This female packing list for San Francisco is brought to you by Caroline. See all packing list posts here. Or, check out our San Francisco Travel & Packing Guide for more travel insight!
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.
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 leggings – Leggings 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 underwear – ExOfficio is the way to go! They look cute and are functional.
2 pairs of socks – I swear by my Smartwool socks!
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.
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 multi-functional abilities.
>>Check out the best toiletries for carry-on travel.
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.
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.
Book a San Francisco Tour Before You Go
Alcatraz & San Fran City Tour – $79.00
Combine a San Francisco City Tour and guided visit to Alcatraz for the ultimate introduction to San Francisco! You’ll enjoy the beauty and attractions of everyone’s favorite city, in addition to a scenic ferry ride to Alcatraz Island for an audio walking tour.
Classic San Francisco Bike Tour – $89.00
Explore San Francisco’s defining districts and lesser-known neighborhoods on this 4.5 to 5-hour bike tour. During your approx. 12-mile (19.5-km) route, cycle through the Mission, the Castro, Civic Center, bohemian Haight-Ashbury and more as you learn about the city’s history and landmarks from your knowledgeable guide. Avoiding the majority of the city’s famous hills, see the iconic ‘Painted Ladies’ of Alamo Square and get up close to the Castro Theater, City Hall and other famous sights. Numbers limited to nine people, ensuring a small-group experience.
These tours, and more, are available for booking through Viator, our affiliated travel resource.
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.
Wine rollup – I tested out this product when I brought back a bottle of wine from Napa Valley without breaking it!
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.
Book a Viator Tour for Your Trip to San Francisco
Hidden Stairways of San Francisco ↗
See gorgeous mosaic tiled steps and hear the stories behind them, then take in stunning 360° views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park and downtown San Francisco.
Small Group Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco ↗
Travel by minibus from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park on a small-group day trip to one of the most visually stunning places on earth—considered the crown jewel of America’s national parks.
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Megan E. says
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!
Roni Faida says
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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 says
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.
Dont’ wear Converse. I moved from a car culture suburb to SF and wore Converse for 3 days and got huge, painful blisters. It’s fine to wear sneakers, esp dark colors or the new ones that are slip-on with no laces. But, Sketchers and a few other companies make ballet flats that have sneaker-like insoles that look like casual walking shoes and are v supportive to your feet.
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!).
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!
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!
cool list! my trip for San Francisco is in july and i really liked the list! THANKS CAROLINE!
Linda Grennan says
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.
Layers is key because if you plan on leaving the City during your trip, you can find yourself somewhere very hot. I’ve taken friends over the Golden Gate where it was 57 F and drove to Napa Valley where it was 107 F. Being able to adjust your clothing for extreme weather changes is key in the Bay Area and its most popular attractions such as going from San Francisco to the Wine Country.
You can also get really sweaty climbing up the hills and then be chilled by your damp clothes walking down them.
I tell people I meet the best time of year to come to the Bay Area is October. Summer comes late to the bay and there are fewer tourists. There is also less fog that time of year so crossing the Golden Gate you actually see something, rather then the thick fog you would see in May or June.
A light but windproof jacket mentioned by others is key!
On the Embarcadero, the odd numbered piers are on the north side, i.e. Pier 39 and the even numbered piers are on the south side, i.e. the ball park. I’ve run into many tourists who believed that they go in numerical order and had to double back.
Maybe a pair of gloves and a little lip balm.
Lots of cute jackets are key! I took a trip this summer in which I few into San Francisco, drove up through California, stopping in Eureka, visited family in Eugene, OR, and eventually flew out of Seattle. I knew SF would be colder, but I wasn’t nearly prepared enough! I brought one wind breaker which I thought I would only need for Seattle so I left in the hotel room, and I had one very thin sweatshirt. I knew the temps and fog would be chilly, but I was not planning for the wind. The sweatshirt was thin and the wind blew right through it, and the wind also made the baggy sweatshirt look really unflattering, lol. I had a blast though, but I’ll definitely be bringing lots of layers, a scarf, fleece, and a windbreaker next time. I’m used to hot and humid Florida climates, but I live in Minnesota. It gets below zero here in the winter, so you’d think SF would feel warm, but our summers are high 80’s on average and very humid. Needless to say, the wind was a shock. It was super cool though because about two hours north they were experiencing record-highs and it was 101 degrees and sunny. Dry heat is so weird! But seriously, bring a jacket, and bring outfits that won’t look bad when it’s windy- maybe heavy sweaters or a tight fitting option. Comfy shoes are a good idea too. Beautiful city, lots of organic food cafes, super pretty! Have fun 🙂
Hey Kayla, read your post and I am doing a similar trip in July but in reverse and on a motorcycle. Yikes, never done this before…riding from Seattle down the coast to San Fran. Any suggestions on outfit musts as I have to pack very light to fit it all on bikes side bags
Thanks for the information . Can I wear a jean jacket( not with blue jeans)) or is that to Midwest?
I actually live in the Bay Area, Pleasanton, and it gets cold in San Francisco. It’s near the coast, and never have I ever been there where the temperature was above 68. Even in the hot months of July, where I live it’s around 90, and San Francisco is around 66 degrees. Advice: Also pack a heavy jacket
I live in the suburbs and work in the City. My favorite for comfort with the temperatures is to pair a medium-weight sweater that is a little breathable with outerwear that cuts the wind. The outerwear could be thin and tightly woven, a lined nylon coat or raincoat, an unlined woven-fabric raincoat, etc. I like walking. For shoes I often wear comfortable loafers during the day. My favorite business-casual pants are navy blue thin-wale cords. Sometimes at the end of the day if it is windy I put up the hood of my Goretex jacket when I walk to the bus. We are somewhat outdoorsy so do not care about that appearance. I would say jeans jackets are heavy and bulky but do not cut the wind or provide much warmth. Sweatshirts also don’t cut the wind well. Fleece may work a little better — in fact, one “sweater” I sometimes layer is a V-neck pullover grey fleece that comes down to the hip. It is very neural and I have had it for years. Every now and again you may see ladies wearing caps, like touring caps, bucket hats, watch hats, fedora-ish hats (not so much in style lately) — they are not for style as much as for simple comfort. For business clothes, blazers with dresses or separates, or pant suits, are among the things you will see. Leggings with tunic-style tops are going a bit by the wayside, but boho-style fashion (think Dead Heads and tie-dye) could still fit in, if you like that sort of thing. For looking dressy and being comfortable, anything with a cut and color that flatters you and covers most of your skin is a good idea — pants that go to the ankle, rather than capris, and shirts that are at least 3/4-length sleeves should be good. It’s probably not necessary or helpful to wear a camisole or tank top under things, since the wind has more of a cooling effect than the actual air temperature. . . . Finally, about some of my most-comfortable sweaters: They may be mohair or made with somewhat thick synthetic yarn on relatively large knitting needles. Going over to the coast — right on the beach — for a weekend in NorCal, I pack a light, oversized cashmere pullover that’s compact under an Modal overshirt, and wear the overshirt on top of a sleeveless stretchy knit top or longsleeved tee, depending on the time of day, and am always comfortable with those layering options and my Goretex jacket. . . . As to where to put your layers when out and about — a daypack should be okay, even natives use them. The tech-industry-types may have somewhat quietly expensive daypacks rather than old-fashioned briefcases. Hershel or Dakine seem relatively compact, affordable and attractive, among other options.
We watched 4th of July fireworks on a tour boat in front of Alcatraz…. amazing except I was freezing despite wearing heavy sweater over a tee, jeans, socks and shoes plus the fleece lined coat I bought from a tourist shop on the wharves.
The next morning, it was 57 and foggy when we left on drive to Napa, and 82 and sunny when we arrived an hour later. On the way back to San Fran, we stopped in Muir woods for an easy hike and then dinner in Sausalito. I wore a denim jacket over sleeveless top and capris, and that was perfect with tennis shoes for everything we did.
So yes, layer, wear comfy shoes, and don’t underestimate how cold it can get even in summer.