Monday, October 24, 2011

The Great Charleston/San Francisco Smackdown -- which city will be left standing?

In foodie terms, you could say that she crab soup has bested sourdough bread. Or put another way, horse-drawn carriage rides just gave cable cars a kick in their spare parts.

In breaking tourism news, Charleston, South Carolina, has unseated San Francisco as the favorite U.S. destination of Conde Nast Traveler magazine readers. This is big news, because San Fran won Conde Nast Traveler's annual reader survey for the past 18 years--until now.

It was a close call. Charleston received 84.7 points, compared to San Francisco's 83.7 points.

I love both cities immensely. I lived in Charleston in the mid 80s and return as often as possible, though San Francisco has been my chosen home since 1987. If it's a beautiful peninsular city with a rich history you crave, you won't go wrong with either one.

Not that anyone asked, but here's how I would rate Charleston and San Francisco in a smackdown.

The Piggly Wiggly cooler bag I bought at Folly Beach
Piggly Wigglys. Sad to say, there are no Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in San Francisco, though Charleston and the surrounding areas are crawling with them. Our grocery stores aren't terribly exciting. We have Safeway (yawn), Whole Foods ($$), and Trader Joe's (love them but they aren't very convenient to my home). Winner: Charleston.

Earthquakes. San Francisco is synonymous with shakers, though Charleston is no stranger to them, either. In 1886, a quake estimated between 6.6 and 7.3 on the Richter scale ripped through Charleston. It's considered one of the U.S.'s most powerful, damaging temblors. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake puts it to shame, however, at about a 7.9 Richter scale reading. Winner: San Francisco.

Swimming in the ocean. Have you ever ventured into the Pacific Ocean around San Francisco? And if you have, were your feet still attached to your legs when you emerged? Let me put it this way: the Pacific Ocean around SF is dramatic and gorgeous. But the temperature rarely rises above 60 degrees. Charleston, by comparison, has lovely beaches (the far western end of Folly Beach is my favorite) where the water rises into the 80s during summer. Winner: Charleston.

Quirky transportation. Charleston has its horse-drawn tourist carriages, city buses equipped with iPads, cars, and not too much else. San Francisco has two subway systems, cable cars, vintage trolley cars from around the world, Zip cars, and GPS-guided 'dune' buggies for tourists. Winner: San Francisco. 

Food and drink. Charleston has the aforementioned she crab soup (which is at its best at 82 Queen restaurant), along with lots of other Lowcountry delicacies served in its many fine restaurants. San Francisco, jam-packed with amazing restaurants, is no slouch in this category, either. I'd venture to say SF has a broader diversity of cuisine, however. Winner: San Francisco, by a nose (or a mouth).

Difference and tolerance. San Francisco and the South are both famous for their larger-than-life characters, politely known as eccentrics. I certainly met some delightfully kooky people during my Charleston years, including my landlady (more on her later). And in recent years, Charleston--once a very insular society--has come a long way toward acceptance of gays, outsiders, or anyone else who is 'different.' But San Francisco, it's not. Here, I can't go to my neighborhood cafe without running into the cross-dressing homeless guy who wears chunky necklaces and big floppy hats. When I go to the Castro, I sometimes see the locally famous naked guys, walking around casually, as if they're heading to Walgreen's to pick up a prescription. If I'm in Dolores Park, I'm likely to be offered pot brownies from one vendor and THC-free cookies from another. Though I don't know any of these people personally, they're among the reasons why I love San Francisco, unquestionably one of the most tolerant cities on the planet. Winner: San Francisco.

Weather. I complain frequently about San Francisco's foggy climate. Here, it's like early March nearly all year long. To live in San Francisco is to live without summer, and summer is my favorite season. But you also get to skip brutally cold winters. And, oh child, you want to feel oppressive humidity? Head down to Charleston anytime after about May 20th, all the way through late September. They get a little too much summer for my taste. Winner: San Francisco. 

Cost of living. Both cities are expensive, but San Francisco is crazy expensive, New York City expensive. Winner: Charleston.

But enough about me. I want to hear from you. Have you been to both San Francisco and Charleston? And if so, which one do you prefer and why?

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  1. San Francisco, hands down. Acceptance goes a long way with me.....

  2. Neither, but Charleston sounds a lot like Cuba. From what I've read, I'd go Charleston.

  3. What a tough choice! I live in Charleston and had lived in Saratoga Ca for 10 years venturing into the city fairly often. My husband (who was not my husband when I lived in CA) chose SF. You have a big city we have a small town, you have museums, many different etnic back grounds and culture, we have a museum, some different ethic groups who generally dont live in the city and a totally historic culture, you have acceptance and we are on our way, you have the BART and many forms of public transportation while we have a sad excuse of a bus system. That said we do have the beaches, the beautiful sunrises over the marsh, a growing food culture, Spoleto and a downtown where you can walk to anything. I am enjoying watching Charleston slowly enter the 20th century. As more folks "from off"move here the city and the surrounding communities slowly march forward and in its own way it is exciting to be part of the new Charleston. The one that accepts people for who they are and not who their people are.

  4. Hello, I wish you the best.

  5. I live in Goose Creek James! I've been here since Hugo hit. (1989) I'm a transplanted midwesterner who now loves being a Southerner!

    I have never traveled to SF, but am dying to do so, and for all the reasons you mentioned. Until I go, I can't make an informed decision on who wins.

    I will say though, that I completely agree with you on the 82 Queen SCS. (it's the sherry!) And, Folly Beach is the best place to get away from it all.

    I'm SO enjoying your blog!

  6. I love san fran with all my heart. she gets my vote!

  7. I've been to San Francisco and really loved it so I would have to pick San Fran, altho I've never been to Charleston. I would rather be cold than hot and humid any day of the week. And I love the fog!

  8. I've never been to either place (yet) but I recently started following your blog and, so far, all your posts make me laugh.

    PS... I'm a southerner.

  9. I think it's unfair to even begin to try to rank cities using some kind of overall scoring system. There are way too many variables and just a difference in time can create an advantage for one city over another.
    Take for example the person whose only visit to SF involved attending a night baseball game at Candlestick Park in April (or July). They might never want to visit The City again. Another example might be someone who's visited Chicago when the winds coming in off the Lake. Or, how about Boston during a Nor'easter? Anyhow, what I'm trying to get across is that there are some things that may be so traumatic they will obscure other positive aspects of a city. It's really attitude that decides for us whether or not we give a place a thumbs up or not.

  10. Fun post and like I said - it is fun! Nothing serious here. And unlike the above comment I didn't see it as "ranking" They make a great point but.... I love crazy weather and have been in Chicago when the cold chilly wind came off the Lake (a wonderful new experience) and love a good North Easter. That's when we get our best most beautiful snow (sometimes only) in the Southeast. And...we totally shut down around here. I love it.
    One more thought-Charleston and Hurricanes Is there any place more exciting than the Battery with one coming?
    But, that's just me.

  11. I used to be a very happy California Girl who also learned recently to love the south, but I ended up in Chicago, so I have to vote for Chicago. It's like Pergatory, but instead of being a holding place between heaven and hell, it rests comfortably between two heavens.

  12. As a dixie ex-pat now in Oakland, maybe I'm just too jaded. I think Charleston wins because it's a more economical holiday but I repeat, acceptance does go a long way.

  13. San Francisco for sure-- but then again I love big cities-- something Charleston is surely not-- though it is light years better than when I grew up there in the 60's-70's

  14. I am in both cities often, and I think they are more similar than different. Charleston is more accepting than people who don't go there would think. I think they are equal and similar weirdly in more way than they are different. If you really like one, you will like the other, and you probably won't like NY or Chicago.