Are you trying to decide between San Francisco vs New York City for your next move or vacation? If so, you've come to the right place as I've lived in both cities for years. Let me argue why living in San Francisco is better than living in New York City.
Given most people will argue why NYC is better than SF since there are 10X more people in NYC, I’ll happily take the other side. I’m sure I’ll get flamed by NYC residents, but that’s the fun of it!
For the record, I've been a multi-year resident of both cities. I currently reside in San Francisco, and have lived in four different SF neighborhoods over the course of two decades.
I also love New York City. I think it's the best city in the world for six months of the year. With the rush back to big city living as the pandemic calms down, let's start the debate!
San Francisco Vs New York City: Weather
NYC is the best city in America for just six months a year because it’s sweltering hot for three months and frigidly cold for another three months.
There's nothing grosser than being stuck waiting for the NYC subway in the humid summertime. The air is so hot and thick it's suffocating. Not only does the subway smell horrific, the whiffs from being elbow to elbow with sweaty people is repulsive.
Waking up to freshly fallen snow in New York can be quite exquisite, especially during the holidays. But, all that snow gets dirty and winds up turning black pretty quick with so much car and foot traffic. It just becomes a hassle to deal with.
Most winter days are snowless and you just end up freezing your ass off getting from A to B without anything special to look at.
San Francisco is the best city in America for about 10 months a year because it can rain for 1-2 months during the winter. One year it rained almost every day for an entire month. But that hasn't happed in a long time. In the last several years, we've just had occasional rain during the winters and white, foggy skies.
At least when it rains in SF, it’s snowing in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is a 2.5 – 4 hour drive away with world class mountains like Squaw Valley for skiing and snowboarding with a ~10,000 foot high peak.
Then there's the potential 1-3 weeks of wildfires in areas like Sonoma that can disrupt the air quality in San Francisco. But rarely is it bad enough that you can't safely go outside. Overall, the air quality in San Francisco is superb. Being right next to the Pacific Ocean keeps the air well circulated and fresh.
San Francisco Wins
Unlike New York City, there's no stinky, lingering “city smell” in San Francisco. Maybe a tried and true NYC resident actually likes the smell of garbage, subway rats, exhaust fumes, pee, manhole steam, and street vendors, but I don't.
Some people may diss SF for the fog, but the fog is rarely an issue. Some areas like the Outer Sunset can have a lot of foggy days in the winter and summer. But most of the time the fog burns off by late morning. And the fog often doesn't even make it past Golden Gate Park, leaving plenty of neighborhoods across the city sunny and bright.
I actually like the occasional foggy day in San Francisco. It mixes things up, keeps my plants happy, and is perfect for soaking in my hot tub.
Therefore, when it comes to San Francisco vs New York weather alone, SF is the better city hands down. You can spend more of your life living while having the same professional opportunities instead of being trapped indoors feeling sad and depressed.
The more you are outdoors and actively living, the healthier and happier you will be. There’s a reason why NYC has a bad reputation for having overly stressed and rude people.
Out Door Activities In San Francisco Vs New York
Both SF and NY have plenty of similar things to do outside such as:
- People watching
- Outdoor cafes
- City walks
- Window shopping
- Zoo (The SF Zoo is significantly bigger than NYC's Central Park Zoo)
- Music and art festivals
But San Francisco surpasses New York for these out door SF activities within the city proper. And in case you didn't know, Golden Gate Park (1,013 acres) is actually bigger than Central Park (842 acres).
Plus, San Francisco has The Presidio, an additional 1,491 acres of rolling hills and beautiful eucalyptus trees. It's a nature's delight with a golf course to boot!
- Hiking trails (ex. The Presidio, Lands End, Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Glenn Canyon, etc)
- Beach access at multiple sites (ex. Ocean Beach, Crissy Beach)
- Clean, swimmable water although cold year round (I wouldn't step foot in the Hudson River)
- Whale watching, dolphin sightings, sea lions at Pier 49
- Surfing, wind surfing, sailing
Other Benefits Of SF Over NYC
There are many other benefits of living in San Francisco vs New York City than the weather and outdoor activities.
- Easier to have a balanced life
- Rent and property is cheaper than Manhattan on average (not comparing 49 sq miles to 305 sq miles of all of NYC)
- Easier to fly to Hawaii aka paradise
- Easier to fly to Asia
- is as good if not better at lower price points
- Play sports and do outdoor activities all-year around
- More championship teams of late: SF Giants and Golden State Warriors
- Center of tech innovation
- Center of VC money
- A more beautiful city
- Less people who flash status or wealth – casual clothes and riding a bike over Gucci and driving a card you don’t need
- Perhaps you'll have higher self-esteem – not sure why a city with 10x more people is trying to compare itself to SF
- Less dense, which is more desirable during times like the COVID-19 pandemic
Don’t get me wrong. I love NYC, just for only half the year. I lived there for two years while working on Wall Street and I’ve gone back almost every year since 2001 to visit my family.
The energy in NYC is amazing and so are all the activities. As a tennis fan, the US Open is incredible as well. My biggest regret is not buying a 2/2, double balcony condo overlooking Madison Park and the Chrysler building in 2001 for $790,000!
Cost Of Living In San Francisco Vs New York
The problem with SF is that there is a “Manhattanization of San Francisco” where SF has become one big grind. Population growth is exploding, tech is ubiquitous and soul crushing, and rents and property prices are inching closer to Manhattan property rents and prices.
We only need one New York City and it is a shame to lose all that is SF.
The best place to live and buy property in San Francisco is Golden Gate Heights, where you can buy single family homes with panoramic ocean views for $1,000/sqft, a discount compared to other prime areas trading at $1,500/sqft.
I know I’ll never win this argument due to being drastically outnumbered – this, is, Sparta! The only thing I ask is that you spend a good amount of time in San Francisco before making a proper comparison.
Once I came to SF in 2001 from 2 years in NYC and 8 years in Virginia, I didn’t want to leave. If you are miserable where you are currently living, explore our great country. There’s no need to be stuck! Come migrate out to California and enjoy the year round sunshine.
You can always move around the less crowded areas in your city. Real estate is 20% – 40% cheaper if you decided to relocate within your city. Then you can relocate to lower cost areas of the country if you really want to save money. Just make sure your salary isn't cut commensurately, otherwise, what's the point?
I've diversified $810,000 of capital towards the heartland because I think the work from home trend will do very well.
Related posts about San Francisco and New York:
San Francisco: The Cheapest International City In The World (once you look at the price comparisons, you'll agree).
For more nuanced personal finance content, join 100,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. Everything is written based off firsthand experience.