San Diego or Cape Town?

Jacob and I like to banter about which area of the United States could possibly have the ideal set up.

As I always say, home is where your friends and family are, but taking that out of the equation…What city in the United States has it all?

In the month of March, we visited at least thirteen cities in seven different states. As a side note, I think I gained one pound (of chips and salsa, guacamole, and cheesy tortillas) per city visited. That’s what happens when you try to store up on Mexican food knowing it will be hard to find later.

On this trip, we visited:

Weatherford, Texas

Dallas, Texas

Keller, Texas

Indianola, Iowa

Kansas City, Missouri

Liberty, Missouri

Miami, Florida

Hollywood, Florida

Salt Lake City, Utah

Happy Valley, Utah

Portland, Oregon

Los Angeles, California

Long Beach, California

San Diego, California


It’s the last one. San Diego. That is the ideal US city. Jacob and I fell in love with the city pretty quick (though that’s how falling in love works, usually, isn’t it.)

But then we flew to Cape Town (via Rome, Addis Ababa, and Johannesburg) directly after.

And it was time to fall in love all over again.

The truth is, they are pretty similar. But which one is better?


Here’s a chance to take a look at the two compared and I’ll tell you which one wins.

(I’ve done this before with Tahiti and Guadeloupe, and New Zealand and Mexico.)



San Diego

Native Americans have lived in the area for 12,000 years. A Portuguese sailor working for Spain landed here in 1542. Considered the birthplace of California, a fort and mission founded by missionaries were established in 1769 by the Spanish. California was granted statehood in 1850. San Diego grew quickly from the establishment of military bases. It’s now the eighth largest city in the US. Of particular note to me, is the history of the Mormon Battalion and its role in settling the area. Dr Seuss is probably San Diego’s most famous former resident.

mormon battalion

The LDS Mormon Battalion Center

Cape Town

The earliest written history is from 1488 when it was discovered by the Portuguese. It was settled by the Dutch in 1652. Slaves were imported from Java and Madagascar to work the farms.  Battles among the French, British, and Dutch ended with the territory becoming British. The slaves were emancipated in 1834 along with the rest of Britain. Gold and diamonds were discovered nearby which led to a rush. An outbreak of bubonic plague was blamed on the Africans, so they were moved to settlements outside the city. And then the infamous apartheid years began in 1948. This era of racial segregation did not end until the presidency of Nelson Mandela, called the Father of South Africa and its first black president. He was freed after 27 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state.


Bo-Kaap, the Muslim neighborhood


Their histories are quite similar, and both would be fun to explore in depth. But for international interest, I think Cape Town has to win.


San Diego

Mediterranean, mild and sunny throughout the year, enjoying 146 sunny days on average. It almost never snows, and only rains 12 inches per year.

Cape Town

On the same latitude as LA, Cape Town also has a Mediterranean climate. However, Cape Town experiences 18 inches of rain, and slightly more extreme heat and cold. Some days the wind is so strong it’s not possible to walk.


If you like especially hot summers for better beach days and a chillier winter, Cape Town is for you; if you prefer gentle and sunny year round, San Diego is better. For me, not being a huge fan of rain or extreme weather, that tips the scales in San Diego’s favor.


San Diego

When on vacation, it feels all right to splurge. But prices would begin to sting when living there, I think. I’m told, however, that while buying a house is prohibitively expensive, renting isn’t much more than any other large, developed metropolis. Of course you can buy whatever you like here.

Cape Town

Simply mind-boggling. 50 cents per kilometer with Uber, the drivers are all from Zimbabwe or the Congo. You can get a nice meal for $5. Our apartment is not any less than what we normally pay, but we are in the ritziest (and safer, therefore) area of town. The shopping is amazing. There are many huge malls, one of which is on the water and beautiful to walk around, called the V&A.


Cape Town. I’d venture to say that no other place in the world can you have this high standard of living for this cost.


San Diego

Mexican is the specialty, and there’s a large Filipino community so you can try balut!-but this is the US, so plenty of every kind of food you can imagine.IMG_0310

I fancied having an amusement park-style dessert at the zoo

Cape Town

The variety is less but still some of the best to be found in Africa no doubt. It also has a lot of its own distinct foods you can’t get anywhere else. It’s called Cape Malay-a blend of all the traditions that have settled here. You can eat springbok (antelope) and ostrich here easily. The rooibos tea is my favorite. And while it’s no trouble at all to avoid meat, (my preferred modus operandi) there’s equally no trouble eating just meat and salad (Jacob’s meal preference).


Escargot at the mall


Look I didn’t gain 13 pounds in a month in the US for no reason. The food in the US is good. But Cape Town’s value for your money is certainly better. And it’s got its own foods you can’t get anywhere else. Although I’m torn on this one, I’ll say San Diego: one, because its grocery stores are more comprehensive, and two, because on your average blind taste test meal you’re more likely to be satisfied.


San Diego

Driving here from LA, I loved the rolling green hills. Staying at the Sheraton, we had a view of the dock. It’s a simply gorgeous city. Very clean, hilly, and with charming houses.


Kansas City Barbecue close to downtown!

Cape Town

The same can be said for this city, but with one exception: It’s mountainous as well. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful location for a city than this one.


Cape Town. The combo of mountains, beaches, and cleanliness can’t be beat.


Camp’s Bay beach


San Diego

There isn’t much public transportation. There is a trolley, but owning a car is a must.

Cape Town

There is a decent public bus system downtown, but ubers are also very affordable.


Cape Town, though it has room for improvement. I’d still say if you lived here you’d want to own a car.


San Diego

This is a wealthy and high taxed area. There are still plenty of ways to give back via public organizations.


San Diego Public Library

Cape Town


Walk for the Homeless

Cape Town is full of vagrants. It is the unfortunate truth that a low cost of living and high development is coming at a cost-people of privilege are benefiting from the labor of less privileged people. In a country classified as “middle” human development, there are countless ways to volunteer.


Cape Town has more opportunities to work with every kind of need.


San Diego

This city has access to every kind of theme park you can imagine, from Legoland to Sea World. Plus the largest urban park in North America, Balboa Park, has 17 museums.


San Diego Zoo

Cape Town


This has got to be the most kid friendly city in Africa. Playgrounds everywhere, creches, nurseries and preschools abound. And there’s plenty of organized kids play areas as well.


The truth is, they are both extremely family friendly and have unlimited things to do. And to top it off, both cities have very friendly and chatty people. Tie.


San Diego


Seals in La Jolla

There are many ways to see wildlife in San Diego, where animal rights and conservation are a priority. There are miles of beaches in which to snorkel, kayak, and dive among sealife.

Cape Town

South Africa has conservationist projects for animals like the rhino, lion, and cheetah. Plus there are many, many areas to safari.

stories lions

Drakenstein Lion Conservation Park stories on signs


South Africa is an animal lover’s dream.


San Diego

It’s just across the border from Mexico, making a day trip easy. It’s the busiest single runway major airport in the nation. And the LA airport, one of the biggest in the world, is a 2.5 hour drive away. It’s safer than only 30% of the cities in the US, meaning crime is still a problem, but it’s still safer than Cape Town.IMG_0275

Long Beach, also a VERY cool place, is just a two hour drive away

Cape Town

There are safety issues here. It does have one of the highest levels of crime in any city in the world. There are certain areas of town you just don’t go, any time of day or night. Basic precautions, however, go a long way. It’s rather isolated, at the end of the world, and almost all flights are directed through Johannesburg.

gun tied in knots

Unshootable gun statue


San Diego makes a better hub to see surrounding areas. It’s safer and closer to foreign countries. Both cities are cruise hubs.



What’s your priority? If it’s food quality and variety, ease of travel, and the best weather you might pick San Diego. If you’re looking for cultural depth, ease of getting around, a low cost of living, natural beauty, wildlife viewing and service opportunities, Cape Town is where it’s at. Both cities are amazing and worth spending time if you can. But I have to say that Cape Town can rival any city in the world for livability. Who knew that a jewel like this one existed in Africa?

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 377 awesome articles for us.

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