east vs west
September 9, 2006 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Can a diehard San Franciscan fall in love with New York? Or at least have a little crush? How can I be the matchmaker?

I'm an east coaster but most of my family is California-born and raised, and subsequently have all of that diehard west coast love. We kid about an east-west rivalry, but I think they really mean it. They say the east coast is kind of dirty and uncool and are quick to dismiss it as even worthy of a travel destination.

My cousin has an upcoming business trip to New York City -- she's never been here before and will be staying with me for a few days. How can I make sure she walks away with a favorable impression?

The challenge is that San Francisco is an amazing city in its own right -- I'm sure there are many areas where it equals or even trumps NYC. Are the nightlife, restaurants, shopping and cultural events on par in both cities? I want to find the places where NYC beats San Fran hands down. Or maybe... just things in NYC that you just wouldn't get in San Fran.

I haven't spent much time in San Fran, so any tips you bicoastal folks have are appreciated! We're both gals in our mid-20s. A few tips I've gotten so far:

- avoid Mexican restaurants (SF wins this one by a longshot)
- Central Park should not be a priority (apparently Golden Gate park is just as impressive)
- walk the Brooklyn Bridge (Golden Gate bridge isn't pedestrian-friendly)
- visit a museum, any NYC museum beats SF's offerings
- Chinatown NYC beats Chinatown SF
posted by milkdropcoronet to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I like both cities a lot. For me the thing that NYC has that SFO really doesn't have is the super-early history. There were things going on in what was now Manhattan in the 1600s, and there are buildings that are hundreds of years old in NYC whereas the big bulk of SFO is more like 100-130 years old. I'm aware that there have been people living in many parts of the US since prehistory, but the fact that New York's positioning as a business center is based on early Dutch businessmen being there way long ago is an interesting and unique [to those two cities] piece of information. A few other things that SFO doesn't have in the same way

- New York Public Library - their main research library is really nothing like SFPL
- a gigantic and OLD subway system
- Broadway
- Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance history
- Tenement history

Some more ideas here: http://www.nyhistory.com/links/museums.htm

You can forget ferry rides also. I wouldn't spend too much time comparing, and spend more time really showing off New York. For better or worse, one of the things NY really has going for it is how many lifelong and multi-generational New Yorkers there are who are fiercely in love with the place. This is true in SFO as well, but in a different way. On the other hand there are a lot of "NY is the center of the universe" folks and that mighyt rub someone who loves her own city the wrong way, so it's a fine line to walk.
posted by jessamyn at 9:44 AM on September 9, 2006

Why is this a competition? I live in San Francisco, and would never live anywhere else, including NYC, but only because of the weather.

They are my two favorite cities, bar none, but I don't see why they have to compete. They have so much in common (limited area, bridges, outlying sub-cities, unbelievable cost of living, etc.). What's not to like about either place?
posted by trip and a half at 10:22 AM on September 9, 2006

Non-mexican food. Number one is pizza, of course, but I'm sure that NYC also beats SF with things like gyros, hamburgers, dumplings, street pretzels, xxx Papaya hot dogs, etc. etc.

NYC's tap water is famous whereas I've never heard anything about SF's, but it looks like SF does at least have reservoir water instead of wells so there might not be a huge difference.

NYC has 230 Ask Metafilter questions whereas SF only has 95.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:24 AM on September 9, 2006

I've spent most of my post-college life living in either NYC or the Bay Area. When I was in New York, and friends came to visit, these were the things that people grooved on:

- The Cloisters
- Cheap Cuban-Chinese food, like La Dinastia on W 72nd (it's been a while, don't know if it's still there)
- wandering from the Village through lower Manhattan down to Wall Street
- For a completely different non-Manhattan experience, the Boardwalk at Brighton Beach.

In addition to skipping Mexican food, also skip the Thai restaurants. New York has a better supply of good Caribbean food than SF does. And, of course, pizza.

But most of all, just show her a good time; New York is a city that can win people over on its own merit.
posted by ambrosia at 10:28 AM on September 9, 2006

Never mind. I'm not going to get caught in this trap again. I'll enjoy both cities for what they are, thank you. Carry on.
posted by trip and a half at 10:33 AM on September 9, 2006

Born and raised in NorCal, been in NYC for going on 5 years.

Deff avoid Mex and any Asian food, SF has equally as good or better both.

Seconding the Cloisters - and a day pass at the Met is good there too (and vice versa). That can make for a great day, especially if you do the Met second, and go on the roof for happy hour.

Do brunch at Le Granne (20th and 9th, I think - Chelsea area), or at The Grey Dog Cafe (just off the W 4th street subway stop, I think - near or on Carmine). Get drinks at Employees Only on Hudson or The Spotted Pig around the corner, or any of the 2 billion cool small bars in town. Get a steak at Luger's in Brooklyn or Del Frisco's in the city (if you can afford it). Or grab a cheaper meal at one of those speakeasy type places like Freeman's or maybe La Esquina (yeah, mexican, but impossible to find makes it kind of cool), or a burger at the Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridian. Rent bikes and ride the WSH down around the tip. Avoid the South Street Seaport, SF crushes that one. See a taping of the Daily Show. Ride the subway (BART = booooring).

And, as much as I hate it, San Fran has nothing on Times Square and the Broadway district. Go see a show.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:58 AM on September 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the tips so far! I'll steer away from the "competition" aspect of the question and focus on what my cousin would enjoy in NYC that she wouldn't encounter in her day-to-day life in SF. Lots of great info here, things that I haven't done myself -- that's even more fun, me and her discovering the city together.
posted by milkdropcoronet at 11:02 AM on September 9, 2006

Live music, nightlife, and the Village, which are really three ways of describing the same answer.

disclaimer: I left NYC to come live in SF and haven't regretted it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:31 AM on September 9, 2006

san francisco is beautiful, both in the natural setting and in the urban landscape itself, with all the hills, parks, and lovely Victorian homes.

where it can't compare to manhattan is the urban-ness of it. the subway alone is a marvel. the brooklyn bridge is impressive not because its a bridge (the golden gate is quite walkable in fact) but becacuse of the stunning view of lower manhattan. do it at night. also I would not skip central park, it's a wonderful place and while goldeden gate park is also nice the two are quite different. golden gate is mostly forest and garden. in new york you are surrounded by skyscrapers.

a consequencec of the urbanness is that there is a hell of a lot going on. there is a lot going on in SF but probably 10 times as much in NY. SF goes to sleep at 2 or 3 am, so show your cousin a really late night (see ikkyu2's answer above!). another vote for times square and broadway. and the museums - the met and the natural history museum are world-class and must-sees in my mind for any visitor regardless of where they come from.

have fun!
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:52 AM on September 9, 2006

When I went to NYC for the first time in my mid 30s a few years ago after having lived my whole life in SFBA, here's is what I remember liking to do:

1. The Cloisters were good, but basically churchy so you have to like that 15th Century art thing. The story behind it is cool, though!

2. First thing I did was subway to Grand Central, walk past the Empire State Building, over to Broadway, then all the way up to Central Park. Bonus walking points if you do as I did and keep huffing it up the UWS to the Dakota and over to Gray's Papaya for food.

3. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, I agree.

4. St. Mark's Place. There's a great falafel place called "Chickpea" right outside there. You can walk from here and take in Canal St. and SoHo.

5. Go to one of the diner restaurants in Brooklyn or Meat-Packing district.

6. Magnolia Bakery in the W. Village. Everybody loves the cupcakes but the banana pudding is the bomb.

7. When I was there, the sign said there was a 6month waiting list for Daily Show tickets. I didn't check for rushes though.

8. Oh, and Fifth Avenue above, what, 50th or so? is a sight to behold. Just the canyon of ritz and nice tall apartment buildings.
posted by rhizome at 11:58 AM on September 9, 2006

Second Bright Beach,I would add Coney Island, Prospect park and downtown Brooklyn (esp Grand Army Plaza)

a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood which I guarantee a San Franciscan has never seen.

Anywhere in Queens which is the most diverse place in the world and may even out Asia SF.

Third fourth fifth the Cloisters, while you are up there you can show cousin the Hispanic Society in a beautiful beaux arts bldg, Washington Heights in all its Dominican splendor. You can take in Hamilton Grange house, since Alexander Hamilton is such an important figure, although the house is hemmed in by apartment blocks. The grange itself is long gone.

Wave Hill in the Bronx has nice Hudson River views.

You don't mention how upcoming it is but if it is end of October, beginning of November, the fall colors will be extraordinary, you can take in the greenbelt in Staten Island.

PS although I am a New York patriot,I like SF too.

PPS I don't want to disrespect your family, milkdropcoronet, but "and are quick to dismiss it as even worthy of a travel destination?" Kalamazoo is worthy of travelling if I've never been there.
posted by xetere at 12:13 PM on September 9, 2006

Uncool? They seriously think the east coast is uncool, compared to SF? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love SF, but NYC is head and shoulders above SF when it comes to cool.

Chinatown NYC only slightly beats Chinatown SF and Chinese food in general is much much better in SF, so avoid that.

Here's a great day in New York:
Wake up, put on something fun. NYC is more dressed up and much, much more fun to dress up in than SF. Go to any one of the many great to decent places to grab breakfast/brunch in the village/chelsea area. Maybe someplace like Cafeteria (great food, terrible service, and heaven forbid you get a second cup of coffee, but definitely "cool" to an out-of-towner), or AOC on Bleeker, Joe Jr's if you want a quick decent diner, or Murray's Bagels. Head over to the gallerys in Chelsea, where you can see a ton of cool art for free. Walk down, doing some window shopping through the meatpacking district and the west village, both interesting areas of town that SF has no real equivalent to. Walk through the village, through Washington Square Park, and do some more (perhaps real) shopping in SoHo if the mood strikes you, or head all the way over to the east village to take in another very cool neighborhood.
Now you're exhausted. Go home, rest up, grab some coffee, and put on something fabulous, because you can dress up literally as much as you damn well please and there are very few areas you can go to where you will feel overdressed (you most certainly cannot say that about SF). Pick someplace with great drinks for dinner. I mean, yeah, there's a ton of good food here, but there's also a ton of good food in SF. The difference is that there are far more restaurants with really cool atmosphere, great drinks, and interesting people to watch. Maybe grab dinner in the east village, then walk down to the LES to do some bar hopping, if that's your thing. Or you could go catch a movie at any of the super-indie cinemas showing stuff that's not out yet in SF and stuff that may never get there. Or see a play, a show, go to a club with some jersey kids, whatever your heart desires. And did we mention you can stay out till 4am?
Grab a slice on the way home, noting how easy it is to get a slice from some random joint that is better than any you could hope to get at all in SF.
Now that's what I call a nice day in Manhattan.
posted by ch1x0r at 12:59 PM on September 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

I grew up in the Bay Area, but have been in NYC for over 2 years now.

I prefer the Bay Area in pretty much every way over NYC. The one exception is the Subway, but it IS rather dirty (which is part of its charm, I agree, but not everyone feels that way).

I guess I'm not quite sure of your goal here. Do you want to convince them that they can have a good time in NYC? That's there's some cool stuff? Of course that's possible. Are you trying to convince them to move here or that NYC is better and cooler than SF? I don't think that will happen.
posted by falconred at 1:18 PM on September 9, 2006

I don't know much about SF in particular, but I grew up on the west coast and most of my family is still there.
Definitely Gray's Papaya. Get lost in the West Village, then get burgers at Corner Bistro. Staten Island Ferry if it's a nice day. The branch library in Flushing will blow your mind, too, if you really think the NYPL is the beating heart of NYC's public libraries (might as well get some Korean barbeque while you're in the neighborhood). I wish I could remember the name of the coffee shop/record strore/concert venue I was in on the LES a few weeks back; they made me the best iced mocha I've ever had. Get pizza a few times; New York City pizza is almost too good (or maybe just too consistent—pizza out west is all over the map) for a west coast palate to understand at first. Check out Park Slope some afternoon and end up in Great Lakes for drinks. Dominican yellow rice and beans. Jamaican beef patty between two slabs of coco bread. Seriously, though: no Mexican food!
posted by willpie at 1:31 PM on September 9, 2006

NYC's tap water is famous whereas I've never heard anything about SF's, but it looks like SF does at least have reservoir water instead of wells so there might not be a huge difference.

Ever had Anchor or Speakeasy beer? :) That's made from straight SF tap water my friend.

I find it hard to drink tap water anywhere else at this point (after living in SF for seven years).

Man, I love NYC, and I would live there if it weren't for additional cost of living, which is already too high for us here in SF (thus we are planning a move to Chicago - hello affordable middle ground!).

But as for a visitor from SF coming to NYC, there's one really, very easy way to show a slightly more favorable impression of the city. Go out after 10 PM at night and do things. The point being, you can do things on any night in NYC after 10 PM and there will be people on the streets doing things. SF, not so much. The city gets pretty ghost town after 10 PM unless you're specifically shooting for a concert or club.
posted by smallerdemon at 2:54 PM on September 9, 2006

Oh, there is one other thing that NYC just has to give up on: sweeping vistas. SF has NYC beat hands down due to the surrounding geography of the city. The Marin Headlands, the Oakland Hills, the city's hills, the ability to go to place after place after place in San Francisco and see just an amazing drop dead gorgeous view is possibly unrivaled in the US.

Every morning I walk to work and I am reminded of this and how amazingly beautiful the city is.

...uh, that is, when it's not fogged over. ;)
posted by smallerdemon at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2006

I'm a die hard "new york is the center of the universe" person and haven't ever been to SF (only LA and that's not even a fair fight).

I will admit that NYC is lacking in good Mexican food but in terms of food that's about it. Some people have said to avoid Asian in NYC, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Take the train out to Flushing or Jackson Heights/Elmhurst/Woodside and you will find some of the best Asian food in the country.

I think the two things that NYC has going for it is its diversity and it's non-stop totality.

Diversity: NYC, specifically the borough of Queens is the most ethnically diverse place on Earth and this makes NYC so rich in culture, low and high; there is a huge diversity of incomes too which is unfortunate, but it makes the city more real...it's not just a bunch of expensive buildings with rich people walking around; rent is expensive so a lot of life is lived out in the street which means a lot of vendors (not just crap and knock-offs), music, performances, public expressions of politics, etc. Venture out into the Boroughs and try the ethnic food wherever you are (check out chowhound.com's outer boroughs board for recommendations), go to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, hang out with the hipsters in Williamsburg, wander around Harlem, check out the brownstones up there, and also in Brooklyn, walk across Brooklyn Bridge..the views of Manhattan are awesome. Art is everywhere: GREAT museums plus hundreds of galleries (soho is done, but Chelsea is good and Williamsburg is hopping). MOMA is free on Friday's 4-8 pm and the Met is whatever you want to pay, and you will never see everything they have.

Non-stop totality: they say it's the city that never sleeps, and that is definitely true. It can be annoying if you live somewhere that never sleeps and you need to sleep, but at least for a vistor it's great. There are always clubs and restaurants open somewhere whenever you need one. You can have pretty much anything you want delivered to your home/hotel. You can do a lot on the cheap: find the best dive bars that have live music on off-nights, find cheap restaurants that have amazing food (like some Pakistani place where the cabbies hang out between shifts). If you only have $2 just get on the subway and ride around for hours...you will not fail to be entertained and might end up somewhere interesting. The only place that actually sleeps is the Wall St. area late at night, and weekends, but at least you can go shopping at Century 21.

I like 4 seasons, so I don't mind the weather here. NYC is gorgeous blanketed in snow, temporarily silent while still very much alive. No good mexican food? I can deal with that!
posted by kenzi23 at 5:36 PM on September 9, 2006

"I wish I could remember the name of the coffee shop/record strore/concert venue I was in on the LES a few weeks back; they made me the best iced mocha I've ever had."

Cake Shop?

More museums to see: MoMA, Museum of Folk Art, and the Museum of Television and Radio. If you find yourself in mid-town, definitely stop in at the MTR. You get to watch two hours of fairly comprehensive television archives. They might not have everything you want to see, but they have plenty of interesting stuff. It's a good place to stop in and rest your feet.
posted by one_bean at 6:46 PM on September 9, 2006

If you're downtown and like pickles, try out the pickle guys.
posted by one_bean at 6:48 PM on September 9, 2006

Yeah, the pizza here in SF sucks big-time, so take her to a coal-fired pizza place like Lombardi's.

SF doesn't have the haute culture of NY, so the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be most impressive, and the Frick Collection (especially if you tell her that the Frick was some guy's private house! and his personal art collection!) Also, the recently restored Grand Central Terminal is gorgeous (and a surprisingly good place to eat, considering that it's a train station).

And the sheer verticality of midtown Manhattan is amazing - the canyon walls soaring up out of sight is something you just have to see for yourself. Be sure to admire the Art Deco architecture of gems like Rockefeller Center and especially the Chrysler Building.
posted by Quietgal at 9:06 PM on September 9, 2006

I'm one of those irritating NYC chauvinists who hates everywhere else - except SF, which I adored when I was there a few years ago.
That said, the greatest thing about NYC for an out of towner is probably the sheer energy and excitement of walking the streets. SF has great food, and nice people and it's gorgeous. But no city has NYC's pulse. I would say just stroll through as many different neighborhoods as you can. Sterile but soaring midtown, glitzy Times Square, the quiet streets of the West Village, the freaks in the East Village, the chaos of Chinatown - you can do it all in a few hours.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:52 AM on September 10, 2006

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