The author McKenna Mobley pointing while on a top of a mountain in California, wearing several items from her California packing list

California Packing List (17 Things to Bring, By a Local)

The rumors are true – the perfect California vacation requires the perfect California packing list. California is full of fun outdoor excursions, coastal beaches, and big-name cities. What to pack depends on what activities you want to do in the golden state and which regions you want to visit.

As a California local, I’ve explored most of the state from the desert to the mountains, the awesome California national parks, and everything in between. I know what gear works and what doesn’t and am here to help you pack the best and most complete California travel suitcase.

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California Packing Checklist

Hiking Boots

Our Pick
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boot

This heavy-duty, waterproof hiking boot will allow you to safely traverse any California terrain.

Hiking is one of the top activities in California. From high-altitude mountain peaks to alpine lake trails, hikes through springtime wildflowers, and hikes throughout the hills of major metropolitan areas, there is no shortage of hiking in California.

The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots are the sturdiest pair of hiking boots for any terrain. Fully waterproof with Gore-tex technology, these boots allow you to explore the best CA trails. 

Toiletry Bag

Avoid an eclectic mess in your travel pack with an organized toiletry bag. The REI Co-op Shower Roll is the perfect bag that you can hang from a shower hook, tree branch, or car handle for travel convenience.

This toiletry bag can pack down to a small carry-on size or expand to fit all your travel goods. I love this bag for tent camping in California

Travel Backpack

Our Pick
Osprey Porter Travel Pack 46
This 46-liter pack is a Travel Lemming favorite. It’s perfect for storing overhead on a round-trip flight across the world or for throwing in the trunk for a California road trip.

Traveling is so much simpler when you only bring the essentials. Who wants the hassle of lugging around a huge suitcase when you visit California?

It’s impossible to overpack with the Osprey Porter Travel Pack 46. This pack is the perfect size for all the essentials and fits perfectly in the overhead storage on a plane. The Porter 46 pack also saves you the stress of waiting for your checked bag on the conveyor belt, not knowing if it arrived at your destination with you.

Flip Flops

Our Pick
Amazon Essentials Flip Flops

An inexpensive must-have for beach showers or hotel showers. Live like a true California local with a pair of flip-flops.

They may not be the most fashionable but flip-flops are the most convenient travel sandals. Take your flippies to the beach, use them in your hotel shower, wear them in lieu of water shoes, and the list goes on.

Amazon Essentials Flip Flops are some of the most affordable flippies on the market. They conveniently come in a pack of 3 so you can have backups in case one gets carried away in a rip tide.

Waterproof Phone Case

Our Pick
Newppon Waterproof Cell Phone Pouch

California and beaches are synonymous. Make sure your phone is secured in a waterproof phone case before you hit the waves.

Explore the beautiful SoCal beaches next time you’re in town. It’s impossible to visit the golden state and not relax on a sunny CA beach or rent a board and try your luck surfing some big Pacific Ocean waves.

Protect your phone from salty sea water with the Newppon Waterproof Cell Phone Pouch. You can even take photos underwater with this durable 2-pack waterproof phone pouch.

Power Bank

Our Pick
Zippo Heatbank 3

This phone bank doubles as a hand warmer, giving you the best bang for your buck!

Stay connected on the go with the Zippo Heatbank 3. Keep your phone charged and ready to go in the mountains, exploring downtown San Francisco, or hiking in Yosemite National Park.

This unique power bank is also a hand warmer, the best two-in-one combination possible for outdoor travelers. 

Quick-drying Towel

Our Pick

Dry off in no time after hitting the Pacific Ocean waves with this microfiber towel.

Use this quick-drying towel after the shower, at the beach, or after a waterfall hike in California. The PackTowl packs down to take up essentially no space, making it a must-pack for visiting California.

The microfiber blend of this towel is soft to the touch and can absorb 4 times its weight in water. The towel also folds directly into its attached pouch for travel convenience.

Sleeping Bag

Our Pick
The North Face Eco Trail Synthetic 20

A bag that’s rated 20 degrees is perfect for California weather. This bag also has a hood which ensures maximum warmth and comfort throughout the night.

Camping is one of the best ways to explore California’s state parks. Camp in the desert, by the ocean, or in the thick of the pines in California.

The North Face Eco Trail Synthetic 20 is the best accompaniment to the perfect California camping trip. The bag is rated 20 degrees which is perfect for the mild California climate.

👉Pro Tip: For camping in colder places like the California national parks, I recommend pairing your sleeping bag with a sleeping bag liner. This sleeping bag liner adds the perfect amount of warmth to your overnight adventure.

Bathing Suit

Our Pick
Zaful Bandeau Bikini

Bathing suits are the most essential item to pack for a trip to California. Suits like this one are both affordable and stylish.

It’s impossible not to go swimming at California beaches. If beaches aren’t your thing, the hot temperatures also make hotel swimming pools more than desirable on summer days.

Out of all the bathing suits I’ve tried throughout my 26 years, I always find myself coming back to the Zaful Bandeau Bikini. There are plentiful colors available to compliment every skin tone and the bra pads are removable, making this a super comfy bikini set.

Camping Stove

Our Pick
Jetboil Flash

Have hot tea or coffee ready in as little as 1,2,3. This stove is the quickest on the market and is perfect for California hiking days and overnight backpacking adventures.

Cooking your own meals is the best way to save money on an epic California road trip. As the name implies, the Jetboil Flash boils your water in a flash so you can appease your hunger in no time.

Out of all the different stoves I’ve tried, the Jetboil is not only the most efficient but also the most lightweight and worth every penny.

Day Pack

Our Pick
Osprey Daylite
Travel Lemming’s founder has been all over the world with this convenient day pack. It’s perfect for walking around San Francisco, hiking in the Sierras, and carrying all your beach essentials.

A good day pack really makes a difference when it comes to utmost comfort while traveling. The Osprey Daylite is Travel Lemming’s go-to day pack because it’s lightweight and durable.

My favorite aspect about the Daylite is that it’s made from recycled materials and helps reduce my carbon footprint! 

Travel Insurance

Travel Lemming's Pick
Need Insurance? Compare Quotes with VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is a travel insurance marketplace where you can quickly compare quotes from hundreds of insurers -- all it takes is a minute to enter your details!

Anything can happen on the road. Consider if travel insurance is right for your trip.

Sun Hat

Our Pick
Scala Levanzo Raffia Big Brim Sun Hat

The California sun is no joke - especially at the beach! This is the perfect stylish hat to keep your ears and neck protected from harmful UV rays.

Protect yourself from heat stroke during your trip to California with a wide-brimmed sun hat. Scala Levanzo Raffia Big Brim Sun Hat is the perfect hat to keep your shoulders, neck, and head safe from harmful sun exposure.

This sun hat is also foldable and can be packed into the smallest bag or suitcase. I highly recommend this hat for backpackers who don’t have a lot of storage space.

Sun Protection

Thinksport Zinc Sunscreen is my all-time favorite sunscreen. I use it in every outdoor scenario when I know I will be exposed to the sun all day.

The high amount of zinc in Thinksport sunscreen ensures that your skin won’t easily burn at the California beach, hiking in the CA mountains, or while shopping in Los Angeles.

Water Filtration Bottle

Our Pick
Lifestraw Go
Filter water on the go with this California packing essential. This bottle protects against bacteria and helps prevent the use of single-use plastics.

California is full of water refill stations and water fountains. Skip the single-use plastic by using a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated during your trip to Southern or Northern California.

Lifestraw Go filtration bottles convert dirty water into safe, drinkable water. Not only does this save you money on buying plastic water bottles, but it is also eco-friendly.


Our Pick
Petzl Tikka Core Headlamp
This compact headlamp fits in your pocket and is essential for night hiking, camping, and having a late bonfire on the beach.

Headlamps are one of the main camping essentials. I’ve used my Petzl Tikka Core Headlamp for hiking local California peaks and high mountains around the world. 

The best feature of this headlamp is the rechargeable battery. It can run up to 110 hours on the low light setting and even has a fissure for AAA batteries for backup. This Petzl headlamp is one of the best on the market and is essential for a complete California packing list. 


Our Pick
Lysian Foam Earplugs
Earplugs are a simple thing to forget on your packing list but are essential for a better night’s rest while traveling.

I’ve camped both alone and with friends, but no matter the situation, the piece of equipment that gets me through the night is a pair of earplugs. 

Lysian Foam Earplugs are great to use while camping in the woods, in a noisy hostel room, or when trying to get some shut-eye on the flight to California. The soft foam material of the Lysian plugs won’t leave your ears ringing the next day.

Other California Essentials to Pack

The author posing for a photo during her exploration in one of the California mountains
I have my sun hat, sunglasses, sturdy hiking shoes, and backpack and I’m ready to explore the CA mountains!
  • Sunglasses
  • Reusable coffee mug
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Passport & license
  • Binoculars
  • Cell Phone charger
  • Vaccination paperwork
  • Pajamas
  • Reusable bags
  • Camera
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • Light jacket
  • Cross body bag
  • Universal waterproof phone case

Clothing to Pack for California

The author with her friend smiling for a selfie during their hike in Southern California
My friend and I hiking in Southern California

California has varied terrain and different ecosystems throughout. The clothing you should pack is different for each California region but some standard California packing list items include a bathing suit, a quick-dry towel, hiking sandals, a rain jacket, and some sturdy jeans.

You will most likely need beachy and other hot-weather items if traveling to the south, and warm layers and jackets if traveling to the north.  

So what clothing should you pack for California? Here is a quick clothing checklist for California:

  • 2-3 lightweight t-shirts
  • 2-3 tank tops
  • Hiking Sandals
  • Bathing Suit Coverup
  • Wetsuit
  • Lightweight Jacket
  • Rain Jacket
  • Beach Towel
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of hiking pants
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 dress shirt
  • Gloves
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks

This list is standard for most destinations in California. If you are going exclusively to visit Southern California beach towns, you may be able to rent a wetsuit. Make sure all other items on the list are packed and secured before taking off for California.

Hiking Sandals

Our Pick
Teva Tirra Sandals
Lightweight, waterproof, and durable, these hiking sandals are the best item on a California packing list.

Teva sandals are my go-to travel sandals. They can be worn as water shoes in the Pacific Ocean, as hiking sandals on an epic San Francisco hike, or as everyday wear while exploring San Diego or Los Angeles.

The Teva Tirra Sandals are the most comfortable Teva model and they also come in fun colors. Teva Strata Universal Sandals are the most comfortable Teva men’s sandals.

Beach Towel

Our Pick
Slowtide Backstage Beach Towel

Forgot your beach coverup? Choose a lightweight, stylish beach towel to wear as a skirt, dress, or sarong at the beach.

Beach towels can be practical in more ways than one. A lightweight towel like the Slowtide Backstage Beach Towel can be used to dry off from the ocean, to lounge on the sand, or in lieu of a coverup.

I own this towel and love to sport it as a sarong after a day of surfing. Not only is it stylish, but it also dries you as you wear it. This awesome piece of gear should be on every California packing list.


Our Pick
REI Co-op Gauntlet Gloves

These gloves are the perfect mid-layer glove and keep your hands warm when visiting the California mountain peaks or metropolitan areas in the winter.

California may be known as a hot, beachy state but the winters do receive pretty cool weather. Waterproof gloves are an essential piece of equipment for visiting California.

The best aspect of REI Co-op Gauntlet Gloves is their Gore-tex property, meaning they are both waterproof and water-resistant. They are also big enough to layer with other fleece gloves or down mittens in extreme conditions.

Hiking Pants

Our Pick
Kuhl Frost Soft Shell Pants

Keep a sturdy pair of hiking pants in your backpack, just in case. These durable pants are water-resistant and extremely durable, meaning they won’t snag and are hard to rip.

With an abundance of awesome hiking trails in California, you will want to have a good pair of hiking pants in your California suitcase. I’ve hiked in my Kuhl Frost Soft Shell Pants all over the state and cannot recommend them more.

From hilly trails in San Francisco to coastal San Diego and Santa Barbara hikes, the Kuhl soft shell pants are suited for any terrain.

Lightweight Jacket

Our Pick
Cotopaxi Abrazo Hooded Full-Zip Jacket

You need a mid-layer jacket for the in-between weather days. This jacket is perfect for those not-too-hot but not-too-cold days.

Incredibly popular for its unique color schemes, Cotopaxi creates some of the most durable and high-quality outdoor clothes. Their jackets make perfect outdoorsy gifts for her and complement any complete packing list.

The Cotopaxi Abrazo Hooded Full-Zip Jacket is both fashionable and functional. The fleece material keeps you warm but is still lightweight enough to layer with a down jacket. This jacket also features 100% recycled fabric, making it a superior lightweight jacket.

California Packing Tips

Pack Layers

The author during her hike in Southern California at winter season
Me, hiking in Southern California

Northern and Southern California weather can be unpredictable at times. Even if the forecast is a brisk 45 degrees in Yosemite National Park or Lake Tahoe, you can heat up quickly in the California sun. Pack layers to stay as comfortable as possible on your trip to the golden state.

I like to layer in the morning with a short sleeve, a long sleeve, and one good jacket. I can always take off and add layers whenever necessary. Read here to navigate the best time to visit California.

Maximize Your Suitcase Space

View of the author's motorhome during her road trip in California
I take my motorhome on many California road trips and need to be selective of what I bring into the small space

Choose the packing list carefully for your upcoming California trip. You never want to stuff your suitcase (or backpack) full without leaving room for souvenirs.

These nifty packing cubes help maximize the storage space in your bag so you don’t have to skim on the essentials. They’re also a great way to keep your suitcase organized and help you find what you need faster. 

Consider Your Activities

The author smiling for a selfie while carrying her bike

What you pack depends on what activities you want to do. For example, you can probably leave the hiking boots at home if surfing is your main California road trip priority. 

Most of the items in this perfect California packing list are universal and can be used for a variety of activities, but consider what specific activities you want to do in California and pack the necessary gear.

Utilize Multi-functional Clothing

The author posing for a photo under the clear blue sky in California

Like the beach towel cover-up, many clothing items can be multi-functional. A scarf is a great item to pack because it can also be worn as neck protection, a beanie, a top, a skirt, and even a dress.

The Coolibar Scarf is one of my favorite versatile travel scarfs. It can be used in all of the mentioned ways and is also SPF-protected.

Prioritize Safety

The author dipping her feet on a water in California

California is generally a safe place to travel but you must still consider your safety in California, even if traveling to nice places like the California coast or a cool California lake. Pack a first aid kit, a multitool, and pepper spray to ensure your utmost safety while on vacation.

FAQs About What to Pack for California

What do I need to pack for California?

Sunglasses, sunscreen, a bathing suit, comfortable walking shoes and sandals, and a reusable water bottle are all California packing essentials. Other important things to bring are an ID or license, cash, and a camera for tourist photos.

What should I pack for 4 days in Los Angeles?

You should pack 3 t-shirts, a pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, a tank top, comfortable shoes, 1 dress, earplugs, a reusable bottle, and toiletries for 4 days in Los Angeles.

How should I dress for a California vacation?

Dress in layers for a California vacation. Even if you are visiting in the summer, nights can be chilly so you will want to have a warm jacket on you at all times. If visiting in the winter, bring boots, thick socks, and multiple long-sleeve layers for your California trip.

How do I not look like a tourist in California?

Don’t overdress and take photos of anything and everything to not look like a tourist in California. Also, avoid tours like double-decker buses and walking tours if you don’t want to look like a tourist.


Keeping this California packing list in mind, you are sure to have a perfect California trip! Be sure to also check out my best towns in California guide to hit all the top spots in the golden state!  

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