New York, New York

Battle of the Giants

One has the world’s best culture; the other, perfect weather. Both are dirty, defined by expensive rents, and full of citizens who say their city’s the best. A fair and balanced guide to choosing between New York and San Francisco.

I don’t hate New York. Let me get that out of the way immediately. I don’t hate it, but why anyone would want to live there is beyond me. It’s a place to visit, like Las Vegas or New Orleans, where you entertain yourself for a few days, spend a lot of money, ogle and stare and eat and leave. Living there must be a unending exercise in personal frustration, trying to decide which museum to visit, which taxi to take, and which tourist to berate, assail, abuse, and mug.

By contrast, San Francisco, where I live, is a paradise of beauty that provides a quality of life unequaled by any other city, let alone that overwhelming city-state in the East. Where New Yorkers have to deal with daily migraines like that chick from Sex and the City and Paris What’s-her-vagina, San Franciscans bask in the carefree glow of California’s intense interest in protecting us from ourselves and have little more to worry about than the occasional earthquake and Robin Williams.

So let’s compare and contrast, and see just how these two cities fare in this, the War of Potential Residency.

Convenience Factor

New York: You can get anything, and I mean anything, home delivered. Need a Diet Coke right now? Your corner store will bring one up and add it to your tab. Hankering for a Thai rent boy? Have two! They’re cheap! Can’t seem to drag yourself off the couch to return that rental DVD? Don’t worry, they’ll bring you more! And more! And more! And why fret if it’s 4:28 a.m. on a Tuesday? You can get that meatball sub. Just ask!

San Francisco: Everything is homegrown and retail is a dirty word. Big, industrial, successful companies (i.e. Starbucks) are discouraged from even trying to install a storefront, so we end up with quaint, simple, family-run little stores that run out of milk and have to shut down at noon to feed the cats. Everything closes at 9 p.m., so forget about having any late-night noshes or even considering running down to the corner store for smokes. Besides, you can’t smoke anywhere, even inside your own apartment.

Conclusion: New York will make you fat, lazy, and cancer-ridden.

Advantage: San Francisco


New York: Four Seasons isn’t just a restaurant. Freezing cold, bone-chilling winters, boiling hot, sweaty summers, delightful otherwise. The beach is a train ride away; however, be forewarned that when you’re thinking about going there, so is everybody else. When the weather is perfect, everything is perfect. A stroll through the city reminds you why you wanted to move there in the first place, and everyone seems pleasant, content, and happy to see you.

San Francisco: Weather is fucked up. The best advice for June through August is to carry a couple of layers of extra clothing, because you never know what to expect when you round a corner or crest a hill. While it may be sunny and warm in the Mission, by the time you reach Cole Valley the bitter Pacific will have shoved in some thick, cold fog and heavy, chilling winds, and you’ll swear it’s November. But when it really is November, you’ll wear your wool pants and L.L. Bean jacket down 17th into The Castro, where everyone will be shirtless because it’s freaking hot. Plan nothing entertaining in advance without providing sweaters from Old Navy for all your guests.

Conclusion: New York weather is boringly predictable.

Advantage: San Francisco


New York: A closet in a five-story walk-up in Brooklyn costs you $5,000 a day. Rent control means no one ever moves out of the nicest apartments until they die, and once they’re dead the other residents of the building move in like ants protecting the queen. All the nice neighborhoods are overrun with snobby, pretentious, horribly dressed RISD refugees and their small, yappy dogs. All the poor neighborhoods have the best food, but you still can’t live there because they consider you a snobby, pretentious, horribly dressed RISD refugee, with or without the dog.

San Francisco: Ditto, pretty much, except that the closet has been subdivided into two separate apartments and they share a toilet. Unless you want a “live-work space” south of Market (aka “SOMA”), since they planned all those pre-bubble burst and no one wants to live in the huge concrete blocks. Wherever you want to live, you have to act fast, because stem-cell researchers are coming to town and they’re bringing lots of cash with them.

Conclusion: The housing market sucks.

Advantage: San Francisco. Because even if you’re spending 55 percent of your income on rent, your electrical bills are almost non-existent since there’s never a need for air conditioning.


New York: The subway takes you just about anywhere you need to go. If you abhor crowds, taxis appear with magical frequency along all major thoroughfares, and hailing one is as simple as raising your hand. You can get across Manhattan for about $9. If all else fails, hire a car or grab a gypsy cab—you’re taking your chances, but isn’t that what life’s all about? Streets are laid out in a methodical, logical fashion, and even if you elect to walk, it’s pretty much flat everywhere you go. If you own a car, be prepared to pay to park anywhere, but you’ll find a garage eventually, or just double park—no one seems to mind.

San Francisco: The subway takes you just about anywhere you need to go, as long as it’s along Market Street. If you want to take BART rather than MUNI to go to the East Bay, you will need to pay a separate fee based on the distance you travel, so it’s a crap shoot and you’ll always end up with a stupid BART pass with more money on it than you needed. Taxis are mythical creatures you sometimes see racing down the street, and they never stop for you. When you call to have one pick you up, you need to know your address even if you’re at a restaurant, and intersections don’t count. Getting into a taxi costs $4 before you go anywhere, and getting across town will cost $16. Don’t ask an Oakland taxi to take you into San Francisco or vice versa; they won’t do it. Streets are laid out based on whim and fancy, turning from two-way to one-way to the-other-way at random. And if you elect to walk, be sure your health insurance premiums are paid up. There is no such thing as “flat.” Likewise, there is no such thing as parking. San Franciscans seem to buy cars only so they can find perfect parking and never drive them again.

Conclusion: You don’t enjoy your expensive apartment in New York because it’s always so convenient to go somewhere else. San Francisco forces you to stay home because, even though it is a small city, actually getting anywhere is a nightmare.

Advantage: San Francisco, where you can benefit from all that money you’re spending on housing.


New York: In a word, perfection. Concerts of every imaginable type by the famous, nearly famous, and infamous. The stuff you see on the streets is better than the acts appearing on stages nearly anywhere else. World-class museums that set the standards. Art out the butthole, sometimes literally. Every movie opens there first, and no musical or stage show is considered a real show unless it makes it to Broadway. Carnegie Hall continues to hold the appeal it always did, and every Christmas those Rockettes still kick up their heels before Santa drops from the ceiling in his magic sleigh. There is, literally, nothing more anyone could want.

San Francisco: You can wear denim and Chucks to the opera. And I’m talking Levi’s 501s, not Earnest Sewns. Wicked made its debut here for “tweaking” before moving to Broadway to become last year’s most successful bore. This year, they’re trying the same thing with a musical version of Anne Rice’s Lestat, with music by Elton John. I’m not making this up. David Mamet lives somewhere around here. I think. Anyway, people curse a lot about real estate. Sony built a great big mall no one goes to. The most famous theatre, the Fillmore, is a dump, and for Christmas, Macy’s builds a giant tinsel Christmas tree on the front of the store in Union Square.

Conclusion: New York is the most culturally advanced city in the United States, if not the world. Something is always happening and you’re always invited.

Advantage: San Francisco. You will never feel out of the loop or discouraged that you missed anything. No one will ever ask, “Did you see so-and-so at such-and-such? It was/they were marvelous!” because no one did.


As you can plainly see, San Francisco wins the competition hands down. That’s why I live here! Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

I’d love to stay and chat, but I must dash off. I need to grab two sweaters and a jacket before I stand in line for 20 minutes at the local not-Starbucks while the overly friendly and oddly pierced counter employees talk to the tattoo artist in front of me about their Burning Man art project (something about dinosaurs and wizards) before I still pay $4 for a latte (tipping encouraged) so I can wait 30 minutes for the right MUNI train to take me somewhere other than the Embarcadero. That way I can get to work near the ballpark, which is named after a telephone company instead of the local team. I just can’t wait for the world premiere of the new Cirque du Soleil extravaganza there this winter. God, life is rich!

Lance Arthur runs rampant across the web, ignoring conventional wisdom while trashing his reputation and inspiring others to acts of absurd pointlessness. He lives in San Francisco with a cat and no boyfriend, so feel free to send a dating resume and qualifications post haste. More by Lance Arthur