How to Pack for a Trip to San Francisco

Having lived in San Francisco for the last 8 years there is one thing I know for sure - San Francisco is hard to dress (and pack) for.  The weather can be incredibly unpredictable and no matter how many times I tell visiting friends to pack for cold weather they still show up complaining about how “freezing” it is (sometimes when it’s actually 60 degrees and technically far from freezing).

In San Francisco it feels more or less like fall year round, with highs of 57-70 on average and lows of 46-55.   According to weather.com, September is the warmest month and January the coolest but it really is far from being that simple.  Most visitors, for example, expect June to be hot because summer + California = hot, right?  Nope.  We have what we call “June gloom” and that = freezing.  On the other hand, I have also flown out for Christmas on a 75 degree day that felt more like 80+.  I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the point :)

 

IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SAN FRANCISCO BEFORE PACKING:

  1. SF is bordered on 3 sides by [very cold] water.  In the afternoon and nighttime there is often an onshore flow of cold air so even if it is 85 when you leave the house it will likely be much cooler later.  Bring a jacket everywhere you go.
  2. There are microclimates and weather can be very different from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Again, bring a jacket!
  3. May, June, and July are cold in the city.  But if you plan to leave the city, it’ll likely be hot.  Pack layers!
  4. September and October are the warmest and sunniest. 
  5. San Francisco is quite small (just 7 miles by 7 miles) and very walkable.  If you are up for exploring by foot, make sure to pack comfortable shoes.  There are many hills.  It is the best way to see the city, in my opinion!
  6. No matter what the weather report says and how you think you’ll feel based on the temperatures estimated, just expect to be cold.  My best friend came from below freezing temps in Colorado last winter to SF which was on average 57 (i.e. over 20 degrees warmer) and said SF felt way colder.  Please pack layers!
 

WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO SAN FRANCISCO:

MAXI SKIRT + TANK + SWEATER

I love this combo because, as mentioned, weather in SF can be extremely unpredictable.  If it’s warm out you can wear the maxi and tank alone, and if it’s cold or once the fog rolls in you can throw the sweater over.  The maxi length keeps you warm since it’s to the floor but not too warm if it ends up being hot out.
 

 

MIDI DRESS + LEATHER JACKET

A midi dress paired with a leather jacket is a perfect SF option, especially on a warmer day!  It’s long enough to not have to worry about the gusts of wind (a common things to deal with all over the city) and if you get too warm you can wear the dress alone.  Leather jackets are both fashionable and generally on the thicker side so they can easily keep you warm.
 


A HAT

A hat is an easy way to spice up any outfit and also keep you from having to do your hair, allowing you more time to explore!  I love this straw Cuyana hat for summer/spring/fall and this Rag and Bone one for fall/winter.  Cuyana is even SF-based!
 

JEANS + BOOTIES + JACKET

Most days in the city are pants days so you cannot go wrong with jeans, boots, and a jacket!  This is generally my go-to outfit given the unpredictable weather and the amount of walking that I do on a daily basis here.
 

 

COMFORTABLE SHOES

This one is VERY important!  In San Francisco we do a LOT of walking, and so should you as a visitor since it is truly the best way to see the city.  And since it is a very hilly city it does not make sense to wear anything but the most comfortable shoes that you can find.  Luckily since I walk around all day everyday, both in SF and when I travel, I have a lot of experience in finding shoes that are both comfortable and fashionable.  Check out my absolute favorites below!


GET THE FULL, DOWNLOADABLE SAN FRANCISCO PACKING CHECKLIST HERE:

Free printable packing checklist for San Francisco, CA
 

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