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Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for San Francisco

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This female packing list for San Francisco is brought to you by Caroline. See all packing list posts here.

female packing list for San Francisco

San Francisco is a must-visit destination for overseas and domestic travelers alike, for sites like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Lombard Street. The food is enough to make anyone want to stay, from the fresh seafood to various ethnic fares.

Travelers who have never been to San Francisco might imagine it to be like the rest of California: warm and sunny year-round. But think again. Since San Francisco is located on the bay, it gets brutal wind that keeps temperatures low, despite sunny days. I assumed I could wear shorts and dresses in June, which turned out to be a big mistake. San Franciscans have a more dressed-up style, so you might prefer to look professional.

Clothing

2 long sleeved shirts – Solid colored shirts usually do best so you can mix and match.

1 sweater – I wished I had a chunky sweater to keep me warm during my trip.

1 pair of jeans – Make sure they’re a nice pair, dark wash and no holes.

1 pair of black pants – Jeans aren’t always appropriate, so it’s good to have a backup.

1 pair of leggingsLeggings are my favorite travel accessory, particularly under a thick sweater or on long plane rides.

1 light jacket – The bay breeze can sneak up on you even when the sun is out, so have a light jacket you can throw in your purse.

1 scarf or pashmina – As with the jacket, you may get cold very suddenly and a scarf is ideal for this purpose.

1 cardigan – Dress up your solid colored shirts for a night out.

2 bras – One nude and one black should be sufficient, unless you are doing major hiking, in which case I might throw in one sports bra.

3 pairs of underwearExOfficio is the way to go! They look cute and are functional.

2 pairs of socks – I swear by my Smartwool socks!

Shoes

1 pair of comfortable shoes for walking – I rarely took public transportation in San Francisco and instead walked mostly uphill! Your feet will thank you for packing comfortable shoes.

1 pair of basic flats – For a night out it’s best to have something a little dressier.

1 pair of boots – Ankle boots are the best of both worlds, keeping your feet warm and looking stylish.

Toiletries

Travel-sized shampoo and conditioner – Keep your hair clean before it gets damaged by the wind!

Soap or body wash – Whichever you choose, make sure it smells nice. I always pack Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps for their multifunctional abilities.

Diva Cup – Don’t let your time of the month weigh down your trip.

Toothbrush and toothpaste – I recommend Lush’s solid toothpaste as a unique alternative to the tube.

Hairbrush and hair ties – I kept my hair pulled back for most of the trip, but I was glad to have a hairbrush ready to pull the tangles out.

Deodorant

Birth control

Caroline at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco

Protection from the Elements

1 hat – If nothing else, pack any sort of hat to keep your hair from getting too unruly.

1 windbreaker – If you’re planning a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, a windbreaker will be useful.

1 umbrella – Rain can appear out of nowhere so pack a travel-sized umbrella.

1 pair of sunglasses – Keep your eyes safe, even if it’s not summertime.

Sunscreen – I got sunburned even though it wasn’t warm. You can never be too careful.

Tech Gear

Camera

iPod – Keep yourself entertained on flights and bus rides.

iPhone – There are a number of great iPhone apps for San Francisco, namely the MUNI public transportation app, Kayak, Afar, Scoutmob and Hipmunk.

Adapters and chargers – If you’re traveling from abroad, don’t forget your adapters.

Other

Wine rollup – I tested out this product when I brought back a bottle of wine from Napa Valley without breaking it!

Towel

Water bottle

Eye mask and ear plugs – Travel essentials for any destination. Always good to have a few items that help you sleep.

And… what would your packing list for San Francisco look like? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

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17 Responses to Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for San Francisco

  1. Megan E. March 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    Great list! I’d add a dress if you plan on going somewhere really nice. If you are pretty casual, a down vest or similar can help with the cooler air as well.

    I also agree on the sunblock – especially if you are going out on the water at all, even if it’s foggy, the sun can burn!

  2. Roni Faida March 5, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    Great list! I try to always pack perfume, I get the 3 ounce bottle. If I don’t have room for perfume I get the lotion in a 3 ounce container (or put the lotion in a 3 ounce container) so I can always smell good.

  3. Steph March 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    I made the same mistake Caroline, I packed all summer clothes for a trip to San Francisco in July, I mean it’s California right?! I froze. Never underestimate how cold it can be in the Bay Area and the don’t base your packing just off the temperature, it’s usually even chiller with the fog/mist. Make sure to include sweaters, pants and comfortable walking shoes :)

  4. Jackie April 21, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    If you wear tennis shoes, you scream tourist. No one wears tennis shoes! If you have cute comfy flats for touring all day in those would be best, especially to avoid the aggravation of being harassed for money or the have to do things from the salespeople. But, pack for autumn weather so you will we warm enough.

  5. Carol June 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    Huh? You walked everywhere and never took a bus? You must have walked about 20 miles a day, or else never ventured out of downtown and the tourist traps. I’m a native San Franciscan and visit home frequently and I don’t know what you’re talking about. While it’s true that downtown the office workers don’t wear tennis shoes, ordinary people wear them just as they do everywhere. We also don’t dress up all the time unless we are going to work in an office. Here’s what “screams tourist”: never taking public transportation, bringing a purse big enough to fit a jacket into, and going to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you want to fit in with people who live in The City, dress in a way that shows your personal style, not “on trend,” and wear layers.

    • Mo June 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      Great list.

      As a bay area resident, I want to reiterate and expand on some points already made:

      1) Layers are indeed your friend. SF is definitely colder on average than SoCal and summer is “fog season” and can be downright freezing sometimes. Ever heard of that Mark Twain quote? (I won’t bring it up here, but go ahead and Google it.) However, the hilly terrain creates microclimates, so it can be overcast, cold and foggy by the water, but sunny and warm further inland. Walk down a hill to another neighborhood? Brr, windy and cold. Pieces that you don’t mind having to take off and an hour later put back on again (lather rinse repeat) are key. This applies for all seasons, the only difference being the weight and sleeve length of said layers.

      2) Comfortable shoes are imperative. No ifs, ands, or buts. They don’t have to be athletic sneakers, but something that will keep you from wanting to cut off your feet after 3 hours is key. Converse are fine… I personally swear by the shoes put out by a company called Keen. I probably own about 5 pairs of their shoes. Their BLVD line is especially great for SF walking in style. Even in nicer restaurants, if you dress casually, but appropriately (see #3) but just change your shoes to, perhaps, boots with a tiny bit of a heel, and slick on a darker lipstick or play up your eye makeup, you will be good and ready.

      3) Sure, we have a more “metropolitan” style of dressing than in L.A. or San Diego, but the look is still casual. Yes, cut off jean shorts and a tank top in July in San Diego will look fine, but in SF’s foggy July will make you look like a tourist. Do you want to look like a local? Try comfy flat ankle boots, dark rinse skinny jeans, a simple cotton tee, a very lightweight cardigan and a scarf. Or a cotton print dress, cardigan, tights, and ankle boots. Don’t forget the sunglasses.

      • Ellen A September 3, 2013 at 5:39 am #

        I would add one thing to Mo’s post, which is that the most useful layer is windproof with a full zip. Easy to adjust for when you’re walking uphill or down, on the sunny side of the street or the shady, and/or taking the wind straight into your face.

  6. iluminameluna August 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    I’ll do one better on the toiletries and towel: make the towel microfiber and the travel sizes of shampoos, conditioners and deodorants can all be found at any of the local drug store chains for very cheap. I never pack ‘em and have taken month-long road trips with nothing more than one backpack and a Therma-Rest. Also, even nightclubs will let you in with a pr of dark jeans and nice top provided you look clean. As for shoes, I would suggest a pair of good flats OR a mid-ankle boot plus your walking shoes, preferably those rated for hiking. The boots should be well-fitting and comfy to wear for long periods as it’s very common for folks out on the town to place-hop from a restaurant to a bar to a late-night eatery and/or night club for dancing or listening to music.

    What the others have said abt layers is on the money. I’ll add that natural fibers or materials made to wick moisture is a good idea if there’s plans for a lot walking. You can get too warm with a long sleeve shirt and a jacket but once you take off the jacket, you want to stay relatively warm so as not to get chilled.

    A pashmina shawl or LARGE cotton or cotton/silk scarf that can double as a skirt, blouse or just as a scarf and snood is a great investment.

    As Caroline points out, solid shampoos and conditioners and even solid toothpaste is a great idea as well as Dr. Bonner’s Magic soaps but again, these can be found in SF also so if you can’t find them locally, don’t bother paying for shipping if you can only find them online. Make do and visit the local health food stores for Dr. B’s or Lush’s SF store for a treat. Don’t forget, there’s also a The Body Shop (several!).

  7. Kate January 20, 2014 at 7:11 am #

    Thank you so much for this! While my numbers, for clothing especially, will probably be a bit skewed as I’m going for a week and a half, it’s nice to know what to expect. I know that my hometown on Upper Michigan’s Lake Superior cost is not usually too warm in June, I hadn’t thought about the fact that Northern California would have the same issues. Thanks again!

  8. Stefanie February 24, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    Thank you sooo much. This list, along with the comments, were so helpful. A friend and I are coming to San Francisco in May and I have never traveled before. I had no idea what the weather was like and what clothes to pack! Sooo helpful! Thanks again!

  9. Vivi May 27, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    cool list! my trip for San Francisco is in july and i really liked the list! THANKS CAROLINE!

  10. Linda Grennan September 10, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    We’ve been to SF several times. I’ve seen sneakers at nearly every place we stopped. I personally take sneakers, a pr of boots and a pair of flats. First trip, I took way too much. I take a skirt and nice blouse or a dress for a nice restaurant. The rest of my clothes are a pair of jeans, pair of slacks and several tops. We mainly go in the spring or fall of the year, when there are less tourists and better weather. I do take a coat jacket since we live in the Midwest. For the most part, San Francisco area that we visited was more casual than we thought. I love the lists you have for different locations and will be sharing it with others. This year, I am adding a couple cardigans instead of a light weight jacket.

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