Written by Megan Li
In a state as large and diverse as California, it’s inevitable that Californians will form preferences towards cultural areas—the broadest being Northern California (NorCal) and Southern California (SoCal). The supremacy of the Californias has been hotly contested, with those fiercely loyal to each side shooting insults up and down the six-hour drive in brutal fashion. But in the end, NorCal is miles above SoCal both altitude-wise and in terms of the standard of living, landscape and inhabitants.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the smog in Southern California had worsened for the second year in a row at the end of 2017, with 145 out of 365 days last year violating federal health standards. Air quality in Northern California was admittedly poor in 2017 as well, mainly due to the wildfires that racked the region in October. Wild fires, however, happen largely because of natural reasons and are thus difficult to prevent, while the frequent pollution in SoCal comes from man-made smokestacks and tailpipes of idling vehicles. In addition to less smog, NorCal boasts some of the cleanest municipal water in the country from the Hetch Hetchy Valley. San Francisco is one of only six cities in the country that are not required by law to filter tap water, according to an article from the San Francisco Examiner. Despite this, in 2011, the city still built the largest water treatment plant in the state to ensure complete decontamination. On the other hand, Riverside and San Diego were rated as the cities with the second and ninth worst drinking water nationwide by NBC News in 2011. Even though it can be expensive to live in NorCal, the extra money spent allows people to avoid the heavy air and water pollution that plagues Southern California.
Though SoCal has its beaches, the scenery as a whole is no match for the geographical and architectural beauty up north. The Bay Area’s milder, more comfortable weather and actual rainy season allow actual greenery to grace the hills—unlike the constant dried shrubbery of Southern California—and for forests to thrive. San Francisco’s fog is another unique characteristic that adds a natural and dynamic facet to the city, and has been the subject of many stunning photos and timelapses. In contrast, Los Angeles’s most notable feature from above is crowded buildings sandwiching lines of street-clogging traffic. When comparing landmarks, the City of the Angels may possess a larger number, but many people come out feeling underwhelmed; the sites’ fame builds up expectations that only lead to disappointment and 3.5 stars on TripAdvisor when visitors realize that the most exciting thing about brass stars in the ground is the graffiti scribbled upon them. San Francisco’s mix of notable sights and charming hidden gems offers a much more satisfactory experience. Furthermore, the Golden Gate Bridge is just as iconic as the Hollywood sign, and is also much more difficult to deface (remember “Hollyweed?”). The ample natural beauty of NorCal lends itself to an overall atmosphere of freshness that cannot be beaten, while its buildings and structures have just as much character as SoCal’s.
The stark cultural differences between the two regions attract distinctly dissimilar residents, with Northern Californians touting a much better reputation. Being a cradle of innovation, Silicon Valley draws some of the world’s brightest minds, who catapult humanity into the technological future. The presence of some of the best universities in the country like Stanford and UC Berkeley also allows NorCal to field scholarly talent in both renowned professors and near-genius students.
Although Southern California is the heart of American popular culture and the products of its entertainment industry reach screens worldwide, those who are magnetized to the movie mecca are widely regarded as shallow and plastic. Whereas washed-up Hollywood starlets clutter the Walk of Fame and silicone-pumped celebrities stalk Rodeo Drive, eco-friendly intellectuals coast across the Golden Gate in Priuses and tech moguls blaze down the path of innovation.
While both NorCal and SoCal have their pros and cons, the former edges out the latter with its superior living conditions, views and people. However, even if Northern California is better, every Californian should take pride in all the aspects that make this state so great, from tech hubs to warm beaches.