Planning a trip to the Golden State and looking for a handy California packing list? Then you’re in luck!
I have lived in California most of my life so I know exactly what to wear in this state in different seasons and locations. I’m also a full-time travel blogger so I’ve spent my fair share of time on the road and have become quite the pro at efficient travel packing.
Over the years I have consolidated my packing lists down to one mega list. In this packing guide, I share this list with you so you’ll know exactly what to bring to California (including a printable checklist at the end of the post!).
Whether you’re planning to go for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, use this California trip packing list to plan out everything you’ll need to bring along!
Looking to rent an RV or campervan for a California road trip? We recommend using our favorite van rental company Outdoorsy! Outdoorsy offers thousands of recreational vehicle rentals from popular California cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many more!
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!
Table Of Contents:
California Clothing Essentials
Your outfits will change a bit, depending on your destination (the coast, mountains, valley, or desert) and the time of year.
Packing Tip: When packing for a trip, I always start with the essentials to make sure everything will fit into a suitcase. THEN I add any fun pieces to bring for photos and special dinners.
Here are some basics to get you started on what to pack for a trip to California:
Shirts & tops. When Packing for California, you’ll want a few comfortable tops to mix and match with different bottoms. I recommend bringing 2 casual shirts for traveling and 2-3 cuter tops.
Shorts. A pair of shorts are definitely the go-to bottoms in California! You can go with a breathable fabric or denim shorts for a classic California look.
Jean jacket. Jean jackets look super cute with everything – from shorts to dresses and even leggings. A denim jacket is the quintessential California clothing item!
Summer dresses. Dresses are the perfect option for exploring cities, going to the beach, and look great in photos. They are also very comfortable so I always pack 2-3 dresses for my trips.
Jeans. In California, we love anything denim! Jeans are great for visiting cities, cooler evenings, and heading out to a casual dinner. Pack 1-2 pairs of jeans.
Sweater. Depending on the time of the year when you plan to visit California, the weather can be a bit cold. You’ll want a light sweater just in case. Sweaters are also very comfy to wear on a plane or a long drive in a car.
Sneakers. You might be doing a lot of walking on your trip so I recommend bringing a pair of comfortable sneakers. When traveling, I love to wear white sneakers because they go with everything – from shorts to jeans and even dresses.
Crossbody bag. A crossbody bag is so handy for storing travel essentials close to you while keeping your hands free to take photos.
Underwear & bras. Don’t forget to pack the essentials like plenty of underwear and bras. It’s better to pack extras in case you’re not able to get any laundry done on the road.
California Beach Essentials
If you’re wondering what things to pack for a California trip to the coast, we recommend lots of light, casual beach outfits. Think sundresses, swimsuits, and shorts along with cute beach hats & sandals.
Bathing suit. I recommend bringing a couple of swimsuits if you plan to spend a lot of time near the beaches or doing water activities like swimming & surfing.
Beach cover-up. A loose and flowy beach cover-up is great for a summer vacation on the beach. You can also wear it at a hotel pool or throw it on before heading out for lunch.
Beach towel. The beaches in California are very natural and don’t have beach clubs with sun loungers. Bring a beach towel so you can lay on the golden shoreline and soak up the sun (or take a much-needed nap!).
Sunglasses. I always recommend wearing polarized sunglasses. Polarized lenses block glare for improved clarity & contrast and provide UV protection from the strong sun rays.
Sun hat. You’ll need a wide-brim hat to protect yourself from the strong California sun. Plus, you can throw the hat on and not worry about doing your hair – and still look great!
Sandals. For heading to the beach you’ll want a pair of sandals that are easy to slip on and off. I love these Reef sandals that are very stylish and will match with just about anything!
Beach Tote Bag. You’ll want a beach bag to carry all the beach items. I like to use tote bags because they can also double up as grocery bags (tip: California grocery stores charge 10 cents per plastic bag. You can save that money by bringing your own bags).
Sunscreen. No matter what adventures you have planned, you will need a lot of sunscreen! Even on overcast days, you can easily get sunburned so keep reapplying multiple times throughout the day. I like to use mineral sunscreens that are better for your skin, more natural, and ocean-friendly.
Lip Balm. Similar to sunscreen, you’ll want a lip balm to keep your lips hydrated in the bright sun.
California Hiking Essentials
Wondering what to wear in California for outdoor adventures? Depending on what kind of activities you have planned, your list may vary a little.
For colder climates like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you’ll want to add more layers and warm clothing. For coastal hikes, you can swap out some of the long-sleeved shirts for light tank tops.
Here are a few essentials on what to wear in California on day hikes and outdoor trips:
Hiking shorts. In the summer months, you’ll be spending most of the time in shorts. Active shorts will keep you cool on day adventures.
Leggings. Leggings are great for hiking, but I also love to wear them around the cities with a cute top. Leggings are my usual go-to bottoms because they’re much more comfortable than jeans when traveling and moving around a lot.
Tank tops. For hiking pick tops with thin, breathable materials, especially in the summer.
Sports bra. Bring a comfortable sports bra to wear underneath the tank tops while out on day adventures.
Long sleeve shirt. If you plan to visit California National Parks, pack a few long-sleeved shirts. Temperatures in the mountains can be much cooler, especially in the mornings and after the sun goes down.
Hiking shoes. A good pair of hiking shoes can make all the difference on outdoor adventures. I recommend getting a pair that has a lot of traction so you don’t slip and fall. I love these KEEN hiking shoes that are durable and waterproof.
Down Hoody. California evenings tend to stay chilly all year long. I have a lightweight jacket that I can easily bring along on road trips and stuff into my day pack when hiking.
Rain jacket. If you don’t have a down hoody, a light rain jacket is a great alternative. It can keep you warm during cold weather AND provide protection from unexpected rain & wind.
Headlamp. Having a headlamp is a necessity for hiking adventures. A headlamp is essential in case you get lost and need to find your way back in the dark.
Small backpack. You’ll need a small pack to bring on day hikes. I have the REI Co-Op Flash Pack which is light, comfy, and has a lot of pockets for staying organized.
First aid kit. When heading outdoors, things can happen unexpectedly. Even on short day hikes, you want to go prepared with a small first aid kit for emergency situations.
General Travel Essentials
These are just a few basics that you’ll need for a comfortable trip not just in California, but anywhere! I suggest keeping this list handy and checking it off before any trip.
Suitcase. Depending on your trip, you may need a carry-on suitcase or just a large duffel bag. My go-to travel suitcase is the hardside Samsonite carry-on that has an ultra-strong outer shell and a handy divider pocket for storing smaller items.
Packing cubes. These packing cubes will keep your stuff organized and make packing a breeze, especially if you’re visiting multiple destinations.
Reusable water bottle. California can be very hot so you’ll be drinking a lot of water. Bring a reusable water bottle that you can refill at hotels before heading out for the day. I love the REI Co-op Nalgene water bottle which is very lightweight and easy to clean.
Phone charger. Don’t forget to pack a charger for your cell phone and any other electronics that you plan to bring along.
Phone battery bank. Whether I’m heading out on a short road trip or a longer vacation, I always bring along a fully charged phone power bank. If you’re not able to charge your phone through a wall charger, having a battery bank can be a huge lifesaver!
Camera. As a full-time photographer, I use the Sony a7c camera for my travel photos. This is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera available on the market – perfect for traveling, hiking, and road trips. But, unless you’re a professional photographer, having a full-frame camera can be a bit of an overkill. Another great option is the Sony a6100 camera which is ultralight and small so you can easily tuck it away in your purse or backpack when not in use.
Travel neck pillow. If you plan to fly to California, having a neck pillow is a must for traveling on a plane. A good travel pillow like this one has good support to hold up your neck and head in a comfortable position, even when sleeping vertically.
Sleeping mask. A sleeping mask is another travel essential that I can’t go without on flights. A good sleeping mask like the Manta Sleep Mask will block out all the light without compressing your eyes.
Headphones. A good set of headphones can come in handy on a loud flight to block out all the noise around you. I have a set of small wireless noise-cancelling headphones that take up very little space in a travel suitcase.
Dirty laundry bag. Towards the end of the trip, you may be wondering what is that smell in your suitcase. I like to keep my dirty and clean clothes separate and can easily do laundry if there is a laundromat at the hotel or vacation rental I’m staying at!
Important travel documents such as a passport (if arriving from out of country), driver’s license, credit cards, and some cash. I also recommend uploading a copy of your passport and driver’s license on Google Docs in case you lose your wallet while traveling.
It’s always best to go prepared with your own travel toiletries and not assume that every hotel or vacation rental will have them.
These travel toiletries will keep you looking your best on your vacation to California!
Face wash. Dermalogica is one of my favorite brands for skincare because it leaves my face feeling so fresh and soft! This Dermalogica cleansing gel is only 1.7 oz big so you can bring it on a plane and freshen up before you land in California.
Face moisturizer. Your skin dries up so much when traveling. Having a face moisturizer and applying it throughout the day will keep your skin feeling soft.
Toothbrush, toothpaste & mouthwash. Once I switched to an electric toothbrush, I couldn’t go back to a manual toothbrush. This Philips One toothbrush is a huge step up from manual brushing and comes with a cool, sleek travel case so you can get that clean feeling anywhere.
Deodorant. On hot summer days, you’ll want to keep a deodorant handy and reapply multiple times. I love the Native Deodorant which is very natural and doesn’t have aluminum or other harmful ingredients.
Soap. While most hotels and rentals usually have soap for guests, I like to bring my own (can you tell that I’m always prepared for any just-in-case situation). I like these Dr Bronners 2 oz liquid travel soaps that come in closed containers and make less of a mess than soap bars.
Hand sanitizer. A hand sanitizer has become a must-have travel essential, especially in the past few years. I love Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer which doesn’t have any harsh chemicals or that alcohol-y hand sanitizer scent.
Body wipes. I always bring wipes to freshen up after a long flight or car drive. Plus not all restrooms always have toilet paper so it’s a good idea to have body wipes in your travel bag.
Makeup. When traveling, I keep my makeup to a minimum. Just a little mascara, eyeliner, and powder foundation can go a long way! I love the IT Cosmetics Celebration Foundation because it hides imperfections yet is very light and doesn’t make my skin break out, even after a long day on the road.
Contact solution. I wear contacts most days, but my eyes can get very dry and blurry by the end of the day. I like to keep a small travel contact solution in my purse in case I need to rinse off my contacts to clean them up.
Razor. Since you’ll be wearing a lot of shorts and dresses, a travel razor is something you want to consider packing for California. This razor is very small and comes with a handy travel case that will fit into any toiletry bag!
Things To Consider When Packing For California
Packing for California depends on several different factors, including the area you plan to visit, the time of the year, and what activities you have planned.
Typically people in the Los Angeles area and in Southern California tend to dress up a lot more than in Northern California. While overall California has a pretty laid-back style, in Southern California you’ll see a lot more fancy brand-name clothing while the rest of the state dresses pretty casually.
California is a nature lover’s paradise so it’s important to pack comfortable clothing. Even if you plan to spend most of your vacation near the beach, there might be a few hiking trails that you’ll want to check out on your visit.
Unlike the general perception that it’s always hot and sunny in California, the weather does cool down in the winter months. While no, you won’t see any snow on a Big Sur road trip, do bring lots of layers and jackets to stay warm as the coastal winter temperatures can range from 45-70°F. Be sure to check the weather forecast before your trip and plan accordingly!
Have any questions about what clothes to wear in California or what to pack along? Be sure to leave a comment below!
Looking for more helpful California travel tips and things to do? Here are a few of our most popular posts:
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Use this handy California packing checklist for your next trip!
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