Los Angeles or San Francisco: Which City Should You Visit?

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Los Angeles or San Francisco? What a question. You are essentially deciding between the heart of Hollywood and one of the United States’ most famous cityscapes.

The cities both sit on the West Coast of California – less than 400 miles from one another. You can expect similar hours of sunshine and, very likely, flight prices. Both are known for their nightlife and excel in the entertainment sphere. And don’t even get us started on the similarities in their beach and surfing opportunities. When it comes to choosing between them, you might just want to close your eyes and toss a coin. But don’t!

There are some distinct differences between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and we’ve prepared a guide to help you make an educated choice between the two. We’ll weigh up the most important aspects of a city break, from food to day trips and attractions.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Food

Sauce on tacos.
Tacos by Unsplash.

The United States has a reputation for indulgent, flashy food culture, so plan to tuck into as many dishes as you can.

Both San Francisco and Los Angeles have excellent diversity of international cuisine and the American classics. You’ll find plenty of tacos and Mexican food thanks to their proximity to Mexico. You’ll also find Thai, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and French – amongst many others. There is a large, stable hospitality infrastructure to support adventurous (or fussy) eaters in these big cities.

However, when it comes to Michelin dining, San Francisco creeps slightly into the lead here. While Los Angeles had a respectable 27 Michelin featured restaurants in 2021, San Francisco had 45 as of September 2021. These include three-starred contemporary Californian Quince and French Atelier Crenn.

If you are going to splash out on dining, the United States’ flashy dining scene makes it the place to do so. For visitors who want to indulge in a Michelin dining experience, San Francisco has more variety and choice of starred venues.

The Winner: San Francisco wins the food round for its higher number of Michelin featured restaurants.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Price

US dollars.
Dollars by Unsplash.

Those Michelin restaurants do come at a cost, though, reflected in San Francisco’s nearly 20% higher consumer prices. If you are looking for a budget-friendly destination, Los Angeles might make a better choice when debating between Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Those planning a longer city break (a month or more) should consider that rental costs rocket San Francisco to 30% more expensive than Los Angeles. So, if you are looking for a short-term rental, you or more likely to get good value for your money in Los Angeles.

In terms of general tourist costs, you will find grocery shopping cheaper on average in Los Angeles than in San Francisco. Likewise, public transport and taxis are lower in cost as well.

Using data from Numbeo, we’ve compiled a comparative table of common purchases below.

 Bottle of supermarket wineMilkOne-way ticket on public transportMonthly rental for city center apartment
San Francisco price (USD)15.001.263.002,929.14
Los Angeles price (USD)12.001.031.752,336.03

The Winner: For a budget-friendly city break, Los Angeles is the winner for this round.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Attractions

The Hollywood sign.
Hollywood sign by Unsplash.

Los Angeles and San Francisco don’t lack on the attraction front.

San Francisco is perhaps most known for the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island – a notorious prison that held the likes of Al Capone and George Kelly. Visitors can also enjoy wandering inner-city green areas like Golden Gate Park and the Japanese Tea Gardens.

Of course, Los Angeles’ big draws are the iconic Hollywood sign, Universal Studios, and the Walk of Fame. Los Angeles’ attractions do barge San Francisco’s off their feet. If attractions are an important aspect of your ideal city break, we’d recommend choosing Los Angeles over San Francisco.

We’d particularly recommend Los Angeles for film fans and theme park lovers. Disneyland and Universal Studios’ rides are based on film and cartoon classics. You can also pay your respects to your idol stars at the Walk of Fame, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and GRAMMY Museum. Alternatively, tour the Warner Bros or Universal Studio.

The Winner: Our clear winner for this round is Los Angeles.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Weather

A Californian beach.
A sunny beach by Unsplash.

Okay, when choosing which Californian city to visit, the best weather analogy is that the cities are sisters, not twins. While you can expect a similar climate, San Francisco is colder on average than Los Angeles.

If you are looking for a hot summer break, note that the average temperature difference is most prominent between June and August – where Los Angeles is around ten degrees Celsius hotter. San Francisco is also a lot windier than Los Angeles, with its windiest month in June. So, while temperatures could reach 20 degrees Celsius, keep in mind that wind chill could bring the temperature feel down a few degrees.

Of course, if you want a milder summer break, San Francisco is your best option. Families, in particular, may appreciate the cooler temperatures when traveling with young children.

We’ve compiled a comparative table on the temperature differences throughout the year using information from Weather2Travel.

 JanuaryMarchMayJulySeptemberNovember
Los Angeles (Celsius)202123292822
San Francisco (Celsius)131618202217

The Winner: The winner of this round is Los Angeles – purely for its warmer weather.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Nature

Redwood National Park.
The Redwood National Park by Unsplash.

Planning to make your choice based on surrounding nature? You are in for a tricky choice.

Both cities have parks and reserves dotted around their centers, like the Los Angeles National Forest and the beautifully located Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The benefit of these inner-city nature areas is that they are completely free, extremely accessible, and often have great views – like over Golden Gate.

Thinking you’ll decide based on the best proximity to a stunning National Park? Good luck.

Los Angeles is best if you want a desert experience of nature. The city is closest to the Death Valley and Kings Canyon National Parks, where you can spot wildlife like desert tortoises, jackrabbits, and sometimes coyotes.

San Francisco is closest to Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, and the Redwood National Parks. If you prefer forest hikes, San Francisco is the better option. You can warily spot mountain lions, bears, deer, and the elusive Sierra Nevada Red Fox. Of course, there is also the fact that the Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees in the world!

The Winner: When it comes to nature, choosing between the cities depends on personal preference. But, narrowly, we will crown San Francisco as the winner for its proximity to the tallest trees in the world.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Accommodation

A luxury outdoor hotel pool.
A luxury hotel by Unsplash.

The hotel scene in Los Angeles and San Francisco is neck and neck.

Those with expensive taste will find plenty of five-star properties to splash out on in both cities. The Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons have hotels in Los Angeles and San Francisco if you prefer luxury chains. And, there are plenty of independent luxury hotels as well.

Prefer a hostel? In contrast, Los Angeles and San Francisco cater well to budget travelers as well. It is worth noting that despite the city being otherwise more expensive, San Francisco’s hostels seem slightly cheaper on average.

In Los Angeles, Freehand Los Angeles offers a central, luxurious hostel experience for $57 per night in an eight-bedroom dormitory. While, for $52 per night in an eight-bedroom dormitory, Samsun Venice Beach offers free boogie boards and breakfast only a minute from the beach.

In San Francisco, the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel is located in Union Square, right in the heart of the action, and priced at $48 per night for a four-bedroom female dormitory. While in the North Beach district, the Green Tortoise Hostel has dormitory rooms for $48 per night – only a twenty-minute walk from the beach and including daily breakfast.

The Winner: San Francisco just wins this round for slightly cheaper hostels and more female-only dormitory options.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: Day trips

A ferry sailing to a Channel Island.
The Channel Islands of California by Unsplash.

If you are choosing by factoring in day trip options, we have an important first question. Do you like wine tasting? If so, this section below is for you.

California is known for its wineries, but your preference can help you choose which city to pick.

Pinot Noir fans should head to San Francisco, where you can take wine tasting day trips to the Sonoma Country and Santa Cruz Mountains. Napa Valley is also known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and is only an hour from San Francisco city center.

While, if you like a Syrah or Riesling, head to Los Angeles, where you can take a day trip to the wineries in the Santa Barbara Country. Los Angeles is also best for wines like Vermentino, Counoise, and Grenache, which you can find in the Temecula Valley.

Wine aside, Los Angeles has more in the way of day trips than San Francisco. As a popular day trip, you can catch a ferry out to the Channel Islands of California. The closest island is Anacapa, which only takes an hour to reach. Anacapa is renowned for water sports and marine life viewing, with whale watching, diving, sealion, and seal tours available from the island.

The Winner: Los Angeles wins this round.

Los Angeles or San Francisco: The Conclusion

Overall, we vote for Los Angeles. The hotter weather, wineries and islands to explore, and its Hollywood-related attractions set it aside as one of the best cities to visit in the world – never mind just the United States.

San Francisco is great for closer access to the Redwood and Yosemite National Parks. The city center and Golden Gate Bridge are also huge draws. However, we believe that Los Angeles has a more exciting and entertaining atmosphere for visitors.

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Eibhlis Gale – Coleman is a freelance writer from the UK who is driven by a fierce love of adventure, unique cultural experiences, native animals, and good coffee. She is a passionate traveller and has explored Europe, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and Australia.