Playing With Politics

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

Round Two: LA Area vs SF Bay Area

Posted by Roobs on March 12, 2014


Yesterday I posted my first LA vs. SF comparison list, where San Francisco beat out Los Angeles in a pure city on city fight.  My list addressed what I thought was a gaping oversight on most internet lists on the same topic.  They would often (though, not all of them) grant LA regional status, while limiting SF to its city borders.  Meaning, some lists gave LA points for things like Disneyland, even though the happiest place on earth isn’t even in the same county.  HOWEVER, one of my earliest posts on this blog also addressed this ill comparison.   “In Defense of Los Angeles” showed how you can’t say Los Angeles has, for example, a horrible public transit system and SF has a great one because SF is tiny compared to LA.  The scales are different.  So  now that we have seen how city vs. city stacks up, let’s make this a fair fight by comparing the two general areas together.  So how does the LA Area stack up against the SF Area?

First: Define “Area”

Let’s first talk urban area.  Urban Area is a US Census designation given to urban areas for statistical purposes, but is more specific to our cases than, say, a Metropolitan Area, because it focuses specifically on urbanized areas and usually not given to areas of low density or low development, such as rural areas.  The US Census defines our two urban areas as: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, and San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont.

The other thing that needs to be considered is the non-statistical.  That is, the socio-cultural-economic metro area.  That is, an area that shares social, cultural, and economic ties.  This is more subjective and more difficult to define. (For example, ask people in the Bay Area if Santa Cruz is part of the Bay Area.)  However, it can be easily thought of as comparing the “SF Bay Area” to the “LA Area”.

So for the purposes of this list, my areas are defined as follows:

San Francisco Bay Area = All urbanized area surrounding the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, including San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, San Rafael, and Vallejo.

Los Angeles Area = The majority of Los Angeles County, excluding Palmdale, Lancaster, and cities east of Route 57 (i.e, entering the Inland Empire), such as La Verne, Claremont, and Pomona.

Using the same categories as before: Ready. Set. Fight

1.       Airports

Before you start critiquing, you need to get to the area somehow.  In the Bay Area, you have SFO and OAK.  Both airports are decently pleasant. Yes yes, there’s also San Jose Intl. but… well, meh.  As for LA, I still have three little letters for you:  LAX.  Round one goes to the Bay Area.

1 point to Bay Area.


 2.       Size

I still hate to award points for square miles.  But since size still matters, LA has the Bay Area beat in terms of square miles.

1 point to LA Area

3.       Weather

This doesn’t change much.  The metrics according to a list by Kelly Norton using NOAA data, Los Angeles still tops everyone with a total of 183 “Pleasant Days” per year.  San Francisco comes in at #3 with 129 pleasant days.

1 point to LA Area

4.       Density

Here is where things start shaking up!  San Francisco as a city may be the 2nd most densely populated city in the country, but the LA region is the most densely populated urban region in the United States (yea, It’s not New York or the Bay Area).  SF is the Area’s dense central city but then completed surrounded by low density suburbs.  Compare that to Los Angeles, which isn’t high on the density scale as a city, but evenly distributes its density over the entire area.  One of my urban planning professors put it like this: “New York is like Tokyo surrounded by Los Angeles.   Los Angeles is like Los Angeles surrounded by, well- Los Angeles.”

1 point to LA Area.

5.       Traffic

Traffic still remains a problem in Los Angeles .  The list of worst traffic jams in the nation still ranks the LA area tops for traffic jams, spending 64 hours stuck in traffic a year.  San Francisco is still not far behind at 54 for SF/Oakland and 34 hours for San Jose.  Bummer.

1 point to Bay Area.


6.       Walkability

Walkability becomes more difficult to judge when you go regional.  But Los Angeles still suffers from its size more than the Bay Area.  While Los Angeles has some great and walkable neighborhoods and cities scattered around, it takes quite a bit of effort, planning, and likely a car to get to and from them.   The City of San Francisco is still pretty walkable, and you can throw in Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Alameda, and a host of other cities in the Bay Area’s favor.  Not to mention the ease from which you can get to them.  Bay Area takes this one too.

1 point to Bay Area.

7.       Public Transportation

Despite what you might think, this is still a close one.  San Francisco takes the lead early because BART does a great job getting you to most places in the Bay Area, including expansion to San Jose.  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, including the Expo Line and (hopefully) Purple Line.  LA Metro also takes a big win by offering Metro Rail service until 2am on weekends. BART is still useless to late night revelers.  But both MUNI and Metro offer 24-hour bus service.  But the Bay Area has much more rail connectivity than LA.  Finally, Caltrain, while financially dubious at times, is vastly superior to Metrolink.  But Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner has higher ridership than the Capitol Corridor.  But what helps the Bay Area edge out ahead is the Clipper Card – a vastly superior payment system compared to LA Metro’s TAP Card and allows riders to use a single ticket (card) to ride almost all of the Bay Area’s transit systems.  I still don’t understand why the fuck you can’t use TAP to pay for the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.  So in terms of regional public transportation, the Bay Area edges out a win over the LA Area.

1 point to Bay Area.

8.       Bars & Restaurants

Both areas have some great bars and restaurants, with plenty of options for the picky eater and drinker.  But the Bay Area still comes out ahead.  The issue is no longer over accessibility, but how many great restaurants and bars are there.  Since this can be more subjective, I will use the only quantitative metric I can: Michelin Starred restaurants and bars per household.  San Francisco has a total of 38 Michelin starred restaurants. Los Angeles has none.  MarketWatch also lists San Francisco and San Jose as the #1 and #6 places to live if you like restaurants.  MarketWatch also lists San Francisco as the #9 place for bar goers, with six bars for every 10,000 households (as a side note, SF tied with Las Vegas.  LAS VEGAS!)  The LA Area didn’t make the Top 10 list, though you can still do a fine job getting drunk in LA.

1 point for Bay Area.

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.  LA likes to boast the biggest urban park of any major city with Griffith Park, but when you expand regionally, park space becomes fewer and far between.  The LA Area still ranks low on the list in terms of park space per resident.  ParkScore has Long Beach at #22 and Los Angeles at #35 in terms of park space.  Compare that to San Francisco’s ranking at #3, San Jose at # 11 and Oakland #18.  Bay Area wins at parks.

1 point to the Bay Area.


10.   Sports

Sports are important and many.  So let’s subcategorize! (Half points each.)

a)      Baseball: The Bay Area has the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series twice in the last decade.  The LA Area has the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Over the last decade, the Dodgers have only gotten new team owners.  Bay Area wins this half a point.

b)      Football:  The Bay Area has the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers.  The LA Area has no football team.  Half a point to the Bay Area.

c)       Basketball:  The LA Area has the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers and both play at Staples Center in Downtown LA.  The Bay Area the Golden State Warriors.  LA gets half a point.

d)      Hockey:  Los Angeles has the LA Kings.  The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012.  The Bay Area has the San Jose Sharks, who have yet to win a Cup.  LA gets half a point.

e)      Soccer:  The LA Area has the LA Galaxy.  The Galaxy have won the MLS Cup four times.  The Bay Area has the San Jose Quakes, which won MLS Cup two times.   LA Area gets half a point.

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 LA Area can’t beat out San Francisco.  Nerd Wallet rates San Francisco and San Jose as the 6th and 9th healthiest cities in America.  Los Angeles comes in as the 3rd unhealthiest city in America. Ouch.

1 point to the Bay Area.

12.   Higher Education

Who has the most 4-year universities?  Size definitely helps LA in this category as it has 10 public and private traditional 4-year universities. However, the Bay Area edges out a win over the LA Area with 11 public and private 4-year universities, including my beloved Alma Mater, UC Berkeley (Go Bears!).  Note, post-graduate only and technical colleges not counted, but even if they were, it would still go to the Bay Area.

See list here.

1 point to the Bay Area


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 once you leave San Francisco, politics becomes as usual, though often entertaining (Looking at you, Berkeley).  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.  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.  The City of San Francisco has a ridiculous average rent of, well, you don’t want to know.  The rest of the Bay Area isn’t far behind as rents keep creeping up.  So you’re still going to save on rent living in the LA Area over the Bay Area.

1 point to LA Area.

15.   Neighbors

So why care about neighbors?  You always care about neighbors.  No one likes a fussy neighbor.  Bay Area has some great neighbors.  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 retreat to the mountains.  Did I mention the Russian River Brewing Company is located in Santa Rosa?  Yea, the Bay Area has good neighbors.

But the LA Area is not going to take this lying down.  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 areas. 1 point each!

And the winner is…



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


2 Responses to “Round Two: LA Area vs SF Bay Area”

  1. Pepperdine, Azuza Pacific, and Woodbury University.

    LA takes higher education and therefore the list. 🙂

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