Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

LA vs. SF in 15 Categories!

Posted by Roobs on March 11, 2014


Lists on the internet comparing two different places abound.  But, perhaps, no list appears more than lists comparing the City of Los Angeles vs. the City of San Francisco (with maybe the East Coast of the United States vs. the West Coast coming in a close second).  But the one thing that has always annoyed me about these lists is that they never seem to grasp the fact that places like Disneyland are not in the City of Los Angeles.  In fact, Disneyland is not even in the same county.  So, as an urban planner (aka: map Nazi), I thought it would be fun to create my own LA vs. SF list.  Here is my totally subjective yet totally awesome comparison of Los Angeles vs. San Francisco.

1.       Airports

Before you start critiquing, you need to get to the city.  And I have three little letters for you:  LAX.  Round one goes to San Francisco and SFO, hands down.

1 point to San Francisco.


2.       Size

I hate to award points for square miles.  It denotes sprawl with reckless abandon.  But come on.  Size matters.  And when it comes to size, LA has almost everyone beat.   From the northern edges of the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Port of Los Angeles to the south, the City of Los Angeles covers over 500 square miles and home to 3.85 million people, compared to San Francisco’s paltry 49 square miles and 826,000 residents.  But in fairness, SF should get honorary points for being a cute 7×7 city.

1 point to Los Angeles.

3.       Weather

When it comes to weather, California beats everyone else hands down. (Sorry, Florida. Humidity is not something anyone should aspire to.) But according to a list by Kelly Norton using NOAA data, Los Angeles tops everyone with a total of 183 “Pleasant Days” per year.  San Francisco comes in at #3 with 129 pleasant days.

1 point to Los Angeles.

4.       Density

If I was being as willy nilly with city borders as every other list, I could give this to Los Angeles.  The LA region is the most densely populated urban region in the United States (yea, It’s not New York).  But as a city, Los Angeles ranks much farther down.  San Francisco, on the other hand, is unquestionably the 2nd most densely populated city in the country.

1 point to San Francisco.

5.       Traffic

Traffic sucks.  Period.  And poor Los Angeles tops the list of worst traffic jams in the nation, spending 64 hours stuck in traffic a year.  What can you expect from a city that, not only brought us “Carmageddon”, but “Carmagedon II” and “Jamzilla”.  They do love sequels in LA.  But don’t get too excited, San Francisco.  You’re not far behind on the list at 56 hours.

1 point to San Francisco.


6.       Walkability

You may have won the size category, Los Angeles, but sometimes you can be too big.  While Los Angeles has some great and walkable neighborhoods scattered around, it takes quite a bit of effort, planning, and likely a car to get to and from them.   San Francisco wins again.

1 point to San Francisco.

7.       Public Transportation

Despite what you might think, this is a close one.  San Francisco takes the lead early because MUNI and BART can get you anywhere.  Los Angeles keeps up, though.  LA Metro covers the vast majority of the City on bus, which is a planning feat in of itself, but it takes you for-fucking ever to get from one end of town to the other on transit.  But speaking of sitting on a bus, MUNI isn’t exactly making points (or friends) as it crawls along.  Also, LA fights back hard by expanding and improving its transit system far more than SF and the Bay Area in general have in recent years (complacent much?)  LA Metro also takes a big win by offering Metro Rail service until 2am on weekends. But both MUNI and Metro offer 24-hour bus service.  Plus, at 49 square miles, it’s not like you have far to go anyway in SF.  So this category is a tie.  Yes, a tie.

TIE! 1 point each!


8.       Bars & Restaurants

Both cities have some great bars and restaurants, with plenty of options for the picky eater and drinker.  But San Francisco comes out ahead.  It’s not just quantity of quality boozing and eating, but how accessible they are.  There are great bars and restaurants in LA but they are scattered and hard to get to.  It definitely helps LA’s cause to have Metro Rail service go until 2am for bar hoppers.  But you don’t have too many bar hoppers going from Downtown to North Hollywood to Hollywood.  And don’t get me started on trying to get to go drink in Santa Monica on transit.  In San Francisco, not only are the bars accessible by transit or a quick cab/uber/lyft ride away, drinking in SF is cheaper than LA for the most part.  Sure, you can find a great bar in LA that serves cheap drinks, but you have to find them.  Otherwise, your Miller Lite will cost you a standard $6.  It’s $3 in SF.

1 point for SF.

9.       Public Parks

Los Angeles has made some good strides towards increasing its public park / open space, with the addition of Grand Park in Downtown LA and the very nice rehabilitation of Echo Park Lake.  And while LA likes to boast the biggest urban park of any major city with Griffith Park, it doesn’t help it in this category if you have to drive over half an hour to get to it.  But even with Griffith Park, Los Angeles still ranks low on the list in terms of park space per resident.  ParkScore has Los Angeles at #35 in terms of park space compared to San Francisco’s ranking at #3.  Baby steps, L.A.

1 point to San Francisco.


10.   Sports

Sports are important for any city, as are city boundaries.  Ask any Angelino about the Los Angeles Angels and you will get an “Orange County is NOT LA” response.  As such, the debate over sports between Los Angeles and San Francisco should focus on who they actually have.  So let’s subcategorize! (Half points each.)

a)      Baseball: San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers.  Over the last decade, SF has two World Series trophies.  LA has new team owners.  SF wins this half a point.

b)      Football:  You would think that SF would win this one reading all the other lists that give points for the Raiders and 49ers.  But they are wrong.  The Raiders are in Oakland (hence: “Oakland Raiders”) and, sadly, San Francisco just lost the 49ers to the less interesting but still much loved City of Santa Clara.  So just as Anaheim isn’t Los Angeles, despite the team still using the city name, the “San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara” can’t count as well.  So none for Gretchen Weiners. No points to anyone.

c)       Basketball:  Los Angeles has the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers and both play at Staples Center in Downtown LA.  San Francisco has managed to snag the Golden State Warriors from Oakland.  But until a stadium is built and they start playing, San Francisco still has no basketball team.  So LA gets half a point.

d)      Hockey:  Los Angeles has the LA Kings.  The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012.  San Francisco has no hockey team.  LA gets half a point.

e)      Soccer:  This one is awkward.  Los Angeles technically sort-of has the LA Galaxy.  The Galaxy have won the MLS Cup four times.  I say “technically” because the Galaxy play in the City of Carson.  The nearest MLS team to San Francisco is the San Jose Quakes, approximately 47 miles south.   While you can make an argument that Carson is culturally more like Los Angeles than Anaheim or Santa Clara to San Francisco, but rules are rules.  Not in LA so doesn’t count.  No points for anyone.

Advantage: LA gets 0.5 points.

11.   Health

Los Angeles may be known for being a tad image conscious (read: vain).  But when it comes to overall health of its residents, the City of Angeles can’t beat out San Francisco.  Nerd Wallet rates San Francisco as the 6th healthiest city in America.  Los Angeles comes in as the 3rd unhealthiest city in America. Ouch.

1 point to San Francisco.

12.   Higher Education

I would love to give San Francisco points for my Alma Matter, UC Berkeley.  But alas, as the name suggests, Cal is not located in San Francisco.  So who has the most 4-year universities?  Size definitely helps LA in this category, as it tops San Francisco with at least 6 public and private 4-year universities.  San Francisco only claims two in its borders (USF and SF State).  Note, post-graduate only universities not counted, but even if they were, it would still go to LA.

1 point to Los Angeles


13.   Politics

This is a totally subjective yet totally awesome category.  San Francisco initially takes the lead because it is one of only TWO places in the United States that is both City and County!  That’s right: SF is actually the City and County of San Francisco!  Awesome.  But LA fights back with its own unique brand of municipal governance: neighborhood councils.  It’s like Federalism on a municipal scale, with 95 (NINETY-FIVE!) neighborhood councils.  Plus, with a weak mayor system, LA City Council is basically 15 kings and kingdoms.  Running for Council in LA is like running for Congress and just as expensive.  LA takes the round due to sheer scale.

1 point Los Angeles.

14.   Cost of Living

Life is hard.  Life is expensive.  And life is particularly expensive in San Francisco, where rents have gone bat shit crazy.  Whatever money you saved on your $3 Miller Lite is more than spent on rent.  Housing in LA isn’t exactly on the cheap side, either.  But who has it cheaper?  Well, the advantage goes to Los Angeles, with an average rent of $1,435.  San Francisco has a ridiculous average rent of, well, you don’t want to know…

1 point to Los Angeles.

15.   Neighbors

So why care about neighbors?  You always care about neighbors.  No one likes a fussy neighbor.  San Francisco has some great neighbors.  East Bay cities like Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville and Alameda are great places to eat, drink, shop, and play.  You also have some beautiful nature neighbors in the extensive East Bay Regional Park System, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Point Reyes.  You even have Tahoe, the wine counties of Napa and Sonoma, and Santa Cruz as your weekend retreats.  Did I mention the Russian River Brewing Company is located in Santa Rosa?  Yea, SF has good neighbors.

But LA is not going to take this lying down.  LA has some pretty awesome neighbors too.  Cities like Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale are all fun places to visit.  Nature makes a play for attention of Angelinos as well, with Santa Monica Mountains, Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests.  And if you’re in to the whole, desert heat kind of thing, there’s Joshua Tree National Park.  Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Santa Barbara, and Palm Springs are available for a weekend jaunt.  Hell, you can get to San Diego in about two hours. And they have Stone Brewery in San Diego.

This is going to be a draw.  There are some great neighbors to these two cities. 1 point each!

And the winner is…



Point breakdown: Los Angeles: 7.5 points; San Francisco: 9 points


One Response to “LA vs. SF in 15 Categories!”

  1. bryan making

    LA vs. SF in 15 Categories! « Playing With Politics

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