Packing Lists for Travel

10 Essentials You Need to Pack for San Francisco

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San Francisco is a pretty great destination year-round. Like other coastal 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!

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, welcome! (I live here!) I’ve put together this packing list based on my actual wardrobe and the things I own and use when I’m exploring the city.

Travel & Packing Tips for San Francisco

As mentioned, San Francisco has very similar weather throughout the year – I joke about starting an SF blog called “56 and Grey” because that’s what the weather is almost every morning! As such, you don’t need to adjust this packing list by season the way you might need to for visiting other cities.

You might have heard San Francisco is hilly – but I guarantee you’ve underestimated the hills. As such, wear comfortable shoes no matter the occasion and please don’t come here and become a California hippie: put on deodorant! You’ll work up a sweat climbing those hills, trust me.

While visiting San Francisco, you can easily get around the city using public transportation. No need for a rental car! There are four main forms of public transit in SF: the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), cable cars, streetcars, and buses. You can also get an Uber basically anywhere and there are pay-as-you-go scooters to rent too.

What You Actually Need to Pack for San Francisco

I’ll be honest: I pretty much pack 90% of the same things over and over… and I bet you do too. That’s why I have this separate list of travel essentials I always pack. Also, most packing lists are about 90% of those same things, right?

So instead of giving you a packing list that’s 90% of what you already know or are already planning to pack (yes, you do need 1 pair of underwear for each day…), here’s a packing list that’s 100% of things you need specifically for traveling in San Francisco.

In addition to the items listed below, you might add other things based on the activities you plan to enjoy. For example, if you plan to spend a day exploring SF’s Pacific beaches, you might throw in an extra pair of shoes that you don’t mind getting sand in. Here’s exactly what to pack for San Francisco any time of year.

What to Pack for San Francisco

3 Days in San Francisco Hero

Below you’ll find the ten things I think you actually need to pack for San Francisco based on living here in the Bay Area and doing plenty of my own explorations over the years. I also asked Mr. V to make suggestions for what men need to pack for San Francisco where it makes sense.

1. Guidebook

Nothing beats a guidebook when you’re planning your trip – and it’s helpful to be able to flip through for ideas if you need to adjust your itinerary. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook company; the Lonely Planet guide to San Francisco has loads of tips to help you maximize your time in the city.

If you’ve never used a guidebook before, check out my helpful post on how to use guidebooks!

Bonus: Get this guidebook for free with a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited. Sign up here!

2. Rain Coat/Trench

Rain isn’t as common in SF as in other cities like Seattle or London, but it can get chilly and you’re much more likely to meet Karl the Fog here.

Combat the chill with a nice looking but well-fitted rain trench like this one from ExOfficio. This fits in well with the longer coat style some women wear in SF too.

Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

3. Cute but Functional Boots

I love these Tevas; they’re one of the most functional shoes I own. Water resistant (proof?), comfy, and cute, they can handle hiking in Land’s End and strolling along the Embarcadero.

Tevas changed the style of this boot, so if you’re looking for something more modern, check the new version here.

or on Amazon
Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

4. Sunglasses

San Francisco weather is weird. Karl may roll in and you don’t see the sun for three days, but the Sunset or the East Bay are bathed in sunlight at the same time. They’re small: pack sunglasses.

5. Multi-Use Clothing

I won’t say I’m a sucker but I do love me some multi-use clothing. The Chrysalis Cardigan by Encircled is the OG multi-use travel clothing in my wardrobe.

You can wear this piece at least eight ways, including several dresses for the rare time you might need to get dressed up while visiting SF.

Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

6. Cute Flats

San Francisco is decidedly casual, so you don’t need more than a pair of flats for a night on the town or to look cute by day.

If you’re looking for travel flats, I always recommend Tieks. While these are an investment at $175 per pair, they hold up so well while traveling. I put over two million steps into my first pair! Read my review here.

Jordan Packing List - Black Matte Tieks

Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

7. Drinking Cups

Parts of the Bay Area charge for coffee cups, so if you want to get in line with SF’s eco-consciousness, bring your own mug! This also cuts down on those hotel coffee cups you’ll use.

Since California still faces drought conditions yearly, don’t forget a water bottle too.

8. Reusable Bags

If you’re planning to go shopping in SF, here’s a tip: California also charges for paper bags – and you can’t even find plastic bags in stores anymore.

Instead, save your money (and the planet) and bring your own. These bags fold up small enough to fit in a purse or pocket until you need them.

9. Non-Single-Use Plastics

After a trip to a Western city outside California where they showed no care for how many single use plastics they offered travelers, I bought Mr. V and I this bamboo cutlery kit for traveling.

Bring your own, and if you love straws, make sure to grab yours (you can’t get straws in the Bay Area either!).

10. Sunscreen

Even on grey, overcast days, you can get sun damage on your skin. I’m getting old and can see the impact of years of not wearing sunscreen, so I’m all about it now.

I love this lightweight facial sunscreen from Julep. It’s small, pack it!

What Else to Pack for San Francisco

I’ve put together a weekend packing list, which can help you see some of the basics I pack for every single trip. Additionally, here are a couple tips to help you pack for your trip to San Francisco:

  1. San Francisco’s seasons don’t vary much. Don’t get hoodwinked by a packing list that says you need this for winter and that for summer. There’s not enough difference that you need to buy or pack substantially different things.
  2. Don’t want to pack a guidebook? Snag a digital copy. Lonely Planet offers ebook versions of all their guidebooks, usually at the same price or cheaper. Here’s the link for the San Francisco ebook. (Pro tip: it’s available for free with a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited!)
  3. Adjust your packing list based on how long you’re traveling. Whether you’re only spending 3 days in San Francisco or stopping for one day as part of a 10-day PCH road trip, add (or remove) one more top for every two days of travel, and one more pair of trousers for every 3 days. Don’t forget extra undergarments and socks!

I’ll add links to my master packing list and seasonal packing lists, as soon as they’re live!

Have any other questions? Let me know in the comments!

This post was originally published in October 2014, and was updated in March 2017 and again in February 2019. It contains affiliate links for the Amazon Affiliate program.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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