Travel Guide: What to Pack for San Francisco

pack for san francisco

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Hey ya’ll! Are you not sure what to pack for San Francisco? Well, you’re in luck, my friend! I hope this packing guide will help you prepare for a lovely city break in northern California. 

Firstly, you’ll have an amazing experience going to San Francisco. I’m not even exaggerating here. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in all of the United States. 

For example, I love the diversity of the neighborhoods and the fact that San Francisco is a very compact city. You can walk everywhere without the hassle of renting a car. Oh, and taking the cable car is enjoyable, of course. 

In addition, San Francisco also has a lot of fantastic free walking tours, as well as biking tours, which make it easy to meet other travelers. 

However, before I get too excited about San Francisco’s good qualities, let’s talk about packing. Break out the pen and write your checklist. 

packing list san francisco: the bay has some gusty winds so bring a jacket

Deciding What to Pack for San Francisco Isn’t Easy

First the bad news. It’s not easy to pack for San Francisco.

Why’s that? The main reason is, unlike other Californian cities (namely in the south of the state), San Francisco is known for its fickle and cool weather. It’s not all beachy here.

Now don’t get me wrong. San Francisco’s weather can be gorgeous, but, at the same time, the combination of brilliant sun and gusty winds, rushing off the Bay, make packing for San Francisco … kinda challenging. 

San Francisco isn’t a “pack a shorts and tee-shirt and forget about it” type of vacation. You need to plan ahead of time.

Luckily I have some tips for you that make packing for San Francisco a little less difficult for you.

bring good shoes for your san francisco packing list so you can walk across the golden gate bridge

Clothing for a San Francisco Packing List

Let’s start with the most important part of what to pack for San Francisco. Clothing, of course! 

Of course, one of my biggest tips is not to overpack clothes for San Francisco. This is a city with great shopping options, and it’s not a bad idea to actually buy clothes in the city itself. 

For example, Haight-Ashbury, which was the center of the counter-culture movement in the 1960s, is a place with plenty of fantastic vintage boutiques. 

But, obviously, you need to bring some clothes with you.

you need to pack for san francisco and bring plenty of stretchy clothes cause you will eat a lot

1. A Comfortable Pair of Walking Shoes

First I have a word of warning for you. Don’t make my mistake, and wear stiff wedge shoes around San Francisco. My feet hated me forever. 

Instead of trying to look super cute, you want to invest in a comfortable pair of walking shoes in San Francisco. Those hills are not a joke. Not. A. Joke.

Here are some of my favorite options for shoes to bring to San Francisco:

  • Clarks Wave Andes Walking Shoe: These stylish shoes are waterproof, and come in a variety of colors. You can pair them with active wear or a casual day dress.
  • Clarks Leisa Lakelyn Flat Sandal: Want something a little fancier? Go for these flat open-toed sandals! They are dressier, yet the synthetic sole still makes them easy to walk long distances in.
  • Clarks Wave Go Sneaker: Want shoes that are way more sturdier and good for the outdoors? Then bring these sneakers with you. They’re especially great if you want to spend any length of time exploring nearby Muir Woods. 

Ultimately you need to ensure your feet are comfortable on those long walking days.

not sure how to pack for san francisco? bundle up on the ferry
Be prepared for a chilly ferry ride if you want to go to Alcatraz!

2. A Cozy Windbreaker or Travel Poncho 

If you’re visiting San Francisco, then you probably want to see if Alcatraz is worth seeing (spoiler alert: it is). So be prepared!

You have to take a ferry to reach Alcatraz, which isn’t an issue with reservations, but you guys, the ride over is a cold one. Lots of blustery winds off the Bay. I know my teeth chattered a few times when I visited Alcatraz in the middle of April.

You’ll want to bundle up. My favorite windbreaker has to be North Face’s Venture 2 Jacket. Mine is still in quality condition after years of use. This jacket is worth the slightly higher price.

Want to wear something dressier then a windbreaker? No problem! Then aim for a classy cardigan poncho cape instead! Like the Venture Jacket, these poncho capes come in plenty of color options. 

packing list for san francisco: don't forget sunglasses for bright days like this one

3. Activewear is “Where It’s At”

As you’ve already guessed, you’ll be moving a heck of a lot on your trip to San Francisco. I won’t rant about climbing the hills anymore, I promise, haha.

Anyway, I personally think wearing activewear around San Francisco is a great idea! Hear me out.

Now I understand you don’t want to look as if you’ve just come from your kickboxing class, but a lot of styles in California tend to lean toward the active/casual side. So go with it. You’ll feel comfortable and great. 

For example, this popover hoodie is incredibly cute and light, and would be a good clothing staple to take with you to San Francisco. 

Check out your favorite activewear line for packing for San Francisco.

4. Outfits that Are Easily “Layered”

On a similar note, opt for outfits that are easy to layer on and off throughout the day. You need clothes that are good for changing temperatures.  

I know I keep referencing Alcatraz as an example, but bear with me. While it’s freezing on the ferry’s deck, you may feel hot wandering on the island itself so you don’t want to bundle up too much under mountains of clothing. 

Make sure you’re able to layer your outfits without too many problems.

be prepared when packing for san francisco - you'll be walking up and down lots of hills

5. A Good Pair of Sunglasses

As you already know, the sun is bright in San Francisco so you wanna protect your eyes. 

You don’t have to spend tons of cash for a quality pair of sunglasses. I love Jimmy Choo as much as the next girl, but at the same time, you need to be practical especially if you travel a lot (like yours truly).

For example, I quite like these vintage round sunglasses for your adventures all over San Francisco. Talk about stylish! 

As a precaution, I would even bring two sunglasses with you in case one pair breaks or gets lost. Hey, always be prepared for the worst.

6. An Adorable Purse Backpack

Finally my last fashion suggestion is to bring a purse style backpack for your trip to San Francisco. 

As much as I love purses, between taking long walks near the Golden Gate Bridge and day trips out to Muir Woods, I think having a purse backpack is much more manageable for holding your belongings. 

I think this nylon lightweight backpack is the perfect option. The neutral tone is great to pair with any outfit.

Read More: 2 Days in San Francisco Itinerary 

packing san francisco: you'll probably have sun in this Californian city

Packing for San Francisco & Daily Essentials

Okay, now that we’ve covered all the clothing, let’s talk about what essentials to bring with you to San Francisco. 

1. A Guidebook for San Francisco

As always, bring an updated guidebook for San Francisco when you’re visiting this incredible city. 

San Francisco has an abundance of accommodation choices and restaurants that it’s important to do some research ahead of time. 

Lonely Planet makes my absolute favorite guidebooks. They even have small pocket guidebooks that are easy to pack and travel with. 

packing for san francisco is a challenge but possible. the water is cold so layer up

2. A Packable Blanket or Towel

San Francisco has lots of lovely parks. So take advantage of the green spaces.

For example, I absolutely love Alamo Square near the Painted Ladies, a scenic row of Victorian Homes that glisten on postcards. Not to mention, the beautiful green spaces around the Golden Gate Bridge! Those views are to die for. 

So why not have a picnic? You’ll save some money and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. Bring a compact and packable blanket for lounging in the parks. 

3. The Original MakeUp Eraser

Similarly, you’ll want to pack something easy to clean your face. Instead of using wasteful wipes, opt to pack the Original MakeUp Eraser. This item makes it a piece of cake to remove stubborn makeup off your face. I absolutely love it and pack it for all my trips. I’ve written a review on the MakeUp Eraser if you want more details.

what to pack for san francisco: wear something stylish through china town

4. A USA-Friendly Electrical Outlet

This tip is especially important for visitors coming from out of the country. Have an international plug adapter to avoid any mishaps with your electronics. 

You can’t always rely on USB outlets being available at hotels and hostels. So be prepared ahead of time, and that international plug adapter with you.

5. A High Quality Point-and-Shoot Camera

The camera on your phone is great and all, but if you’re a photographer, then I’d invest in a point-and-shoot camera to take with you to San Francisco. 

For starters, a good camera to begin with is Canon’s PowerShot SX620 Digital Camera. Canon makes great cameras that fall within a reasonable price point. 

On the flip side, for more advanced photographers, I’d suggest taking it a step higher and buying a Fujifilm X-T30 Mirrorless Digital Camera. This lightweight camera may be expensive, but you’ll take professional (next level!) photographs. It’s easy to pack and carry with you throughout the day.

not sure how to pack for san francisco? it's a challenge given the national parks too
You’ll be outside a lot. Adjust your San Francisco packing list accordingly!

6. Sunblock. Sunblock, Sunblock, Sunblock.

Argh, San Francisco was another place where sunburn struck my gorgeous pale skin. 

Don’t let San Francisco’s blustery winds deceive you. On a late spring or summer afternoon, you’ll still experience a strong dose of sun and need to protect your skin. 

Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer line is my favorite sunscreen – especially since the SBF goes all the way to 100. Take a small bottle with you to San Francisco and protect your lovely skin from the sun’s rays.

what to pack for san francisco includes a big heart! haha just kidding

7. Quality Travel Insurance

This tip is especially important for international travelers. 

Buy travel insurance for your adventure to San Francisco. You don’t want to pay thousands and thousands of dollars because you crashed your bike on the Golden Gate Bridge. 

For travel insurance, I recommend purchasing a policy with World Nomads. This company has the best rates (that I’ve seen), and I’ve purchased their policies for my own trips.

Read More: Complete Guide to Solo Travel in San Francisco

pack for san francisco including cute sunglasses
I hoped you liked reading about what to pack for San Francisco!

I hope I helped you figure out what to pack for San Francisco! This is a great city, and you’ll have an amazing time. What do you think you should pack for San Francisco? Leave all suggestions in the comments. 

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