Which city has the most intoxicating views?
Let’s face it, both US cities have some seriously memorable views.
San Francisco is a much easier city to get a handle on, and you can start putting everything into place from the top of Alamo Hill in the Western Addition. The view across Alamo Square is a postcard seller’s dream, the Painted Ladies (a row of colourful Victorian houses) providing the scenic foreground to a cityscape that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge.
Given Los Angeles’ rambling sprawl, it’s harder to find one defining vista of this city, but the lookout from the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood comes closest. You’ll probably recognise its distinctive facade from Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land, and if you head up here just before dusk, the views are just as stellar, with the lights of Downtown’s skyscrapers twinkling into life in the valley below.
Which city is home to the trendiest neighbourhoods?
Historically, Downtown LA has been the city’s forgotten central suburb, easily outshone by the sparkle of Hollywood. But in recent years, the district has undergone a renaissance. Skid Row – the area with the largest concentration of homeless people in America – is a reminder that there’s unfortunately still a long way to go, but elsewhere DTLA is on the up.
The grand old buildings and movie palaces of Broadway have been restored, Frank Gehry’s futuristic-looking Walt Disney Concert Hall has added some heavyweight cultural panache, and Koreatown and the Arts District are awash with trendy restaurants and bars and cutting-edge galleries such as Hauser & Wirth.
It’s fair to say that Mission district in San Francisco has been on visitors’ radars a tad longer. The city was officially founded here in 1776, around the iconic Mission Dolores, the old Spanish mission that still dominates 16th Street and gives the district its name.
Despite being San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhood, the Mission has constantly reinvented itself to remain its hippest one as well. Here a strong Latino culture runs alongside cool boutiques, vintage clothes shops, edgy galleries and, on and around Balmy Alley, the city’s largest concentration of murals.
What about the big sights?
Well, they don’t come much bigger than the Golden Gate Bridge, which spans the channel between San Francisco and Marin County in Northern California. Once the longest bridge in the world, it’s best appreciated by walking or cycling over, so you can properly take in the immense scale of it all.
Out in the Bay sits Alcatraz – San Francisco’s other legendary landmark – the high-security prison once home to Al Capone and other notorious names, which you can now explore on an atmospheric audio tour.
The sight that most encapsulates Los Angeles has got to be Hollywood Boulevard. This is where it all began, the first Hollywood premiere taking place at the Egyptian Theatre (which you can poke around on monthly guided tours), and where the biggest names in showbiz are written in stars along the pavement on the so-called Walk of Fame.
The Oscars are still held in the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland, and just down from here is the TCL Chinese Theatre, famous for the celebrity handprints and footprints enshrined in the concrete outside.
Where can I find the best food?
California has its own style of cooking, a health-conscious fusion cuisine that revolves around locally sourced ingredients. It was born in Berkeley, the city just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, but is arguably best appreciated in Los Angeles. Try Spago, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills restaurant that helped put California cuisine on the map, or Off Vine, for comfort cooking in a Craftsman’s bungalow in Hollywood.
While there might be a taqueria on virtually every street corner in LA, undoubtedly one of the best places for Mexican food is San Francisco’s Mission district. The super burrito, a huge tortilla filled with far more ingredients than you’ll find in its Southern California counterpart, was invented in the city and is packed to perfection at La Taqueria on Mission Street.