What are the pros and cons of living in San Francisco vs. San Diego? Which is the better city?
(Via A2A)"Which is the better city?" is not a simple question to answer. Better for whom? A college student? A blue-collar family with young children? A couple of middle-aged gay attorneys with a cat? If we confine ourselves strictly to the city limits of each, San Diego and San Francisco are difficult to compare directly. San Francisco packs 825K people into a mere 47 square miles of land area. San Diego has half again as many people with a population around 1.3 million but sprawls over 372 square miles of land, and depending where you are in the city your experience of living "in San Diego" may be very different.My perspective on this question: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (but not in San Francisco) and have lived in San Diego for nearly 10 years (but will shortly be moving on). As for why I moved down here and stayed for so long, well-- the truth is I did it for love. Some things you just can't account for by looking at housing prices and average temperatures.Short AnswerSan Diego will overall be more liveable for more people due to lower cost of living, less pressure on land use, and greater diversity of neighborhood environments. San Francisco is a better choice for some people and interests and has a more robust economy. I am mostly going to confine my analysis to the city limits of each rather than try to compare whole metropolitan areas.Cost of Living, Employment, and EconomySan DiegoSan Diego is an expensive place to live. It's about #10 among the most expensive places in the whole US. Salaries are low relative to the cost of living due to the "sunshine tax" or "paradise tax" Unemployment is higher in the San Diego metro area than the SF area, though not by much The military and the tourism industry are big employers in San Diego. The job market in areas like software and computer technology, finance, and other professional services is considerably weaker. Big name employers like Google have never had a presence in San Diego and other tech companies like Fringe Benefit Statement /4424838 City Of San Diego Eocp have shut down their local offices. I have always struggled to reconcile the high cost of living (in particular the cost and quality of housing) with the health of the local economy. San Diego is losing Millennials in droves to other regions. I do not view this as a positive sign. San FranciscoSan Francisco is a really expensive place to live, ranking around #3 nationally .Much of the difference is taken up by rental housing costs which rival prices in New York City . Expect to have heavy competition for apartment rentals.If you are interested in buying a single-family house with a yard, I wish you good luck.Better job opportunities and higher salaries in the tech and professional services areas. Lots of big name employers in San Francisco as well as startups locating there rather than in the traditional boundaries of the Silicon Valley.More culture of workaholism in SF and the Bay Area.EducationI have no personal experience with or opinion on the public K-12 school systems in either locale. San DiegoThe San Diego Unified School District scored well on the Academic Performance Index among large districts in California .The University of California, San Diego campus has a good reputation as part of the UC system. San Diego State University is also starting to get national attention.San FranciscoSan Francisco Unified public schools do not have a good reputation, but they basically have the same API score as SDUSD . This may be a wash.SF is located near two world-class universities (Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley) but has no notable institutions serving both undergraduate and graduate students within the city. Climate and EnvironmentSan DiegoSan Diego well known for its year-round mild climate-- thus the sunshine tax. If you like sunny weather and warm-to-hot temperatures this is a great place to live. If, like me, you are pale and tolerate heat poorly you may feel overcooked after a while. Today, March 16th, it was 90 degrees out. Bleh.The further east you go, the hotter it gets. Wildfire is an annual danger in the late summer and fall.Lots of access to nature right in the city with parks, canyons, and the beach.Most areas are very clean.San FranciscoSan Francisco's fog layer is so famous it has its own Twitter account . The weather is frequently damp and chilly even when other parts of the Bay Area are sunny and warm. One of my aunts, born and raised in frigid Minnesota, swears that nearby Oakland felt like the coldest place she had ever lived. If you prefer a cooler climate you will be happier here.Limited access to natural areas and green space in the city.Public areas are often filthy with trash, spills, and, um... better not to ask, really.Arts, Culture, and RecreationSan DiegoSan Diego is a great place to live if you enjoy outdoor recreation and beach activities. You can swim comfortably in the ocean without a wetsuit during the summer. There are some beautiful areas for hiking in and around the city, and you can get to both desert and snow within a couple of hours.There is not much in the way of arts and music culture here. We have a few small museums but nothing on the level of the LACMA or SFMOMA. The local opera company just announced that they are shutting down due to lack of funds. I've been going up to LA for a couple of weekends a year to get my "fix" of culture. Shows and events that come through SF or LA may not make it further south, and while San Diego often gets lumped in with LA as part of "southern California", in practice it is too far away to make quick trips convenient.For food and dining, San Diego does well with mid-range neighborhood restaurants and the "farm to table" and local sourcing movements are strong here. However, after getting a real boost around 2022 lately the restaurant scene has settled into a sort of local maximum of places serving craft beer and "urban comfort food". Our craft beer scene is justifiably famous and some of this urban comfort food is delicious, but we are getting saturated with burgers and short ribs. Diners here tend to be more conservative and less able or inclined to support innovative restaurants... and to be fair, the restaurants here don't always back up their innovation with quality of execution. For international foods Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants are well represented here but again at the low- and mid-range only (and most of the really good Mexican food is actually down in Chula Vista). Lots of basic pho and taco shops, but fewer places concentrating on regional specialties or current trends.There are a few very good Korean and Japanese restaurants. If you want good Chinese food you should just make the trek up to the San Gabriel Valley.Tacos in San Diego tacos in San Francisco.San FranciscoGoing to the beach? Bring a coat. You can get a good workout climbing up and down all those hills but that isn't nature hiking. SF has excellent and well-supported museums and fine arts institutions, and plenty of shows and other cultural events happening throughout the year. San Francisco and the Bay Area in general is famous for its food and dining culture. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley kicked off the original organic and "farm to table" movement back in the 1970s. In my experience the mid-range restaurants in SF are both more adventurous and more reliably good than the equivalent bracket in San Diego, and prices aren't all that much higher. There is also more diversity in the international foods available, including cuisines like Burmese and Malaysian that can't be found in San Diego at all. Weekend brunch is practically an economic sector in its own right. Expect epic lines.Burritos in San Francisco burritos in San Diego.Transportation and AccessibilitySan DiegoIt is possible to live in San Diego without a car-- I know a few people that do-- but not easy. Public transit coverage is poor and some trips, including some common commute routes, cannot reasonably be made without a car. Central San Diego is so easy to drive in that I don't think it counts as "urban driving" at all. Roads are wide and parking is ample. Taking your car someplace is almost never a problem.Some older neighborhoods are dense and walkable, but much of the city is effectively suburban and unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Drivers all over are often dangerously inattentive to walkers and bikers.The city is so spread out that discovery and access can be very challenging.SAN is a small, regional airport. Convenient for trips around the western US but cross-country and international flights will often require extra stops.San FranciscoSan Francisco has the best urban public transit network on the West Coast, but those of you who are familiar with urban transit systems on the East Coast and outside the US will understand that this is setting the bar very low. It is possible to live and work in SF without a car.Driving in SF makes me gnash my teeth, I loathe trying to park there, and gas is more expensive than in San Diego... but because some trips aren't that easy on public transit, you might want to hang on to your car anyway.High density and walkable neighborhoods make discovery and access easier.SF is notorious for pedestrian fatalities and for clashes between bicyclists and drivers, but these modes of transit are more visible there.SFO is a major international airport with good connections worldwide.Crime and SafetySan DiegoSan Diego is generally very safe with a crime rate below the national average . As with any big city some areas are better than others, but there is no obvious equivalent to SF's Tenderloin or Bayview/Hunter's Point districts. There are few parts of the city where I feel actively unsafe, even at night.San FranciscoSan Francisco's crime rate is higher than the national average and certainly higher than San Diego's. I feel concerned for my safety in some areas.Other Miscellany, Intangibles, and Matters of Personal TasteSan Diego has a reputation for being conservative but this is not entirely accurate. Overall the region skews purple on those red/blue political maps and the central neighborhoods are quite liberal. Compared with San Francisco-- famous for its liberalism and counterculture movements-- alternative lifestyle and counterculture activism is much less visible in San Diego. Certainly no one is seriously lobbying for public nudity down here. If your politics skew more towards the libertarian than towards big-government liberalism you will feel more welcome in San Diego.Neither city is known for its stylish population. Lots of all-black and fleece in San Francisco, lots of flip-flops and shorts in San Diego-- but while San Franciscans will dress up for an occasion, getting many San Diegans to dress up for anything is like pulling teeth. Dinner at a nice restaurant? Shorts and flip-flops. Concert? Shorts and flip-flops. Memorial service? Shorts and flip-flops. While one shouldn't always have to put on a coat and tie to get a nice meal, the always-casual vibe represents a broader attitude that has always irked me about San Diego-- namely that little is special enough to merit recognition or be worth making a special effort for yourself. There is a certain pressure to look and act like you are relaxed and on vacation all the time, and not only is this difficult to reconcile with the financial pressures of life in this area, I also think it can lead to a culture that embraces unchallenging mediocrity and confuses effort with pretension. Don't harsh my mellow, man. While there is less culture of workaholism down here-- and that's good-- it is also very difficult to get people organized around common interests or goals. It's always so nice outside. You can always do it tomorrow. 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