Great weekend-getaway smackdown: San Diego vs. San Francisco |

Great weekend-getaway smackdown: San Diego vs. San Francisco

AP PhotoOn San Diego's Coronado (an isthmus, not an island), left, the Hotel del Coronado has been home to hundreds of guests at a time since the late 19th century. On Alcatraz Island, right, in San Francisco Bay, a gloomy prison held hundreds of inmates from the late 19th century until it was closed in 1963.

San Francisco or San Diego?Or, as some people would phrase it: Think or swim?It is a per-capita fact that one city has more surf shops, and the other has more college graduates. But there’s more to this choice than that.One of these cities gives you reliable sun, a world-class zoo and kid-friendliness, accompanied by the occasional reminder that the 1982 film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was based on a true story.The other city doesn’t seem to care as much about your kids, but it will feed, entertain and edify you with such verve and sophistication that you’ll barely notice the arctic breezes.One is forever winning popularity contests, but the other is cheaper, has less crime and attracts more than twice as many overnight guests countywide.One gave us “The Maltese Falcon,” the other gave us Tony Hawk.One is the cradle of hippiedom; the other is a major Navy port. One is four times as densely occupied as the other, yet when it comes to hotels, they’re almost dead even – 226 in one city, 225 in the other.One city has Balboa Park – no, check that. Both have Balboa parks. But can you guess which Balboa Park once harbored a nudist colony?One has the Golden Gate Bridge; one has the Coronado Bridge. One points north to Marin County; one points south to Mexico. One has Market Street – wait, both have Market streets. San Diego’s is longer, and San Francisco’s is scarier.One city has a winning football team, and one has the 49ers. Both have losing baseball teams (if you count up the past three seasons), and both teams play in retro-flavored downtown ballparks near the water’s edge.So if you’re a weekend tourist, which is better?I hereby submit that from dusk to dawn, San Francisco is better. Well, except from November through March, when it can get cold enough to frost your Irish coffee.I further submit that from dawn to dusk, San Diego is better. Especially if you get outdoors a lot or you’re a kid.Oh, but San Francisco will be better July 22-25, when 126,000 Comic-Con people will clog downtown San Diego. And San Diego will be better Sept. 19-23, when 45,000 people gather at San Francisco’s convention center for the annual Oracle OpenWorld information technology conference.To arrive at this richly nuanced answer, I made fresh visits to each city and weighed the data with absolute objectivity and seriousness, except for the parts that I goofed around with, which follow. Your results may vary.

S.D.: Sprawl with a pretty face. The San Diego Trolley takes you from downtown to Mission Valley or the border, but to reach the beach, you’ll probably be driving. Taxi licenses? 1,222.S.F.: Cable cars, BART, the Muni system and 1,432 licensed taxis working an entire city that’s about 7 miles by 7 miles, give or take.

S.D.: Despite the great fish tacos, S.D. is rarely counted among the planet’s best cities for eating. For 2010, the Forbes Travel Guide (which recently swallowed Mobil’s influential restaurant-ranking operation) deemed 58 S.D. restaurants worthy of ranking. One got four stars, and one got five – Addison, at the Grand del Mar hotel.S.F.: Is always popping up on somebody’s list of world’s best restaurant cities. For 2010, the Forbes people deemed 125 S.F. restaurants worth ranking. Nine got four stars, and one received five: the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton.

S.D.: Balboa Park, 1,200 acres, includes the San Diego Zoo, more than a dozen museums, the Old Globe theater complex and a big, old, brown, wooden Botanical Building. There’s also a butterfly habitat in Zoro Canyon that was a nudist colony during the Panama California Exposition of 1935.S.F.: Golden Gate Park, 1,017 acres, includes the California Academy of Sciences, the De Young Museum and a big, old, white, wooden Conservatory of Flowers building. Also two windmills and a bison paddock.

S.D.: The San Diego Zoo and the rest of Balboa Park. The Wild Animal Park in Escondido. SeaWorld San Diego. Legoland in nearby Carlsbad. The New Children’s Museum downtown. All that tourist stuff around the Embarcadero. A 2008 study found that 19 percent of the county’s hotel guests were traveling with children.S.F.: The California Academy of Sciences and the rest of Golden Gate Park. Cable cars. The Exploratorium. The San Francisco Zoo. All that tourist stuff around Fisherman’s Wharf. A 2004 study found that 8.7 percent of hotel guests were traveling with children.

S.D.: In Balboa Park, you find the S.D. Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Timken (Old Masters), the Mingei (folk art) and museums of natural history, man, science and aviation. Beyond, there’s the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (in La Jolla and downtown), the Maritime Museum’s waterfront Star of India, said to be the world’s oldest active ship.S.F.: The S.F. Museum of Modern Art, the De Young, the Legion of Honor and the Asian Art Museum get attention, but dozens more museums include a Jewish Museum, Cable Car Museum and Cartoon Art Museum.

S.D.: In the county, 70 miles of shoreline. Perhaps 150 surf shops, about 90 golf courses. The county’s inland mountains often get snow (Julian), the desert gets wildflowers (especially Anza-Borrego Desert State Park) and there’s four-wheeling in the dunes (especially Ocotillo Wells).S.F.: Almost 30 miles of shoreline. Surf suitable for wetsuits. Fewer than 10 golf courses. Forty-three hills, by the visitor bureau’s tally. Mount Tamalpais and all the glories of Marin County await at the north end of Golden Gate Bridge.

S.D.: San Diego’s average high, year-round: 71. Average low: 57. About 9 to 10 inches of rain yearly. Yet locals know to expect June gloom. By one analysis of weather since the 1950s, May and June are the cloudiest months of the year.S.F.: San Francisco’s average high is 63, the average low 51. About 20 inches of rain yearly.

S.D.: Eighth place in the 2009 Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Award for favorite U.S. city, just behind Savannah, Ga., just ahead of Boston. Facebook travel fans as of mid-January: 56,858.S.F.: Winner of 2009 Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Award for favorite city in the U.S. Facebook travel fans as of mid-January: 123,908.

S.D.: In 2008, the county hosted 15.2 million overnight visitors and 15.9 million more day-trippers.S.F.: In 2008, the city/county hosted 5.93 million overnight visitors and 10.5 million more day-trippers.

S.D.: S.D. Symphony, S.D. Opera, the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse.S.F.: S.F. Symphony, S.F. Opera, American Conservatory Theater. (And across the bay, there’s the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.)

S.D.: The FBI’s 2008 uniform crime report shows 6,047 violent crimes and 40,365 property crimes among 1.3 million residents.S.F.: The FBI’s 2008 uniform crime report shows 6,744 violent crimes and 36,301 property crimes among about three-quarters of a million residents.

S.D.: After the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp came here to buy real estate and saloons. In the 1930s, a local kid named Ted Williams caught on with the city’s minor- league baseball team, then went on to the majors.S.F.: Ansel Adams, as a child of 4, broke his nose in the great earthquake of 1906. In the 1930s, a local kid named Joe DiMaggio caught on with the city’s minor-league baseball team, then went on to the majors.

S.D.: Inspired Max Miller (who wrote the gritty 1932 novella “I Cover the Waterfront”) and must have somehow influenced Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), who lived here about 40 years. Tom Waits (“San Diego Serenade”), Frank Zappa and Blink-182 played in their first bands here, and Jewel and the Stone Temple Pilots got big breaks. At the movies, it was either the set or inspiration for “Top Gun,” “Traffic,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Fast Times.” On television, “Simon & Simon.”

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