When comparing Austin vs. the Bay Area, at first glance these cities possess some obvious similarities. Both are known for their unique culture, are home to amazing food and wine, and are sought out travel destinations. However, once you break it down, they look and feel very different.
The Bay Area consists of nine counties and over 101 cities with the three major cities being San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. The entire area spans over 10,000 square miles and has a population of over 8 million. To put that into perspective, the Bay Area is nearly 36x larger than Austin, which is a mere 272 square miles with a population of one million.
Both cities pride themselves on their art scenes. A large appeal to the Bay Area has always been its well-established image as a cultural center. Drama and music began flourishing in the 1800s as San Francisco was home to one of the largest opera houses in the US. The city also has a rich history of being a hub for writers, with famous authors such as Mark Twain and Jack London making their mark here, and in the 1950s it was the epicenter for the Beat movement. Today the area is home to well-known writers like Danielle Steele and Anne Lamott. In the 1960s, local musicians like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin put the Bay Area on the map for its psychedelic rock scene as well.
Art is a part of Austin’s life and creative soul. The capital city boasts of more than 30 world-class museums, such as the Blanton and the Harry Ransom Center, which houses original sketches by Tennessee Williams and a glossed manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Austin too, is a magnet to creative types, in particular musicians, with a history of being the “Live Music Capital of The World”. The music scene in Austin took off in the 1970s when Willie Nelson helped unite hippies and rednecks, who together began making a new kind of music called Americana. Today, the city is home to over 250 music venues ranging from nationally recognized venues to small bars along Sixth Street. Each year Austin hosts worldwide festivals including Austin City Limits and SXSW Music Festival.
The Bay Area’s unemployment rate is 6.8%, which is on par with the national average of 6.3%. Being a tech hub, the area is home to many tech companies, both big and small. Companies such as AirBnB and Twitter call this area home. While many residents work locally, others commute south to work in nearby Silicon Valley, an area that is flush with major tech companies such as Netflix, Apple, and Facebook. Another industry that employs a large portion of the area’s residents is banking and finance. Wells Fargo is the second-largest company in San Francisco, employing over 12,000 residents. Other notable industries are tourism, education and apparel, and manufacturing.
Austin has a strong job market and low unemployment rate, which is 2.7%, far below the national average. Austin too is a tech capital, being dubbed “Silicon Hills”. As of 2020, 35 tech companies have moved their corporate homes to Austin. Many tech giants such as Oracle, Tesla, and Amazon are located here. Other major industries in Austin include government, tourism, and higher education, as Austin is home to the University of Texas and St. Edward’s University. The University of Texas is the largest university system in Texas and one of the largest employers in the area. Large government entities such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employ over 10,000 residents each.
The Bay Area attracts millions of visitors each year, with San Francisco alone reporting an average of 25 million. With beautiful sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, there is no shortage of things to do. Enjoy an afternoon strolling through Golden Gate Park, a 1,017-acre park located in San Francisco and the third most visited city park in the U.S. Here you can watch buffalo graze, visit the San Francisco Tea Garden, or head inside to visit the De Young Museum. Within Oakland, hike through the Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. Once a source for lumber, the park is now home to thousands of 150-foot coast redwoods and offers over 40 miles of trails ideal for hiking, jogging, and horseback riding. The Bay Area also hosts six major sports league franchises including The Warriors, The Giants, The 49ers, and The Oakland A’s, making it easy to cheer on a local team.
While Austin is smaller, the city attracts over 30 million visitors each year, largely due to South by Southwest (otherwise known as SXSW) and Austin City Limits. In addition to these festivals, Austinites have an abundance of activities they can take advantage of. For a day outdoors, residents and visitors enjoy canoeing on Lady Bird Lake, hiking the Austin Greenbelt, picnicking at Zilker Park, and swimming at Barton Springs Pool.
Both The Bay Area and Austin are foodie towns with no shortage of unique eateries, stellar coffee shops, and one-of-a-kind bars. Both cities also have designated wine country areas, Napa and Sonoma in the Bay Area and Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country near Austin.