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Difference Between Living in New York and San Francisco

March 5, 2021
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Deciding to live between New York and San Francisco can seem like a daunting process. After all, how do you choose between views of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty versus the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, or picking between clam chowder and California-style burgers instead of bagels and New York-style pizza?

Both cities definitely have their perks, but aside from a whole new world of tourist attractions and must-eat food items, are there really any big differences between the two cities?

Let’s find out!

Median Apartment Rent

First, let’s talk about the differences in apartment rental prices between New York and San Francisco. For this article, we’re going to focus on 1-bedroom apartment rentals since this is the most common apartment in both cities.

The average apartment rental price in NYC is about $2,900 per month. However, if you live in Manhattan, it’s a bit more expensive at $3,475 per month.

On the other hand, the average apartment rental price in San Francisco is around $3,500.

When it comes to median apartment rent prices, New York has a much lower average rent, especially if you find an apartment in cheaper parts of the city such as Queens. If you’re lucky, you can rent a 1-bedroom apartment in Queens for as little as $2,000 per month.

If you're interested in finding out more about the median apartment prices in NYC, check out our guide to the best NYC apartment rental websites. We also have one for San Francisco!

Cost of Living

While New York tops the list of the most expensive cities to live in the USA, it’s actually slightly more expensive to live in San Francisco compared to New York! According to Numbeo, you will need around $8, 420 in San Francisco to maintain the same standard of life that you have in New York for $8,000.

The slight increase in the cost of living is caused by the higher median rental cost and the average utility bills that you would pay in San Francisco. However, this is offset by the fact that employees receive a higher average monthly net salary in San Francisco compared to New York.

Weather

When it comes to the weather, New York and San Francisco cannot be more polar opposites!

New York is known to have harsh and extreme weather conditions throughout the year. Summers can be hot and humid, with an average temperature of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit, with the occasional 100-degree days. During the winter, however, the temperature can drop drastically to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

San Francisco, on the other hand, has a relatively stable climate throughout the year. Although there are noticeably cooler or warmer days, the average temperature of the city ranges from around 50 degrees Fahrenheit during winter to around 72 degrees Fahrenheit during summer. You will rarely experience drastic spikes in temperature and humidity. However, considering the proximity of the city to the ocean, there are days when San Francisco gets very foggy.

In general, it’s much easier to adapt to the weather in San Francisco because you have a rough idea of what the temperature will be throughout the year.

Public Transportation

Both San Francisco and New York have trains and buses that service the whole city.

In New York, you will spend a minimum of $121 per month if you take the subway regularly, as this is the cost of an unlimited Metrocard that’s good for a month. Other railways include the Long Island Rail Road ($140-$500 per month for unlimited rides), the MetroNorth ($60-$500 for a monthly pass), and the SmartLink ($89 per month). Bus rides cost anywhere from $2.75 to $6.75 for a one-way trip.

In San Francisco, locals have several transportation options to move around the city. For those who live outside the city limits, both the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and the Caltrain have monthly passes that cost between $96 to $433 per month. For those living in the city, the SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) runs the Muni Train, which has a monthly pass that costs $78-$94 per month.

When it comes to public transportation, it’s cheaper to get around San Francisco.

The Commute Times

Both San Francisco and New York are highly busy and urbanized cities, which might explain why the commute times between the two are pretty close. On average, the commute time in NYC is around 37.5 minutes, while it clocks in at around 32.8 minutes in San Francisco.

There’s roughly a 5-minute difference, which doesn’t really have a lot of significance for the most part. However, it does place both cities above the national average of 26.1 minutes.

Crime Rates

According to Sperling’s Best Places, New York has a lower rate of both violent crime and property crime compared to San Francisco. New York has a violent crime rate of 28.2 against San Francisco’s 39.6. For property crime, New York rates 39.6, while the number almost doubles with San Francisco’s 79.2.

A possible reason for this is that these cities have a different approach to crime and safety. In New York, most people live in buildings with doormen and on-site security, while in San Francisco, many people live in detached apartment units without security.

What’s more, San Francisco seems to have a softer approach to criminal punishment.

While both cities define petty theft of items with a value of no more $1000 as a misdemeanor, the sentence in New York is imprisonment for a year and a fine of $1000. In San Francisco, the sentence is an equally fine of $1000, but the imprisonment only lasts six months.

In general, New York is safer for residents, particularly if you choose to live in the safer neighborhoods of the city.

City Culture

Just like the weather, New York and San Francisco seem to be polar opposites when it comes to the city culture.

New York has a more professional and work-centric culture, with an atmosphere that always feels like people are rushing to go about their business. This impression can be often seen in pop culture like movies and television, where New Yorkers always seem to be focused on their careers.

San Francisco, on the other hand, seems to have a more laid-back and relaxed atmosphere overall. This is not to say that locals don’t work hard - after all, Silicon Valley is located in San Francisco -, but the city seems to attract more millennials and hippies, compared to the stereotypical high-powered New York executive.

Quality of Life Index

At first glance, it might be hard to ascertain how to put a value on “quality of life”. However, you can calculate it based on various indices. Numbeo, for example, uses indices such as safety, cost of living, health care, purchasing power, and pollution.

According to the website, San Francisco is the clear winner with a quality of life index rating of 175.47, ranking it at number 57 out of all the major cities in the world. New York is lagging noticeably behind with a rating of 141.19 and a ranking of number 140.

New York or San Francisco?

Now that you know all the differences between living in New York and San Francisco, the biggest question remains: which city is better?

Honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer; it will ultimately depend on who you are. There are many factors to consider, such as your income, your lifestyle, your living preferences, and even what even kind of people you want to surround yourself with.

Some people might feel more at home in New York’s ultra-busy cosmopolitan atmosphere, while others might prefer San Francisco’s chill vibe. In the end, all that matters is you choose the city that best suits your needs and your future goals.

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