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NYC VS SF: Who Has the Better Parks, Beaches, & Outdoor Bars

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By Sam Devine & Jesse McGrath

Sam Devine is a writer living in San Francisco, Jesse McGrath is a writer living in New York City, and this is their argument…

It’s the endless argument: which city is better — NY or SF? People reading that statement on opposite ends of the country will scoff simultaneously. “Clearly the answer is (insert preferred city here)!”

We journalists are supposed to be objective, though, so we looked for advice from accomplished writers.

“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft,” advised Mary Smich of the Chicago Tribune. Ok, but which one is better?

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland,” said Tennessee Williams.

Still unsure which was the clear victor, we decided to duke it out in an ongoing series, examining the different facets of each city. First up:



Walking across the Brooklyn bridge and strolling through New York with friends rank amongst the most magical moments of my life. But they haven’t convinced me to move there because San Francisco has way more outdoor activities. SF has so many options, it’s actually hard to pick a place to start, but since water is the base of life, let’s start there.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

SF has multiple free, sandy, swimmable and surf-able beaches. Sure the water’s cold, but it’s not likely to contain Enterococci bacteria unless there’s been a massive storm. Baker Beach has a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate, resplendent with dolphins playing in waves. And the east end of the beach allows nude sunbathing. Our 3.5 mile-long Ocean Beach has fire pits for bonfires and a constant surf break enjoyed by conventional surfers and kitesurfers. Speaking of wind sports, Crissy Field, a popular BBQing and dog walking area, is also a launch spot for windsurfers and kiters looking to ride under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco is also supremely bike-able. If you love two-wheeled life — be that bicycle, scooter or motorcycle — there are world-class routes within the city limits — twisties, hill-climbs, and straight-aways all within a few miles of home. And there are even more amazing routes within a twenty-minute drive. The manager of a local motorcycle rental agency told me that people regularly return with tears of joy after riding routes that we casually cruise without much thought before heading to work.

The curves up on Twin Peaks are a blast on two wheels

Then there’s the sheer amount of open park space we have. Did you know Golden Gate Park is actually bigger than New York’s Central Park? Yup. Central Park is right around 842 acres while Golden Gate Park is 1013. Furthermore, the Presidio is 1,491 acres, which means we actually have two parks bigger than Central Park! Oh, yeah, also: I’ve never seen a “Stay Off the Grass” sign in any of our parks. We even have in-town hikes. Mount Sutro’s eucalyptus-covered slopes offer unparalleled views and musty escapes into nature.

There are also plenty of lackadaisical things to do. If day drinking on the grass in the sun is your thing, there’s no better place than Dolores Park, with its stellar view of downtown sparkling in the distance. Besides that, there are almost too many patio-equipped bars to mention: Zeitgeist, the Ramp, Blackthorn Tavern, the Gold Cane, If you like to move around while you day drink, then perhaps you’d prefer the frisbee golf course in Golden Gate Park.



San Francisco’s status as a “surf-able” beach town is a myth that is quickly dispelled upon your first visit to the chilly and damp shore. There are few waves worth braving the regular conditions of SF’s beaches. The claim that it is a bikeable city is true, but only if you are an Olympic athlete. The severity and frequency of hills in San Francisco are a casual cyclist’s nightmare and make it impossible to enjoy.

SF’s premier outdoor spots, Dolores Park, for example, are absolutely swamped on any day that could be considered appropriate for outdoor activity by masses showing off their pasty skin, compliments of months of fog. Unless you can manage to get there before the sun rises, good luck getting a spot. At the end of the day, there isn’t enough sun or space for San Francisco to hold a candle to New York City.

Truly, Dolores Park can be a sweaty sensory overload on a hot day.


Is this real life? Are we really having this discussion? As someone who A) has lived in both of these cities and B) hates the outdoors, I can say with absolute confidence that outdoor space in New York City is head and shoulders above San Francisco in just about every single way. There is no competition.

The first and absolutely most important thing to mention here is that NYC has something SF will never ever, ever (ever) have: Seasons. For my west coast lifers who are unfamiliar with the concept; Summer is actually hot and Winter is actually cold and in the Fall things die and in the Spring they are brought back from the dead. Because of this, every park in New York is basically four parks. Walking around in January is a completely different (but equally wonderful/miserable) experience than walking around that same park in July. San Francisco is beautiful, but, not counting the two “hot” weeks at the end of September, it only has the one setting.

The Arch in Washington Square Park in fair weather…

…and during the snow cover of winter.

In an effort to convince you of San Francisco dominance, a charlatan might bring up the fact that Golden Gate Park is technically bigger than Central Park (which is true!). I️ know this move because I have used this move. What that trickster has failed to point out is that Central Park is actually New York City’s fifth largest park. That number one spot goes to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, which is more than twice the size of Golden Gate Park. Speaking of the Bronx, NYC’s most maligned borough alone features more total green space than all of San Francisco. San Francisco, try as she might, just doesn’t have the surface area to keep up with NYC. San Francisco Parks Department reports that they control 220 parks, playgrounds, and open spaces. New York, in comparison, is dealing with over 1,700 of those same spaces. Who doesn’t love options?

Maybe most relevant to all of our interests, NYC has unrivaled outdoor drinking options. There is a reason that anytime the sun decides to breach the fog in SF that places like El Rio and Zeitgeist are flooded with pale folks looking for a serving of vitamin D with their beverage. They are the only options. Only a handful of bars in San Francisco offer actual outdoor areas, while it is rare that a bar in Brooklyn doesn’t have a patio, or roof, or both. And unlike San Francisco, which has such little space to work with in the first place, it’s not uncommon for NYC bar patios to feature horseshoe pits, Bocce ball courts, and various other outdoor activities that San Franciscans like myself had only dreamed of.

The 1 Rooftop Bar at Brooklyn’s 1 Hotel

Bar Bruno in Brooklyn

The view from Brooklyn Crab

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the most iconic and essential NYC outdoor space there is: the stoop. The power of the stoop is immeasurable. I didn’t fully understand I‎t until moving here, but it is truly essential. It’s a place to relax or listen to music or drink beer or smoke or hang out with people or do any combination of the above activities. Stoop kid wasn’t afraid to leave his stoop, he just knew there wasn’t anything better out there.


If we’re going to allow all the parks in all the burrows, including the 2,772 acre Pelham Bay Park, it seems like we should at least mention the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. At 82,000 acres, this collection of beautiful parks is almost half as big as all of New York City. It encapsulates Ocean Beach and the Presidio as well as coastlines to the north and south of town. It borders Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and — believe it or not — a friend has walked from his SF apartment to the top of Mt Tam. He said it took about ten hours. Where can you do that is NYC?

As far as outdoor drinking spots go, well, you just have to look a little further. The Park Chalet, Finnegan’s Wake, the Gold Cane all have patios, just to name a few. And while, yes, it isn’t every cafe, both the Mission district and North Beach have plenty of street-side tables. Calzone’s on Columbus or Giordano Bros on 16th are both great spots to eat, drink and people watch.

Calzone’s in North Beach, SF

Seasons may be nice, but the absence of seasons means that all these activities are year-round! Let’s face it: snow is fun for about 48 hours, and after that it’s a chore. Say, it’s February in SF. Perhaps I’ll go out on a bicycle ride or head to the beach for some surfing. Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

Baker Beach, December 5, 2015

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Sam Devine

Sam Devine

Sam Devine is drawn to art, bikes, song and drink like the proverbial moth to the moth-heroin. He plays music, tends bar, and makes silly animations. In addition to writing for he's appeared in several publications, including MotoSpirit, SF Bay Guardian, Motorcyclist magazine, SF Weekly, and The Kiteboarder. Check him out at

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