I love living in San Francisco – for the most part. I could do without the expensive rent but swapping Midwest living for Northern California 4.5 years ago was the best decision I ever made. The Bay Area is so vibrant – each neighborhood is different from the next, the city is full of color and history, the food scene here is amazing… the only tricky part for visitors is the weather. See, San Francisco is in a microclimate… and then within that microclimate are several more microclimates.
The seasons are also a bit backward which makes it hard for tourists to properly make packing lists. Don’t worry, I’m here to help with my guide on what to wear in San Francisco at each season (according to a local – that’s me!)
Basically, San Francisco as a whole is a microclimate. It’s usually cooler and foggier in the city. You can literally drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and suddenly go from 50 degrees and fog to 70 and sunny. But that same thing happens within the city. I live on the West Side, which is almost always foggy and about 5-10 degrees cooler than the East Side. The fog can get trapped on the Twin Peaks hills to cause this weather change.
This is why locals always wear layers. I don’t have to worry about street salt ruining my shoes after each winter, but I do now own more sweaters than I ever had in my life.
And then there is the odd “seasons“. For the most part, we don’t have proper seasons. San Francisco is pretty consistently between 50-75 degrees year round. That being said, the weather can vary drastically depending on the time of year. Winter is rain. Like, so. Much. Rain. Except for Christmas day, which will be in the mid 70’s and sunny. August? Come August, I can promise you I won’t be able to see the sunshine for the whole month because it’ll be foggy every. Single. Day.
I hate packing the wrong things when I travel so I’m here to do a deep dive on what the weather will probably be like during each month in the city and what you should pack to be the most comfortable! Figuring out how to dress for San Francisco is a challenge, but I’m here to help! Let my 4+ years of mistakes be your lessons and travel tips!
Read more: 17 free things to do in San Francisco
What To Wear In San Francisco For Each Season – Your Ultimate Packing List.
I’ve broken down packing lists to the main 5 “seasons”. Yes, I would say we have 5 seasons here, not 4. (Winter, spring, summer, Indian summer, and fall.) Obviously, make sure to check the weather before you arrive to see what the day by day will be. I can’t control the weather, so don’t get made at me if I tell you it probably won’t rain and it does. (Blame global warming.)
No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll want an external phone charger to keep your phone charged. This city is a tech city, everything is done via your phone. You can even buy your bus pass on your phone. So, you’ll want to make sure it’s charged. I personally carry this one on all my trips.
What To Wear In San Francisco In January – March (Winter)
San Francisco winter is usually pretty wet now that we’ve been out of the drought. (I didn’t have to buy an umbrella for the first two years of living here because of the draught, but now California is back in action!) We can have weeks on end where it’ll rain all day, every day. Combined with Karl the Fog (that’s what we call the fog here, by the way) and the wind that comes off of the bay, our winter rain tends to chill you to the bone.
If you are visiting during the winter, you’ll want rain boots and a rain jacket for sure. Also, a waterproof purse like this one will come in handy. Make sure to bring a few warm sweaters because you’ll probably get cold after a day exploring. And socks! Lots of extra socks because they’ll probably get wet!
My go-to winter San Francisco outfits on a rainy day in San Francisco is a warm sweater over skinny jeans or a jumpsuit, rain boots, a rain jacket or coat, umbrella and a purse that can keep my things dry inside. Sometimes I’ll toss on a scarf if I’m really chilly. For visitors, your priority is staying warm and dry as you explore the city. Don’t forget that the sun sets early in the winter, can be as early as 4:45pm here, so you’ll want good layers to keep you warm as you visit sites in the evening.
This all being said, there are usually a couple of random weeks (it changes each year) where the rain will stop and we’ll have a few weekends of mid-70s and sunshine… before it starts raining again. I hope you luck out on your winter visit and get the summer feeling days because those are my favorites. When the rest of the country is piled under the snow, I’m drinking wine in the park. HA! The rain will usually last through March and see less and fewer rain days until the mid-end of April.
>> Read more: the best packable women’s rain jacket.
Looking to do some day trips out of the city? I love wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma, each about 45-60 minutes North. You can go hiking in Point Reyes (low-key looks like Ireland) or if you’re looking for a longer multiple day trip, head to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe.
What To Wear In San Francisco In April – May (Spring)
Spring is beautiful here in the city. Of course, we’ll have rainy days and foggy days, but now that we’ve been getting rain in the winter, the whole city is full of blossoms. Trees blooming pink, flowers springing to life all over the city. It’s stunning. Spring here is like spring in most places. Some days will be chilly, some almost feel like summer.
I’d say skip the rain jacket and rain boots if you are visiting in the spring, but still pack an umbrella. You’ll still want a good coat and a sweater or two in case it’s cold, but also throw in a few dresses or skirts into your suitcase. As always, pack comfortable shoes that you can walk all over in. San Francisco is like New York City for visitors – you’ll probably find yourself walking 10-20 miles a day as it’s easy to just walk from one neighborhood to the next.
The temperatures will be a bit warmer than in January but the biggest difference in April and May compared to March is daylight savings. By the end of April, the sun will be setting at around 8pm so that means you’ll have tons of extra time to explored during the day!
What To Wear In San Francisco In June – August (Summer)
Literally everywhere else in the country – even just across the bay in Oakland – June, July and August means summer. It means hot days, possibly humidity, and warm nights. But not in San Francisco. Summer is more like a second winter here.
“The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” – Mark Twain
A couple of years ago I was meeting a friend at a coffee shop just a few blocks away from my apartment and it was SO freaking cold that I had to pull out the winter jacket I used to wear in Wisconsin. Where this past winter it was -50 degrees. Just going to let that sit with you for a moment. I had to wear the same jacket.
People think planning summer trips to San Francisco is going to be what most people think of California – warm, sun, big beaches, swimsuits. Each June (aka June Gloom because of the famous fog) I see tourists shivering in their flip flops and mini skirts. That would be appropriate to wear if you are visiting Los Angeles in the summer, but not this city. Do not make the mistake of thinking you’re packing for a beach vacation if you are visiting in June – August.
I kind of feel like I’m in Game of Thrones warning you that Winter is Coming – but instead, FOG IS COMING. But like, all dramatics aside, it’s cold AF here in the summer. (Of course there are a few rare, warmer, sunnier days, but don’t bank on it while you are here.)
It won’t be wet, it probably won’t rain at all, so you don’t need to bring rainboots, umbrellas or a rain jacket. But you will need a heavy coat, long pants or skirts or something to cover your legs (no shorts!), and lots of warm sweaters. And of course, walking shoes as you’ll be walking all over.
>> Read more: how to pack for long trips (full packing list guide!)
My go-to summer San Francisco style is usually a long sweater maxi dress or jeans and ankle boots to keep my toes warm. I pull out my warmest coats for the summer months and probably will be layering that over a sweater on really bad days. Since it’s the summer, I will throw in colorful purses or headscarves to make me not feel like I’m freezing in July.
Speaking of July, I’ve been in San Francisco for 4 Fourth of Julys now and in case you are thinking of going to the pier to see the fireworks… don’t. Remember, this is the foggy month! Each Independence Day is fog on fog on fog on wind on fog. I can always hear fireworks being set off on the beach or in the park, but can rarely see them.
So, skip the flip flops and beach wear if you are heading to San Francisco in the summer. But, if you plan on doing day trips out of the city, then also pack those warm weather clothing! Napa is HOT this time of year (think 90+ degrees) and the weather will totally be different rigth across the bridges. You won’t want to overheat if you are seeing more of Northern California.
>> Read more: 17 free things to do in San Francisco.
Wildfire Season: Wildfires are a problem here in Northern California. For two summers in a row, I’d wake up to glowing skies and the whole city smelling like a campfire. Sometimes it sneaks up on me. The day will be normal but then the light will just start to look all.. wrong. And then I google and learn there’s yet another wildfire. There has yet to be a wildfire problem IN the city, they happen miles and miles away but the smoke always drifts down to the city. We can always smell it and the air is always polluted until the fire is out.
The Camp Fire in 2018, the worst one in history, lasted for about 2 weeks. Air purifiers sold out here in San Francisco, people wore masks, it was hard to breathe some days because the air was so bad. This is my long-winded way of saying – if you are visiting or planning to visit during a wildfire, it’s not going to be fun for you. You should try to move your trip.
What To Wear In San Francisco In September – October (Indian Summer)
Ahhh, my favorite time of year here in San Francisco! Our Indian summers are the best. After 3 months of chilly fog, we’re blessed with basically two months of sunshine and 70+ degrees. While the rest of the world is breaking out their plaid scarves and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, we’re having our summer beach days and running around the city without any jackets.
While you should still pack a jacket in case the fog rolls in early, what to wear in San Francisco in October is what you were wearing all summer in your home city. My go-to outfit is a pretty dress and heels, sunglasses and a fun bag. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
We first moved to San Francisco in October of 2014. I remember driving around the city that first time. It was a hot, sunny day. I was so confused by every one complaining about the weather. It was gorgeous! And it stayed that way, for a really long time. Until the city flooded right before Christmas and then it was foggy for 3+ months. My little bubble was burst!
During the summer here, I love taking hikes around the city. Lands End and Marshall’s Beach is my favorite places to hike down to. Another fun spot to explore during the warm months is Crissy Field, a long park next to the bay. It was a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and city skyline. Walking tours are the most fun this time of year because the weather is the best.
>> Read more: where to find the best fall foliage in California.
I also love touring Alcatraz during our Indian Summer because the weather makes it just stunning. The prison is in the middle of the Bay, so on foggy or rainy days that wind and moisture just cut right through the whole prison. It makes for a depression, chilly tour. Plus, a really wet boat ride over!
But on a sunny day, Alcatraz is beautiful. There are gardens with flowers blooming. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge to one side and a perfect view of the skyline to another. Turn around to see Sausalito and Angel Island. This tour is one of my favorite “touristy” things to do in San Francisco. The audio tour is fantastic the history is unique and the views are amazing. Make sure to do this!
What To Wear In San Francisco In November – December (Fall)
Lastly, what to wear in San Francisco in December and November – aka the Holidays aka our “fall.” Our trees in the city don’t really turn colors, but a few will turn a bit yellow and leaves may fall in December. There will be some rainy days, but mild compared to what’s coming in the winter. Some days will warm still, in the high 60’s.
It’s not the same fall weather as I grew up with in Wisconsin, but this time of year is the closest we have to a true fall season. If you are visiting this time of year, plan on a fall jacket, high knee boots, a light sweater, jeans, long dresses and scarves. Basically, what you were wearing during YOUR fall!
If you are visiting for Christmas, make sure to pack your holiday dresses and fancy coats! This city comes to life with holidays lights, an ice skating rink on Union Square (so fun, btw) and Christmas trees in every apartment window. I swear every night some big tech company is throwing a Christmas party so everyone is always dashing off to fancy events and dressing up for the holiday feels.
As I mentioned before, Christmas Day always seems to be 75 and sunny, but the days leading up can be mixed. Expect the temperature to be in the 60’s. You may need a coat on the West side of the city, but maybe just a good sweater on the East side. An umbrella would be good to pack, no need for boots or a rain jacket.
Where To Stay / Best San Francisco Hotel Deals
Going to say it’s safe to assume you’re planning a trip to the Bay and that means you’ll need to book a hotel! San Francisco accommodation ranges from cheap Airbnbs to boutique hotels to large luxury ones. If you’re going to San Francisco, I recommend you book a boutique or luxury hotel. The extra money will be worth it for cleanliness and safety!
A lot of the cheap hotels in San Francisco are sketchy, small and dirty. Whatever you do, don’t stay in the Tenderloin District. Try not to walk through there while exploring, either, unless walking through groups of people pooping on the streets while shooting up is your idea of fun. I recommend one of the following hotels.
Fairmont San Francisco: It sits on top of the hill right across the square from Grace Cathedral. It’s in easy walking distance to Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square. Downstairs is the famous Tonga Room for happy hour steps from your room. Book the best deal here.
Hotel Diva: A small boutique hotel a few blocks from Union Square. It has trendy decor and makes for a really easy base to explore San Francisco. You can probably walk to almost anything you need to visit if you stay here. Plus, they sometimes have really good deals. Book the best deal here.
Argonaut Hotel: I personally don’t like Fisherman’s Wharf because I think it’s too touristy, but tourists love staying and visiting this Neibhboorh! This hotel is so trendy and cute and has a great bar downstairs. It’s steps from Ghirardelli Square and the historic Harbor with great views of Alcatraz and the Bay. Book the best deal here.
Looking for things to do in San Francisco or recommendations on where to eat? You should check out my full San Francisco city guide here!
I hope this helps you pack for your trip to San Francisco! Don’t worry about local San Francisco fashion trends. There are tech bros who literally roll into work in pjs, people who live in yoga pants, some people dressed to the nines each day and everything in between. Your personal style will fit right in!
The important things to bring are sweaters, comfortable walking shoes, an external charger, and an umbrella. If you have any questions, leave a comment below or DM me on Instagram and I’ll be happy to help!