17 Top California Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018 Update)

California is known for its epic and wide variety of landscapes. If you’re headed there, you have the option of exploring everything from desert to mountains to cities to to beaches! Make sure to pack accordingly, though – a summer getaway in Los Angeles will be sunny and hot, while a winter vacation to San Francisco can be extremely cold and damp. Check out this list and tailor it to your specific California-trip needs!

What to bring to California:

1) Walking Shoes or Hiking Boots – No matter which season you’re going to be traveling to California in, there is a lot to be seen and explored. Make sure to wear a super comfortable pair of shoes so that you can spend all day in without your feet killing you. These sneakers have awesome reviews and come in several colors. Happy exploring!
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2) Clothing in Layers – California is famous for its fluctuating temperature and rapidly changing weather. One minute it will be foggy and cool, then the next thing you know the sun will be peeking out and all of the sudden it’s 90 degrees outside. To stay as comfortable as possible, bring a light jacket, simple shirts that you can layer with, and leggings or shorts. If it’s looking like it may get cold, bring a down jacket, a thermal shirt, and any other cold-weather gear.
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3) Flannel Shirt – The general style of true Californians is laidback. A flannel shirt is the perfect garment to keep you warm, or to tie around your waist to spice up your outfit. The perfect flannel is soft and a bit oversized. This one is perfect, and has great reviews.
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4) Basic T-shirts – To avoid overpacking but still be ultra prepared, bring a few basic t-shirts in neutral colors. You can mix and match them with leggings, jeans, or skirts. Dress one up for nighttime with a cute necklace or scarf, and layer the same one with a flannel during the day. Bring at least one black t shirt like this one.
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5) Jeans – For those laid back California days filled with driving around national parks, trying new San Francisco restaurants, or checking out the street art in LA, make sure you bring that pair of trusty old jeans. Jeans are multi purpose, and you can wear that same pair when you head out on the town for a drink after the day’s exploring.
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6) Leggings – If you’re road tripping to or through California, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the car, and nothing is worse than sitting in jeans for too long. Invest in some comfortable and stylish leggings or sweatpants. Here are the perfect road trip leggings. Same goes for air travel – always wear stretchy and comfortable clothing items!
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7) Water Bottle – Staying hydrated is very important while traveling. With a reusable water bottle you can refill virtually anywhere for free and save yourself some money. This is my favorite water bottle for travelling because its spout makes it easy to drink from while driving.
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8) Reusable Bags – California is one of the most eco-friendly states in the country. Bring a reusable bag in case you hit the grocery store or go shopping during your trip. I always like to bring a reusable bag with me while I travel in case I come along any litter while I’m in a beautiful part of nature. This bag can also be used as your personal carry-on item on planes.
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9) Sundress – For sunny days in the Golden State, pack a light sundress. It’s one of the most versatile clothing items you could possibly own, since it can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. This one is super cute!
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10) Light Scarf – A light scarf is another indispensable multipurpose item that you must have while traveling. It can your blanket on the plane ride, an accessory during the day, or a shawl when you go out at night.
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11) Moisturizing Spray – Your skin might go haywire while you’re traveling. Between putting your skin through hours in recycled airplane air to smoggy LA sidewalks, your face is going to need some extra care. This moisturizing spray will spruce you up and keep your skin glowing and healthy.
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12) Picnic Blanket – There are plenty of outdoor spaces in California to soak in the amazing views and have a picnic. If you’re going on a hike through the Muir Woods, or to a hilltop park in San Francisco, it’s a smart idea to bring a picnic blanket that can fold up nice and small in your daypack. That way, you’re always ready for a enjoyable hour or two outside.
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13) Sunglasses – On blazing summer days in the golden state, you won’t want to walk outside your hotel without a pair of sunglasses. Protect your eyes from the harmful UVA/UVB rays with this stylish pair of shades.
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14) Sandals – If the weather is warm or if you’re headed to the beach, a pair of sandals will serve as the perfect footwear. These cushy sandals feature criss cross straps for more stability and super soft “mush” footbeds.
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15) Cross-body Bag – Keep your hands free and your stuff safe by using a cross-body-style purse. This type of bag is extra helpful to use during everything from farmers’ markets to a night out. This one is simple and versatile.
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16) Packing Cubes – Packing cubes are my traveling must-have, no matter the length of the trip or destination. They’ll keep your suitcase, backpack or duffle bag unbelievably organized. These ones come in a set that is perfect for your trip to California.
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17) Polaroid camera – Although digital cameras are convenient and great for traveling, there is something special about Polaroids. Taking this camera on a night out or to a beach day will give you instant memories!
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Other packing list items for California:

What to wear in California:

The trends in California lean towards laid back and casual. Make sure to bring extra underwear and socks. During the warmer months, pack sundresses, shorts or and short-sleeve shirts. During the cooler months, bring pants, long-sleeve shirts, a sweater and a jacket. Pack clothing of neutral color palettes that can be mixed and matched with other pieces.

What NOT to take to California:

If you’re flying, make sure to check out what items cannot go in your carry on bag. These items are TSA prohibited:
1) 🚫 Flammables
2) 🚫 Firearms
3) 🚫 Sharp objects
4) 🚫 Liquids (unless you follow the liquids rule – see FAQ)
5) 🚫 Household tools
6) 🚫 Camping equipment
7) 🚫 Medical tools
8) 🚫 Various miscellaneous items

Here is a link to the TSA website

FAQs about traveling in California:

1) What’s the best time of year to go to California?

If hitting the beach is part of your vacation plans then May through October is your best bet. For skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing the months of December, January, and February are the best.

2) How can I protect myself against the sun in California?

Bring your sun gear. Pack a sunscreen with a high SPF, a pair of sunglasses with ultraviolet protection and a cap or sunhat. Sun protection is necessary in California throughout the whole year.

3) How can I capture all my California Trip memories?

Bring a camera or video camera with an extra battery to capture the special moments of your trip. If your batteries are rechargeable, make sure you bring the charger!

4) I want to go on a California road trip. How do I decide my destinations?

If you truly have no idea where you’d like to go, use websites like Roadtrippers to build your perfect trip starting in your hometown.

5) Why take a road trip instead of fly?

Getting there is half the fun. If you’re traveling with a companion, you’ll get to know your copilot in a new way with all of the long on-the-road conversations, and bonding over new sights. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll likely learn a lot about yourself. At any rate, you’ll see areas California and its hidden gems that you would never see through a plane window.