I’ll be the first to admit that comparing living in San Francisco vs. New York City is a daunting task. Some argue it’s like comparing apples to oranges and I can’t say I disagree, but I made the effort regardless.
Chances are good that if you find yourself contemplating living in San Francisco vs. New York City, you’re in a very exciting spot in your life. The world is clearly your oyster, so you’re doing something right.
You get to choose between two bustling cities ripe with opportunity. The catch? The cities couldn’t feel more different. Found on opposite ends of the country, New York City is known as the City that Never Sleeps while San Francisco, which hugs the striking Pacific coastline, is known as the City by the Bay.
Life in these cities is different enough to warrant debate so today we discuss that very topic using data and facts. Let’s take a deeper look at the similarities and difference between living in New York City vs. San Francisco.
Living in San Francisco Vs. New York City
Which city is bigger: New York City or San Francisco?
To truly appreciate the difference between living in San Francisco vs. New York City, you need to understand the city size and population.
Let’s start with New York City
New York City is comprised of five borough — Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
The combined population of New York City is 8.5M and the median age is 36.2.
In terms of size, New York City is 302 square miles — the population density is 27,000 people per square mile.
In fact, NYC is the most populous city in America.
It’s important to understand that, unlike NYC, San Francisco is only comprised of one county (the adjacent cities remained independent, opting out of being absorbed into one large city like NYC’s 5 boroughs).
Therefore, when people refer to San Francisco, they’re referring to the city proper — none of the surrounding cities.
San Francisco’s population is roughly 864K and the median age is 38.3 (2 years older than NYC).
In terms of size, San Francisco is 46.9 square miles (roughly 6.5X smaller than NYC) and the population density is 18,000 people per square mile, so it feels less crowded.
By comparison, San Francisco isn’t even in the top 10 list of the most populous cities in the country.
Here’s another way to look at it
If you compare the size of San Francisco solely to Manhattan island (which some would argue its a more apt geographical comparison), you’ll still find that Manhattan has a higher population (1.6M compared to 864K) even though it’s half the land size of San Francisco.
In the end, anyway you slice it, New York City has both a higher overall population and higher density than San Francisco which makes the city feel more crowded and busier.
Access to green spaces
Visiting Central Park seems to be on everyone’s bucket list for good reason — the park is a true marvel to behold!
Yet few know that San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is actually bigger than New York City’s Central Park by 150 acres.
But I get it, there’s more to a city than an iconic city park. Let’s take a look at how much value the respective cities place in public green spaces.
San Francisco has 220 city parks compared to New York City’s 1,700 parks, recreational facilities and playgrounds.
But we all know that quantity doesn’t always mean quality — San Francisco outranks New York City time and time again as having one of the most robust park systems in the country.
Further Reading: 10 ICONIC NYC Parks You Can’t Afford to Miss
Cost of living
Let’s be frank here, shall we? Living in New York City or San Francisco won’t be anywhere near affordable.
Both cities consistently rank as the most expensive in the country, but one always tops the list — San Francisco.
That’s right, San Francisco is America’s most expensive city to live in. The main culprit is the cost of housing, as we all know, it’s boils down to supply and demand.
San Francisco refuses the “Manhattanization” of the city and places strict restrictions on the building of new housing units.
The average cost of a home in New York City is $690K compared to San Francisco’s hefty price tag of $1.3M (50% more!). If you’re renting a 1-bedroom apartment, expect to pay $1,280 more in San Francisco.
Average monthly rent for 1-bedroom apartment in San Fran vs. NYC:
- San Francisco: $3,767
- New York City: $2,495
Statistically speaking, the cost of living in San Francisco is 3.1% higher than New York City.
Which city is safer: San Francisco or New York?
For many of us perception is reality. I’ve never felt unsafe in New York City because I’ve never felt alone. This goes hand in hand with NYC being a more populated city.
San Francisco is a different story — mostly due to the unpredictability of the homeless population (largely due to substance abuse).
But I understand that my feelings aren’t facts, so let’s take a look at the numbers. New York City often makes the list of safest metro cities in the US.
Statistically speaking, living in New York City is safer than living in San Francisco. Which aligns with my personal experience as well.
Proximity to nature (weekend escapes in general)
San Francisco shines in this department by far.
Rolling green hills engulf the city but if you need to escape into natural wonder – you have plenty day trips to choose from.
Start with a breathtaking road trip along the west coast and pop off in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Big Sur before heading over to Napa Valley where the Tuscan landscape will confuse you for Italy.
Or if you’re into national park, head over to Yosemite National Park or Lassen National Park — neither will disappoint, but Lassen offers a higher chance for solitude.
Any New Yorker will stress the importance of leaving NYC for the weekend, when possible.
Escaping the bustle of city living in a necessity! The challenge? Finding viable natural options.
Sure, there’s always The Hamptons, but the nature on the east coast doesn’t hold a candle to the west coast.
Job opportunities + median household income
There’s an ongoing joke that everyone in SF works in tech and NYC actually has some diversity (finance, medical, tech, etc.).
There’s truth to that. Sit at a cafe in San Francisco long enough and you’re bound to notice that 80% of the conversations are tech-centered (be it work projects or a startup idea, etc.).
But tech pays well. In fact, on average, salaries in San Francisco pay 3.9% more than in New York City.
In New York City, there’s more professional variety — at a cafe in NYC, you’ll observe a mishmash of folks discussing wildly different industries.
Median household income in NYC vs. San Francisco
The biggest difference here is that NYC has a city tax (3%ish) in addition to the state income tax, where San Francisco does not.
If you’re earning $85,000 in NYC you can expect to pay around 9.5% in income taxes and have an 8.9% sales tax to consider.
On the other side of the coin, a $85,000 salary in San Francisco means you’ll pay 9.3% in state income tax and have a sales tax of 7.25% to consider.
As you can see, that income bracket is taxed similarly between the two cities, but the sales tax is higher in NYC.
You’ll want to really consider your lifestyle (especially if you enjoy shopping) while determining if living in San Francisco vs. New York City is better for you.
You know what they say: “Two things in life are certain — death and taxes.”
Home to 8.4M people and with more than 200 languages spoken on a daily basis, New York City is often billed as one of the most diverse cities in the world.
By contrast, San Francisco isn’t even the most diverse city in the state of California.
But don’t get me wrong, both cities have thriving diverse communities and are full of rich culture.
In terms of climate and weather, the difference between living in San Francisco vs. New York City is night and day.
San Francisco maintains a steady (albeit cool) climate year-round. This means summers aren’t as warm as most folks expect but winters are very mild.
In fact, the record low temperature in San Francisco is 37 degrees (a mere 7 degree difference from tropical Miami).
New York City, on the other hand, has all four seasons properly covered — but truth be told, only two are pleasant (in my opinion).
Spring and fall in NYC are pure bliss, but winter and summer? Talk about blistering cold and insufferable heat.
So this one depends entirely on you — do you love mild weather year-round (SF) or do you prefer having 4 distinct seasons (NYC)?
In terms of fine-dinning options, the numbers don’t lie. New York City is the 5th most Micheline-Starred city in the world (76!!). But fret not, San Francisco isn’t far behind and clocks in as the 9th most Micheline-Starred city with 38 stars.
If I had to guess, I’d bet you don’t plan to eat a fancy meal every night of the week. So let’s get more down to earth.
In terms of delicious food options and semi-affordable meals, San Francisco often clocks in as the Number #1 foodie city in America. Hard to argue with facts, my friends.
One of the biggest advantages of living in a large city is having the ability to get around without a car. That’s where efficient public transportation comes into consideration.
Keeping in mind that everyone has a love/hate relationship with public transportation, it’s helpful to focus on the facts.
There’s several points to consider when ranking a city’s transportation system: ease of use, number of transit routes, frequency, distance between stops, patrons served, etc.
With these factors in mind, WalkScore recently rated public transportation in the largest US cities.
The result? NYC has the best public transportation system in the country, followed closely behind by San Francisco — which means you’ll get where while living in either city.
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Final thoughts on living in San Francisco vs. New York City
As you well know, there is no promised land, right?
The right city for you depends entirely on you. I’ve enjoyed living in San Francisco and New York City, there’s massive pros and cons to both of these places.
I hope these stats and data help guide you in the right direction. It’s all about having a good work/life balance and you know better than anyone what your priorities are.
I hope you found this comparison of life in New York City vs. San Francisco helpful.