San Francisco is a gorgeous city with the iconic landmark of the Golden Gate Bridge and other famous sites to see like Alcatraz, Lombard Street and the historic cable cars. The food is also amazing, and there is so much variety!
You might assume that because San Francisco is located in California, that it will be sunny and warm, especially in the summer. But you would be wrong. San Francisco has varying temperatures and weather, depending on what area of the city you are in at any given time. The closer you are to the bay, the more likely it is that you will experience windy and chilly temperatures. September is when San Francisco experiences more typical summer weather with warmer days and less fog and wind. If you are coming anytime in July or August, you will not need shorts, and you can expect temperatures of between 16-20 degrees Celsius during the day. I stayed in the Mission District and it was definitely warmer there, as it is farther away from the water, but not warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt most of the time.
Keep in mind, I only travel with a carry-on backpack and I like to pack light, as a minimalist (although I still always manage to bring more than I actually wear/use/need). All of these items fit into my 48 Litre backpack from Mountain Equipment Co-op and my 12 Litre daypack from PacSafe.
Here is what I packed during my 6 day trip to San Francisco in July/August as a female:
Gregory Cairn 48 Litre Women’s Backpack from Mountain Equipment Co-op – I love this backpack. It has so many compartments to be able to organize all of my belongings and even a side zipper to access the main portion of the bag, as well as a drawstring opening at the top.
PacSafe Slingsafe 300 Gll 12 Litre Daypack – This daypack is great for short day trips, and I took it with me instead of a purse when I was exploring the city all day. It has some great security features as well.
Packing Cubes – I bought cheaply made packing cubes on Amazon, but they did the trick! I use a larger one for my clothing, a small one for toiletries, and a small for miscellaneous items. Packing cubes are great for keeping your things organized and separate.
Lewis N Clark Clear 1 Quart Toiletry Bag – I bought this on Amazon. It holds exactly 1 quart, which is the size limit for most airlines. I put all of my liquids under 100 ml in here and make sure it is easy to access when I am in the security line-up at the airport, by placing it on the top compartment in my backpack.
2 long sleeved shirts – I had a thin sweater and a lightweight moisture wicking top
1 sweater – I brought a hooded zip-up sweater
1 light jacket and/or windbreaker – Thin fabric jacket. You will want a jacket in the mornings, if you are near the bay or the bridge, and definitely on Alcatraz Island. Don’t be fooled by the warmer temperatures on the mainland… It is windy and cold at Alcatraz.
1 pair of jeans – Dark wash skinny jeans. I wore jeans almost every day. You could also bring a pair of beige or black pants as a back-up to jeans, if you don’t want to wear the same outfit every day.
1 pair of capri pants – I only wore these once to Alcatraz… Bad idea! That was the coldest and windiest area.
1 pair of black leggings – I wore these once, but they go nicely with a long sweater, dress or shirt.
2 cardigans – Cardigans are a great layering item. I brought solid colours and layered on top of t-shirts, and then put a jacket over top.
4-5 t-shirts or tank tops or dressier tops – I brought a mixture of basic t-shirts in solid colours, tank tops and dressier tops for eating out in the evenings.
1 pair of pajama bottoms and 1 pajama shirt
2 bras – I brought a regular bra and a sports bra
Underwear – however many pairs you think you need.
2 pairs of socks
You could also bring a thin scarf. In the rainy season, you might want to bring an umbrella.
1 pair of comfortable walking shoes – I brought athletic runners and they were comfortable and great for hiking up those San Francisco hills!
1 pair of basic flats or dressier shoe – I brought my lightweight and comfortable slip-on TOM’s, but I never ended up wearing them. If you plan on going out to eat or drink in the evenings, bring a comfortable but dressier pair of shoes.
You could also bring a pair of ankle or tall boots, that would look great with dark wash jeans or leggings.
Shampoo and Conditioner in Go Toobs – I brought my organic Andalou shampoo and conditioner from home and put them into Go Toobs. These containers are the best! They don’t leak and squeeze so easily. They are very well designed.
Bar of Soap – I put the bar of soap in a plastic ziploc bag to transport it.
Travel sized toothpaste
Hair Brush and Elastic Bands – I kept my hair pulled back every day, because it was so windy in San Francisco and my long hair would have been so tangled!
Travel sized hairspray
Hair straightener – This is not a must, but it is nice to have, if you have space in your backpack or suitcase.
Natural Roll-on Deodorant – I use naturally made roll-on deodorant from Rocky Mountain Soap Company, and it works great!
Face lotion – I use facial moisturizer in a travel size from Just The Goods (local Winnipeg brand)
Facial toner and cotton balls – I have a travel sized toner from a local Winnipeg company called Just The Goods
Body Lotion – I use an organic coconut lotion by Dessert Essence
Q-Tips – These are not a must-have for short trips, and you can also buy them pretty much anywhere at your destination.
Razor for shaving
Nail Clippers and Tweezers
I no longer wear make-up so I save space by not having to bring that with me when I travel. If you are staying at a hostel or Airbnb that does not offer towels (for showers), I would bring my micro fibre travel towel (roll it up tight and put it at the bottom of my backpack).
Medical/First Aid Kit:
Most of these items you will be able to purchase at your destination. I just take small quantities of some essentials, because if you do get sick, the last thing you probably want to do is make a trip to the store in a foreign country and try to find what you’re looking for.
Small bag or container of Advil/Tylenol
Eyeglasses and case
Contact lenses and solution
1 pair of sunglasses
Travel sized bottle of sunscreen – I use natural sunscreen from Saje Wellness. You can still get sunburned even if it’s not warm outside. My nose and face got super red!
A few pairs of Ear Planes – my ears do not pressurize on their own while flying, so I have to use these pressurizing ear plugs. They really help, if you have the same issue! You can buy them at Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canada.
Passport – make sure it is valid for at least 6 months
Driver’s License – a back-up ID for my passport
Debit and Credit Cards – make sure to notify your bank before you leave where and when you will be traveling, so that they don’t freeze your card (if they see purchases from another country, they might investigate)
Foreign Currency – I order my currency from my local bank a few weeks before I leave on trips.
Money Belt – for carrying my cash and bank cards when I am in transit (on buses, trains, etc. when I have all of my belongings with me)
Watch with an alarm
External Portable Battery – I take this with me when I know that I will be gone for the entire day, so that I can easily plug my phone in and charge it.
Notepad/Journal and pen – Good for making quick notes for future blog posts and jotting down observations and stories along the way
Combination Lock – To lock my backpack and compartments
Eye Mask and Ear Plugs – Good if you are sleeping in hostel dorms, or Airbnb apartments where you can hear the noise of people and traffic outside.
Multiple Plug Adaptor – I use this so that if my Airbnb room or hostel dorm only has a few electrical outlets, I am able to charge all of my electronics at once instead of waiting.
Books to read on the airplane or in your downtime in the evenings
Point and shoot digital camera – I use the Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 HS
iPhone or other smartphone – Good for updating social media, checking local transportation schedules, uploading photos and writing my blog posts on the go.
Charging cords and extra batteries for camera and/or phone
No matter how long you are traveling somewhere for, only pack one week’s worth of clothing. You can do laundry at a laundromat or wash your clothes in the sink with soap and water, when you are finished wearing them.
Bring solid colours so that you can mix and match different items
Always bring a jacket. You’ll wish you had one when you feel that wind!
Make sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking. You will likely be doing a fair amount of walking in San Francisco, and a lot of it will be up steep hills. You don’t want your feet to be hurting because of your poor footwear choices!
Check the weather during the time you will be in San Francisco before you start packing. Plan your outfits accordingly.
Bring items and outfits that can be layered. When you’re in San Francisco, the weather conditions and temperatures will vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and even from block to block, so you need to be prepared to strip down or put it all back on. I would start off the days wearing jeans with a t-shirt, sweater and jacket. As the day went on, I was able to take off and put back on the layers.
If you are going in March, April or May, bring a warm and windproof jacket, a thicker sweater, no shorts, and a scarf.
If you are going in June, July or August, bring a light windbreaker or thin jacket, a sweater, tank tops and long shorts or capris (in case you happen to be there on the odd warmer day).
If you are going in September or October, bring a cute dress and sandals, warmer weather outfits/lighter clothing (September and October are San Francisco’s warmest months), a light jacket (for cooler mornings and evenings), and 1-2 pairs of pants (for cooler times).
If you are going from November to February, bring a warmer jacket (but it doesn’t have to be a full-on winter coat), layerable sweaters and shirts, ankle, mid-calf or knee-high boots, a scarf, and an umbrella or rain jacket. Winter is colder than the other months, but not freezing (compared to Winnipeg’s -40 degrees Celsius!) and it tends to rain more often (the rainy season is from November to March).
Thanks to Her Packing List for the inspiration for this list!
I hope this list has been helpful for your travels to San Francisco! Let me know in the comments if there’s anything I missed.