London and Paris, Paris and New York, New York and Los Angeles, the tale of two cities is an age old one that spans continents and countries. In the sunny state of California though, the tale spans just 600 kilometres: LA and San Francisco. The sunny shores of Southern California draw visitors in the allure of glitz and glamour, while in the north, San Francisco moves to its own quirky beat made on fashion, food and innovation. In LA you’re more likely to gravitate toward the beach or the film lots of a glimpse of Hollywood life, while in San Francisco, it’s more about riding the tram, cycling the Golden Gate, or sampling some of the city’s famed sourdough with a cup of joe.
We all know about the allure of Santa Monica with its iconic timbered pier, beach sports and hip cafes along the boulevard. LA is home to a number of iconic beaches, from El Matador in the north to Laguna in the south, each with its own unique vibe, from surf breaks to famous sunset spots.
San Francisco, despite its foggy reputation, is also home to some beautiful sandy strips. For views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head to Baker Beach, but be warned the northern part is a well-known nudist beach. Grey Whale Cove and Montara Beach offer beautiful views with rocky outcrops flanking the white sand, while Ocean Beach is the biggest and most well-known in the city.
LA is home to a thriving culinary scene, some of the biggest names in food having set up shop here to feed the rich and famous. Like in any big city, you’ll find different neighbourhoods have a distinct flavour, from the beachside cafes of Venice Beach to the hip eateries of West Hollywood.
In San Francisco, things are much more compact. You’ll find one of the oldest Chinatown’s in the world here, dishing up delicious cuisine, while the Haight is the place for excellent Mexican street food, and Pier 39 is where to order fresh seafood. Clam chowder anyone?
The great outdoors is a big part of life in California, from Tunnel View in Yosemite to the windswept coastline of Big Sur. From San Francisco you can reach misty redwood forests at Muir Woods, and from LA, the famous landscapes of Joshua Tree. Close to the city too, in San Francisco, you can break a sweat on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail or the Lands End Trail, both in the heart of the city, while the Bernal Heights Summit offers sweeping views across San Francisco.
In LA, the Runyon Canyon Loop offers prime celebrity spotting and views over the city, while there are myriad short hikes in Griffith Park, Franklin Canyon Park and Wilacre Park, all within the city limits.
You may think San Francisco takes the cake with this one. The Napa Valley and Sonoma are two of the United States largest wine-producing regions, both just two and a half hours from the city centre. Characterised by hundreds of vineyards flooding the two fertile valleys, they’re also home to renowned restaurants and fruitful fresh produce markets.
From downtown LA, however, you can escape the city for the vineyards of Santa Barbara. Home to over 200 wineries, the county is a growing producer, and tourist destination, just three hours from downtown LA.
This is where Los Angeles and San Francisco really differ. San Francisco is proud of its artistic heritage, home to illustrious museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the independent Geary Street Art Galleries. You’ll also find incredible murals in the Mission District, and the favourite Cable Car Museum.
In LA, if you can drag yourself away from the beaches and star-spotting, the Natural History Museum, County Museum of Art and Getty Center are all worthwhile visiting. The Hollywood Museum is also great, walking you through the history of Tinseltown.
LA is famed for its high fashion and bikini-clad locals, while San Francisco is more, let’s say, eclectic. In LA you’ll find the sprawling Fashion District Downtown, as well as a host of malls like The Grove, the Beverly Center and Rodeo Drive. LA is also dotted with vintage stores hiding some exquisite finds.
In San Francisco you’ll find vintage goods in mint condition in the stores of Haight Ashbury, while the streets of Chinatown and the Mission District are distinctly one of a kind. High end is represented too, Downtown and around Union Square.
Hello Palm Springs. This desert oasis, long a favourite escape for the Hollywood elite, is the ideal side trip from LA. The wide open desert, canyon hikes, mid-century modern architecture, and excellent vintage shopping give it the edge LA is lacking.
From San Francisco, the obvious escape is Lake Tahoe. Both a summer and winter wonderland, the lake is home to ski resorts, wellness retreats, a host of notable restaurants and bars, and of course, stunning walking trails.
For a limited time only with Air New Zealand you can fly all the way to San Francisco for the same price as a flight to Los Angeles. Take a look at the latest online deals and to book, visit your local Escape Travel store or call 1300 273 482.