There’s no shortage of famous cities in the United States of America. But arguably the most popular one is New York, a city that’s celebrated in media and film countless times. Hiding in its shadows is San Francisco, a city that always seems to get compared to The Big Apple.
As both are world-famous cities that boast a vibrant art scene and diverse food scene, this is understandable. But this is where their similarities end.
New York, for example, is an ever-bustling city that never sleeps, famous for its towering skyline. Meanwhile, San Francisco is a more laid-back city, with scenic natural views like no other.
There’s more to these two cities than these though. And if you’re trying to figure out which suits you best, you’ll get to know the two more below.
A small city with a big personality, San Francisco is brimming with an eclectic mix of attractions. With draws that appeal to everyone, the city allures visitors worldwide for more than its scenic beauty.
San Francisco is well-known as a city that gets wildly creative. Not only does this apply to its world-famous art scene, but its equally reputable food scene too. But this doesn’t begin to explain why San Francisco is such a magnet for adventurous tourists.
The city has countless other allures to keep you busy during the day and night. And if you’re eyeing the Golden City to host your trip, you’ll figure out why it’s so famous among tourists below.
What Makes San Francisco Unique?
A Spirited Art City
Widely considered to be one of the best art cities in the country, San Francisco is an art lover’s paradise. Art and culture have long been a part of the city’s identity. San Francisco has even had a major involvement in contemporary art and it continues to contribute to art to this day.
San Francisco is home to four percent of the country’s art galleries. With a plethora of galleries and museums in the city, you can expect an incredibly varied art scene too. There’s something for every art lover in the city, and it will take a lifetime to uncover its artistic side.
There’s no denying that San Francisco is dense with world-class museums and art galleries. But the city’s artsy side goes beyond this.
San Francisco also has a thriving performance art scene, and there’s always a show going on. The city is also full of well-renowned architecture throughout its steep landscape. More than that, local artists also showcase their work around the city, some as murals, while others make unique souvenirs.
There are tons of ways to experience San Francisco’s vibrant art scene. But there’s no better place to start your art tour in the city than the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, also called SFMOMA.
At SFMOMA, you’ll unravel San Francisco’s story through art. It’s also one of the USA’s biggest contemporary and modern art museums. Here, you can marvel at an unparalleled collection of renowned mid-century local artists like Joan Brown.
There are plenty more top-notch museums in the city. This includes the De Young Museum, Cartoon Art Museum, and the Legion of Honor. Some explore international arts, such as the Asian Art Museum.
If you want to get a glimpse of urban art in the city, grab a bike and head off to the Mission Murals. You’ll find over a thousand vibrant murals here sprinkled across several streets. This includes Horace Alley, Caledonia Alley, Clarion Alley, and Balmy Alley.
Undeniable Scenic Beauty
Thanks to San Francisco’s incredibly varied climate, you’ll find a diverse range of flora across the city. These stand among the stick-style homes that San Francisco is famous for. Combine these with the city’s steep streets and the city offers unique views you won’t find elsewhere.
San Francisco’s steep streets make for incredible vistas to take in the city view. But look a bit closer and you’ll find a plethora of more scenic gems to discover.
Venture off to the city’s northwesternmost cliffs and you’ll find the Land’s End. This nature park is home to a trail that takes you through cliffs that overlook the ocean. It’s famous for its vistas that offer a picturesque view of the Golden Gate, the cape, and the shore.
To get a stunning panoramic view of the city, make your way to Twin Peaks. These are one of the highest points in the city, and it holds a wealth of flora and fauna.
Flanking the Twin Peaks are grasslands and coastal scrub. And on your hike, you may come across the endangered mission blue butterfly. Once you reach the top, you’ll get a 180-degree view of the city, with nature in the foreground and an urban jungle in the background.
A truly unique sight in San Francisco’s Lombard street. This steep street is famous for its eight hairpin turns, surrounded by bright and colorful flowers and greenery. It’s also said to be one of the world’s most crooked streets!
A Foodie’s Paradise
San Francisco is where the food is just as good as its thriving art scene. A city that’s known for innovation, its food scene is diverse, inventive, and intensely international. With over 4000 restaurants in the city, over 40 of which are Michelin-starred, San Francisco knows how to tickle anyone’s taste buds.
There’s an overwhelming number of creative ways the locals spruce up the food scene here. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants are aplenty here, and so are trendy open-kitchen eateries. Some of the country’s most renowned chefs are behind top-notch restaurants, offering a fine dining experience like no other.
San Francisco is home to food-obsessed locals. But the city’s food scene doesn’t only cover the exciting dining experience in restaurants. This also extends to cooking food.
When in the city, you have easy access to fresh-grown produce of all kinds. The city has a wealth of farmers’ markets for you to explore. It’s where the city’s best-known chefs and farmers mingle with foodies of all kinds.
These markets not only offer fresh produce and prepared foods, but some also host food events throughout the year. Some of which serve as a forum for you to expand your knowledge on food and agriculture. While others are free cooking demonstrations that you can take advantage of!
San Francisco is home to some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks and iconic sights. These are an unmissable part of any trip to the city as you won’t find them elsewhere.
When you think of San Francisco, chances are, you’d have an image of the Golden Gate Bridge in mind. This long and beautiful red bridge is among the most photographed sights in the world. Within the area is also a strait where the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay meet.
You don’t need a car to go through the bridge, as there’s a pedestrian walkway here. And if you want to take a bike with you, you can do so on the western side. Offering a leisurely and scenic stroll, this is one of the top things to do in the city.
There are a few viewpoints on Conzelman road where you can get a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But the best views of this bridge are from another famous landmark, Alcatraz.
Alcatraz is a world-famous old prison situated on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Nicknamed “The Rock”, it housed some of the country’s most infamous individuals. Hauntingly alluring in many ways, a tour of Alcatraz is one of the most unique ways to spend your time in the city.
If you wish to get to The Rock, catch a ferry from Pier 33. Or if you want to see it up close without setting foot on the island, cruising the bay is a popular option.
San Francisco is also home to a world-famous Chinatown. It’s the oldest one in North America and also the largest one outside of Asia. Best explored on foot, Chinatown retains its identity and packs a ton of art and culture for you to experience.
It’s an exciting spot to dine, shop, and get cultured. Visit places of worship, buy unique souvenirs, and witness the locals go about their daily lives. With so much going on in Chinatown, it’s easy to get lost in its many allures.
Incredibly Vibrant Nightlife
San Francisco keeps the fun going even when the sun goes down. There’s still so much to see and do in the city at night. And if you’re an adventurous night owl, this means endless fun in the city.
Grabbing a drink or two is one of the best ways to cap off your day. And whether you want to dance the night away or prefer a chill night out, you’ll find no shortage of choices in the city. But away from the booze and all its allures, San Francisco has more night adventures for you to experience.
If you want to drink, San Francisco’s bar and club scene is as diverse as it gets. There’s a perfect neighborhood for you to explore depending on what you want out of your night.
You’ll find the most delicious concoctions around Union Square if you love cocktails. If you’d rather have fun at dive bars, make your way to the neighborhood of Mission. And if you’re heading out to dance all night, SoMa is the neighborhood to be.
Beer enthusiasts will find a paradise in Richmon or Presidio. These neighborhoods are dense with proud microbreweries. For wine lovers, the best neighborhoods to be in are Embarcadero or the Financial District.
If you’d rather not drink, you’ll find that the city’s nightlife isn’t only centered around booze.
You can watch performances of all kinds at the Civic Center or Hayes Valley area. Head to the San Francisco Symphony if you love orchestras or classic films. SFJAZZ indulges passionate jazz lovers, while theatre lovers will love BroadwaySF.
For the thrill seeker in you, tour around Alcatraz at night! With a night tour, you can wander through areas that aren’t accessible on a day tour.
A hidden gem in the city’s night scene is the Church of 8 Wheels. Here, you can travel back in time to the 1970s and go roller-skating in a retro roller rink!
New York is a city of endless attractions and countless things to do. No matter what you’re seeking on your trip, New York has it and does it well. Combine that with the contagious energy of the city, and you’ll never feel a dull day in the city.
The city’s iconic sights, such as the Statue of Liberty, may motivate you to visit. But once you get a taste of New York’s splendid food and art scene, impressive diversity, scenic beauty, and more, you’ll want to stay longer.
What Makes New York Unique?
A Vibrant Epicenter for Art and Culture
New York’s reputation as a leading art capital isn’t confined to the county. It’s considered to be one of the art meccas in the world. And in this art lover’s paradise, you have hundreds of museums and art galleries to choose from to get cultured.
The Big Apple is home to some of the most influential masterpieces in the world, housed in world-class museums. At the Museum of Modern Art alone, also called MoMA, you’ll find a treasure trove of these.
It’s the home of Vincent van Gogh’s famous masterpiece, The Starry Night. Here is also where you can find Pablo Picasso’s innovative work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Johannes Vermeer’s Woman with a Water Jug also calls MoMA its home.
But New York’s incredible art scene isn’t all about timeless and historical artworks. Its artistic prowess lives on thanks to the wildly creative minds that it homes.
Artists from diverse backgrounds flock to New York for art, among many other things. The city hosts plenty of art fairs and events throughout the year. All these showcase the talents of those that the city produced.
New York is brimming with creativity that its art scene refuses to limit itself to buildings. Said to be the cradle of street art, urban art is well-celebrated throughout the cityscape.
Street art here ranges from alluring eye candy to thought-provoking works to silly murals.
Many of them have become an attraction in themselves, such as Banksy’s Hammer Boy. Others cover entire building walls, such as the Gandhi and Mother Teresa Mural. Many are an eclectic mishmash of stunning works, such as the Welling Court Mural Project.
Away from visual arts, New York is also famous for its performing arts scene. There’s always a show to watch every night of the week here. Whether you’re into live music, drag performances, or everything in between.
But more than gigs and concerts, New York shines best at the theatre. None can top the famous Broadway Theater, one of the most exclusive of its kind in the world.
At the theatre district, you’ll find no shortage of incredible talent and entertainment. There’s something for every preference and age here, so everyone can have fun.
Internationally Diverse Food Scene
New York is a bustling melting pot of nationalities from far and wide. Its multicultural identity is especially evident in its endless sample of international cuisine. Right within the city, you’ll get spoiled with choices for tasty eats from all over the world.
The city is arguably where you can get the best Italian food outside Italy, right at Little Italy. New York is also home to an exciting dining experience in Chinatown. But you’re never too far from other foreign flavors with all the independent eateries sprinkled across the city.
Adding excitement to its food scene is the wealth of culinary experts in New York. Some of which are the backbone of the city’s 73 Michelin-starred restaurants. While others are passionate chefs behind the best-loved eateries in town.
While there is a wealth of dining options in the city, eating like a local will truly make you feel like you’re in The Big Apple. If you think food portions around the USA are big, then New York will surprise you.
Supersized dishes are practically the norm here. You’ll get giant pizzas that take up the entire plate, pretzels the size of your head, generously stacked burgers, and more. All these also come at great prices, so you’ll get your money’s worth too.
With an eclectic mix of restaurants, you’ll never go hungry in New York. The city has an answer to every craving, every palate, and every budget its tourists have.
The Iconic New York Cityscape
They say that walking through the streets of New York is a humbling experience. Among the many reasons for this are the towering skyscrapers in the city, making you feel small in the grand scheme of things. But even if this doesn’t have an effect on you, you’ll constantly be looking up to marvel at the stunning structures in the city.
Skyscrapers are an unmissable part of the city’s famous skyline. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are the stars here. But they’re not the only imposing steel and glass structures looming over you here.
A city that’s brimming with history, New York has an eclectic architectural scene. Between soaring towers are buildings from various eras, creating a cityscape where the old meets the new. You’ll find no shortage of Art Deco and Gothic revivalist masterpieces in the city.
Despite the city’s interesting cityscape, some sites stand out as famous landmarks of a city that’s so full of character.
An incredible monument that symbolizes freedom, the Statue of Liberty is the icon of New York. A monument like no other, you can combine a trip to the Statue of Liberty with a trip to Ellis Island. The island symbolizes the American Dream for the immigrants of the country.
Another recognizable sight of the city’s skyline is the Brooklyn Bridge. Running over the waters of the East River, this beautiful bridge is also heavily used in media and film. More than that, it’s also near other iconic sites in the city, such as DUMBO.
Lush Green Spaces Galore
Despite being a bustling and vibrant cosmopolitan city, New York is not all about steel, glass, and concrete. With towering buildings everywhere, it’s easy to forget the large, lush green pockets hiding in the city.
The poster child of the city’s impressive park system is Central Park. Considered the lung of New York, it’s also a tranquil retreat right in the center of all the action.
This massive park occupies a huge chunk of Manhattan. Scenic beauty, the park offers stunning landscapes filled with statues, a castle, and lush greenery. More than these, Central Park has also survived wars, thus, it’s also a historical site.
While Central Park is certainly the most famous of its kind in the city, it’s not the only green oasis in the city as there are tons more for you to discover.
Prospect Park is a perfect summer retreat as it has a swimming pool with tons of shade to relax under. Pelham Bay Park features several waterside golf courses as well as riding trails. The High Line is much like an open-air museum, as it’s filled with tons of art installations.
If you can come to the city during spring, you can watch the cherry blossoms bloom at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Or if you want to watch the day go by with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, head to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
For an off-the-beaten-path experience within the city, make your way to Staten Island. It’s not only home to a state park, but also a state forest. Here, you can wander through trails that make you feel like you’re miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Boroughs With Distinct Characters
The image most people have of New York is actually Manhattan, as it’s home to the iconic landmarks of the city. But this is only one of the five boroughs that make up this bustling cosmopolitan. Each borough is unique, with its own allures that offer you a distinct experience from the others.
You’re only getting a slice of what the city has to offer if you’re limiting yourself to Manhattan. To truly get the whole experience, you have to explore Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island too.
Manhattan is the borough that needs little introduction. It’s the epicenter of all action, where the classic New York sights are, and the most touristy part of the city.
It has all the world-class attractions you’d expect, from museums, theaters, restaurants, and more. The famous Statue of Liberty and Times Square, among other iconic landmarks, are here.
Brooklyn is the trendy, easygoing, and youthful neighbor of Manhattan. Although it’s known for its modernity, it’s actually a balance of the old and the new.
You’ll find hip vibes in this cultural hub, especially around Williamsburg. This is where artisanal shops, vintage stores, and more, thrive. Still, Brooklyn retains its old-time charm in sites such as the Brooklyn Museum.
Another artsy neighborhood is Queens, the largest borough in the city. This neighborhood is as diverse as it gets, both ethnically and racially. As such, the food scene here is top-notch since you’ll get a taste of a wide array of international cuisines here.
Another incredibly diverse borough is the Bronx, which is also the birthplace of hip-hop. This borough is constantly reinventing itself as a melting pot of cultures.
The Bronx, in its earlier days, was home to the Irish and Germans, then Jews and Italians. After this, it became the epicenter for Puerto Ricans, and then those from the Dominican Republic and East Africa. The culture in the Bronx always changes, and varies from one generation to another, making it an exciting borough to visit.
Staten Island is the borough of parks, making it an outdoor lover’s paradise. But it’s also home to plenty of sites that keep the city’s history alive. It’s mostly a residential area though, and its suburban charm is a breath of fresh air in New York.
Is San Francisco Better Than New York?
Figuring out which of the two is better will depend on what you want on your trip. Because their draws are alike in many ways, you have to focus on the general vibe of each city.
If you love the feel of a big and bustling city with endless things to see and do, go for New York. But if you want a more relaxed trip that focuses more on natural scenery, go for San Francisco.
Is San Francisco Safer Than New York?
San Francisco and New York are relatively safe destinations, despite being major cities. But statistically speaking, New York is safer than San Francisco. In fact, New York is often considered one of the safest large cities in the country.
Based on the FBI’s data, San Francisco has a higher crime scale. For property crime, the city scored 79.2. And for violent crime, San Francisco has a score of 39.2.
San Francisco also has a high homeless population which factors in with these crime scores.
Meanwhile, New York has a score of 24.9 for property crime. And the city scored 28.2 for violent crime.
Be aware that both cities have bad areas that you should avoid. In New York, these unsafe areas are more remote. While in San Francisco, they are often closer to the downtown area.
Still, both cities are safe as long as you practice common sense and as long as you’re aware of your surroundings. Keep a good eye on your belongings and don’t venture off into unknown areas, especially at night. When it comes to personal safety, traffic accidents are more likely to happen.
Is New York Cheaper or More Expensive Than San Francisco?
Both San Francisco and New York are among the most expensive cities in the US. But generally speaking, New York is more expensive than San Francisco.
Still, this is not as simple as you may think as the expenses in each borough of New York vary. The borough of Manhattan is pricier than San Francisco. But San Francisco is pricier than other boroughs in New York.
To give you a better picture of what your expenses would be in both cities, here’s an average travel cost.
Per person, the average daily cost in New York is around 238 USD. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, this is around 175 USD. Below is a breakdown of these costs.
Accommodation in New York is 137 USD for one person and it will cost 106 USD for a single room in San Francisco. Transportation in New York is around 39 USD and only 19 USD in San Francisco. Amusement expenses are around 77 USD in New York and only 37 USD in San Francisco.
Food and drinks for a day are also pricier in New York, though not by a lot.
New York to San Francisco Distance
The straight line distance from New York to San Francisco is around 2572 miles (4139 km). The driving distance is around 2902 miles (4670 km), which is longer due to road curvature. Still, this distance will depend on which route you take on your trip.
New York to San Francisco, Time
New York follows Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5) while San Francisco uses Pacific Standard Time (GMT -8). This means that New York is 3 hours ahead of San Francisco.
San Francisco vs. New York Size
San Francisco is a smaller city than New York. It has a land area of 46.9 square miles (121.4 square km). Meanwhile, New York has a land area of 302.6 square miles (783.8 square km).
Distance From New York to San Francisco by Plane
The plane distance from New York to San Francisco is around 2568 miles (4132.7 km).
San Francisco to New York by Train
Several trains run between San Francisco to New York daily. A train trip between the two cities covers a distance of 2566 miles (4129.5 km). And the travel time is usually around 80 hours and 31 minutes, but the fastest trains can cut this trip down to 77 hours and 50 minutes.
Given the long distance, a train trip from San Francisco to New York is on the pricier side. Tickets can cost anywhere from 251 to 295 USD for one seat. This price will depend on the time and date of your booking.
For example, the 251 USD train leaves San Francisco at around 3:50 PM. While the most expensive tickets on this route, at 295 USD, will leave at 4 PM.
The busiest day on this route is on Wednesday, so you can expect a higher price on this day. The least crowded day is Saturday, so you can get cheaper tickets on this day while having more room on the train.
Luxury Train From San Francisco to New York
There’s only one train line that takes you from San Francisco to New York and that’s Amtrak. With Amtrak, you have different class options to choose from. And the most luxurious one is first class.
With this, you’ll get spacious and comfortable seats on your journey. Seats have lumbar support, footrests, and adjustable headrests for your comfort. Don’t worry about running low on battery as there’s an outlet by the seat, too, for your convenience.
WiFi is also available, though it can be spotty depending on where you are on your trip. Also with this class option are at-seat services. You’ll have a complimentary meal and drinks given straight to your seat.
Sleeper Train From New York to San Francisco
With the train travel time from New York to San Francisco lasting for a few days, you have no choice but to sleep on the train. The train seats are comfortable and many people sleep in them well. But if you want a bit more comfort during your trip, you can go for a sleeper class option.
With this class, you can get a sleeper compartment. Amtrak offers a few sleeper options on this route. You can choose from a bedroom suite, a bedroom, or a roomette.
Keep in mind that this option is on the pricier side. For example, cross-country rides have a high price tag of over 2400 USD for a round-trip ticket.
Distance From New York to San Francisco by Train
The distance from New York to San Francisco by train is around 2566 miles (4129.5 km).
San Francisco to New York Drive
One of the most enticing trips you could take in the country is driving between the stunning west and east coast. Between San Francisco and New York are thousands of miles of prairies and mountains.
There are many routes to choose from on this journey that’ll take you to scenic spots. But if you want a no-fuss trip that gets you to New York right away, then you can drive straight through interstate highways.
Driving from San Francisco to New York via I-80 E, you’ll cover a distance of 2906 miles (4676.8 km). And on average, a car ride will take around 43 hours to complete this trip.
How Far Is San Francisco From New York by Car?
The distance between San Francisco to New York by car depends on the route you choose. The shortest route is via I-80 E, which has a distance of 2906 miles (4676.8 km).
Southern Route – San Francisco to New York
The southern route from San Francisco to New York City takes you through several states. With plenty of scenic stops along the way, you’re in for a treat on this route!
From San Francisco, make your way to Oakland, and then from there, you can go through Yosemite National Park. After this, make your way to the mountains of Mammoth Lakes. You can then go through Death Valley and then Amargosa Valley and Corn Creek.
You can leave California by heading for Las Vegas, where you can marvel at the scenic desert roads. You can then go to the Valley of Fire State Park, another scenic spot.
You can then go through the interstate to Dixie National Forest and Zion National Park. From there, you can go to the Rocky Mountains for the views. Make your way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
After this, you can go through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. You can then go to Knoxville, Tennessee for the Great Smoky Mountains.
From Knoxville, take the I-81 and I-66 to take you to Washington DC. Following Interstate 95, you’ll go through Baltimore, Wilmington, and Philadelphia. And from here, you can make your way to New York!
Best Driving Route From New York to San Francisco
The best route from New York to San Francisco depends on what you want to see on your trip. Besides that, you also have to consider your travel time as it’ll take a long drive between the two cities.
The most direct choice is via I-80 W, which has a distance of 2902 miles (4670.3 km). This is the fastest route, with a travel time of around 43 hours. The downside is that this isn’t the most scenic route to take.
You can also go for the northern route, which has a distance of 3270 miles (5262.5 km) and takes around 52 hours to complete. This is a great option as it only takes around 52 hours to complete, but it also takes you through scenic yet less popular scenic landmarks. With this route, you’ll go through Cleaveland, Chicago, the Badlands National Park, and Mount Rushmore.
A more scenic option is the southern route, though it’s the longest one too. It covers a distance of 3730 miles (6003.8 km) and takes 60 hours to complete.
This route takes you through Philadelphia, Memphis, Aspen, and also Las Vegas. You can go to Death Valley and Yosemite National Park.
San Francisco to New York Road Trip
A road trip from San Francisco to New York can take you to some of the country’s most scenic landmarks. You’ll go through Sacramento, Chicago, Denver, and Philadelphia.
Along the way, you’ll go through several parks such as Yosemite National Park and Rocky Mountain National Parks. You can even visit the stunning Lake Tahoe and Niagra Falls. But these are only the route’s highlights, as there are tons more beautiful spots along the way for you to explore.
This route covers 3190 miles (5133.8 km) and takes around 50 hours of driving time.
New York to San Francisco Road Trip Distance
The road trip distance from New York to San Francisco depends on your chosen route.
If you want the most straightforward route, follow the I-80 W. This has a distance of only 2902 miles (4670.3 km). Being the most direct route, this has a travel time of only 43 hours.
The longest yet most scenic route is the southern route. This route covers a distance of 3730 miles (6003.8 km). And on average, it takes around 60 minutes to complete.
If you want a shorter yet also scenic route, go through the northern route. You’ll be covering a distance of 3270 miles (5262.5 km) with this option. And it takes around 52 hours of travel time.