The rivalry between America's two greatest cities is decades in the making. Los Angeles has its sun, surf, Mexican food, and an altogether more laid-back pace of life, while New York City offers everything from food to art, culture, and people in a package that sometimes aggressively refuses to quit. For travelers, both cities have their draws: Hollywood's bright lights and beaches in Malibu, Venice, and Santa Monica beckon those visiting Los Angeles, while the Empire State Building, Broadway, and an unrivaled dining scene make New York a bucket-list destination for people from around the world. Oyster.com has spent plenty of time in both cities, so we've decided to turn to everyday people -- musicians, mothers, architects, and writers who've lived bi-coastal lives -- to get their take on just which city is the best across a wide spread of categories. Read on to see which one is right for you.
Easiest to Explore for First-Time Travelers: New York
We get it: New York City is intimidating. Sure, it’s loud, unrelenting, can smell terrible in spots, and is insanely crowded. But, as traveler, architect, and recent L.A. transplant Richard Kelly told us, “New York is hands down one of the easiest cities to get around. Not only does the city’s grid make navigating it much easier, but between the subway, bus, taxis, and Citi Bikes, you can work your way around most the city in a short trip.” While Los Angeles’ mass transit system is growing, you’ll still need wheels to get around, and major destinations can be hours-long drives from one another given the city’s horrifying traffic situation. So grab a Metrocard and hop on NYC’s 24/7 subway the next time you’re in town. Just be sure to check the MTA’s website if you’re planning on using the subway at night or on weekends, as regular service is often drastically altered.
Coolest Beach Scene: Los Angeles
With its year-round mild-to-hot climate, frequently rain-free weeks, and mile after mile of uninterrupted coastline, it’s almost impossible to beat the beaches of the Los Angeles area. Rae Jones, a senior creative recruiter living in Venice, California, told us that is, in part, due to the diversity of beach scenes. “You can find whatever type of beach you want,” she says. “Whether a small rocky cove or a sandy and wide surfer beach.” Echoing her sentiments, fashion-merchandiser and and Northern California resident Farrah Japaz notes, “Los Angeles has wide stretches of sand that are welcoming for surfers, families, and campers as well as beaches with picturesque mountain backdrops.” To be sure: New York’s beaches are a hot spot from June to August, when the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach are literally swarmed with locals. But that short season, combined with a claustrophobic lack of space on the sand, means that NYC’s beaches can’t hold a candle to their West Coast rivals.
Best Art, Museums, and Cultural Scene: New York (For Now)
We aren’t denying the deep cultural roots to be found in Los Angeles. After all, as Kelly suggests, “L.A. is great for modern and more cutting-edge art — it’s more engrained in the culture.” And while new galleries and museums are popping up seemingly every month out West, New York’s arts and cultural legacy goes very, very deep. “Galleries, theater, or even concerts in the park make New York a winner in the arts and cultural scene,” Japaz says. Museums like MoMA and the Met have some of the world’s most wide-ranging collections, while the galleries of Chelsea host contemporary exhibitions that are entirely free to access. Broadway calls New York City home, as does its slightly more experimental cousin, Off-Broadway (and Off-Off-Broadway), and performance spaces range from formerly abandoned warehouses in Maspeth, Queens, to stages in Central Park. The latter is also home to the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park series every summer, where theater-goers line up well before dawn to score free tickets. However, when you also add the sheer volume of artists and actors fleeing to Los Angeles to enjoy sunny skies, lower rent, and space to create, that city only bound to get more dynamic.
Most Family-Friendly for Travelers With Kids: New York
Traveling with kids is never an easy feat, and urban getaways can complicate things even more. However, big city travel doesn’t only have to be for adults. For Abigail Rasminsky, an Oyster.com writer and mother who recently moved to Los Angeles, New York makes traveling with children marginally easier. According to her, “The difference between visiting NYC or L.A. with kids is all about logistics.” When those logistics are taken into account, and while navigating the subway with strollers and babies is a nightmare, New York can be a bit simpler. “In NYC, you can easily get around one neighborhood and do a lot within it — lunch, a museum, the playground, ice cream shops — but it will involve a lot of walking (or pushing a stroller). In L.A., you’ll be getting in and out of the car a lot, so you basically need to make sure your kid can deal with car rides and a car seat. Even so, there are only a few neighborhoods that are truly walkable.” So unless you plan on sitting in traffic jams with antsy, sugar-fueled kids, NYC is likely the better option.
Best Luxury Hotels: Los Angeles
While new luxury options like The William Vale and 1 Hotel Central Park are complementing New York’s already opulent options, including the St. Regis and The Mark, space is at an almost absurd premium in the city. That means that typical luxury amenities like swish spas, gorgeous pools, and massive marble-clad bathrooms are the exception rather than the norm. By virtue of size alone, Los Angeles’ luxury hotel stock has a distinct advantage over New York. Oyster.com editor Megan Wood — who recently moved back to New York from L.A. — has seen more than her share of luxe properties in both cities. For her, Los Angeles takes the cake. “For true luxury (and celebrity sightings) you have to check out Hotel Bel-Air or The Beverly Hills Hotel. Between the two properties, I’ve seen Kanye West, Ryan Gosling, Mindy Kaling, and a handful of the Real Housewives. Attentive poolside bar service and gorgeous garden grounds are on offer at both hotels, and both provide private bungalows.” Bungalows, gardens, and pools — all in one? New York City doesn’t even know what those words mean together.
Easiest Place to Stay Healthy While on Vacation: Los Angeles
Vacations are generally a time of indulgence, but as any intrepid traveler will tell you, sometimes you need build in healthy moments to really help you recharge. After all: What traveler actually comes home feeling rested from a booze-fueled all-inclusive getaway? To be sure, there’s a cold-pressed juice joint in nearly every neighborhood of Manhattan at this point, and plenty of trendy gluten-free and vegan spots have opened in recent years. But Los Angeles may just be the originator of all things wholistic and healthy when it comes to major American cities. Sonia Kreitzer, a musician and yoga instructor who left New York for Los Angeles in 2014, tells us, “From a wellness perspective, L.A. is kind of a paradise. You can find juice bars here with the same frequency you could find a Starbucks in NYC. There are some of the best yoga teachers in the world here, and also a lot of healing energy from access to the ocean, the sun, and the desert.” She isn’t the only one who feels this way. According to Japaz, Los Angeles can feel like “the birthplace of athleisure — I’ve never seen so many tricked out workout pants and colorful sneakers.”
Best International Dining Scene: New York
Yes, Los Angeles (and everyone ever born in California) — we hear you: Your Mexican food is God’s gift to the world. And you’ve got K-Town, too. That’s all nice and fine, but New York is home to someone from almost every nation and cultural group on earth, and by that fact alone, Los Angeles can’t even touch it. And that cultural amalgamation translates to a diverse dining scene that only gets better by the year. Chinatown in Manhattan is like a tour of all things East Asian, while real-deal Korean barbecue can be had on 32 Street in Koreatown. Caribbean flavors — representing Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic — abound in northern Manhattan, as do Harlem’s old soul food restaurants.
But for even more authentic eats, head to the boroughs. Check out the dining scene around Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Woodside, or venture out to Flushing — all of which are in Queens — for everything from Uruguayan pastry shops to South Asian, Tibetan, Nepali, Ecuadoran, Filipino, Mexican, Peruvian, or Thai food. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn are old-school Italian, while even more African and Caribbean spots can be found across the Bronx as well. As Kelly tells it: “Nowhere is there a more diverse group of cultures that have collided in one city. Travel just a few blocks and you can have the best handmade pasta, the best bagels and lox, or the best dumplings. NYC has endless authentic food options.”
Nicest Parks and Outdoor Spaces: It’s A Tie
You might wonder how New York City can possibly match Los Angeles when it comes to the great outdoors. We’ve seen all of your snaps and Instagram posts from Runyon Canyon, which — admittedly — is a beautiful place. In fact, like many of the West Coast’s big cities, the proximity to nature is a major draw for everyone from new residents to tourists. According to Japaz, “The accessibility to the great outdoors is one of the reasons I moved to LA and why I love it. There are so many hiking trails with beautiful views of the city — or you can just go for a jog on the beach.” Joshua Tree National Park, for instance, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from LA, putting one of the nation’s prettiest places within a relatively easy day trip.
But what New York City lacks in pristine nature and mountain vistas, it makes up for in crown jewels. Central Park might just be the prettiest urban green space in the country — if not the world. And that’s to say nothing of Hudson River Park, Governor’s Island, Prospect Park, and the national parks and monuments that range from the Statue of Liberty to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. There are also amazing hikes within a 60- to 90-minute journey of the city, in the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and western New Jersey. If that’s not enough, simply hop on the Long Island Railroad to reach the stunning windswept sand dunes of Montauk.
Coolest Neighborhoods to Explore: New York
New York is a wonderland for travelers who like exploring on on foot. Its network of neighborhoods is legendary, and you can move between the intimately charming West Village, big-brand heavy SoHo, quaint NoLiTa, and buzzing Chinatown without walking more than 15 or 20 minutes from one to the next. It’s the clash of hyper-modern and old styles that helps make New York so special, as brownstones and centuries-old parks are tucked in between skyscrapers and new landmarks. Beyond Manhattan, there are a number of awesome neighborhoods to explore, including the ethnic enclaves along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, trendy Long Island City (which is home to MoMA PS1), and — of course — yuppified Williamsburg and its hipster satellite neighborhoods, Greenpoint and Bushwick.
Los Angeles has pockets of walkable and exciting areas, including beachside enclaves like Santa Monica and Venice Beach, as well as Silver Lake and Echo Park. According to Wood, though, Eagle Rock is one of the city’s more interesting places to explore right now. “The neighborhood’s Mexican blue-collar vibe is still thriving,” she says. “But bars and art galleries are popping up between the taco trucks and dollar stores.”
Just keep in mind that gentrification is the engine behind the changes you see in most up-and-coming parts of town in either New York or Los Angeles. You may want to think twice about slamming that $10 juice if you’re standing in the middle of a neighborhood where decades-long inhabitants clearly aren’t enjoying the same sweet taste of the hottest new trends in kale.
The Winner: New York
If you’ve kept score, New York snags the title here, based on these categories. That being said, New York and Los Angeles are quite distinct, though both have plenty to offer travelers. At the end of the day, the decision really comes down to your personal preference in what you’re looking for in a vacation. You truly can’t go wrong with either choice.
Hotel Picks for Every Budget
We aren’t going to sugarcoat this: New York and Los Angeles are expensive, particularly when it comes to hotels. That fact out of the way, here are our picks for the best hotels for budget, mid-range, and upscale choices in both cities.
In New York, unless your’e planning on bedding down in a flophouse near the airports, you’ll be shelling out well over $100 a night for anything decent. For something with a little personality that’s best for partiers, try The Jane Hotel, in the Meatpacking District. If you have a little more cash to spare, check out the Hudson Hotel, near Central Park, or be adventurous and hop the river to Long Island City. There, The Paper Factory Hotel practically explodes with historic charm and on-trend details. We also love the Arlo SoHo, for chic micro-hotel rooms and buzzy social venues alongside impeccable art-fueled design.
As we’ve already told you, Los Angeles can yield more bang for the buck when it comes to hotels, though it’s by no means cheap. For a homey and entirely bed-and-breakfast style experience near Hollywood, try the Cinema Suites. Rates there can be a bargain for the area. The Seaview Hotel is a great budget-friendly option for those who prefer to be near the Santa Monica Pier. The Standard Hollywood is a solid bet for its retro-inspired interiors and hip vibe at reasonable mid-range prices. If you’ve got lots of cash to spare, opt for Shutters on the Beach or Hotel Shangri La Santa Monica — both of which are memorable high-end properties that will have you feeling like royalty.
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