What to pack for San Diego is actually a fairly easy list. Our style is very casual. The goal of this post is to help you decide what exactly deserves valuable suitcase space based on weather, how we dress and what you might need while on vacation here.
San Diego Weather
The average temperature in San Diego is an enviable 70° F which makes our city a popular destination for all types of travelers, year-round. San Diego also does not receive much rain but the majority of the rain we do get falls between November and March.
Despite our Mediterranean climate, we have a few very mild “seasons” to be aware of.
Winter: San Diego weather typically averages in the high 60s on the warm side and low 50s on the cool side. There will be days with blue skies, warmer temperatures, and sunshine that mirrors summer. Our winter climate is a welcome respite from extreme weather. Even if it is quite warm during the day, the air feels crisp and cooler in the evening. Layering is advised but shorts are still worn. (It’s a sunny December day as I type this and my daughter went to school in shorts and a T-shirt).
Spring: Weather in spring averages in the high 60s on the warm side and high 50s on the cool side, but there will be lovely days in the 70s. Spring Break is huge in San Diego and skies are usually mostly sunny through April and into the first few weeks of May. We have a seasonal event along the coast that we call “May Gray” which means that it’s as the name implies… cloudy skies that often, but not always, clear in the afternoon. This starts usually in mid-May. It’s not “cold” though we San Diegans find it annoying and might put on jeans and UGG boots.
Summer: May Gray transitions to June Gloom, in most cases. By the end of June, it should be perfect beach weather but, unfortunately, there were clouds on the 4th of July this year. Weather in July and August weather is awesome. The sun is out and the days are long. Average high temperatures are in the high 70s and lows average high 60s. There are usually many days in the 80s.
Fall: If it’s possible to plan a San Diego vacation between mid-September and mid-October, San Diego’s shoulder season is a dream when it comes to weather, crowds, and pricing. The odds of it being warm are quite high in fact recently some of our hottest days (well into the 90s) have been during this time frame. The weather starts to turn chillier around Halloween when the time changes. Average high temperatures are in the mid-70s and average low temperatures are in the low 60s.
See also: Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego
What to Wear in San Diego
San Diego is a casual beach town. During the day, along the beaches especially, you’ll find people of all ages wearing shorts, T-shirts, beachwear and yoga wear. When it comes to dining out, there aren’t many places these days where men need to wear more than a nice pair of jeans and a collared shirt. Casual dresses that can take you from day to night are common for women as are nice jeans and/or skirts and T-shirts (bring a wrap or jacket during any season).
San Diego is all about feeling good, so simply be comfortable in what you already have and don’t stress about it. I receive lots of emails asking for visuals so I’ve put together a few simple lookbooks below for daily wear.
If planning on hitting some of the nicer clubs in Downtown San Diego, common dress codes include no open-toed shoes, athletic shoes, hats, T-shirts (unless you’re wearing a sports coat of similar over it) or baggy jeans for men. Women have a lot more flexibility but a good rule of thumb is no baggy T-shirts, ballcaps, casual athletic shoes. Nice jeans and a nice shirt will do if accessorized well, as will a simple black dress. Be mindful that you’ll likely walk several blocks between clubs if wearing high heels.
Clothes and Shoes to Pack
Light Jacket or Wrap
Even in summer, it’s important to have layers as evenings can get chilly.
Pack ones that you are O.K. with getting sandy. Truthfully, you’ll be able to most likely wear these out and about elsewhere, if they’re comfortable.
Good Walking Shoes
You will walk quite a bit while sightseeing in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo alone is 40 acres and it’s a drag when blisters slow you down (I carry Compeed blister cushions just in case).
Closed-toed Shoes (Men) or Nicer Sandals (Women)
You’ll want these for nicer restaurants and nightlife. If sticking to the more casual spots, you can leave these at home as flip-flops will be fine.
Swimwear and Cover-ups
It is possible to use the beach year-round in San Diego so do not forget swimwear. For women, I recommend a cover-up like a caftan or T-shirt dress that you can feel comfortable in when walking from the beach straight to casual dining. Boys and men here tend to wear longer boardshorts in the water (and around town).
UV Shirts for the Beach and Pool
Our beaches do not have shade. Whether it’s foggy or sunny, you’ll see people of all ages wearing UV shirts over their swimwear for additional sun protection. This is especially important for kids. If planning on participating in water sports, you might also want to look into a pair of UV tights or cropped pants.
A casual, easy-to-pack, maxi or day-to-night dress will go a long way in San Diego if you have one. Otherwise, no need to buy one.
Nice Jeans and a Button Down (Men)
As mentioned earlier, this is a pretty standard evening uniform for men at some of our nicer restaurants.
Jeans and Shorts
Weather in any season is going to require both jeans (or casual pants) and shorts for men, women, and kids.
More Warmth in Late Fall, Winter, and Early Spring
Yes, bring the shorts and T-shirts, but you will need a sweater or two and long pants more during these months than during the remainder of the year. A light raincoat would also be advisable.
Again, simply pull things that are casual and comfortable from your wardrobe for sightseeing, beach and dining out. Unless you are attending a special event, you will not need anything fancy.
Gear for the Sun, Beach, and Pools
Swimwear is covered above. Here’s what else you’ll need.
Do not forget your sunglasses! You will wear them constantly in any season. I’ve recently become a fan of polarized lenses because I can see so much better around San Diego with them.
You’ll want a hat for sightseeing and a hat for the beach. It’s simply easier on the eyes to wear one and of course an extra layer of sun protection on sunny days.
Bring SPF for your face, lips, and body and do not forget to reapply it throughout the day. (Tip: If daily sunscreen feels greasy on you, my dermatologist recommended Elta UV Clear SPF 46 and I love it. The make a good sports sunscreen, too.)
I love having a GoPro Hero5 camera for beach photos. The GoPro Hero5 and Hero6 cameras do not require a waterproof case which is even better. I put it on a 3-way arm and bring it kayaking, to the tidepools, in the ocean, etc. Domes are fun accessories because they’ll allow you to get over water and underwater (otherwise called split shots) that are cool even in hotel pools.
Smartphone Beach Protection
This is more of a nice-to-have versus a necessity, but I might suggest bringing a waterproof cover for beach use, even if you just hang out on the sand. Little grains can wreak havoc on your smartphone home button (been there) and wedge themselves into cases and other crevices. Also, note that our seagulls are used to tourists and can be a little aggressive. Never put your cell phone in a plastic or paper bag, because they are thieves and may just nab it and fly away thinking that lunch is inside.
Kids’ Beach Toys
Many beachfront hotels will have sand toys available for kids. But, clever companies have created collapsible pails, waterproof playing cards, and other fun things to keep them entertained while on the sand.
Travel Beach Tent
It’s likely that you’re going to want shade at the beach. I always do. Umbrellas can be bulky so consider bringing portable beach tent.
Many beachfront hotels will provide beach chairs. Throw them in the car, if you think you’ll need them and are within driving distance of San Diego.
If driving, toss these in the car to wear in winter months when ocean temperatures drop. Otherwise, they’re easy to rent around town, even for kids.
In any season, a warm travel blanket is helpful during Padres baseball games, for watching sunsets, listening to outdoor concerts and much more in San Diego.
Waterproof Travel Blanket
Waterproof travel blankets are usually not as cozy as regular travel blankets but they’ll serve an entirely different purpose. Not only are they nice to have at the beach, but our grassy areas are often damp from irrigation or dew. It’s nice to have one to sit on in our various parks when the kids want to kick a ball around or fly a kite or you’d like to have a picnic.
Light Water Bottles
A good collapsible water bottle that doesn’t leak (I find with these you get what you pay for) is helpful to fill up and take to the beach, on hikes or out for general sightseeing.
Don’t let a dying smartphone slow you down. I carry a Jackery with built-in cables because I often remember the charger but not the cable.
While binoculars are handy when on a whale watching tour, they’re useful sometimes on land. It’s possible to spy whales and dolphins from places like Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve during seasonal migrations. There are raptors and other birds to see during hikes.
Small pocket kites can certainly entertain kids in a variety of places around town. You can (carefully) fly small kites in Ellen Browning Scripps Park and larger kites around Mission Bay and Seaport Village. People fly kites on the beach, too.
What NOT to Pack
Leave the suit at home, unless attending an event that requires one. While our wardrobes here are casual, I would call them fashionably casual. Leave the baggy sweatpants behind closed doors. Fur is also not common (nor widely accepted) unless it’s faux fur.
Renting Beach and Baby Gear
Yes, you absolutely can rent beach and baby gear in San Diego and even have it delivered to your hotel in some cases. Where you do this depends on what part of town you’re staying in and what you need. The most common rentals are surfboards, SUP boards, wetsuits, beach chairs, umbrellas, and baby gear.
A few options include:
- Surf Diva (La Jolla Shores)
- Mission Beach Rentals
- Beach Fire Guy (beach bonfires set up for you)
- Del Mar Surf Rentals (open during summer only)
- Offshore Surf Shop Rentals (Carlsbad)
- Toddler Travels
- San Diego Baby’s Away
Before renting, be sure to ask your hotel what they can provide. You might be surprised by how much baby gear local hotels have (bathtubs, bottle warmers, high chairs, etc.) that isn’t mentioned on their websites. Ask if they have proper beach towels, too, otherwise you might want to bring or rent some.
And, do not forget that you can save money on passes to the most popular San Diego attractions.
See also: How to Save Money in San Diego
Feel free to ask any questions. Please also add what you find helpful to pack on a San Diego vacation in the comments below.