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Los Angeles VS San Diego ⚔️ Which Is BETTER?

The two largest cities in California.

On one side you have the “City of Angels” and on the other you have “America’s Finest City”.

Both offer a LOT.

But which should YOU visit?

Well, let’s find out so you don’t WASTE your money in the wrong place. ❌

We’ll start off with some key facts about each place before covering things to do, beaches, nightlife and more.

Key facts

Population

Los Angeles: With over 3.8 million residents, Los Angeles ranks as the second most populous city in the United States.

San Diego: Has a population of around 1.4 million, making it smaller than Los Angeles.

Size

Los Angeles: Covering 503 square miles, it’s known for its diverse neighborhoods and landscapes.

San Diego: It occupies about 372 square miles, offering a more compact urban experience.

Weather

Los Angeles: Has a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Winters average 68°F, while summers reach around 84°F.

Los Angeles enjoys approximately 284 sunny days per year, significantly above the US average, with its sunniest month being August. 

San Diego: Enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate with winters at 65°F and summers at 75°F. It’s known as “America’s Finest City” for its pleasant weather. 

San Diego experiences around 266 sunny days annually, with December and January being the sunniest months.

The US average for sunny days is 205 days per year.

Both cities are well-known for their pleasant, sunny climates, making them popular destinations for travelers seeking warm weather.

San Diego is better if you prefer milder weather.

Safety

Los Angeles:

Safety conditions vary by neighborhood.

Common-sense precautions are advised, but the city has improved safety in recent years.

San Diego:

Generally considered safe, especially in tourist areas like downtown and the beaches.

Safer than Los Angeles, but standard precautions are recommended.

Tourist Visits Per Year

Los Angeles: Over 50 million visitors annually, drawn by attractions like Hollywood, Universal Studios, and Disneyland.

San Diego: Welcomes around 35 million tourists each year, known for the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and its relaxed coastal atmosphere.

Now onto the juicy details…

Things to Do

Los Angeles

hollywood sign

Los Angeles offers a multitude of attractions to keep you entertained.

Discover the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, stroll along Venice Beach’s iconic boardwalk, or explore the historic architecture in downtown LA’s Arts District.

Visit world-class museums like the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Learn about space at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, or have a day out at places like Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland.

Don’t forget to take a studio tour, go hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, and enjoy the vibrant culinary scene.

For more ideas, read the post linked below:

Related Reading – Best things to do in Los Angeles

San Diego

balboa park san diego

San Diego offers a different kind of charm as it’s less glitz and glamour.

Spend a day at the famous San Diego Zoo or explore Balboa Park, known for its museums and gardens.

Enjoy the stunning coastline with activities like surfing, sunbathing, and whale watching.

SeaWorld San Diego is also a top attraction in the area.

Take a harbor tour or visit the USS Midway Museum.

If you’re into history, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is a must-visit.

And of course, indulge in seafood and Mexican cuisine along the waterfront.

Verdict: Things to Do

Both offer a lot of things to do and you can’t go wrong with either.

Your choice depends on whether you prefer the urban buzz of Los Angeles or the laid-back coastal vibe of San Diego.

You should also take into account if there are any specific attractions that you might want to see.

Shopping

rodeo drive shopping

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a shopper’s paradise with a wide range of shopping experiences.

Explore the upscale boutiques along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where you can find high-end fashion and luxury items.

Visit ‘The Grove’ for a unique outdoor shopping and entertainment complex with a charming atmosphere.

For eclectic and trendy finds, head to the Arts District or Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice.

Don’t forget to browse the historic Olvera Street for Mexican handicrafts and souvenirs.

San Diego

San Diego offers diverse shopping options amidst its scenic beauty.

Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping district with boutique shops, art galleries, and dining options.

Head to La Jolla’s Prospect Street for upscale boutiques and art galleries, all with breathtaking ocean views.

Visit the Gaslamp Quarter for a mix of shops, from fashion to specialty stores, in a historic downtown setting.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park also offers unique shops with a historical touch.

Verdict: Shopping

When it comes to shopping, both Los Angeles and San Diego provide distinctive experiences.

Los Angeles excels in luxury and trendy fashion, with Rodeo Drive and The Grove as standout destinations.

In contrast, San Diego offers a more relaxed shopping atmosphere with scenic views, making it ideal for leisurely strolls and unique finds.

Beaches

Los Angeles

BEACH IN MALIBU LA

Los Angeles boasts a variety of beautiful beaches along its coastline.

Santa Monica Beach is famous for its iconic pier and lively atmosphere, perfect for a beachfront stroll and amusement park rides.

But be careful about swimming near Santa Monica Pier…

Venice Beach is known for its bohemian vibe, with street performers, muscle beach gym, and a bustling boardwalk.

Malibu offers stunning beaches like Zuma Beach and El Matador Beach, ideal for a serene coastal escape.

For a quieter experience, head to Manhattan Beach or Hermosa Beach, known for their picturesque views and beachfront dining.

San Diego

LA JOLLA COVE SAN DIEGO

San Diego is renowned for its pristine and family-friendly beaches.

Coronado Beach, with its historic hotel and wide sandy shores, is a popular choice.

La Jolla Cove offers a unique experience with its crystal-clear waters, tide pools, and abundant marine life like seals and sea lions.

Mission Beach is known for its lively boardwalk and Belmont Park amusement park.

Pacific Beach is a favorite among surfers and beachgoers, with a vibrant nightlife scene nearby.

Verdict: Beaches

Both Los Angeles and San Diego offer an array of stunning beaches, each with its own charm.

Los Angeles provides a mix of iconic and serene options, with Santa Monica and Malibu being popular places.

San Diego’s beaches are family-friendly and feature unique coastal landscapes, making them perfect for a relaxing day by the ocean.

Your choice will depend on whether you prefer the bustling atmosphere of LA’s beaches or the tranquil beauty of San Diego’s coastal gems.

BEFORE you visit any beaches you should definitely read the following post:

Related Reading: These Are The DIRTIEST Beaches In California 🤮

National & State Parks / Monuments etc.

Los Angeles

Inspiration Point view on Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park California
Channel Islands National Park California

Joshua Tree National Park:

Located approximately 140 miles (225 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

It’s incredibly popular and has become one of the most visited national parks in California.

Channel Islands National Park:

Accessible by ferry from Ventura and Oxnard (about 1 hour’s drive from Los Angeles), this park comprises five rugged islands that are almost unmatched in biodiversity.

It offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and snorkeling.

It’s probably one of the most underrated national parks in California.

San Diego

cabrillo national monument san diego
Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego is within reach of some of California’s most beautiful national parks.

Cabrillo National Monument:

Located right in San Diego, this park offers panoramic views of the city, the ocean, and a historic lighthouse.

Joshua Tree National Park:

While further from San Diego, it’s still a potential day trip at approximately 160 miles (257 kilometers) to the east.

Explore the unique desert landscapes and iconic Joshua Trees.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:

About 85 miles (137 kilometers) northeast of San Diego, this state park boasts rugged canyons, desert wildflowers, and extensive hiking opportunities.

A particularly cool thing about Anza-Borrego is that it has one of the most unique experiences in California.

You can witness a rare phenomenon called a superbloom here. This is when the desert erupts with flowers blooming all at the same time.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve:

Within the La Jolla area of San Diego, experience rugged cliffs, unspoiled beaches, scenic trails, and the rare Torrey Pine trees, set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

Verdict: National Parks / Monuments

Both Los Angeles and San Diego offer access to incredible national monuments and parks, allowing you to experience the natural beauty of Southern California.

In Los Angeles, you can explore Joshua Tree and Channel Islands within a reasonable drive.

In San Diego, you have closer access to Cabrillo National Monument, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, while Joshua Tree National Park is still reachable for a day trip.

Your choice will depend on the type of natural landscapes you want to explore and the distances you’re willing to travel.

Nightlife

NIGHTLIFE IMAGE GLASS WITH DRINKS

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, the city comes alive after dark with a variety of nightlife options.

Sunset Strip: This iconic stretch on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is known for its music venues, nightclubs, and bars, making it a hotspot for live music and celebrity sightings.

Downtown LA: Explore the trendy bars, rooftop lounges, and speakeasies in the Arts District and Historic Core, known for their eclectic nightlife scene.

Hollywood: The heart of the entertainment industry, Hollywood offers a mix of bars, clubs, and theaters, including the famous Hollywood Boulevard with its vibrant atmosphere.

Beach Cities: For a more relaxed evening, Santa Monica and Venice Beach have beachfront bars and lounges with ocean views.

San Diego

San Diego offers a diverse nightlife scene to cater to various tastes.

Gaslamp Quarter: Located in downtown San Diego, this historic district is packed with bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, making it a hub for nightlife and entertainment.

Pacific Beach: Known for its beachside bars and young crowd, Pacific Beach is a lively destination for those looking to enjoy drinks and dancing.

North Park: This hip neighborhood boasts craft breweries, cocktail lounges, and live music venues, offering a more alternative nightlife experience.

Verdict: Nightlife

Both Los Angeles and San Diego offer vibrant nightlife options, but your choice will depend on your nightlife preferences.

Overall, Los Angeles is better for clubs and parties, but for casual nightlife and laid-back bars, San Diego is better.

Food

FANCY FOOD

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a culinary melting pot, offering a wide array of dining experiences.

Explore the diverse food trucks and stalls, offering everything from tacos to gourmet creations.

Indulge in Korean barbecue in Koreatown or savor authentic Mexican cuisine in East LA.

Enjoy seafood by the coast, from fresh fish tacos to upscale oceanfront dining in Malibu.

Discover trendy eateries in neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Culver City, known for their innovative menus.

San Diego

San Diego is a food lover’s paradise with a focus on fresh and coastal flavors.

Try the famous fish tacos, a local specialty, at beachfront shacks or seafood restaurants.

Visit the historic Old Town for traditional Mexican dishes and margaritas.

Explore the lively farmers’ markets for artisanal cheeses, organic produce, and local treats.

Dine at the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter or Little Italy, offering a mix of international cuisines and craft breweries.

Verdict: Food

Both Los Angeles and San Diego offer diverse culinary scenes, reflecting their unique cultural influences.

Los Angeles excels in its fusion of international cuisines and trendy dining experiences.

San Diego showcases fresh seafood and a focus on coastal flavors in a more relaxed setting.

If you want to rate it by Michelin stars then San Diego has 5 Michelin-star restaurants while Los Angeles has 25 Michelin-star restaurants.

Your choice will depend on your culinary preferences, whether you’re seeking innovative dining in LA or savoring coastal delights in San Diego.

Airports

Los Angeles

LAX AIRPORT

Los Angeles is served by several airports.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): As the primary international gateway, LAX offers a wide range of flight options and is one of the busiest airports in the world.

Bob Hope Airport (Burbank Airport – BUR): Located closer to the city’s northern suburbs, BUR may offer more convenience but can have slightly higher fares on certain routes.

Long Beach Airport (LGB): LGB is a smaller airport with a focus on regional flights, and it can provide competitive fares for certain destinations.

San Diego

San Diego primarily relies on one major airport.

San Diego International Airport (SAN): Not as busy as LAX which can mean a better experience within the airport, but fewer flight options.

Verdict: Airports

Los Angeles has more choices when it comes to airports and LAX is also the main International Airport for the region with around triple the yearly passengers compared to San Diego International.

Your choice may depend on your destination and budget.

In terms of price, it really depends on when you book as flight prices are ALWAYS changing.

Summary

CategoryLos AngelesSan Diego
Key FactsLarger, more populous city, less safe, more tourists, hotter weather.Relaxed coastal atmosphere, and family-friendly attractions.
Things to DoBustling urban experience with iconic landmarks.Relaxed shopping with scenic views, and unique finds.
ShoppingExcels in luxury and trendy fashion.Relaxed shopping with scenic views, unique finds.
BeachesMix of iconic and serene options.Family-friendly, unique coastal landscapes.
National Parks etc.Joshua Tree NP & Channel Islands NPCabrillo NM, Anza-Borrego Desert SP, Joshua Tree NP, Torrey Pines SNR
NightlifeBetter for clubs and parties.Better for casual nightlife.
FoodFusion of international cuisines, trendy dining. More Michelin stars.Focus on fresh seafood and coastal flavors. Less Michelin stars.
AirportsMultiple options, primary international gateway.Less options.

So the which city is the winner? 🏆

Well it depends on YOU and what you prefer.

Both cities have a lot to offer and San Diego might be the winner for some people, but for other people Los Angeles is perfect.

Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

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