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A Tale of Two Cities: New York vs. San Diego (Part 2)

If you are a New Yorker, have you ever peered through the droplets of rain on your window and dreamed of moving to sunny Southern California?

If you’re like me, you have, many times. I grew up in northern New Jersey and went to college outside of Philly. I traveled the world for work and play and lived on the East Coast almost my entire life. Back in the eighties I picked up and moved to San Diego. I took a job at a heavy equipment company that I was not at all suited for. A crazy girlfriend followed me west and created havoc everywhere I went. The job sucked and the move was a disaster. After a few months I moved back east, licked my wounds and began a successful career in marketing and advertising at Fortune 100 companies and prestigious advertising agencies. Life in NYC is tough, but although I got knocked around more than a few times, like Sinatra, I did things my way and have experienced my share of traditional success in New York City.

In the back of my mind I always wondered how my life would turn out if I stayed in So Cal. The dream has never escaped my mind, and every time I visit Cali, I don’t want to leave. My wife has family living in San Diego so every other year we take the trip west. After all these years in Manhattan, we are both over New York, so upon our return home this year we decided to get serious about making a move west… or not. This is my inspiration for this two-part series comparing life in New York City with San Diego.

As mentioned in Part One, the focus out west is not on LA. It’s on San Diego and other areas south of LA. Over time, with so many New Yorkers moving to Los Angeles, it’s become too similar in too many ways to the Big Apple. As a result, I’m moving out purview south to describe what I think is a slightly more authentic west coast experience.

So here we go with the second set of comparisons between NYC and San Diego.

1b. City sightlines and more about the weather – Like Sinatra sang, nothing beats autumn in New York. When the leaves are turning and the cool breeze of fall whispers through your hair, the city feels gorgeous and romantic. Nothing beats the majestic New York skyline and the Hudson River is very picturesque, especially in the fall when the air is clean and crisp. And although the waterfronts are changing and finally taking shape around Manhattan throughout the year, I really feel alive when it’s fall in New York.

New Yorkers are known for style and there is no better time to see the people strut their stuff than this time of year. Summers here can get too hot and humid, and the city has a garbage problem that stinks up the air and sullies the streets. Winters are atrocious in New York City—wet, raw, mostly disgusting. This mess continues for months right through the spring. The weather does not break until mid-May or June. That means New Yorkers get six cold, gray months and six warm months. Our sunrises are idyllic, but unless you are near the water, who bothers to get up to see them?

Although it gets cool at night during the fall and winter, unlike New York, San Diego does not have four distinct seasons. Compared to New York, the city itself is newer, cleaner, and prettier. It may not be as dramatic looking as Manhattan, but the downtown area is much nicer and cleaner—visually a combination of LA and San Francisco. Even Balboa Park fares well when compared to my beloved Central Park. It’s safe, sprawling and much larger than CP and there is a wonderful classic Spanish influence in the architecture in the park.

And you can’t beat the So Cal coast for natural beauty. There are miles and miles of beach and the water is warm. Sunsets are spectacular and driving to the beach to witness them is an evening ritual. The bay in San Diego and ocean along the coast are incredible, and the beaches are free. Cabrillo Point overlooks all of San Diego. Overall it’s one of the mast scenic vistas I have ever visited and San Diego itself is an unbeatable, gorgeous city.

I love New York and it’s dramatic skyline, but let’s face it, the city streets are often filthy and strewn with garbage from the overflowing trashcans that line every corner.

San Diego is a more picturesque city. Let’s give it a point.

2b. Getting around – You really don’t do a lot of walking in California and the traffic is dense. If you live in So Cal, you need a reliable vehicle. Parking is not great, but it’s far easier to find a spot than in Manhattan. True, you will spend a good chunk of your day in your car and checking your GPS for the best route to take when traffic bottles up, but I’d take that over the archaic, crumbling subway system here in New York. Frankly, the New York subway system, bridges, and airports are decrepit and embarrassing. A world-class city needs to do a much better job of updating its infrastructure. I’ve been a resident for years and the situation keeps getting worse. I’ll choose driving on a crowded Route 5 or 805 any day.

Point to San Diego.

3b. Sports/stadiums – Why did the NFL Chargers and NBA Clippers both leave for LA? The Clippers packed their bags decades ago due to lack of support and the Chargers left last year due the owner wanting to build a new stadium only if taxpayers footed the bill. Yet, despite their professional teams relocating to LA, I’ve never heard anyone in San Diego complain about the exodus of professional sports teams from their fair city. Maybe it’s because people in San Diego are not super-rabid professional sports team fans like we have in New York. MLB’s Padres remain in San Diego, and if count the number of cool Padres hats you see about town, you’d think they remain fairly popular.

But, when I took my son to his first MLB game at majestic Petco Park (wow, what a beautiful facility), the place was half empty and eerily quiet compared to the crowds at any Yankees or Mets game where everyone grouses loudly over every ball or strike. Fans in Sad Diego like their rodeo, monster cars, motocross, horse racing at Del Mar, sailing, and surfing. They are not into professional spectator sports the way we are in NYC.  So although the venues are better in San Diego (expect for aging QUALCOMM Stadium), sports are more of a religion in New York.

If you care about this type of thing, let’s award a point to New York.

4b. Lifestyle – Let’s face it. New York is a rat race. Type A people are drawn here from every corner of the global looking to make their mark. Like Frank said, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. It’s true. New York City is a city of dreams. But after a few decades, many of us New Yorkers begin to realize that they are the rats in the race. The hectic pace, all the backstabbing in business, and constant anxiety take their toll. Although many New Yorkers are addicted to the city and cannot imagine living anywhere else, others realize that living in New York City can be a blessing, until you allow it to become a curse. Between the high costs of real estate, schools for the kids, entertaining, and the trials and tribulations of getting around city life take their toll.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, another family is visiting Sea World, Old Town, Knots Berry Farm, Lego Land, Disney, the Gas Lamp District, the harbor, Coronado Island, or any of the quaint surfing towns along the coast where the pace is slow and the kombucha flows freely.

Let’s score this one for San Diego.

5b. Entertainment and culture – New York is arguably the cultural capital of the world. We have great museums, Broadway shows, concerts, Radio City, the Metropolitan opera, Lincoln Center, films, etc. The list goes on and on. You can get to the beach or the mountains within two hours and it seems like there is always something to do at any hour in the city that never sleeps.

San Diego has more outdoor fun stuff like its amusement and water parks. And although the actual beaches are nicer along the east coast, So Cal has way more beaches, to the point where living there becomes a beach lifestyle. It’s hard not to like that, plus the great weather all year.

Yet, when it comes to culture and secondarily entertainment, New York wins the point by a slim margin.

Well there you have it. Is there a winner? Not really. Making a choice between these two fascinating cities depends on where you are in life and the lifestyle you desire. Tallying things up, it’s been a close competition between New York City and sunny San Diego. If you are a New Yorker and thinking of moving west, make sure you are realistic about the costs of living in So Cal. It’s not quite as expensive as New York, but it ain’t cheap. The weather is better, the city is newer, and the people, at least on the surface, are friendlier. But, New York is like nowhere else, and once people get a taste of it, many won’t settle for living anywhere else.

Me? I’ve loved my years living on the east coast and in the Big Apple, but it might be time to head west and stretch my arms out. We’ll see.

This week’s GUY’S GUY of the WEEK is Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes gave us signature songs about New York, Chicago, LA, Vermont, and Paris. Too bad he left out San Diego.