The BEST San Francisco Packing List Guide for 2024

Last updated:

*This article contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you.

TL:DR: Prioritize light layers and comfortable clothing for your San Francisco packing list. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Bring one favorite pair of pants that’s versatile enough to pair with many different kinds of tops
  • Bring a variety of shirts, sweaters, and hoodies for layering
  • Make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes

Growing up in San Francisco, we could always spot a tourist because they’d be wearing shorts and an SF sweatshirt that they’d obviously bought hastily at a souvenir shop. 

Although many people are well aware of SF’s famed fog, there’s a widespread misconception that if you’re visiting California in the summertime, it will be hot.

A young light-haired woman ready to share her San Francisco Packing List, standing with a blue duffel bag on her shoulder in a San Francisco park.

San Francisco’s unique geography—a thumb-shaped peninsula sandwiched between the bay and ocean—creates odd weather patterns that defy conventional logic. 

To give you an idea, SF Public Works estimates that there are more than 26 microclimates within the city’s 49 square miles. Every time you pass to a different neighborhood, you’re entering a different climate.

Dressing for these conditions is a little more complicated than simply throwing on a jacket. You need to focus on layering so you can adapt to the ever-changing temperatures.

But layering presents a packing dilemma. How do you bring multiple layers for each day without overpacking?

Luckily, you have me as your guide. I’m an SF expert and a recovering overpacker. I moved to the East Coast for college and have visited home regularly for the past fifteen years. So, if you’re looking for advice on what to include on your San Francisco packing list, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn from my wisdom… and from my past mistakes.

A young light-haired woman in black pants and a yellow shirt smiles at the camera as she stands on a hillside with a view of San Francisco behind her.
A young light-haired woman in black pants and a yellow shirt smiles at the camera as she sits on a set of stairs decorated with mosaics.

San Francisco Packing List

A pair of hands packing clothing into a clear packing cube sitting on a glass coffee table.




Shoes & Footwear

Other Things to Bring to SF

A young woman in a dark green fleece poses on a windswept beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Personal styles vary, and I haven’t listed any garments that are more idiosyncratic. 

For example, I wear skirts and dresses pretty often, so I always include them on my personal packing list. But that won’t apply to you if you don’t wear dresses. 

I’ve seen other SF packing lists that recommend specific garments, such as a puffy vest. I’ve never worn a puffy vest in my life; that’s just not my style. So, a recommendation like that isn’t helpful for someone like me.

Ultimately, you should lean into your personal style when you’re packing for SF while prioritizing comfort and casual attire—whatever your version of that is. Supplement the items on my list with the clothing pieces that are essential for you.

How Do You Pack for 7 Days in SF?

A young light-haired woman in black pants and a yellow shirt smiles at the camera while standing on a park path under a blooming magnolia tree.

There are certain formulas to follow when packing for San Francisco. 

For starters, I like to pick my current favorite clothing items and plan for one outfit with several layers per day, plus one or two evening options. 

Rely on small, lightweight garments like shirts to bring variety to your vacation wardrobe. 

Pants and sweaters take up more space, so choose these wisely. For a weeklong trip, I’d choose two to three of my most comfortable, versatile, and stylish pairs of pants. 

When it comes to sweaters and sweatshirts, you want to have as many as possible that take up the least amount of space. I veer away from my thicker, bulkier sweaters but reach for my thinner cardigans and sweatshirts to fit as many as possible. 

Three lightweight cardigans probably take up the same amount of space as one chunky cable-knit sweater. But now you’ll have two extra options for mixing and matching. 

How Do I Not Overpack for SF?

An open suitcase packed with clear packing cubes sitting on a red patterned rug.

Avoiding overpacking is always a struggle! Take it from me– I used to always overpack. But, as airlines have become stingier and stingier about baggage and carry-on fees, I’ve forced myself to reform. 

Last year, I survived a seven-day visit using only a “personal item”-sized backpack. Yes, thank you, I do want a medal.

I find that I can get a lot of mileage out of one pair of pants, but then I let myself overpack slightly on my shirts since they don’t take up as much space.

Another crucial tip is that packing cubes and vacuum bags greatly help. I use a combination of both. You can get plastic compression bags that don’t require a vacuum. I used these on a two-month international trip last year, and they worked quite well. 

The only downside is that the plastic is liable to spring a leak after several uses, and the manual pump is another thing you need to carry with you. Nylon packing cubes, however, can fit a surprising amount of clothing and won’t have either of those problems.

Is There Anything You Should Add to the Packing List for Your SF Vacation with Family?

A young woman in a dark green fleece poses on a windswept beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

If you’re traveling as a family with kids, there are a few extra things you might consider throwing in your suitcase. 

My first suggestion is portable snacks. Food costs have risen nationwide, but the effects are particularly noticeable in San Francisco. In my experience, restaurant prices are higher in SF than they are even in NYC. 

If you’re exploring San Francisco, you might have long days out and about on your feet. Packing some tasty and nutritious snacks will keep everybody’s energy up without spending an arm and a leg at multiple restaurants per day.

You may also want to throw a reusable tote bag in your daypack. Single-use plastic bags are banned in San Francisco, and most stores charge for a shopping bag of any kind. 

What Not to Bring to San Francisco

A young light-haired woman see from behind walking away with a blue duffel bag on her shoulder in a San Francisco park.

The key thing to remember about San Francisco is that it never gets extremely hot or extremely cold. 

In recent years, the city has seen a short heat wave in early fall that lasts no more than four days. Every thirty years or so, there’s a freak snow flurry. Outside of these instances, it’s generally in the 50s and 60s all year round.

This is to say that you should probably not bring a heavy winter coat or shorts. Chances are, you won’t be wearing many strappy sandals. And unless you’re venturing outside of the city, you probably won’t be sunbathing on the beach, so scratch that beach gear from your list as well.

Tips for dressing in layers

A young woman with orange hair wearing a purple beanie, turquoise face mask, and teal knit scarf stands facing the camera on a hilltop with an orange sunset in the background.

There’s an art to layering for San Francisco weather, and it’s a different process from bundling up against the cold on the snowy east coast. 

When you’re dealing with freezing temperatures, layers help support a heavy winter coat, and that’s a whole separate logic.

In San Francisco, dressing in layers allows you to adapt to the weather, which hovers on the cusp between warm and cold, fluctuating throughout the day and from neighborhood to neighborhood. 

I like to break it down into four layers: The Under Layer, The Base Layer, The Cozy Layer, and The Outer Shell. Let me walk you through it. 

Under Layer (cold days)

When I was a teenager, my friends and I spent lots of time hanging out in damp parks and on top of windy hilltops. It was during this time that I discovered the wonders of tights under pants. 

It’s essentially the same concept as long underwear but without adding any bulk. You can get the same result from high-end silk long underwear, but a pair of tights is much more cost-effective. They double as sock liners, and they’re also so thin that they won’t be unbearably hot if the day warms up

I’m also a fan of wearing bodysuits and stretchy camisoles under my clothing for a thin and supportive extra layer. 

Base Layer

In layer two, you’ll put together an outfit with short sleeves. As I’ve said, personal styles vary so widely that I won’t give you specific prescriptive advice about what to wear for your base layer. 

The only rule for the base layer is that it needs to have short sleeves. You want an outfit you can strip down to if you find yourself in a warm and stuffy interior space or the afternoon sun is between down on you as you relax in a park.

Cozy Layer

Over your base, you should add a light layer, such as a sweater, a sweatshirt, a hoodie, or a cardigan. I call this one the “cozy layer” because it will most likely be a soft knit. 

This layer integrates with your indoor outfit. Many San Francisco buildings are a little drafty, so you might want to keep your arms covered even when you’re inside. San Francisco is typically laid-back and comfortable, and the Cozy Layer is an integral part of that.

Outer shell

With your three previous layers, you’re not likely to need a thick, heavy coat unless it’s especially chilly when you’re visiting. But it will almost definitely be slightly too cold to walk around with just your cozy layer.

You need an outer shell, like a jean jacket or windbreaker. The outer shell should be made of stiff protective material like denim, canvas, leather, or nylon polyester. It should have minimal inner padding so that it fits easily over your other layers without being too hot.

If the weather is chilly (drops below 50 degrees), complete your outer layer with knit gloves, hats, or a scarf.


Elina Ansary

Elina Ansary

Elina’s offbeat, colorful sense of style has been a mode of self-expression for as long as she can remember. As a visual artist, she travels the world, and her shoes have to keep pace. With an upscale NY art gallery exhibition today and research adventures in Italian ghost towns tomorrow, Elina has high standards and prioritizes style, versatility, and comfort. Her online shopping addiction has led her to test dozens of shoes over the past few years, and she’s always up to date on the latest trends.

Looking for more travel gear? Check out these related articles below!

San Francisco Packing List Pin
San Francisco Packing List Pin

Pin one of these images for future reference

Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


Leave a Comment