What to Pack for San Francisco
Since I moved to the West coast in 2013, San Francisco has been one of my favorite weekend destinations. Perfect for a three-day weekend or occasional week-long escape, San Francisco is an easy flight from Seattle.
Using San Francisco as a base, I’ve had the opportunity to see amazing sights:
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Lombard Street
- Golden Gate Park
- Sunset & the Pacific Coast
- Sutro Baths
- …and even more, beyond the city!
Most people know San Francisco for its proximity to Silicon Valley and all those startups whose apps we use; San Francisco is a perfect destination for culture, food, and history too.
Quick Facts about Visiting San Francisco
San Francisco is a pretty great destination year-round: it’s centrally located in California and a short drive from the coast. Like other West Coast cities, San Francisco has a temperate climate. The average temperature difference between January (the coldest month) and July (the hottest month) is only 7° (the average highs between these months range from 50°-57°).
This might seem cold, and it certainly means people in San Francisco joke about not having a summer. Even in warm months, it’s wise to pack layers and a raincoat, as the weather can change frequently. There’s also a frequent fog that rolls in off the Pacific Ocean – the fog is so common, locals have named it Karl!
While visiting San Francisco, you can easily get around the city using public transportation. There are three main forms of public transit in SF: the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), streetcars, and buses. Along with a little walking, you can see all the sights within a day or two, if you’re ambitious.
What to Pack for San Francisco
Given that the weather is both dynamic and cooler than you might expect for California, here’s what I’d recommend:
- A Raincoat. Always! Weather changes and can get cold chilly. A good travel-friendly raincoat can add an extra layer and keep you dry. Here’s a good budget option too.
- A Pullover. In addition to tanks and tees, have an extra layer to throw on if you wake up an Karl the Fog is heavy over the city. Don’t let the cold stop you from exploring!
- A Light Sweater. In addition to a pullover, a light sweater can be great for layering up, plus won’t take too much space in your bag.
- Layering Tanks. I live in these while traveling! They take up almost no space, plus allow you to mix and match outfits easily. This 4-pack comes in basically any color you can imagine, too.
- A Casual Dress. San Francisco is the capital of ‘west coast casual’ dress, but a cute a-line dress can go well if you’re headed out for cocktails or a nice dinner while in town.
- Jean Leggings. Instead of taking up room in your bag with jeans, throw in a few pairs of jean leggings. Neutral colors will mix and match, plus you’ll be comfortable whether walking around the city or hiking in Golden Gate Park.
- Sunglasses. Because the weather changes constantly, and the sun does come out! These retro style frames will fit right in with SF’s hipster crowd.
- Flats. Because Tieks are amazing, fit in your bag while you travel, and go with everything. (Read my recent review here.)
- All Weather Boots. Rain or shine, hiking trails or sidewalks, a good pair of boots are necessary in SF. Lately, I love these waterproof leather boots.
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Exploring Beyond San Francisco
If you have more time to visit San Francisco, consider adding on additional time to explore outside the city:
- Tomales Bay is a 1-hour drive northwest of the city. There is a famous state park and lighthouse, and you can learn about seismology (the science of volcanos) where two major plates come together underneath the small towns along the bay. Oh, they also have fabulous oysters!
- Pigeon Point is a 1-hour drive southwest of the city along the Pacific Coast. You can stay in a hostel right next to a lighthouse, and breathe the sea air.
- San Jose is located at the bottom of the ‘bay’ when people say ‘Bay Area.’ It’s a 90-minute drive or train ride from San Francisco to San Jose, but this booming city is fun to explore too. You can often get cheap flights from here when flights to SFO are expensive.
- Berkeley and Oakland are two cities located in the ‘East Bay,’ and both are booming. Berkeley is home to UC Berkeley and has a fun college town feeling, whereas Oakland is a little rougher but up-and-coming quickly.
Have fun in San Francisco!
This post was originally published in October 2014 and was significantly updated in March 2017. It contains affiliate links for the Amazon Affiliate program.