisco. New York is the city that never sleeps, and part of that is made possible by the MTA system, which runs through the night. Any time of day, you can catch a subway train or bus in New York. Plus, New York is set up on a grid that makes it easy to get across town quickly. San Francisco’s Muni system is also decent and offers a combination of buses, trains, and cable cars. But more residents tend to drive in San Francisco because it’s an easier city to navigate in a car. Plus, the Muni doesn’t run all night.
Both cities offer a variety of job opportunities within many competitive fields. But they also attract slightly different industries that shape the job landscape. New York tends to offer a bit more job opportunities in various industries, including finance, law, real estate, medicine, and tech. San Francisco is pretty dominated by the technology sector, but there is a variety of disciplines within that space. Plus, on average, jobs in San Francisco pay 3.8% more than in New York City.
Cuisine & Lifestyle
Both cities have a lot to offer regarding culture and cuisine. If you’re looking for diversity, then New York is better. It offers some of the best restaurants in the world from nearly every ethnic group under the sun and features a distinct melting pot culture that is unlike any other city in the world. San Francisco doesn’t offer quite the same level of variety but does have some of the best Asian food in the country. In terms of nightlife, New York offers glitz and glam and unparalleled energy. But it can also get expensive and irritating to have to cram into a packed bar, which is why many prefer the lowkey vibe of San Francisco.
While both are relatively safe for a major city, San Francisco has a higher rate of property crime and violent crime than New York. Based on a crime scale compiled using FBI data, San Francisco scored 79.2 for property crime and 39.6 for violent crime. New York scored 24.9 for property crime and 28.2 for violent crime. New York is often ranked as one of the safest large cities in the US. Even though it’s experienced a resurgence of crime due to the pandemic, it’s still a relatively safe city if you take the right precautions. Plus, San Francisco is notorious for its homeless population, which contributes to the higher rate of crime.
New York is much more fast-paced and features a culture that is more centered around work and efficiency. San Francisco, in comparison, is much more laid back and offers a better work-life balance. New York has more world-famous cultural attractions and a dizzying array of recreational activities available at any time of the day. But San Francisco offers easier access to nature and beaches with a slower pace of life that is more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Commute times in New York are slightly worse than in San Francisco, although it’s pretty close. According to a research study conducted by the US Census Bureau in 2017, the average commute time in New York was 35.9 minutes, whereas in San Francisco, it was 32.1 minutes. However, commute times in New York City tend to have a greater range with more 10 minutes commutes and 40-50- minute commutes compared to San Francisco, which featured far more 20-30-minute commutes overall.
Quality of Life Index
San Francisco has a better quality of life index with a score of 156, which is considered high, compared to New York’s score of 138, which is considered moderate. This is based on an index created by Numbeo, which ranks the quality of life based on factors such as purchasing power, safety, health care, climate, pollution, traffic, and more. While New York has a lot to offer in terms of culture in opportunity, it is home to over 8 million people, which impacts things like traffic and pollution. Plus, it’s more expensive and offers a harsher climate.
Ultimately, which city is better is a matter of personal preference. Both cities have different pros and cons that are attractive to different residents. New York is the cultural and financial capital of the world and offers a wide range of opportunities that you won’t find anywhere else. But San Francisco is the crown jewel of the West Coast and offers many of the benefits of New York without the crowds and the harsh weather. So, it all comes down to whether you prefer sunshine and sandy beaches or high fashion and a melting pot culture.