San Jose or San Francisco: a comparison for homebuyers

black and white city under white sky

If you’re buying a home in the Bay Area, the two biggest cities to choose from are San Francisco and San Jose. Each city has its strengths and weaknesses depending on what you’re looking for in a home and lifestyle, but they are both independent, individual cities with life and culture all their own. So how do you choose between the two? 

We compare these two cities based on popular statistics and data buyers often use to narrow their neighborhoods. 

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Which has more people, San Francisco or San Jose?

While you may think of San Francisco and Los Angeles as the “big” cities in California, San Jose has more residents. According to the U.S. Census website, San Jose has around 934,000 individuals living there, while San Francisco has approximately 815,000 residents.

However, San Francisco may seem more populated because it has a higher population density. San Jose has 5,684 residents per square mile, while San Francisco has 18,629 people per square mile. San Jose’s lower population density may make it feel like a smaller city.

The Bay Area as a whole (including San Francisco and San Jose, as well as Oakland, Palo Alto, and others) has a whopping 7 million residents. And as far as diversity goes, San Jose and San Francisco are comparable.

According to the most recent census, San Francisco residents are 39.8% Caucasian, 5.1% African-American, 34.3% Asian, 15.2% Latino, and 5.6% other. 

San Jose’s population, meanwhile, is 25.1% Caucasian, 2.9% African-American, 37.2% Asian, 31% Latino, and 3.8% other.

San Jose’s residents trend slightly younger than San Francisco’s; San Jose’s median resident age is around 35 years old, while San Francisco’s median resident age is about 39. The tech industry is considered by many to be a “young” industry, and San Jose’s wealth of tech startups may account for this difference.

Each city has around 1% more men than women.

Is it more expensive to live in San Francisco or San Jose?

Overall, San Francisco wins the title of the most expensive city. San Francisco has an 18% higher cost of living than San Jose, and consumer prices in San Francisco are 21.56% higher than in San Jose. And groceries clock in at 35.51% higher in San Francisco than in San Jose. 

If you’re a big fan of dining out, restaurant prices in San Jose are 12.53% lower than in San Francisco. San Jose has a thriving restaurant scene, so you won’t miss any of the vibrant cuisines San Francisco offers. It’s safe to say that you’ll be paying more for food in San Francisco than in San Jose, regardless of whether you dine in or go out.

Real estate in San Francisco also comes at a premium compared to San Jose. Apartment rents average 21.85% higher in San Francisco than in San Jose. For a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, you can expect to pay upwards of $3,000; in San Jose, a one-bedroom goes for $2,460.

Childcare in San Francisco runs about 36% higher in San Francisco than in San Jose. You can expect to pay more for a fitness membership in San Francisco (around $100 per month) versus San Jose (around $71 per month).

If you factor in that the median household income in San Jose is lower than in San Francisco by $2,000 per year, all the costs can add up quickly.

man standing near road looking at city buildings
The two biggest cities in the Bay Area are San Francisco and San Jose. They are similar in a lot of ways, but the differences are most important when deciding where to buy a home.

Is San Jose safer than San Francisco?

Major cities tend to have higher crime rates than their suburban counterparts. It’s common for cities to have some pockets of higher crime and some areas with lower crime rates. San Jose does rank in the top three safest cities in the Bay Area. San Francisco has 116% more crime than San Jose. Both towns are above average in crime rates compared to the U.S. average.

Is San Jose warmer than San Francisco?

In short, yes. San Jose is warmer than San Francisco. San Francisco is closer to the coast, so it experiences more fog and moisture, which lowers the temperature. San Jose lies in the Santa Clara Valley, so it’s relatively close to the ocean (within driving distance), but it’s insulated from the temperature fluctuations that San Francisco experiences.

The average temperature in San Jose is 70 degrees, and it rarely drops below 50 degrees or rises above 85 degrees. San Francisco is on the chillier side, with an average temperature just below 59 degrees during the cooler months and around 69 degrees during the warmer months.

The closer you live to the coast of San Francisco, the cooler the weather you’ll experience; as you move further inland, the temperature rises. San Jose also gets significantly more sun than San Francisco, boasting an average of 301 sunny days yearly. San Francisco, known for its foggy climate, doesn’t get quite as much sunshine. 

Are houses more expensive in San Jose or San Francisco?

In both cities, the median home price is over $1 million. San Jose’s median home price is slightly less, at $1.249 million, compared to San Francisco’s median home price of $1.71 million. 

Because of its population density, there is less available land in San Francisco, so you may have to settle for a small yard or no yard at all. Meanwhile, San Jose tends to appeal more to individuals or families looking for a suburban lifestyle. You’re more likely to have some yard space for kids or pets to play in if you buy a house in San Jose. 

However, buying an apartment in the city center of San Jose costs more than buying an apartment in the city center of San Francisco. It costs about 16% less per square foot to buy an apartment in downtown San Francisco than in downtown San Jose.

Utility costs for the two cities are relatively comparable. Essential utilities like electric, gas, water, and garbage are about 5.5% more expensive in San Francisco, but you’ll pay about 10% more for Internet in San Jose.

Does San Francisco have better public transportation than San Jose?

Yes–for now. San Francisco’s BART system is one of the largest in the country—up there with New York’s and Chicago’s. In San Jose, you can get around downtown readily on public transportation, but public transport is more scarce outside the city center.

However, San Jose’s BART extension is projected to be completed by 2026. This extension will connect to the Bay Area’s rapid rail, allowing residents and visitors to use public transport easily throughout the area.

How does San Jose compare to San Francisco? Based on a cost analysis, living in San Jose is significantly less costly than living in San Francisco. San Jose also has a warmer climate and is safer than San Francisco. San Francisco has San Jose beat in public transportation. The BART is convenient, and the railcars that traverse the city make travel fun.

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