Woman sitting on a rock overlooking a lake in California in winter
Central Coast,  Central Valley,  Sierras

California Winter Packing List (By a Local)

Planning to visit California in winter? I have put together this handy California winter packing list so you’ll know exactly what to bring along on your trip!

As a California local, I consider myself pretty lucky with our overall mild winters. But depending on what activities you have planned, different areas in California do get snow and can be very cold.

If you plan to only pack dresses and shorts, you might not have the best time when you arrive and aren’t dressed for the right weather conditions. Plus, your winter packing list for a coastal trip will look a bit different than packing for a skiing or snowboarding trip in the mountains.

In this California packing list guide, I cover all the essentials to pack in the winter season so you can have an enjoyable time on your visit!

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This California vacation packing list covers all the essentials to bring along on your trip.

California Winter Packing List

In California during the winter months temperatures can significantly vary throughout the day. Pack a variety of items that you can easily layer, especially if you plan to travel to different parts of the state.

While I live on the coast myself, I do spend quite a bit of time in the Sierra Mountains in the winter. In this packing guide, I’ll cover what to pack for a variety of locations and climates throughout California.

Tip: In major coastal cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, people do like to dress up more but you can certainly rock a casual sporty look as well!

What To Wear In California In Winter

Here are clothing essentials that I recommend packing for a trip to California:

Jeans. Denim jeans are the quintessential California clothing item that you can wear in any season! I recommend packing a couple of pairs of jeans – one in a lighter washed-out color and one in a darker color.

Winter boots. I love a pair of cute winter boots. I usually opt for tan, brown, and simple black styles that will go with anything. I recommend getting a pair of Chelsea waterproof boots in case it rains during your visit.

Sneakers. Bring a pair of shoes that are comfortable for walking, especially if you plan to visit cities. I like to keep it simple with white sneakers that will match anything.

Cozy sweaters. No matter what you have planned, cozy sweaters can be worn anywhere in California! I love a chunky knit sweater that will match anything from jeans to leggings or a skirt with boots.

Alabama Hills Movie Road in California during the winter.

Travel hat. A Travel hat is a fun accessory that I bring on all of my trips. A wide-brim hat is very versatile and can complement different outfits and styles.

Winter coat. On the coast, temperatures stay in the 70°F-50°F degree range during the day but can drop to 40s at night. During the day you can get away with wearing just a sweater and jeans, but you’ll want to throw on a coat as soon as the sun goes down.

Rain jacket. Yes, we do get rain in California too! A rain jacket can come in very handy when it does rain and it can also serve as a thin outer shell to wear over a sweater. If you don’t have the space for a second jacket in your suitcase, throw in a Multipurpose Poncho for a rainy day.

Scarf. I love a long, oversized scarf that can double as a small blanket on the plane.

Bathing suit. Most California hotels and resorts have an outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs. Pack a swimsuit in case you decide to go for a relaxing soak in a hot tub at the end of the day. You might even find a natural hot springs in the area and you’ll be thrilled to have a bathing suit packed along!

Beanie. A beanie will keep you warm and serve as a cute accessory (especially if you don’t feel like doing your hair that day). I usually opt for a single-color beanie that will go with most of my outfits.

Long-sleeve pajama set. While most hotel rooms have heaters, they don’t always work perfectly and can be a bit tricky to get the temperature ‘just right’. I recommend packing a set of long-sleeved pajamas that you’ll be thankful for on chilly mornings when you don’t feel like getting out of bed.

California Winter Packing List For The Mountains

The California mountain areas do get very cold in the winter months. If you are planning to spend any time in Lake Tahoe, Mammoth, Big Bear, or at one of the National Parks, be prepared for snowy conditions and freezing winter weather.

Here’s my recommended packing list for a California winter vacation in the mountains:

Waterproof Hiking Boots. Waterproof hiking boots are one of the must-have items for winter outdoor activities. Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry and warm which is so important when trekking across snow, mud, and ice.

Merino wool socks. Packing a few pairs of Merino wool socks is essential for the mountains. Merino wool will keep your feet warm in very cold conditions.

Alpine Hoody. When heading to the mountains, I like to pack a lighter jacket for the daytime and a winter coat for the evenings. I have a lightweight alpine hoody by Mountain Hardwear that keeps me warm on day adventures without feeling heavy and hot.

Thermal tights. While it’s much easier to layer the tops, don’t forget to keep your legs warm too! These The North Face Winter Warm Pro Tights always keep me extra warm on winter hikes in the mountains.

Thermal tops. Thermal long-sleeve tops are so cozy and comfortable! I opt for merino wool tops that can regulate body temperature and are made of breathable materials.

Insulated winter jacket. For cooler days and evenings, I have an insulated Columbia mountain jacket. With a thermal-reflective lining, this jacket will keep you toasty even in the coldest of conditions.

Microspikes. If you plan to do any winter hikes in the mountains, I highly recommend bringing a pair of microspikes. Microspikes don’t take up a lot of room so I always pack a set. When everyone else starts slipping and falling on the trail, you’ll be glad you brought them along!

Snowshoeing Mariposa Grove Trail in Yosemite.

Snowshoes (optional). If there has been a significant amount of snow on the ground, snowshoes like these MSR ones can help you trek across deep, powdery snow. Generally, you don’t need them for short day hikes but do bring a set if you plan to go on longer hiking adventures in the mountains.

A few places that usually require snowshoes are Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park, and Sequoia National Park.

Gloves. I recommend getting a pair of gloves with touchscreen compatibility so you don’t need to take them off when taking photos or using your phone.

Hand warmers. On extra cold days, gloves alone might not cut it. Pack a few hand warmers that you can stuff into your gloves when going on hiking adventures or snowboarding in the mountains.

Read Next: 20 Best Winter Hikes In California

Wondering how to pack for California in winter? I recommend bringing sweaters, leggings, and comfortable clothing.

General Travel Essentials

Here are a few general travel items that I recommend packing for a California trip:

Sunglasses. Even in the winter, the sun can be very strong, especially in Southern California. I recommend wearing polarized sunglasses that will reduce glare and protect your eyes from UV damage.

Travel-sized body lotion & lip balm. My skin always gets really dry in the winter months. Bring a small travel lotion and a lip balm to keep your skin hydrated!

Reusable water bottle. I love my Nalgene reusable water bottle for traveling and everyday use. It’s light, easy to clean, and fits into any small backpack or bag. Plus, it is great for the planet by eliminating one-time-use plastic bottles.

Hand sanitizer & travel wipes. I carry a small hand sanitizer and wipes anywhere I go these days. I love Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer which doesn’t have any harsh chemicals or a very strong scent.

Crossbody travel bag. A crossbody bag is so handy for storing travel essentials close to you while keeping your hands free to take photos.

Suitcase. 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. Packing cubes can help you keep your travel essentials organized and make packing a breeze, especially if you’re planning to visit multiple destinations.

Tote bag. A tote bag can be used for groceries, separating dirty laundry, or heading to the beach.

Portable phone battery. When traveling in the winter, your phone is likely to run out of battery much faster. I always bring a fully charged phone battery on trips, especially on longer flights and road trips.

Underwear and bras. Always pack a few extras just in case you’re not able to do laundry on the road.

Travel toiletries. Don’t forget to bring the basics like a toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, deodorant, face wash, shampoo, and Dr. Bronner’s travel soap.

Toiletry bag. A toiletry bag with compartments is a game-changer! It helps to keep your items organized and minimizes the risk of spilling.

Travel Camera Gear

Winter is one of my favorite times for outdoor photography in California. The locations are not as crowded so you’ll be able to capture amazing photos without people in the background, even at popular places like Yosemite and Big Sur.

If you’re thinking of stepping up your photography gear, here are my favorite camera items that I love and use:

Sony a7c camera. I personally use the Sony a7c camera for my travel photos. This is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera available – perfect for traveling, hiking, and road trips.

Wide lens. For nature photography, I recommend using a wide lens to capture everything in one frame. I use this Sony wide lens along with my Sony a7c camera.

Extra camera batteries. The camera batteries drain much faster in cold conditions. Bring a few extra batteries and a camera charger for your trip.

SanDisk Extreme 256 GB Memory Cards. It’s always good to bring a few extra memory cards on trips. SanDisk Extreme memory cards are ultra-fast for capturing high-quality images, bursts, long exposure night shots, and 4k videos. This memory card is also durable and reliable yet very affordable.

Polarizing filter. It’s always sunny in California! For my outdoor photos, I like to use a polarizing filter to remove glare and enhance natural colors.

Manfrotto travel tripod. For photographing water subjects, sunrises, sunsets, and self-timed photos, I like to use the Manfrotto carbon fiber travel tripod. It’s very light, easy to carry around, and simple to set up.

Lowepro adventure shoulder bag. A camera bag is something I highly recommend getting for traveling. Without having a proper place to store it your camera will get scraped, dirty, and will have sand stuck inside the lens.

Big Trees Trail at Sequoia National Park in winter.

Have any questions on what to pack for California in winter? Be sure to leave me a comment below!

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This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

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